2019 Infiniti QX50 First Drive

Innovative Engine Tech Spearheads Long List of Improvements

Small premium crossovers have exploded in popularity over the last decade, which makes you wonder why Infiniti took so long to update the QX50. The luxury brand's smallest SUV debuted in late 2007 as the 2008 EX35, and aside from a few changes along the way — notably, a larger engine in 2013, the name change to QX50 in 2014, and a longer wheelbase in 2016 — it was essentially the same car. Despite a resurgence in popularity after the 2016 refresh, the QX50 lagged behind newer rivals such as the BMW X3, Lexus NX and Mercedes-Benz GLC.

The luxury automaker is looking to turn the tide with the launch of the redesigned 2019 Infiniti QX50. With an exterior that echoes the three-row QX60's, the 2019 QX50 enjoys numerous improvements, including a larger cargo area, a roomier back seat and groundbreaking engine technology. The QX50 is also the first Infiniti available with the ProPilot Assist suite of advanced driving aids, allowing the car to navigate with minimal input from the driver. On paper, Infiniti has done its homework to produce a standout crossover that can go toe to toe with the headliners in this segment. We trekked across Los Angeles County from Santa Monica to a drive event in West Hollywood to see if the new QX50 delivers.

2019 Infiniti QX50

A Luxurious Cabin, but Not Without Drawbacks
The QX50's interior is jaw-dropping, especially if you order the top Essence model with the luxe Sensory and Autograph packages. The cabin features an interesting mix of white quilted leather upholstery, brown leather dash and door coverings, blue simulated-suede inserts and white open-pore wood trim. We certainly didn't expect such a gutsy move from Infiniti, but the contrasting colors and high-quality materials are impressive. Those looking for a more reserved single- or two-tone interior can simply omit the Autograph package. Even in these forms, with a straight black interior or beige-and-brown combo, the QX50 looks appropriately high-class.

2019 Infiniti QX50

Though it took nearly a decade for the last model to comfortably seat four adults, the new QX50 offers a fairly spacious interior right out of the gate. The head- and legroom are good throughout for most people, but very tall passengers face a few challenges. If the panoramic sunroof is present, rear passengers might have to move the seatback to one of its nine recline positions to avoid brushing up against the headliner. Hard front seatbacks and lack of toeroom will affect tall rear passengers behind similarly tall front occupants, but both can be worked around with minimal manipulations. The middle seat position isn't ideal for adults since the headrest only rises to about the base of the neck. On the other hand, cargo room is generous for the segment, between 31.6 and 37 cubic feet of space behind the rear seat (depending on seat position), with a maximum of 60 cubic feet with the seats folded.

The QX50's on-road manners are similarly mixed. As befitting a luxury crossover, levels of wind and engine noise are kept to a minimum while traveling at high speeds. Unfortunately, chatter from the 20-inch tires was pervasive, but road noise from a model with 19-inch wheels was noticeably reduced. The smaller wheels bring additional benefits, too: They are better at smoothing over small bumps and make the car feel less jittery over poorly maintained roads. The larger wheels are bundled with the Sensory package, so you'll have to choose between an inspiring interior and a supple ride.

2019 Infiniti QX50

Thoughtful Engine Tech for Fuel-Efficient Performance
Acceleration has always been one of the QX50's strong suits thanks to its powerful 3.7-liter V6. Fuel economy, however, lagged significantly behind that of competitors, which switched to turbocharged four-cylinder engines years ago. For 2019, the QX50 follows suit, packing an all-new 2.0-liter turbo-four — with 268 horsepower and 280 pound-feet of torque — mated to a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT). Front-wheel drive is standard on all trims, with an all-wheel-drive powertrain optional for an additional $1,800.

The four-cylinder is notable for being the first application of a variable-compression engine in a mass-produced car. Under light acceleration and while cruising, compression ratio is increased and the engine operates in the Atkinson cycle to maximize fuel efficiency. Heavy acceleration kicks the turbocharger into high gear and triggers a drop in compression ratio to avoid engine knocking. Overall, the system promises better fuel economy while cruising and more power when you need it. Official EPA estimates have not been released yet, but Infiniti says the QX50 will achieve 27 mpg in combined driving with front-wheel drive and 26 mpg with AWD. If these numbers are accurate, the QX50 would be more efficient than all of its rivals by 1 to 5 mpg.

