When Infiniti debuted in America in 1989, it was a three-sedan lineup working against Lexus and Acura for the established luxury car market long held by brands named Cadillac, Lincoln, plus the German brands. Performance was the niche that Nissan’s luxury arm pursued, earning accolades from the critics.
Over the past 30 years, this segment has migrated away from sedans as crossovers and SUVs now dominate the premium car market. At Infiniti, its top-selling products are the QX60 midsize crossover and this compact offering, the QX50.
Almost exactly the same size as the BMW X3, Audi Q5 and Volvo XC60 (185 inches long, 110-inch wheelbase, 4,155 pounds), the Infiniti employs one powertrain while many rivals offer consumers several power choices. Other potential considerations in this class include Mercedes GLB/GLC, Acura RDX, Lincoln Corsair, Lexus NX and Cadillac XT4.
The Infiniti powerplant is similar to the base powerplant in these rivals; a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder. Unlike the others, Infiniti uses variable compression cycles to improve power output, as well as a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT) instead of a typical multi-speed automatic. The intent is to create V-6-like power, very successful, along with typical four-cylinder fuel economy, less successful. EPA mileage estimates are 22/28/25 mpg for this potent 268-hp motor.
While front drive is standard, starting at $38,975, this long wheelbase compact works so much better with optional AWD ($2,000). The QX50’s handling is a nice balance of athletic responsiveness along with a compliant ride over all but the sharpest of surface interruptions. Cabin noise suppression is above average, while the AWD lends a sense of safety and security to all driving on sandy dry roads as well as snowy winter routes.
The QX50 stands out in this otherwise competent class with very distinctive exterior styling teamed with a handsome, user-friendly interior layout. The Majestic White paint is deep, smooth and luscious. The body lines and complementing LED lamps are visually exciting, with the body contours masking the vehicle’s size so much that it appears to be much smaller than the Infiniti really is. Access is assisted by wrap-around door panels that cover the rocker panels, while the turn-following headlamps, underbody welcome lighting and sleek rear hatch further the warm presentation.
Inside, Infiniti gives buyers five trim levels: Essential, Luxe, Pure, Sensory and sampled Autograph ($61,765 as shown). Quilted white semi-aniline leather seating with blue piping, wood trim in the dash, lighted sill plates, an Ultra-suede headliner plus a panoramic sunroof all make a strong visual statement upon entering the cabin. Dual screens in the center dash — an upper panel for navigation, a center panel for apps and entertainment, with buttons and climate switches below — creates an easy-to-use command central situation that is not distracting. The only demerits are the control for the steering wheel warmer is layered in the touchscreen instead of a convenient switch like the seat heaters, and the push-button in the console for “Park” is not intuitive behind the shifter mechanism.
Rear seating is spacious, the seatbacks recline and visibility is generally very good.
Also available is Infiniti’s Pro-Pilot assist, the semi-autonomous self-driving electronic program. Working with the plethora of electronic driving systems — intelligent cruise, front and rear parking sensors, blind spot detection, rear cross-traffic assist, traffic-sign mitigation, rear automatic braking, forward braking assist, lane departure assist — Pro-Pilot can operate hands-free in congested traffic for limited durations. Drivers must still “tend” the steering wheel, yet some operators will want to employ this aid for unending stop-and-go traffic.
With a heads-up display on the lower windshield, 16-speaker Bose sound system, power tilt/telescoping steering wheel with memory, plus Siri, Apple, and Android functionality available with the Wi-Fi hotspot helping to manage all facets of entertainment, the QX50 covers a lot of items on today’s consumer wish lists.
Built in Aguas, Mexico, the QX50 can tow up to 3,000 pounds.
The QX50 has the look of luxury, the stance of a modern crossover and the driving chops that will certainly earn a second glance from buyers looking to move up in one of the hottest segments in the industry. Hopefully, Infiniti is working on a hybrid/EV version.
Next week: Toyota Avalon AWD