Infiniti QX50 works hard not to offend
By Jim Bray
Luxury crossovers are a dime a dozen these days, especially if you include into the mix models that aren't marketed specifically as luxury items but which pack on the niceties anyway. So, if you're looking to make a splash in this crowded market, you'd better offer something interesting, if not unique.
Into this fray waded Infiniti, the high-end arm of Nissan (the same way Lexus is Toyota's, Audi is Volkswagen's, Genesis is Hyundai's…) with an entry that offers a claimed new type of engine the company says "delivers the perfect combination of power and efficiency." Not that anyone has ever made a claim like that before!
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In this case, it's the Infiniti QX50 (which began life as the EX35/37, though that was a very different vehicle) and its "World's First VC-Turbo" engine that – as is depressingly common these days – shrinks from the previous generation's six cylinders to the current turbocharged four. The VC stands for "variable compression" and claims to adapt its performance to your driving style to optimize both efficiency and oomph.
According to Infiniti's Canadian website, the engine "automatically transforms to suit your drive, giving you more power when you need it, consuming less fuel when you don't. It's like having two advanced engines in one seamless package." So, it's like that old commercial about "two, two, two mints in one," except that this isn't mints.
Infiniti explains that the two litre four can "…get high performance at an 8:1 ratio and tap into an available 268 horsepower. Maximize efficiency at 14:1 and reach up to 7.8 L/100 km on the highway." That's reasonable highway mileage, but I can almost get that on the highway in my similarly-sized all-wheel-drive, three litre V6 sport wagon, too, so I'm not impressed overly that it can be done with a smaller and more modern engine.
Clearly, if there's to be an advantage here, then Infiniti has to have more than a magic new engine that can magically achieve slightly better highway mileage than a 15-year-old wagon (though, to be fair, the QX50 does offer about 60 more horses than my wagon) driven by a lead-footed oaf.
Fuel economy can also be affected by the vehicle's transmission. Manuals traditionally offered the best opportunity for such sipping, but it's hard to find a stick these days and modern automatics have come a long, long way. Then there are continuously variable transmissions, which are claimed to offer an even better combination of mileage and performance, though in my experience most of them feel as if the vehicle is powered by a stretching elastic band (like those old balsa wood airplanes of my youth) and their noise can be really off putting to folks who like being able to hear their audio systems.
Can you guess which type of transmission Infiniti has chosen? Yep, a damn CVT, though Infiniti appears to have programmed it to "pretend shift" as if it isn't and instead of calling it a CVT they say it's a "shift by wire" system. It also comes with paddles you can use to pretend you're shifting. Combine the transmission with the turbo four and when you pull away from a traffic light you can feel some lag but I'm not sure it's all from the turbo; the CVT feels kind of lazy.
Still, once you're going the power is just fine, thank you; though the vehicle makes it clear that this is primarily a luxury crossover and not a performance one, despite the abracadabra engine stuff. Nothing necessarily wrong with that, of course. But you can get both! Just not here, it appears.
The QX's automotive blandness is consistent with the old EX upon whose shoulders the QX50 stands. When I reviewed the EX37 back in 2013, I said it was "a nice, but somewhat forgettable SUV," and that was with the 325 horsepower @ 7,000 rpm and 267 lb.-ft. of torque 3.7 litre V6 and a real, seven-speed automatic.
That EX was on my short list when I purchased my little wagon, until I got to drive it for a week and put it through its bland paces. Glad I had the chance!
The QX50 is obviously not aimed at me, therefore, and I cried myself to sleep when I realized that. Just ask my wife!
All this dumping on the QX doesn't mean it isn't a nice vehicle that has a lot going for it, however. It's comfortable, handsome (in a quirky way) and of course it's stuffed to the gunwales with luxurious and technological touches. And despite my angst, it's a pretty nice vehicle to drive.
The centre stack really takes the word "stack" seriously, thanks to not one but two LCD screens Infiniti has mounted there. I assume they got a deal on LCD's, and that's too bad because that extra screen isn't really necessary. The top display gives you the navigation stuff (which you probably don't need to see all the time if you're not lost), while the lower one takes the duties of the other usual stuff: apps, audio controls, phone, vehicle settings and the like.
The HVAC controls are traditional buttons that are arranged to the sides of the lower screen and under that LCD are some controls for the audio system. Speaking of audio, Bose does it nicely again in the QX50 (at least in the highest end trim), with a system that sounds great and cranks well. The only thing I'd change is labelling the volume from zero to "Infiniti", much like Spinal Tap's amps went up to 11. That's hardly a priority, though.
There's plenty of room in the cabin, and the seats, with their quilted design, are quite lovely. The rear bench seat can be slid to increase passenger legroom or hauling capacity. That said, I couldn't get the driver's seat (power, with memory of course) low enough to please my thighs (no thigh of relief for me!). It wasn't a big deal, though.
You can choose from a variety of QX50 packages, all of which feature all-wheel drive in Canada. The line starts with the base "Luxe" model with its $44,490 CAD price, you can also choose "Essential," "Proactive," "Sensory" and "Autograph" editions. The top line "Autograph" QX50 lists – sans extra fees and pounds of flesh, etc. – at $57,990 CAD, which is starting to get up there.
Competitors in the luxury field include the Lexus RX 350 (starting at $55,350), the Acura RDX ($46,191), Audi Q5 ($45,300) and the Mercedes-Benz GLC ($47,300). Add to the mix some "non-luxury" vehicles that are luxurious and more interesting to drive – such as the Mazda CX-5 Signature ($42,970) or the loaded VW Tiguan (approximately $40,800) – and the muddies get further watered.
I guess if I were to sum up the vehicle in one word it would be something like "inoffensive," which is nice but hardly high praise. And this is from a guy who once owned the first Infiniti, the mighty Q45, and liked it a lot.
Still, I see quite a few QX50's in my neck of the woods, so it appears to be reaching its target audience, and there's nothing wrong with that.
Copyright 2019 Jim Bray
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