WEST HOLLYWOOD, CA – Infiniti staged an intervention on its smallest CUV in 2015, stretching the QX50’s wheelbase to grow its anemic backseat, a major gripe of reviewers and potential customers alike.
Making the backseat bigger worked wonders, as QX50 sales went from 3,495 in 2012 (when the vehicle was known as the EX) to 16,973 in 2016, the latter its best annual volume, WardsAuto data shows. But in a segment where competitors such as the Lexus NX sold 59,341 copies last year, that’s still not a great result.
So for the midsize CUV’s second generation, on sale in the U.S. this spring, Infiniti makes several changes in an effort to attract more buyers.
A big change is the switch from a naturally aspirated 3.7L V-6 to an all-new 2.0L turbocharged, gasoline 4-cyl. with industry-first variable-compression technology plus direct and multi-point injection.
We love this engine during our test drive here and, coupled with great ride-and-handling characteristics, consider the QX50 a solid challenger to the NX and others in its size class, including the BMW X3 and Cadillac XT5.
The CUV’s interior also is a winner overall for its materials, design and comfort.
Less pleasing is cabin technology. More on that topic later.
The new QX50 is roughly 2 ins. (51 mm) shorter overall and has about a 3-in. (76-mm) shorter wheelbase than the first-gen model. But it grows wider by nearly 5 ins. (127 mm), a change easily noticeable inside by the additional shoulder room between front-seat passengers. And, shedding the outgoing model’s more wagon-y stance, it is taller.
Rear legroom remains generous, growing nearly 3.5 ins. (89 mm) despite the CUV’s now shorter overall length. The loss in front legroom, down nearly 5 ins., is not noticeable. Legroom is sacrificed for cargo space, up to 31.4 cu.-ft. (889 L) from 18.6 cu.-ft. (527 L) in the first-gen model.
Another big change for the QX50 is going from Infiniti’s old FM rear-wheel-drive platform of 10-plus years ago to partner Daimler’s Mercedes MFA front-wheel-drive platform, underpinning the GLA and forthcoming GLB.
The CUV still is available with all-wheel drive, a system able to send up to 50% of engine torque to rear wheels for improved traction.
While it may have lost a bit of a performance edge on ride-and-handling by going FWD, we are hard-pressed to tell while ripping up and down the Malibu and Laurel Canyon roads – ironically the same area where we tested the EX way back in September 2007.
Body lean is minimal and toss-ability commendable, with the QX50 feeling like a much lighter vehicle than it actually is.
For the CUV’s body, Infiniti employs what it says is the first automotive use of Super High Formability 980 MPa steel. “The high-tensile material can be molded into unprecedented shapes, saving weight and representing a torsional rigidity improvement of 23% over the current QX50,” the automaker says. The greater rigidity makes the QX50 resistant to flex and vibrations and limits noise transmitted into the cabin.
The ’19 QX50 gets what’s billed as an all-new MacPherson-strut front suspension, geared for “immediate responses during spirited driving” and good straight-line stability, as well as a new damping control system. A key feature of the latter is greater damping force during cornering that lessens body roll.
The engine, Nissan’s groundbreaking VC-Turbo, is a masterful creation. We covered it in detail last fall, but in summary the engine works by varying compression ratio in a range from 8:1 to 14:1 via the use of a multilink – one of 300 technologies Nissan has patented to bring it to fruition.
Smile-inducing power comes in two bursts: upon initial acceleration and then a second later when the turbo kicks in.
While horsepower is down to 268 from the 325 of the outgoing QX50’s VQ-series V-6, a 15-time Wards 10 Best Engines winner, torque grows to 280 lb.-ft. (380 Nm) from 267 lb.-ft. (362 Nm). It also peaks sooner, from 1,600-4,400 rpm vs. 5,200 rpm in the VQ. Even though horsepower is down, Infiniti still tops the turbo fours in competing German CUVs, as well as the turbo fours in the Lexus NX and the Volvo XC60.
We aren’t as excited by the standard (and at this point only) transmission, a CVT. Nissan, through its stake in Jatco, is a longtime CVT proponent. Both companies have made huge strides on the notoriously fickle technology – automatic-like faux shifts help limit rubber-banding. But in certain instances we can accelerate only partway up a hill before rpms drop, requiring us to get back on the throttle.
The QX50 has a drive-mode selector with standard, eco, sport and personal modes. We spend nearly all our time in sport as eco has a severely restricted tip-in and standard also is somewhat constrained. Personal mode requires setting a variety of parameters, so we opt not to use it.
Our drive route is aligned more with exposing the CUV’s performance attributes than sipping fuel, so we don’t get close to the estimated 26 mpg (9.0 L/100 km) combined rating for our AWD tester. Still, 23 mpg in the morning and 24 mpg in the afternoon (10.2 L/100 km and 9.8 L/100 km) isn’t bad.
