When we first drove the Q50 Red Sport 400, Infiniti had the car out at a prepared slalom-and-cone course in a large, open parking lot. The car was stacked up against another Q50 without the Direct Adaptive Steer steer-by-wire system, and the course was designed to show that the DAS-equipped Red Sport 400 (it’s a $1,000 option) required less steering input to master the same course.
With all due respect to Infiniti, which is invested in this unfortunate system and has been working hard to revise it, the comparison doesn’t make a lot of sense.
The non-DAS Red Sport 400 has a steering ratio of 15:1 in RWD and 16.7:1 in AWD forms. The DAS system can vary between 12:1 and 32.9:1 in RWD and 11.8:1 to 32.3:1 in AWD flavors. At its extremes, the DAS system’s ratio is vastly different than the fixed-ratio cars. So sure, with a ratio of up to 32.9:1, the DAS driver’s going to do less work. It’s all in the gearing.
Does this mean it’s better, that the steering feel is more natural, that it’s easier to hustle quickly? The amount the driver saws at the wheel isn’t an indication of that, necessarily. After a few days in a rear-drive Red Sport 400, I’m saying that the spooky disconnection between the driver and the front wheels would be a severe deficit to a driver on a real autocross course. It’s not like the DAS system is choosing bad ratios within its range, it’s just not supplying the feedback to make it enjoyable. Knowing what your front tires are up to is critical.
I can hear you saying right now, “But what Q50 Red Sport 400 owners are going to autocross their cars?” Sure, but it was just a means to an end: showing off the DAS in a good light. And in that case, it probably did. The thing is, in isolation, not back-to-back with a non-DAS car with a slow steering ratio, the DAS system has the same issues it’s always had: It simply doesn’t feel natural. It doesn’t feel intuitive. There doesn’t seem to be any real advantage over a slightly quicker rack. I don’t hear about people making buying decisions based on how much work they have to do sawing at the wheel, do you?
So I’ll shrug and move on. Steering preferences are subjective, after all. Ours are also influenced by the hundreds of cars we drive each year, including real enthusiast stuff that sets our bar really high. Our bar should be really high, for that matter. DAS isn’t objectively problematic, but it’s subjectively unappealing. I won’t begrudge anyone who drives it and loves it – to each their own. But if you hold out a car to the enthusiast camp, my recommendation is that you knock ’em dead. While the Red Sport 400’s engine gets my pulse rate up, ultimately DAS leaves me cold.