Is there room in the booming premium-crossover market for another contender? Infiniti hopes so and is placing its bets on the new QX50.
For a brand that has had trouble gaining traction in the luxury market, the 2019 QX50 is critical. The QX50 needs to attract more buyers than its predecessor, build volume for a brand that has lagged well behind its rivals and pave the way for a new wave of freshly designed and innovative Infiniti models.
That’s a tall order for the QX50, which wades into action soon against firmly established competitors such as the Audi Q5 and Lexus RX.
The good news for Infiniti and consumers interested in the crossover market is that the QX50 is well placed to compete in terms of design, engineering and comfort and convenience features.
Size-wise the QX50 is a bit shorter than its predecessor, but is longer and wider than most rivals except the Lexus RX. Sensibly, the QX50 translates its footprint into the roomiest interior — especially for second-row passengers, whose seat can slide forward and backward — in the segment.
So for buyers concerned with spaciousness and practicality, the QX50 scores well. And when it comes to comfort and interior aesthetics, the new Infiniti also comes out swinging. The seats are unusually well-cushioned and properly contoured for support, unlike some German rivals that offer overly firm seating.
The QX50 comes in three trim levels: Pure, Luxe and Essential. Though the entry-level model starts at a very competitive $36,550, you have to step up to the Essential version — priced in the mid-$50s — to reap the full rewards of Infiniti’s investment in fine interior materials and infotainment features.
At that point, the material selection — leather, open-pore wood, suede and aluminum — is truly impressive. Though a light-cream leather finish might seem a bit impractical, it comes with a striking combination of light wood trim and blue suede accents. The combination is hard to resist and more attractive than the black on black trim option which makes the cabin feel gloomy.
While many crossover buyers are probably not that interested in powertrain performance and vehicle handling, the QX50 does have a novel trick up its sleeve. As the first Infiniti model to feature the company’s new variable compression engine, the QX50 introduces a breakthrough technology that leaves rivals wanting.
Simply put, the VC Turbo engine delivers the power — especially the torque — of a V-6 motor with the fuel economy of a four-cylinder. Infiniti parent Nissan is the first automaker in the world to perfect the long-sought-after concept of a variable compression engine and the QX50 clearly demonstrates its benefits.
In place of the previous-generation QX50, with its relatively heavy and thirsty V-6, the 2.0-liter four-cylinder VC Turbo motor delivers 35 percent better fuel economy. At 27 mpg, the VC Turbo’s mpg average is about 10 percent better than that of its most economical rivals, the Audi Q5 and Lexus NX.
Unfortunately, the QX50 pairs this impressive engine with a CVT transmission, which despite Infiniti engineers’ best efforts simply fails to behave with the responsiveness and control of a conventional automatic gearbox.
There are other flaws, notably with the dated looking and hard-to-operate dual-screen set-up in the QX50 cockpit. Compared to the state-of-the-art all-digital displays in the Audi Q5, the Infiniti feels like it is at least a generation behind the times, a surprising failing given the effort put into other aspects of the Infiniti interior and its sophisticated driver aids.
In sum, the QX50 makes a strong case for itself. The exterior design is adventurous enough to stand out from the crowd, full of character but not over the top. And the interior is impressive, not just for the quality of its fit and finish, but also for its spaciousness and practicality.
Throw in the power and economy of the new VC Turbo engine, and the QX50 has plenty of cause to be on consumers’ crossover shopping lists.
John McCormick is a columnist for Autos Consumer and can be reached at email@example.com.