Test Drive:2019 Infiniti QX50
Entering a crowded segment, the new 2019 Infiniti QX50 is a compact luxury crossover SUV. It replaces the original QX50, which, though quite enjoyable to drive, was simply packaged wrong for the typical buyer in the segment.
Thus, the new QX50 adheres to the most popular recipe for this type of vehicle, offering room for up to five people and more luggage than a sedan can hold, combined with available all-wheel drive (AWD) and nearly all of the driver-assistance, collision-avoidance, and infotainment technologies expected by modern luxury SUV buyers.
A turbocharged 4-cylinder engine powers the front wheels of the 2019 QX50, with all-wheel drive available as an option. Pure, Luxe, and Essential trim levels form the canvas upon which owners can paint with various optional equipment packages, including Premium Audio, ProPilot Assist, ProActive Assist, Sensory, and Autograph package upgrades.
When the new 2019 Infiniti QX50 goes on sale at the end of February 2018, pricing will start at $36,550 for Pure trim with front-wheel drive (plus $995 for destination charges). Load up the Essential with AWD and all of the extras, and the price rises to $58,195 (including destination).
To learn first-hand what it's like to drive the new Infiniti QX50, I accepted an invitation to spend several hours driving the vehicle in and around the Los Angeles area. The sample vehicles were the fully equipped versions.
Styling and Design
Attractively styled, the new QX50 comfortably wears its Infiniti design cues, from its bold double-arch grille to its stylishly kinked rear roof pillar. Especially when equipped with the 20-in. aluminum wheels that are included in the Sensory package, the deeply sculpted QX50 looks sure-footed and balanced.
Still, there's no hiding the amount of visual weight sitting over the SUV's front wheels, the result of the model's switch to a brand-new front-drive vehicle architecture that will no doubt be shared with other vehicles within the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi universe. As a result of the new platform, though, Infiniti expands the QX50's interior space, especially with regard to cargo room, solving a significant shortcoming of the previous model.
Infiniti calls the QX50's interior "driver-focused" and "artfully asymmetric," each characterization accurate. Upgrade to the Sensory package for semi-aniline premium leather, genuine aluminum accents, open-pore wood trim, and Ultrasuede covering the headliner and decorating the dashboard. The Autograph package takes this plush interior treatment to the next level with special white leather rendered in a quilt-stitched pattern.
Infiniti is so proud of the QX50's cabin that Keith St. Clair, Director of Product Strategy for the company, said it is "the best interior we've ever made." Especially in top-trim with the Autograph treatment, I'd agree. All that's potentially missing here is digital instrumentation similar to Audi Virtual Cockpit.
Features and Controls
To enhance comfort, Infiniti employs Active Sound Enhancement, Active Noise Control, and Active Engine Mount technology to help ensure a quiet interior, the better to enjoy the QX50's supple leather and NASA-inspired "zero gravity" seat designs. That sounds gimmicky, but the "zero gravity" approach works, and even after hours behind the wheel, the QX50 was perfectly comfortable.
Rear-passenger accommodations are less impressive, in spite of Infiniti's claim to offer more legroom than the competition. Sitting behind myself, so to speak, I found legroom and foot space to be snug, even after sliding the rear seat all the way back in its track. Infiniti does a good job of enhancing what space there is, though, with a reclining seat back, air conditioning vents, a USB charging port, and available triple-zone climate control with rear side window shades.
Behind the rear seat, the QX50 holds 31.4 cu. ft. of cargo (31.1 cu. ft. with panoramic sunroof), and with the Sensory package it is accessible via the motion-activated power tailgate. Fold the rear seats down and the QX50 holds 65.1 cu. ft. of cargo.
Back up front, the control layout is reasonably intuitive. Generally speaking, I'm not a fan of dual-screen infotainment systems because I find it difficult to recall which screen contains which functions and which controls to use in order to access them. Therefore, I recommend setting everything up before setting off on a journey.
Safety and Technology
Infiniti constructs the new QX50's architecture using a significant amount of high-strength steel in key areas, with the intention of providing robust occupant protection.
To help ensure that a crash doesn't occur in the first place, the QX50 is offered with a laundry list of driver-assistance and collision-avoidance systems. For example, you can upgrade to Luxe trim for a blind-spot warning system, and to Essential trim to obtain a 360-degree surround-view camera system.
Infiniti touts its ProPilot Assist technology, which is similar to what is offered by other car companies. Install the ProPilot Assist package on the QX50 and the SUV includes adaptive cruise control with distance-control assist, rear cross-traffic alert system, and a reverse automatic braking system.
To benefit from the full range of systems offered for the QX50, the ProActive Assist package is necessary. The adaptive cruise control system adds full-speed-range stop-and-go capability, a Direct Adaptive Steering system with lane-centering capability, lane-departure warning and prevention, active blind-spot intervention, automatic high-beam headlights, and a head-up display.
That's quite a bit to unpack, but here's what you need to know. When Infiniti starts advertising the QX50, ProPilot Assist will be a key feature that the company promotes, but in order to get all of the fatigue-reducing functions you need to upgrade from ProPilot Assist to the ProActive Package. Confusing? Nah.
