Words: Calvin Chan
Photography: Calvin Chan
Published: December 1, 2019
If you are in the market for a premium compact SUV, you’re in luck. There are no shortage of entrants, from the well-balanced BMW X3, cozy Mercedes-Benz GLC, sporty Porsche Macan, to the feature-rich Acura RDX. Infiniti claims a slice of the pie too with their QX50, loaded with a nifty variable compression ratio engine that promises stellar fuel economy. Combined with handsome sheetmetal and a convincingly premium interior, Infiniti is betting their marbles that the QX50 will be enough to topple the German giants that have for so long, dominated this money making segment. But while it has the right ingredients to produce an appealing global product, the QX50 lacks a cohesive powertrain and fails to stimulate any sort of driver emotion from behind the wheel.
It all starts with the engine. Infiniti is the first automaker to develop variable compression ratio technology, which changes how far the pistons rise in its cylinders. The compression ratio changes anywhere from 8:1 for maximum performance to 14:1 for optimal fuel efficiency. All you need to know is that this 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine can automatically flip between performance and efficiency without the need to alter any internal parts. It offers the best of both worlds, so they say, and while it may not sound like much, it took Infiniti more than 20 years to get this technology into production.
But it doesn’t feel very different or unique to drive. In fact, out on the open road, the QX50 behaves much like a larger V6 with a healthy 268 hp and 280 lb-ft sent to all four wheels via a Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT), but the wave of torque seems to only kick in after a slight delay. It does not feel like turbo lag, and frankly I am not sure if it’s just the CVT being indecisive or if its the throttle tuning, but the hesitation of power delivery is off-putting. The power does not seem to cut off right when you lift off the pedal either. There’s some carryover in acceleration for a split second, which is unsettling at times when you simply want to coast or slowly decelerate in traffic. This created a bit of a disconnect between us and the machine, lowering our confidence that the QX50 would behave exactly as expected.
The overly boosted steering rack is disappointingly numb and distant, and the CVT just doesn’t belong in a premium product. While acceptable in an economy car, I don’t believe the coarse and unpleasant buzzing that it brings to the table is fitting for a luxury car touted to be both comfortable and quiet. The droning and fake shifts aren’t convincing, neither is the deafening redline wail at wide-open-throttle, which pushes the QX50 from 0-100 km/h in 6.7 seconds, hardly enough to keep up with its four-cylinder rivals like the BMW X3 xDrive30i (6.3 seconds) and Mercedes GLC 300 (6.2 seconds).
Yes, the new engine is more fuel efficient than the naturally aspirated 3.7-litre V6 that it replaces (Infiniti quotes it to be 30%), but it didn’t prove to be a game changer in real world driving. Rather than the claimed average of 9.0 L/100km, we could only score 11.6 L/100km over a mix of both light highway and city driving. We even tried turning off the air conditioning and setting the driving mode to its most economical settings, but that only decreased it down to 11.0 L/100km. To add salt to the wound, it requires premium fuel as well.
The QX50 brings a lot of potential to the table. Its sleek styling and upscale interior are a visual wonder. Their designers have incorporated distinctive features like the arched front grill to help distinguish the QX50 from its rivals and solidify its image as a proper opponent. I also can’t help but notice that Infiniti took a page out of Cadillac’s design book by permeating the cabin with a dizzying mix and match of materials, everything from leather, suede, wood, chrome, and glossy plastics. Not to mention, they are all different colours, shapes, and sizes. The petite leather-wrapped gear knob looks and works just like the one in the Mercedes GLA - perhaps something learned from their joint venture with the QX30. We do have to give Infiniti credit for being more adventurous and daring with their cabin design - nothing here feels sourced from the Nissan spare parts bin.
There are a few other downsides to the QX50. The headrests don’t adjust fore and aft, only up and down. The heated steering wheel barely heats up to the point of relevant use, and a few minutes in, it simply gives up and stops heating the wheel entirely. The dual-screen infotainment unit is also (half) disappointing. The top screen is dedicated to camera views and navigation, offering dated graphics pulled straight from a 2008 Infiniti. Luckily the bottom screen is much higher definition and is the one you will be looking at and playing with more often. Hard buttons are located below the screen to control the infotainment, as well as a rotary dial situated next to the gear shifter to control the top screen. The system is much easier to use than the notoriously clumsy units in the Acura RDX and Lexus NX, though it’s a few leagues behind the BMW and Audi systems in definition, clarity, and learning curve.
In such a jam-packed automotive segment, the Infiniti QX50 does not cut the mustard as a competitive product. The sleek styling and feature-rich cabin are appealing, the ride quality is excellent, and the cabin design is forward-thinking, but the lack of cohesion from the powertrain, disconnected driving experience, and average real-world fuel efficiency, have us looking elsewhere.
Model: 2020 Infiniti QX50 2.0t Sensory AWD
Paint Type: Dynamic Stone Red
Base Price: $57,098
Price as Tested: $58,298
Length/Width/Height (mm): 4,693 / 1,903 / 1,679
Engine: 2.0-litre turbocharged inline-four with variable compression ratio
Horsepower: 268 hp @ 5,600 rpm
Torque: 280 lb-ft @ 1,600 - 4,800 rpm
Engine & Drive Configuration: Front engine, AWD
Fuel Consumption ( City / Highway / Combined ) L/100km: 11.6
Observed Fuel Consumption (L/100km): 10.0 / 7.8 / 9.0