2020 Infiniti QX50 Review

Ron Sessions | Apr 23, 2020

Introduction

2020 Infiniti QX50 front viewPhoto: Ron Sessions

In recent times, premium sport-utility vehicles have been enjoying robust sales. Infiniti’s premium SUV offerings, refocused for 2020 with the elimination of the slow-selling, Mercedes-Benz-based QX30, now consist of the midsize Nissan Pathfinder-based QX60, the large Nissan Armada-based QX80 and the brand’s newest entry, the compact QX50, which has no Nissan equivalent.

As the QX50 was all new for the 2019 model year, the 2020 version is largely unchanged, with updates limited to adding Apple CarPlay and Android Auto cellphone mirroring, making more safety tech features standard and expanding the available trims to include two top-of-the-line variants.

The 2020 Infiniti QX50’s available trim selections now include the “base” Pure, midlevel Luxe and Essential and the new topline Sensory and Autograph offerings. For this review, J.D. Power tested a range-topping 2020 Infiniti QX50 Autograph All-Wheel Drive equipped with the innovative VC Turbo 4-cylinder engine, Premium White Leather package, welcome lighting, illuminated kick plates and Cargo package. Including the $1,025 destination charge, the total came to $60,070. The QX50 is available with a choice of front- or all-wheel drive. AWD is a $2,000 upcharge.

What Owners Say

Before getting into the results of our 2020 Infiniti QX50 evaluation, let’s first look at the findings of the 2019 J.D. Power U.S. Automotive Performance, Execution and Layout (APEAL) study data and see how QX50 buyers stack up against those of compact premium SUVs in general.

In both gender and age, QX50 buyers hark close to the compact premium segment norm. QX50 buyers are 53% male and have a median age of 55 compared to compact premium buyers at 55% male and 58 years of age. Median household income is similar as well with QX50 buyers at $147,984 and the segment coming in at $156,990 per annum.

However, only 37% of QX50 purchasers consider themselves performance buyers contrasted against 46% of compact premium buyers as a whole.

The compact premium segment is largely comprised of offerings from import brands. So it’s no surprise that only 29% of QX50 owners and 35% of compact premium owners agree that their first consideration is to buy a vehicle from a domestic company.

Also mirroring the compact premium segment as a whole, 94% of QX50 buyers list quality of workmanship as a primary consideration (vs 97% for the segment), followed by reliability (93% vs 94%) and avoiding high maintenance costs (85% vs 81%).

Another metric high on QX50 buyer’s shopping list is responsive handling and powerful acceleration (97% vs 94% for the segment). Along the same lines, just 49% of QX50 buyers and 51% of those in the entire compact premium segment list fuel economy as a primary purchase consideration.

QX50 buyers also indicated that they prefer a vehicle that stands out from the crowd (88% vs 84% for the compact premium buyer groups as a whole).

In the APEAL study, QX50 owners ranked exterior and interior design, seating, driving dynamics, visibility/safety and cargo space as the vehicle’s best aspects with climate controls, infotainment, the powertrain and fuel economy as least favorites.

What Our Expert Says . . .

In the sections that follow, our expert provides his own perceptions how the 2020 Infiniti QX50 measures up in each of the 10 categories that make up the J.D. Power 2019 Automotive Performance, Execution and Layout (APEAL) Study.

Exterior

2020 Infiniti QX50 exterior side viewPhoto: Ron Sessions

The QX50’s exterior design is ranked highly by its owners. Unchanged from the 2019 model, the 2020 Infiniti QX50 continues with its dominant but tasteful twin arch grille. The upper edges of the grille segue into prominent hood bulges which fan out to sweeping character lines that wash down the sides of the SUV. At the rear, the brand’s signature Crescent-cut roof pillars, a sloping roofline with an integrated spoiler, horizontally banded tail lamps and dual chrome-tipped exhaust outlets add dynamism. The QX50 rides on 19- or 20-inch alloy wheels.

From any angle, the compact Infiniti SUV is easy on the eyes and conveys a premium, sporty appearance worthy of the luxury brand.

Interior

2020 Infiniti QX50 interior dashboard viewPhoto: Ron Sessions

As with the exterior, QX50 owners give high marks to the luxury SUV’s interior. Especially striking in top-of-the-line Autograph trim with semi-aniline leather and suede trim in complimentary white, brown and blue colors, the QX50’s cabin looks like something you might find in a vehicle with a six-figure price tag. As if lifted almost directly from concept to production, the instrument panel artfully flows into the doors as does the center console into the dash. Soft-touch and padded surfaces on the dash, console and doors add to the feeling of craftsmanship.

