There are times when technology in cars becomes more than just a curiosity or a line item on spec sheet. In a recent test of the 2019 Infiniti Q50 Red Sport AWD, a setting for driving on snow proved incredibly helpful. How it actually works also became abundantly clear.

That’s an interesting finding for me. Sometimes, in a car test, you have a hunch about how a particular mode works or what is happening behind the scenes. After testing the redesigned 2019 Ford Edge not long ago, the Co-Pilot360 system that nudges you back in your lane if you veer into a shoulder too far was quite visceral – you know exactly what the engineers intended. 

In a similar way, after driving the Q50 on multiple outings in both light and heavy snow, it became obvious what was happening, and it was a major advantage.

Cold comfort

First, you should know that the Q50 I was testing came equipped with snow tires and already benefits from all wheel drive. A computer senses tire slip and can provide power to other tires or keep the vehicle centered if the tires start to spin too much. Subaru has been doing that for years. However, the snow setting goes well beyond that.

To enable it, there’s a small drive mode button to the right of the driver. You press back on it twice to enable Snow mode. (You can also use Eco mode, Sport mode and a few other settings to customize the driving mechanics.)

I don’t need to talk to the engineers to know how it actually works. First, the Q50 knows to back off on the throttle when you speed up – it’s the opposite of sport mode. In a winter storm, driving on a road where I couldn’t even see the lane marking, I never slipped on the road because the Q50 was not surging forward (even though with a 400 horsepower engine it certainly could have). The snow setting was a good match for this vehicle – it’s like a nanny minder for snow.

Another obvious technical feature: the AWD worked in conjunction with the snow setting to monitor tire spin at all times. I was impressed, after making several turns on snow-packed side streets, at how the vehicle maintained its bearings and stayed centered on the road. This is what we all really want with automotive tech: driver assistance features that stay out of the way until you really need them.

On another drive in even heavier snow, I never had to think too much about winter driving tips (steering into a spin-out, not accelerating or over braking) because the Q50 was monitoring my driving and helped me avoid a spin-out. 

Confidence-building

One more feature that seemed to come into play, and might be just as important as the slow acceleration (which feels like you are starting out in second gear), is that the vehicle tends to slow down faster than normal. This is similar to a feature in some ATV and UTV models called engine braking (it’s also common in semi-trucks).

I’m not sure if it is tied to the snow mode or just the way the Q50 tends to drive, but I do know the Q50 tended to come to a faster stop than most sedans I’ve tested which helped me avoid braking too hard. You just lift your foot off the accelerator and the car will slow down enough to help you brake to a stop.

The snow setting helped my confidence level – I’m not a big fan of driving in heavy snow. It’s one of the future-minded features in cars that will only improve over time, eventually allowing us to switch to a self-driving mode even in snow where the car knows exactly what to do. 

It might be some way off – one of the issues with the Q50 and all modern cars is that, if the sensors are covered in snow and you don’t wipe the snow off, you won’t benefit from the tech. And, while the Q50 did work in near white-out conditions, I’ve noticed some cars have trouble when there’s too much white all around the car. Sensors like cloudy days with no snow.

Yet, the sensors are improving. I’ve tested the snow setting in previous Infiniti cars and not had quite as much success. The Q50 was a champ on every snow-packed road I tested.

On The Road is TechRadar's regular look at the futuristic tech in today's hottest cars. John Brandon, a journalist who's been writing about cars for 12 years, puts a new car and its cutting-edge tech through the paces every week. One goal: To find out which new technologies will lead us to fully driverless cars.