Words: Calvin Chan
Photography: Calvin Chan
Published: November 27, 2018
The big news about the QX50 this year is the engine, or what Infiniti calls a variable compression ratio engine. It’s actually the first production vehicle to utilize this technology, and by changing how far the pistons rise in its cylinders (up to 0.3%), the compression ratio changes anywhere from 8:1 for maximum performance to 14:1 for greatest fuel economy. For those who just want a simple explanation, just know that this new 2.0L turbocharged engine can automatically flip between performance and efficiency, all without the need of changing any internal parts, offering the best of both worlds. It may sound elementary but the engineering that went into developing technology like this took, according to Infiniti, more than 20 years.
Total output is 268 horsepower and 280 lb-ft, sent to all four wheels via a Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT). This powertrain is standard across the trim lineup. How does the QX50 drive then? Out on the open road, the four-pot behaves rather interestingly. It doesn’t feel like a small displacement engine, but it does feel turbocharged. There is a tidal wave of boost a split second after the initial thrust, giving occupants that same kind of roller coaster feeling of forward propulsion because of its unpredictability. The QX50 pounces off mighty quick but that bit of lag and hesitation throws the balance off and I’m not sure if it’s the throttle tuning or transmission, but I do have to admit that the resulting power feels more V6 than turbo-four, and you will be grasping onto the wheel tightly as 0-100 km/h is dispatched in a swift 6.7 seconds.
On the flip side, the QX50 promises 30% better fuel efficiency than the outgoing model with its naturally aspirated 3.7L V6 and 7-speed automatic transmission. I did average some favourable numbers. Testing in brisky 0°C November weather, our QX50 gave us 8.3 L/100km on the highway alone with heaters on full blast, and an 11.2 L/100km average with both highway and city driving. Our 2016 QX50 test in similar weather conditions net us 13.3 L/100km - an impressive improvement that would surely be even more remarkable in the warmer weather.
Personally I don’t believe a CVT belongs in a luxury vehicle, let alone an Infiniti, but the QX60 comes with one and no one seems to be complaining - its sales prove my opinion unsubstantiated. But I don’t find the droning or fake shifts very appealing on a premium product. Engineers have properly set up the CVT to mimic gear shifts when accelerating, most notably at low speeds, however when the temperature is less than ideal and you need quick acceleration, the CVT will persistently hold at the top rpm and emit a deafening wail that if it wasn’t for my freezing buttocks, would have turned me off entirely.
The electric steering still carries a disconnect between the driver and front wheels, but it’s a slight improvement over the anesthetized Q50. The suspension soaks up the majority of bumps without disturbing occupants, and stays appropriately level when taking corners at higher speeds. That said, the ride is slightly noisier than the Acura RDX and Lexus NX, though I think that just comes down to the fact that our QX50 is wearing winter tires while the former two we tested on summers. Otherwise, cabin insulation is excellent and free from heavy wind and ambient noises.
Stylistically, Infiniti has designed a real winner here. Taking advantage of the new platform and corporate design language, they have incorporated distinctive features like the arched front grill to help distinguish the QX50 from its rivals and solidify its image as a proper opponent. Those high shoulder lines give it such a broad and muscular demeanor too and I think it’s a monumental leap forward. I would go so far as to call it the best looking Infiniti in their current lineup.
I can’t help but notice that Infiniti took a page out of Cadillac’s design book by permeating the cabin with a dizzying mix and match of materials, everything from leather, suede, wood, chrome, and glossy plastics. Not to mention, they are all different colours, shapes, and sizes. Far from symmetrical, our beige/brown/blue cabin has been pulled off rather tastefully without looking messy or garish. On the spectrum, the QX50 interior sits right in between the minimalistic Volvo XC60 and the overly complicated and button-heavy Acura RDX.
The brown steering wheel is an appealing touch, as is the quilting on both front and rear seats on our top-end model. The petite leather-wrapped gear knob looks and works just like the Mercedes GLA/CLA one - perhaps something learned from their joint venture with the QX30. We do have to give Infiniti credit for being more adventurous and daring on their interiors than other automakers that just stick with a barebone black or beige scheme, and nothing here feels like it's from the Nissan spare parts bin either.
There are only a few downsides to the QX50 that we noticed during our drive. The headrests don’t adjust fore and aft, only up and down. The heated steering wheel barely heats up to the point of relevant use, and a few minutes in, it simply gives up and stops heating the wheel entirely. The dual-screen infotainment unit is also (half) disappointing. The top screen is dedicated to camera views and the navigation screen, offering graphics pulled straight from a 2008 Infiniti. Luckily the bottom screen is much higher definition and is the one you will be looking and playing with more often. Hard buttons are located below the screen to control the infotainment, as well as a rotary dial situated next to the gear shifter to control the top screen. The system is much easier to use than the ones in the Acura RDX, Lexus NX, and even the Mercedes GLC, though I find the BMW and Audi infotainment units far superior in terms of definition, clarity, and learning curve.
A few nifty features that Canadians will surely appreciate in the winter include the touchscreen that works even when you have thick gloves on, and remote engine start. Anyone who has used the latter when the temperature dips below freezing knows it’s a miraculous invention. I won’t talk too much about safety equipment but the QX50 does come with the full gamut of sensors and tech. Of note: blind spot monitoring comes standard on all models.
The 2019 Infiniti QX50 starts at a competitive $44,490 and runs right up to $57,990 for the full beans. It may be an unpopular opinion but I believe the only aspect bringing the QX50 down is the lack of linearity and cohesion from the driving experience. The new trick variable compression ratio engine is worth a closer look and its resulting V6 levels of acceleration and drastic improvement in fuel efficiency over the outgoing model is impressive, but I doubt it will be the smoking gun to persuade buyers to choose the QX50 over its rivals. Luckily, this Infiniti does everything else exceptionally well, and its appealing sheetmetal, supple ride quality, impeccable cabin design, and standard features far outweigh its performance penalties.
Model: 2019 Infiniti QX50 Autograph
Paint Type: Graphite Shadow ($650)
Base Price: $57,990
Price as Tested: $58,640
Length/Width/Height (mm): 4,693 / 1,903 / 1,679
Engine: 2.0-litre turbocharged inline-four with variable compression ratio
Horsepower: 268 hp @ 5,600 rpm
Torque: 280 lb-ft @ 1,600 - 4,800 rpm
Engine & Drive Configuration: Front engine, AWD
Fuel Consumption ( City / Highway / Combined ) L/100km: 11.2
Observed Fuel Consumption (L/100km): 10.0 / 7.8 / 9.0