2021 QX50 has appeal and likability, but a step or two behind competitors

By Jim Prueter

(January 4, 2021) The Infiniti QX50, a five-passenger compact crossover utility vehicle that was completely redesigned for the 2019 model year, continues as a predominantly carryover vehicle for 2021 with a few enhancements, including additional standard content on various grade levels.

To be sure, there were numerous updates to the QX50 for 2019, including a truly new engine technology with the 2.0-liter VC-Turbo — the world’s first production variable compression ratio engine — and an all-new front-wheel drive platform that helped boost sales by 50 percent. The engine promises the performance of a V6 and the improved fuel economy of a four-cylinder engine. I’ll discuss my impressions of the new engine below.

With Infiniti’s QX30 having been discontinued, the QX50 has been assigned the responsibility to not only appeal to entry-level buyers, but to deliver the expected Infiniti richness, comfort and affluence to brand loyalists moving up from Infiniti sedans. In doing so, Infiniti increased its offerings to five with a choice of standard front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive trim levels from the entry-level Pure, Luxe and Essential, along with two additional trims at the top-end: Sensory and Autograph.

Infiniti also introduced the all-new 2022 QX55 that’s essentially a coupe version of the QX50. Infiniti says the QX55 is inspired by the discontinued Infiniti FX that was a real sports sedan in an SUV shape. We have not had a chance to drive the QX55 but will as soon as Infiniti introduces it to the media.

New for 2021, Infiniti’s ProPILOT Assist, intelligent cruise control, lane departure prevention and blind spot intervention are standard on QX50 Luxe and higher grades, including our test Sensory. New laminated side windows for front-seat passengers quiet the already calm interior, and new rear seat-mounted side-impact supplemental air bags are added as standard equipment.

Our test QX50 showcases the next-to-the-top Sensory trim level. Our Sensory’s strongest feature is a cabin that’s supremely quiet at all speed levels and road types thanks to a pair of active sound control technologies: active noise cancellation and active sound enhancement. It uses two microphones to identify undesirable low-frequency engine noise (booming), then neutralizes it by playing opposing sound waves through the door speakers.

We also found the fit, finish and cabin materials to be top quality and really added to the upscale feel of the vehicle. The leather upholstery felt and looked good with vented and perforated seating, contrast color stitching looked rich, and soft touch niceties on door armrests and the center console are appreciably comfortable.

The front seats are supremely comfortable with an excellent driving position. Forward visibility is generally good but wide A-pillars forced us to peer around them for increased visibility. Rearward visibility is compromised by the sloping roofline and thick rear pillars along with a small rear liftgate window. Thankfully, our Sensory trim level came with blind spot monitoring and Around View Monitoring with moving object detection which helped visibility.

There’s a standard power rear liftgate that opens to a large cargo area with plenty of space for golf clubs, luggage and other larger items. There’s even a small cargo hold under the rear floor to store items you don’t want left in plain sight. The rear seat folds down for maximum storage space.

 A major disappointment is the vehicle’s operating controls whose infotainment system has two screens, one above the other mid dash. The lower seven-inch touchscreen is mainly for audio and climate settings and it’s difficult to operate at a glance. The larger eight-inch top touchscreen is for phone and navigation functions, accessed by a rotary knob on the center console next to the shift lever or by touching “command” on the lower touchscreen. There’s just one USB port along with an auxiliary port for media connections but three outlets for device charging. Apple CarPlay an Android Auto are standard.

On the road, the new 2.0-liter VC-Turbo inline 268-horsepower four-cylinder engine promised better power and improved fuel economy but we didn’t find that to be the case during our weeklong driving. Acceleration was good but we couldn’t see where the acclaimed engine broke any new ground and doesn’t stand out compared with competitor vehicles and question the value of investing 20 years of R&D in the technology.

The QX50 uses an Xtronic continuously variable transmission (CVT) with manual shift mode and downshift rev matching. We’re not fans of CVTs, but on the plus side, Nissan/Infiniti does make the best in the business with simulated shift points.

Handling left much to be desired. Steering was off-center, light and made it feel like I was driving a much larger SUV. It felt cumbersome, especially in corners; there was significant body roll on sharper curves and twisty mountain roads during our test drives. All-wheel drive was standard, along with all-season run-flat tires mounted on 20-inch machine-finished wheels. Overall, the driving experience was ordinary and unimaginative neither sporting nor luxurious.

Every QX50 trim level is also equipped with an advanced Drive Mode Selector, which allows the driver to select the driving mode that best suits his or her preferences and present road conditions by adjusting engine torque output, transmission shift points, steering ratios and steering effort in each of the four drive modes: Standard, ECO, Sport and Personal.

Standard safety features include forward collision warning, and automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection on all QX50 trim levels. Our Sensory trim level test vehicle also included standard blind-spot detection warning, lane-departure warning, and rear-cross traffic alert.

Overall, the QX50 has an attractive, spirited exterior design with a premium, high-end interior.  It delivers a quiet, comfortable ride with ample space inside for both passengers and cargo. There’s loads of standard safety and infotainment features. However, its infotainment and operational control system with two touchscreens is one of the most confusing systems on the market with graphics that look dated, poorly designed menus and a slow responding system only adding to the confusion and frustration. While our Sensory trim level was appropriately luxurious, and its engine certainly unique, our overall rating places it in the lower third of its competitive set.

The compact luxury crossover segment is fiercely competitive with several outstanding vehicles with superb comfort, laudable capability and stand out driving experience. However, if you’re an Infiniti loyalist you’ll be more than satisfied with the QX50.

Vital Stats
Base Price: $52,000
Price as Tested: $55,145
Engine/Transmission: 268-hp 2.0-liter Variable Compression Turbocharged four-cylinder engine paired with the Xtronic continuously variable transmission.
Fuel Economy: 22/28/25 MPG – City/Highway/Combined
Seats: 5

Where Built: Aguas, Mexico

Crash Test Results: Overall four out of a possible five stars from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration

Competes With:
Audi Q5
Buick Envision
Lexus NX
Jaguar F-Pace
Land Rover Discovery Sport
Lincoln Corsair
Mercedes-Benz GLC
Volvo XC60

Fab Features:
Roomy seating and cargo space
Quiet cabin
Handsome design, innovative engine