THE PROS & CONS
- What’s Good: Fuel miser, nicely tailored interior, smooth ride.
- What’s Bad: Dated infotainment, vague steering.
Heading down to Motor City in January for the Detroit Auto Show is like a rite of passage for an auto journalist. Getting there (for me) means taking the heavily travelled Toronto to Windsor corridor along the 401, well known for sudden whiteouts and frequent snow squalls that can turn a routine trip into a treacherous white-knuckled drive.
In order to make what could be a challenging few hours behind the wheel a bit easier, I asked Infiniti if they would let me borrow their new QX50 for the trek.
Infiniti’s best selling compact crossover has been completely redesigned for 2019, and comes standard with the number one thing on everybody’s winter car wishlist: All-wheel drive. It also promises efficiency and power thanks to a new high-tech variable compression turbo engine developed in-house by Nissan. An industry first.
I drove the QX50 a little while ago on the Canadian launch program and was impressed with the styling and interior trimmings, however, I did not get as much time as I would have liked behind the wheel to form a good opinion on what it’s like to live with.
Armed with a fresh set of winter shoes, the QX50 and I were ready to take on winter’s onslaught. Except that onslaught never came. No snow squalls, no whiteouts, no storms. Nothing. Conditions that day on the 401 were, well, ideal.
A good thing then and better to soak in the upscale cabin of my fully loaded Autograph trimmed QX50. This is the top trim out of five and springing for it gets you every single option that the QX50 offers.
The Autograph is also the only one that gets white quilted leather seats and expensive feeling blue Ultrasuede on the centre armrest that flows uninterrupted into the centre console and wraps around the infotainment screen. There’s more blue suede on the doors and on the dashboard; the top of which is covered in contrast stitched dark brown leather that also covers the steering wheel and door panel tops.
Real open-pore maple wood trim and satin finished metallic accents round out an interior that punts well above this compact’s weight class. It’s a veritable feast of colours and textures that give the cabin a custom feel.
It’s a comfortable place to spend time in, boasting class-leading rear passenger legroom, certainly enough for my 6-foot frame, and a large cargo area that has grown significantly over the last model. There’s now 881 litres of space back there and because the rear seats slide back and forth that space can expand to 1048 litres. Those rear seats, however, are not heated and there’s no option for it either and that seems a bit of an oversight in a car whose MSRP approaches $60,000.
Infiniti’s InTouch Dual display infotainment system similar to what’s in the Q50 sedan splits duties between two touch screens in an effort to try and simplify operation. But it all feels unnecessarily complex in the end. The top screen handles the navigation map and phone functions, but inputs are made on the bottom touchscreen. There’s a small rotary controller that doesn’t really have much use other than controlling some rarely used navigation functions or switching between different types of maps. Rather irksome as well is that both screens have different types of graphics and different resolutions and come across as two distinct systems trying to work as one. And there’s no Carplay/Android auto bypass, so you’re stuck using it for your infotainment needs. There are more intuitive and more modern systems offered by the competition and this one mars the otherwise excellent interior experience.
Customers that shop in this entry-level luxury segment generally want their cars to offer everything. They want them to be luxurious but they also want sport, and it should be fast, and good on gas, and carry lots of stuff and so on. I sympathize with the designers and engineers that have to constantly fight that battle of keeping costs down while still giving the customer everything they desire and wrapping it all in a pleasing shape because if it doesn’t draw you in visually then they might as well not even bother.
A genuine looker, Infiniti’s design language works very well on the QX50 with a low, wide look that’s equal parts aggressive and elegant. Like the clamshell hood that resembles the head of a striking cobra and the slim multi-element LED headlights that are modern, yet classy. Restrained use of chrome contrasts well with the dark tinted 20-inch wheels and the signature double-arch grille and distinctive D-pillar kink make this unmistakably an Infiniti and easily one of the best looking cars in their lineup.
On the road, the ride is composed and suitably firm but never uncomfortable. Harsh impacts are filtered out and body roll is kept in check. Even on winter rubber, there was lots of grip on the dry cold roads with zero protests from the tires even under aggressive cornering.
The steering while quite accurate is completely devoid of feel and lacks any sort of meaningful connection between the driver and what the front wheels are doing. Infiniti’s steer-by-wire system, now in its fourth generation is markedly improved over earlier attempts but still doesn’t offer a natural ramp up of steering effort when pushed through corners. Still, when you realize that a computer is fully determining how much you want the wheels turned it is nonetheless impressive. It works seamlessly with driver assistance and semi-autonomous driving technologies like the ProPilot Assist system that comes standard on Proactive and higher trims.
ProPilot uses a myriad of sensors including the blind spot monitors and forward cameras to maintain a pre-selected distance from the car in front of you while simultaneously keeping you centered within the lane. It takes over the steering and braking functions as well so you can basically sit back (with your hands on the wheel) and watch as the QX50 drives itself. The system works remarkably well with smooth inputs that keep the vehicle well centered without any bouncing about within the lane. I used it quite a bit on the drive to and from Windsor and it never faltered.
The big news under the hood is the world’s first variable compression engine. Quite a complex bit of engineering but one that feels completely normal much like any other small displacement turbo engine. And that normal feeling in a groundbreaking engine is reason enough for the engineers to give themselves a round of high-fives and back pats.
Engine compression explained as simply as possible is the amount the air within a cylinder gets squeezed or compressed by the upward stroke of the piston. The higher a piston is allowed to travel, the more it squeezes the air and the higher the compression. In virtually every other engine today the compression ratio is fixed.
By using a special multi-link between the connecting rod and crankshaft, and a small electric motor, the compression of Infiniti’s engine can be seamlessly altered between a range of 8:1 on the low side and 14:1 on the high side. This means power and torque when you need it and fuel-sipping efficiency when you don’t.
With 268 hp and 280 lb-ft of torque coming online at just 1600 rpm, there was enough shove on hand to make this a respectably quick little crossover. The CVT does a good job of mimicking a traditional stepped gearbox and was never an issue like in some other cars I’ve driven.
After about a thousand kilometres of driving the QX50 registered a fairly impressive 9.5L per 100 km on cold winter roads while wearing winter rubber. Numbers that can be expected to drop by at least a litre, maybe more, during the warmer months.
I stayed away from the Eco drive mode as it dulls throttle response to a level that I just couldn’t get used to. Surprisingly the QX50 doesn’t offer an auto stop/start system, which would have probably improved upon those fuel numbers even further.
With prices starting at just over $44K the QX50 comes standard with quite a lot of kit including AWD, 19-inch wheels, LED lighting, a huge panoramic sunroof, power liftgate, blind spot monitors, forward collision warning, and a remote engine starter.
The middle-of-the-road Proactive trim ($52,990) adds leather and 360 cameras, ProPilot semi-autonomous driving assistance, more safety tech like backup collision intervention, and a 16-speaker Bose stereo system and is a good way to order the QX50 with everything you would ever really need, save for some more luxurious items that might not be worth it in the long run.
Overall the 2019 Infiniti QX50 is a well balanced entry that looks great and offers a new high tech engine that saves fuel without having to go hybrid or electric. And that makes it a compelling choice in this hotly contested segment.