A panoramic sunroof, standard on all but the “base” Pure trim adds cheerfulness and brightness.

Seats

2020 Infiniti QX50 front and back seat viewPhoto: Ron Sessions

Seats are another area where the QX50 scored highly in the APEAL study. Moving from a rear-drive-based design with a longitudinal drivetrain to a front-drive-based layout with a transverse-mounted engine as the QX50 did entering the 2019 model meant more of the SUV’s overall length could be dedicated to passenger and cargo space.

So, despite the QX50’s compact overall size, interior space is ample for four passengers, five in a pinch. The standard power-operated front buckets are supportive but prioritize comfort, with heating and cooling as well as driver’s auto entry assist available in topline Sensory and Autograph trims.

The rear bench is split 60/40, reclines and slides fore and aft to accommodate different physiques. Rear seat legroom is nearly as generous as that for front seat occupants. The quilted-pattern super-soft semi-aniline leather-appointed seats available with Autograph trim are particularly attractive and comfortable.

QX50 owners included rear seat room and comfort as well as the ease of getting in and out of both the front and rear seats as top strengths of the vehicle.

Climate Control System

2020 Infiniti QX50 climate control and infotainment systemPhoto: Ron Sessions

All QX50s feature automatic temperature control, with Pure, Luxe and Essential equipped with dual-zone controls for driver and front passenger and topline Sensory and Autograph trims available with a three-zone system that adds rear seat controls. Rear seat passengers get standard floor heating ducts as well as A/C vents. In the APEAL study, QX50 owners liked the quietness of the climate control fan but were less enthusiastic about the ease of using the controls.

The climate controls are integrated into the lower of two center stack displays, with hard buttons for commonly used functions such as fan speed, temperature control, defrost modes and on upper trims, seat heating and cooling flanking the screen and more settings available via the touchscreen itself. I found them quite easy to navigate.

Infotainment System

2020 Infiniti QX50 infotainment controller

Photo: Ron Sessions

A key upgrade for the QX50 in 2020 is the addition of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto cellphone mirroring. Infiniti had lagged behind other car brands in offering these popular features for integrating cellphone apps into the QX50’s 8-inch lower screen, but now the features are up and running. In the 2019 APEAL survey, the QX50’s infotainment system was not ranked highly, but that was before Apple CarPlay and Android Auto were added to the system.

QX50 Pure, Luxe and Essential trims come standard with a 6-speaker AM/FM/CD stereo with SiriusXM satellite radio, with rich-sounding 16-speaker Bose premium audio with HD radio available in Essential and standard in Sensory and Autograph trims. An imbedded 3D-capable navigation system, displayed along with the standard backup0 camera on the upper 7-inch screen, is optional in Luxe and standard in higher trims. Included with navigation is traffic into, MapCare and automatic accident notification as well as in-car Wi-Fi.

The infotainment system can be operated with touchscreen controls, hard buttons and knobs along the screens lower edge or a center console controller.

Storage and Space

2020 Infiniti QX50 cargo spacePhoto: Ron Sessions

Room for people and their duffel is one reason SUVs are so popular and here the QX50 does not disappoint. Owners ranked the amount of cargo space and easy-to-use storage solutions in the QX50 as some of its strongest features.

Specifically, there’s up to 31.4 cubic feet of cargo space available behind the rear seats and as much as 65.1 cu ft with the rear seats folded flat. There’s also more space for small valuables such as cameras and purses in a hidden compartment under the rear cargo floor.

In the passenger area, aside from the glovebox and deep center console bin, there’s additional storage in the doors.

Access to the cargo area is via a power operated liftgate. On the topline Autograph trim, the liftgate can be opened with a foot wave under the rear bumper.

Visibility and Safety

2020 Infiniti QX50 backup camera for safetyPhoto: Ron Sessions

In the 2019 APEAL survey, owners gave the QX50’s visibility and safety systems good marks. Rearward visibility from the driver’s seat, a common SUV bugaboo, was rated as one of the QX50’s strengths.

For 2020, the QX50 pads its good rankings in safety by making more items, such as rear blind-spot and rear cross-traffic monitoring, often extra cost in other vehicles, standard equipment across all trims. It also adds standard rear automatic braking to forward emergency braking with pedestrian detection and makes lane departure warning standard on all models.

The QX50’s basic backup camera is upgraded to a 360-degree surround-view monitor which gives a very useful overhead view of the vehicle and its immediate surroundings in Essential, Sensory and Autograph trims.