In flatter stretches on our route, such as on Pacific Coast Highway and the 101 freeway, we activate Nissan’s ProPilot Assist semi-autonomous technology. ProPilot blends adaptive cruise control, lane-keep assist and Infiniti’s direct adaptive steering system into one button. However, drivers still must set speed for cruise control, as well as set a following distance, so it really is a two- or three-button process.
As in most vehicles with similar systems, our attention to the road is heightened, not relaxed, as concern sets in – especially on the busy 101 – as to whether our vehicle will recognize a braking vehicle ahead or pick up on fading painted lane lines. So as not to incur a “pay attention” warning, a driver must maintain a relatively firm grip on the steering wheel.
Like nearly all adaptive-cruise systems on the market today, ProPilot also won’t detect stopped traffic a good distance ahead. We approach quickly stationary cars at a red light on PCH, hitting the brakes after getting uncomfortably close.
This isn’t to say ProPilot and similar systems don’t have value. They do when conditions are right – there were instances when the QX50 steered and braked perfectly on its own. But know the limits of semi-autonomous technology and never let your attention deviate from the road.
Infiniti can craft an excellent interior and the materials and design choices in our top-grade QX50 Essential AWD model with a white-leather-seating package are top-notch.
It has bold-but-tasteful color, a blend of ivory, brown and blue paired with matte wood and chrome trims. The curving swatch of deep ocean blue Ultrasuede decorating the vehicle’s center console is attractive and unexpected. Double stitching on the edge of the leather-wrapped instrument panel, and in two different thread colors, also adds flair to the cabin.
Diamond-quilted leather seats are comfortable and supportive during our 160-mile (257-km) route.
The center stack controls are easy to reach and operate, although we do encounter a potential safety issue when our driving partner, adjusting the volume knob at the base of the center stack, accidentally nudges the lever-style gear selector into neutral. We understand car buyers know and like levers, but a low-profile dial or an array of push-buttons (there already is a button to engage park) would be a better, less obstructive way to control the shift-by-wire transmission.
If anything will hamper the QX50’s success in the marketplace, it is the CUV’s retro infotainment system. The center stack uses two screens. While WardsAuto never has found Infiniti’s dual screens as confounding as Acura’s, due to better-organized menus, the upper screen has dated display resolution and fonts, and fonts that don’t match those on the lower screen to boot.
The good news is Infiniti execs, recognizing the upper screen is not “contemporary,” say new screens will be introduced throughout the QX50’s lifecycle, including a larger single screen that will offer a portion devoted to maps and navigation. The bad news is they’re not saying when.
After recently experiencing a demo of Acura’s completely reworked, single-screen infotainment system in the forthcoming next-gen RDX – a QX50 competitor – we wish we could transplant it into the QX50 as it is really the only missing link.
Infiniti will assemble the ’19 QX50 in Mexico at its plant with Mercedes, a switch from Japan sourcing for the first-gen EX/QX50.
Sales targets are not being announced, with execs saying they just want to sell “more.”
That shouldn’t be difficult. Mechanically the new QX50 is terrific. Design-wise, thanks to a curvaceous exterior and its lovely interior, it stands out. And it’s re-entering the hottest segment in luxury, Middle CUV. Some 808,978 vehicles were sold in the group in 2017, up 8.9% from 2016 and making it the highest-volume luxury segment in the U.S. last year, WardsAuto data shows.
'19 Infiniti QX50 Essential AWD Specifications
|Vehicle type||4-door, 5-passenger, all-wheel-drive CUV|
|Engine||2.0L transversely mounted, turbocharged DOHC gasoline I-4, direct/port injection, all aluminum|
|Power (SAE net)||268 hp @ 5,600 rpm|
|Torque||280 lb.-ft. (380 Nm) @ 4,400 rpm|
|Bore x stroke (mm)||84.0 x 90.1 (8:1 compression ratio) to 84.0 x 88.9 (14:1 compression ratio)|
|Transmission||Continuously variable with manual-shift mode|
|Wheelbase||110.2 ins. (2,799 mm)|
|Overall length||184.7 ins. (4,691 mm)|
|Overall width||74.9 ins. (1,902 mm)|
|Overall height||66.0 ins. (1,676 mm)|
|Curb weight||3,857 lbs. (1,750 kg)|
|Price||$45,150, not including $995 destination and handling|
|Fuel economy||24/30 mpg (9.8-7.8 L/100 km) city/highway|
|Competition||Acura RDX, Audi Q5, BMW X3, Cadillac XT5, Land Rover Discovery Sport, Lexus NX, Mercedes GLC, Volvo XC60|
|Engine torquey, quick acceleration||CVT not ideal|
|High-quality materials||Outdated screens|
|Good fuel economy||…so long as you stay off the turbo|