Infiniti has had something of an identity crisis with its SUVs and crossovers. On one end is both the behemoth QX80, a luxo-barge that makes an Escalade looked underdressed, and the smaller, seven-passenger QX70. Like Howlin' Wolf, they're built for comfort, not speed.
On the other end, you've got the diminutive QX30, a tall, zippy crossover that handles like a Mini and offers mini passenger space, and now the newly redesigned 2019 Infiniti QX50. While it's a stretch to call the QX50 a sporty SUV like its predecessor, the EX, it's a predictable and competent machine. It won't let you down, but it probably won't inspire you to attack twisting open roads either.
Unsurprising, given that the QX50 has moved to an all-new platform and abandoned the sportier chassis that underpinned the model for nearly a decade. Instead, the QX50 moves to a new chassis, one built around a front-wheel-drive configuration, which allows more cabin room and better packaging.
But it's not the increased passenger and cargo space or upgraded materials and tech that piqued our interest. Rather, it's the stuff packaged beneath the hood that's of real interest to us.
What Did We Buy?
This new second-generation QX50 represents a comprehensive overhaul from its predecessor. Although Infiniti officially debuted the QX50 name in 2014, the SUV hasn't changed much from the model that debuted in 2008 as the EX35. (The name was shortened to simply EX in 2011.)
That all changes with this new front-wheel-drive chassis and a new 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that Infiniti calls VC-Turbo. VC stands for variable compression and, as it sounds, it enables the engine to vary its compression ratio rather than operating at a fixed value.
An additional link attached to each piston's connecting rod allows changes to the distance that the piston rises in its cylinder, providing for real-time compression ratio changes ranging from 8:1 to 14:1. So it runs more efficiently during cruising and relies less on fuel enrichment — common in turbo engines — during high-performance acceleration. In principle, its fuel economy should be less sensitive to driving style than other turbo engines.
Variable compression represents a significant achievement on the internal combustion engine timeline, but will we like it? We already have our doubts — not with the engine, but rather the ropey continuously variable automatic transmission that it's lashed to. We've noticed some awkwardness in the CVT automatic's responses, and our gut instinct is that this transmission is masking the engine's potential. Maybe we'll come to terms with it in a year.
What Options Does It Have?
Whenever possible, we try to get the most fully featured trim level so we can explore and report on everything the model can offer. That's the case here: We've taken delivery of the top-trim 2019 Infiniti QX50 Essential AWD, with a base price of $45,150.
Feature highlights include 19-inch wheels, LED headlights, a panoramic sunroof, leather upholstery, navigation, a surround-view camera, three-zone climate control, heated side mirrors, front and rear parking sensors, forward collision warning, and automatic emergency braking.
We checked off the Sensory package ($7,500), which adds 20-inch wheels, adaptive headlights, enhanced climate control (with a cabin air cleaner), premium leather upholstery, heated and ventilated front seats, a heated and power-adjustable steering wheel, a simulated-suede headliner, ambient cabin lighting, and driver-position memory settings.
From there we also opted for the ProAssist and ProActive packages. The ProAssist package ($550) bundles backup collision intervention (which automatically applies brakes if a collision seems likely while reversing), rear cross-traffic alert, distance control alert, and adaptive cruise control.
The ProActive package is a bigger-ticket item ($2,000) but adds several features to the driver safety bundle, including blind-spot intervention (which can make steering corrections to avoid a lane-changing collision), lane keeping assist, upgraded adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go function, and steering assist. Those last few features enable the QX50 with semiautonomous driving capability. Other useful features include automatic high beams, a head-up display and a self-parking system.
All in, the Infiniti QX50 would have cost $55,200, plus a destination charge of $995. So figure $56,195. It would have cost us that, but it didn't. Infiniti lent us the car for the year.
Why We Got It
Another midsize crossover? Yes. But stifle your yawns for a minute — this new QX50 actually has a few things going on.
First, it's a ground-up overhaul replacing a platform that survived nearly a decade and three name changes. That promises improvements in ride comfort as well as in passenger and cargo space. Second, the QX50 features significant new engine technology, probably the most considerable leap in internal combustion engine design since direct injection.
We're also curious about the ProPilot Assist technologies. We've enjoyed this battery of driver aids in our Nissan Leaf EV, where its semiautonomous nature helps make our challenging stop-and-go commutes a little less fatiguing. Will these features fare as well in the larger SUV?
Finally, since we already drove the subcompact QX30 for a year, we figured it was time to try the next rung up on the ladder. The QX30 was small and fun, with sharp handling and an engine and transmission sourced from Mercedes-Benz that gave it plenty of life. It even came in a color that got people talking, for better or worse. Our new QX50 won't generate any such controversies.
Follow its progress during our long-term road test for our latest thoughts and impressions of this 2019 Infiniti QX50.
The manufacturer provided this vehicle for the purpose of evaluation.
Dan Frio, staff writer