As for ProPilot Assist, Infiniti’s adaptive cruise control system with steering assist, its availability is limited to the top Sensory and Autograph trims.

Engine and Transmission

2020 Infiniti QX50 driving modesPhoto: Ron Sessions

The standard and only powertrain offering for the Infiniti QX50 is a turbocharged variable-compression 4-cylinder mated with Nissan’s Xtronic continuously variable transmission. Dubbed the VC Turbo, the engine can infinitely vary its piston stroke and effective compression ratio between 8:1 and 14:1. The low-compression mode is for high power demand and the high-compression mode for cruising at light loads. The rationale is good power when you need it, good fuel economy when you’re just cruising around. Nissan is the first automaker to put this technology in production, but its benefits may be lost on some consumers.

Owners cited a lack of engine responsiveness, passing power and engine smoothness, vehicle acceleration from rest and the sound of the engine during hard acceleration as weaknesses.

The VC Turbo generates 268 hp, competitive for the segment that includes offerings such as the BMW X3, Audi Q5, Lexus NX 300 and others. And torque is healthy enough, with its advertised 280 lb-ft arriving at just 1600 rpm, giving the QX50 a healthy midrange response.

On the steering wheel are paddle shifters that enable the driver to shift between eight simulated fixed gear ratios. Otherwise, the Xtronic CVT chooses between a wide range of ratios with no driver involvement. There are four selectable driving modes--standard, sport, eco and personal—to tailor the throttle and transmission ratio maps.

Fuel Economy

2020 Infiniti QX50 turbocharged variable compression 4 cylinder enginePhoto: Ron Sessions

Owners ranked the QX50’s fuel economy the lowest of all categories in the 2019 APEAL study. Nissan/Infiniti went to a lot of trouble and cost over a decade or more to develop the variable compression engine with a goal of good fuel economy. Keeping in mind that the QX50 tips the scales at around two tons, par for the course with most compact premium SUVs, the Infiniti’s EPA fuel economy estimates clock in at 23 mpg city/29 mpg highway/26 mpg combined for front drive models and 22 mpg city/28 mpg highway/25 mpg combined for AWD versions. That’s no better or worse than competing 4-cylinder turbo luxury SUVs in the segment without the variable compression feature. And that’s despite Infiniti recommending premium unleaded fuel.

In a week of mixed local and highway driving over 150 miles, I averaged just 22.8 mpg.

Driving Dynamics

2020 Infiniti QX50 driving dynamicsPhoto: Ron Sessions

So how does it drive? In an urban environment, crisp throttle response is cherished and often the difference between zipping into a hole in traffic or marking time waiting for the crunch to relent. The QX50’s 6.5-second zero-to-60 mph performance is quite satisfying and pretty close to that of 2.0-liter turbo-powered X3s and Q5s. But the way that power is delivered can be perceived as a slight delay as the turbo spools up and the engine switches to power mode. In normal driving, the engine switches back and forth between its high- and low-compression modes imperceptibly.

The QX50 with the VC Turbo has a sporty, higher pitched exhaust note emanating the dual pipes in the upper rev range, during brisk acceleration. Inside the cabin, the engine sound is managed with active noise cancellation working through the audio speakers to counteract annoying rumbles when cruising at low engine speeds and an active sound enhancement system to amplify the aspirational ones.

The QX50 is available with two steering systems: a basic electrically boosted rack and pinion system and in the top trims, the fourth-generation version of Infiniti’s steer-by-wire system. The Autograph test vehicle had the latter system which except for a lack of tactile feedback over road surfaces (there is no mechanical connection between the steering wheel and the road wheels) offered crisp response, faster in tight corners and quite stable on long freeway stretches.

All-wheel drive for the QX50 is an on-demand system, operating as a front-wheel-drive vehicle unless a loss of traction occurs, whereupon the SUV can send up to 50 percent of drive torque to the rear wheels. It’s geared to all-weather on-pavement operation, not off-road exploration as the QX50 has neither the ground clearance nor the underbody cladding to handle the rough stuff.

Final Impressions

2020 Infiniti QX50 rear viewPhoto: Ron Sessions

Overall, the 2020 Infiniti QX50 is a right-sized 5-passenger luxury SUV with sharp exterior design and an even sharper interior. It’s roomy inside for its overall size. And the QX50 is packed with a full roster of standard comfort and convenience equipment, updated infotainment which finally includes Apple CarPlay and Android Auto and a comprehensive array of safety and driver-assistive technology. As for the innovative VC Turbo 4-cylinder engine, it’s a shame the driver can’t see the inner workings of this elegantly simple variable-compression powerplant in action.

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