By the way, the head-up display included in the ProActive package is the first one ever offered by Infiniti, and yes, you can see it while wearing polarized sunglasses.
Equipped with an Infiniti InTouch infotainment system, the QX50 uses the same technology that's included in the Q50 sedan and Q60 coupe. Disappointingly, it will not offer Apple CarPlay or Android Auto smartphone integration, but Infiniti says it will rectify this shortly after the SUV goes on sale.
Add the Premium Audio package and the new QX50 includes a Bose Performance Series audio system with 16 speakers and classy looking polished metal grilles. During a demo using music files hand-selected by Bose, it sounded good. Your results may vary.
With the 2019 QX50, Infiniti introduces the world's first variable compression-ratio engine, a design the company says it has worked to perfect for two decades.
Dubbed VC-Turbo, this turbocharged, direct- and port-injection, 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine automatically varies the compression ratio to provide maximum performance (8:1) when the driver demands it, and to deliver maximum efficiency (14:1) under most other driving conditions. As Infiniti puts it, the VC-Turbo engine supplies the power of a V-6 engine and the fuel economy of a 4-cylinder engine.
Horsepower measures 268 at 5,600 rpm, and torque amounts to 280 lb.-ft. starting at just 1,600 rpm. That's 57 fewer ponies than the 3.7-liter V-6 from the previous QX50, but 13 lb.-ft. of added torque, and the new engine supplies both at lower rpm. Yet, despite a weight loss of less than 100 lbs., the new QX50 is expected to get 27 mpg in combined driving (26 mpg with AWD), a huge gain over the old QX50's rating of 20 mpg.
Infiniti might wish to recalibrate expectations on the fuel efficiency front. Over the course of four driving segments, the highest indicated fuel-economy average I saw on the trip computer was 23 mpg. The last time I tested a 2016 QX50 with the old V-6 and AWD, it returned 21.4 mpg on my standard test loop.
The VC-Turbo engine is paired with an "advanced" continuously variable transmission (CVT). Similar to Subaru, Infiniti provides eight programmed ratios for the CVT and a set of paddle shifters, with the goal of delivering a more traditional acceleration sound combined with greater driver involvement. It also has a Downshift Rev Matching function, which I actually detected. Once.
Infiniti's prescribed driving route was fairly tame, resembling the city, country, and coastal driving most QX50 owners will tackle.
Acceleration is quick, accompanied by a somewhat granular engine note. Around town, you won't even notice the CVT until you stomp on the accelerator to merge onto a freeway. Then, it groans and drones a bit, though I will admit that it is less irritating than most CVTs. Still, the VC-Turbo setup doesn't exactly qualify as mechanically symphonic, and I missed the old QX50's legendary VQ-series V-6 and its 7-speed automatic.
On the highway, the QX50 is quiet, and the full suite of ProPilot technologies works with remarkable smoothness and sophistication. But they're not groundbreaking in any way, aside from the fact that such systems are new to Infiniti, if not the industry.
In the city, the QX50 is nimble and easy to maneuver, the CVT quickly adjusting to compensate for off-the-line turbo lag. Thanks to its 23-percent increase in torsional rigidity, the SUV feels stiff and glued to the road, even on pockmarked road surfaces.
Because Infiniti launched the QX50 right in my figurative backyard, where I typically evaluate test vehicles, I ran it up a favorite canyon road from sea level to nearly 1,500 feet in elevation. Loaded with twists, turns, blind decreasing-radius corners, and perilously narrow lanes, I knew it would be a good test of the Infiniti's VC-Turbo engine, CVT, and Direct Adaptive Steering.
Unexpectedly, the QX50 tackled this task with surprising capability. In Sport mode, the CVT supplies snappy "shifts" between ratios, and the steering wheel paddles are actually useful. It was on this road, diving into a sharp right-hand corner, that the Downshift Rev Matching function engaged (once), a surprise-and-delight drivetrain trait that ought to make itself better known.
Heading up Latigo Canyon Road, you won't learn much about braking system endurance...because you're going uphill. But when they are necessary, they bite with authority. The QX50's MacPherson strut front and multi-link rear suspension provides impressive handling, especially with regard to roll control, and the 255/45 all-season tires deliver decent grip, if excessive squealing as they pass across painted lines.
Perhaps the most revealing thing about this part of the drive is that Infiniti's Direct Adaptive Steering has come a long way. Without a mechanical connection to the rack, this steer-by-wire design has, in the past, resulted in significant dissatisfaction among enthusiast drivers. Running hard up Latigo Canyon, it didn't bother me, which is a compliment.
If you loved the old QX50 for its rousing V-6 engine, 7-speed automatic transmission, hydraulic steering, and properly balanced weight distribution, this new one is likely to disappoint in terms of driving dynamics.
If you just read the previous sentence and you have no idea what I'm talking about, then you'll probably like driving the new 2019 Infiniti QX50 quite a bit. And since it stands head-and-shoulders above the old one in terms of design, interior space, and technological advancement, it will undoubtedly become one of the company's best-selling models in no time at all.