On the Road
In the real world, you'd be hard-pressed to tell anything out of the ordinary is happening under the hood, though the QX50's acceleration is not without its quirks. Pin the gas pedal to the floor after coming to a complete stop, and it takes a few beats to get the QX50 up to freeway speeds. It is the opposite if you hit the accelerator while already moving. Dig into the pedal, and the near-instantaneous combination of gearing ratio change and turbocharger spool thrusts you back into your seat. Acceleration is so swift that passing maneuvers require little planning to execute. In between these two extremes is how the QX50 responds to a more typical roll-on throttle application. You'll have to be careful pulling away from a stop in the Standard drive mode because there's a point fairly early on in the pedal stroke when the engine really wakes up and rockets the QX50 forward. Acceleration is more natural and linear at higher speeds, but on crowded city streets, it takes some getting used to.

If you prefer mountains to the metro area, rest assured that the QX50 easily handles a set of corners without breaking a sweat. Body motions in our all-wheel-drive tester felt controlled in the high-speed sweepers and tight corners of the Santa Monica Mountains, with nary a hint of tire squeal. In fact, it was the steering that sapped our confidence on twisty roads. With generally light effort and little buildup of heft as the wheel is moved away from dead center, it was difficult figuring out just where the QX50's wheels were pointed. One possible explanation is that our tester was equipped with Infiniti's Direct Adaptive Steering (it's included on the ProActive package), and a vehicle without it might feel more natural on curvy roads.

Upward Mobility
Including the $995 destination charge, the 2019 Infiniti QX50 starts at $37,545; this price is about average for Japanese luxury crossovers and less than an equivalent BMW, Cadillac or Volvo. Its base Pure trim is well-equipped, with standard 19-inch wheels, LED headlights, keyless entry and ignition, a power liftgate, imitation leather upholstery, two touchscreens (8-inch upper and 7-inch lower), four USB ports, and satellite and HD radio. Also included is a forward collision warning system with automatic emergency braking.

No option packages are available for the QX50 Pure, so those looking for extra amenities will have to upgrade to the midtier Luxe ($40,395). It adds a panoramic sunroof, roof rails, an auto-dimming rearview mirror and blind-spot monitoring. Heated front seats are a $550 option. The top Essential trim ($44,345) further adds automatic wipers, leather upholstery, a navigation system, dual touchscreens, tri-zone climate control, a 360-degree parking camera, heated mirrors, and front and rear parking sensors.

A number of feature packages are available solely for the Essential model. These include the Premium Audio ($900) package — adding a 16-speaker Bose audio system — and the ProAssist package ($550), which pairs adaptive cruise control and rear cross-traffic alert with automatic reverse braking.

Also available is the Premium Heated Seats package ($1,200), which adds heated front seats, driver-seat memory settings, and a heated and power-adjustable steering wheel. And the ProActive package ($2,000) includes automatic high beams, a head-up display, Infiniti's Direct Adaptive Steering system, and the ProPilot Assist features — enhanced adaptive cruise control, an automated parking system, and lane departure warning and intervention.

If you want an interior like the one shown in these pictures, you'll have to check the boxes for two additional, very pricey packages. The $7,500 Sensory package adds the Premium Audio and Premium Heated Seats packages, plus 20-inch wheels, premium leather, ventilated front seats, a faux-suede headliner and other upgrades. The Autograph package ($2,000) tops off the QX50 with white leather upholstery and blue faux-suede trim in the front of the cabin. A Tow package with a tow hitch and an upgraded oil cooler and radiator is available on AWD models with the Sensory package.

The Bottom Line
The 2019 Infiniti QX50 is vastly improved over the car it replaces, with a more spacious cabin, a much larger cargo hold, sumptuous interior appointments, and new engine technology that blends efficiency and performance. Overall, it's not the most awesome compact luxury crossover, but it packs a lot of value in a segment not known for being budget-friendly.