Infiniti QX50 — Competitive in popular segment

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

Infiniti has done a credible job redesigning its compact QX50 crossover for the 2019 model year, returning to the popular luxury segment — after a one-year hiatus.
The new QX50 goes into the selling wars with a lot of weapons including the world’s first variable compression ratio turbocharged engine, a more spacious interior that includes a more roomy second-row, more cargo space than most of its competitors, and a lot of driver assistance technology. That's in addition to very compelling styling both inside and out.

Although Infiniti's engine technology will be lost on most people who will simply be happy with its performance and its fuel economy, it's the biggest news about the new vehicle. The turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder has the ability to raise or lower the reach of the pistons, depending on whether power or efficiency is in order, changing the compression ratio from a low of 8.0:1 to a high of 14.0:1. This promises to maximize efficiency whether cruising at part throttle or running toward redline with foot to the floor. It's a project that, according to the company, has taken more than 20 years to develop.

One of the aims of the new technology is improved gas mileage, so how good is the resulting fuel economy? Based on EPA ratings, pretty darn good. The front-wheel drive QX50 is rated at 24 mpg city, 31 highway and 27 overall on premium gas. The all-wheel drive model is off slightly at 24/30/26. Unfortunately, in real-world driving, we were not able to emulate those numbers in a FWD vehicle, although we admit to probably more lead-footed driving than most. We finished our test drive at 24 mpg with a mix of freeway and in-town travel.

We did enjoy the performance that we thought could have been even better with a standard geared transmission. We weren’t impressed with the continuously variable automatic transmission that mimics a traditional automatic by adding faux shift points. We found the engine to be extremely noisy under full or near full acceleration, and we prefer to hear and feel the snaps of a stepped 8-speed transmission.

The new engine is pleasingly energetic. For comparison purposes, the front-driven version has been clocked at 6.7 seconds from 0-to-60. All-wheel drive provides a better time measured at a relatively swift-for-a-crossover 6.2 seconds.

On the other hand we were not particularly impressed with how the QX50 drives and handles. It feels bigger than it is, with rather ordinary handling when negotiating moderate curves and sharp corners. Overall the crossover feels a bit less athletic and not as sporty as other luxury competitors.

What did impress us was the excellent interior with premium-quality materials, the natural maple wood interior trim, and Ultrasuede headliner, heated and cooled tailored leather stitching, and piping on the leather seats, which are especially comfortable. Rear-seat passengers were not cramped — but don't try to sit three across — and cargo space behind the seats measures a generous 31.1 cubic feet. Cargo space with the seats folded is 64.4 cubic feet.

Although Infiniti's stacked two-screen interface has been called "old technology," we think it's the best way to handle the navigation and infotainment. It separates the navigation screen from the infotainment screen and its myriad of audio and climate controls. Nothing old or outdated about that convenient setup. We also liked the stacked climate controls along the infotainment screen.

The QX50 comes in three trim levels (all-wheel drive is available on all three trim levels for $1,800) — Pure, Luxe and Essential. The Pure is well equipped for a base price of $37,545. Standard features are generous including 19-inch wheels, LED headlights, dual-zone climate control, simulated leather upholstery, power-adjustable front seats, 60/40 split rear seats that slide and recline, Bluetooth, four USB ports, a rear backup camera, and forward collision warning and mitigation with automatic emergency braking. The Luxe trim starting at $40,395 adds a panoramic sunroof, roof rails, LED foglights and a blind-spot monitoring system.

The top of the line Essential starts at $44,435 including navigation, a surround-view camera, three-zone climate control, and automatic wipers. And it’s the only trim level to offer optional safety features such as adaptive cruise control, backup collision mitigation, ProAssist lane departure warning, adaptive steering, lane departure intervention, and a head-up display.

Also, if you are a lover of great audio, the16-speaker Bose system option is included in the Sensory Package — only on the top trim. Our Essential test vehicle came with the Sensory Package and the ProActive and ProAssist packages for a bottom line of $55,285.

Base price: $37,545; as driven, $55,285
Engine: 2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder
Horsepower: 268 @ 5,600 rpm
Torque: 280 pound-feet @ 1,600 rpm
Transmission: continuously variable
Drive: front wheel
Seating: 2/3
Wheelbase: 110.2 inches
Length: 184.7 inches
Curb weight: 3,827 pounds
Turning circle: 36.4 feet
Luggage capacity: 31.4 cubic feet
Cargo capacity: 65.1 cubic feet
Towing capacity: 3,000 pounds
Fuel capacity: 16 gallons (premium)
EPA rating: 24 city, 31 highway, 27 combined
0-60: 6.7 seconds (Car and Driver)
Also consider: BMW X3, Acura RDX, Audi Q5

The Good
• Roomy interior
• Excellent gas mileage
• User friendly switchgear
• Stylish inside and out

The Bad
• Continuously variable transmission

The Ugly
• Useful options available only on top trim