Sports saloons have come a long way from the days of the E28 BMW M5 or the W124 Mercedes-Benz E-Class-based Hammer. The good old free-breathing blocks have given way to massive turbocharged or supercharged engines churning out 500-plus horsepower. In 2016 we drove three noteworthy sports saloons that were very different from one another.
Infiniti’s Q50 Red Sport 400 is a great attempt by the Japanese brand to break into the exclusive club of fast four-doors, hitherto populated by the Ms, AMGs, RSs and Fs of this world. The new VR-series twin-turbo 3.0-litre V6 makes 400bhp and 475Nm of torque, which is delivered over a wide band between 1,600 to 5,200rpm and transferred to the rear wheels by a smooth seven-speed automatic transmission. Without doubt, this is one of the best engines we’ve tested in an Infiniti or Nissan this side of the GT-R and the Q50 Eau Rouge.
But that latter car, with that brilliant 560bhp 3.8-litre, twin-turbo V6 under its bonnet, is the Q50 Red Sport 400’s biggest problem. After having tested such an exciting car, this new model feels like a heavily watered-down version. It’s a pale shadow of what Infiniti promised with the Eau Rouge. So, despite that engine and decent dynamics, it fails to make the cut. It doesn’t help either that 2016 also saw Lexus reveal the GS-F. What impressed us most in the GS-F is the fact that Lexus did not try to emulate others and go after more power and pace. Powered by an old-school naturally aspirated 5.0-litre V8 that makes 467bhp, the Lexus GS-F is without doubt the best Lexus we have driven, with the exception of the LFA. However, while the GS-F represents a major shift for Lexus, it hasn’t pushed the limits of science and reason like our winning car has.
The second-generation Panamera is everything we wanted the first model to be. It’s a lot closer in looks and character to the 911 now than before. It defies physics with its extraordinary handling dynamics, despite being 5,000mm long and two tonnes heavy.
The 4.0-litre V8 in the Turbo is sublime, and all the 542 horses are always at your beck and call. Grip is endless, the steering incredibly direct, and the chassis optimally stiff. On these roads it has no problem keeping up with two-seat exotica, and yet it is a comfortable family car. The occasional screech from the tyres and a quick glance at the speedo are the only giveaways of the blistering pace it’s capable of. It feels civilised and plush, but push on and it’s a monstrous machine. Surely the hallmark of a great sports saloon.