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2016 Infiniti QX50: First Drive Review

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ADDITIONAL MODEL INFORMATION

author photo by Ron Sessions October 2015

Cast a quick glance at the 2016 Infiniti QX50, and you might think you're looking at the previous year's model. There's a new double-arch grille, some LED running lamps, revised front and rear fascias -- and that's about it. Scrutinize the luxury brand's smallest crossover a bit more carefully, though, and you'll see that the new model stretches longer, particularly between the front and rear wheels. The wheelbase determines the size of the passenger compartment, an area where crossovers such as the QX50 are supposed to be roomy and accommodating.

Ever since the QX50 was introduced in 2008 as the EX35, its cramped rear seat generated customer complaints, hurting sales, but for 2016, a wheelbase stretch adds 4.3 inches of rear-seat legroom, which may not sound like much -- unless you've recently flown cross-country in coach class on a major airline. The additional inches are transformative, turning what had been a penalty seat into one worthy of glowing Uber car ratings. Longer rear doors provide ample access to the aft quarters, which now offer knee clearance rivaling the front seats.

Heart of a Coupe

The premise of the QX50 was always more of a sporty wagon than a big, lumbering SUV. Infiniti put some serious effort into the challenge of elevating the "sport" in sport utility, basing the QX50 on Nissan's front midships (FM) architecture, the same platform underpinning the 370Z sports car and Infiniti's top-selling Q50 (formerly G37 sedan and coupe), both cars we've been big fans of for years. Sports-car bones means well-tuned double-wishbone front and multilink rear suspensions, a low center of gravity and an engine pushed behind the front-wheel center line for nicely balanced front and rear weight distribution. This package rides well and handles with composure well beyond many competing crossovers and SUVs.

Key the QX50's engine to life, and you'll hear the same melodious 3.7-liter V6 powering the 370Z. Pumping 325 horsepower and 267 lb-ft of torque, the V6 is teamed with a slick-shifting 7-speed automatic that the driver can manually move through the gears with the console-mounted shifter for sporty driving. Engage the Sport mode button on the console, and the downshifts become rev-matching for more driving flair.

Inner Sanctum

The new QX50's leather-lined cabin is the same sumptuous place it's always been. Infiniti made the power-sliding moonroof standard for 2016 but otherwise kept the luxurious mix of old-school items -- such as an analog clock and hard buttons for climate control and most of the infotainment-system functions -- and tech stuff -- including the available Around View Monitor that provides an overhead drone's-eye view of the vehicle and its immediate surroundings. A thick leather-wrapped steering wheel and nicely weighted shifter convey this machine's substance. The heated power front seats are formfitting and all-day comfortable. Our only disappointment (a minor one) is the relatively puny 7-inch infotainment screen, which pales in comparison to some newer units, such as the 12.3-in display in the 2016 Lexus RX 350.

One area where Infiniti has kept the QX50 up to date is technology. The crossover can be equipped with the latest in semiautonomous driving systems, such as lane-departure warning, lane-departure prevention, forward-collision warning, a blind spot monitoring system and intelligent cruise control with distance-control assist. We're inclined to turn off some of these systems when they're not needed and enjoy driving the car, but it's nice to know that they're there. Lane-departure warning gives a lot of false positives and requires good road maintenance with well-defined lane markers to work properly, but the blind spot monitoring system and automatic braking aspects of distance control and intelligent cruise are worth their weight in gold.

Our Take

The 2016 Infiniti QX50 is available in both rear-drive and all-wheel-drive configurations. With the excellent balance and handling of the FM-based chassis, Sunbelt buyers should have no qualms about opting for the lighter, livelier rear-wheel-drive version. Mountain dwellers and snow-country inhabitants should go with the sure-footed traction of Infiniti's intelligent all-wheel-drive system. Environmental Protection Agency mileage estimates for both configurations are the same, at 17 miles per gallon in the city and 24 mpg on the highway.

The stretch job on the 2016 QX50 breathed new life into this car-based crossover that first saw the light of day 8 years ago, which can be an eternity in the car business. And yet, with sumptuous accommodations for both rows of seats, the 2016 may be the best iteration of this sporty Infiniti so far. Expect an all-new QX50 to break cover within a couple of years, but in the meantime, the 2016 model presents an interesting and less pricy alternative to other sports-car-based crossovers such as the Porsche Macan and Cayenne.

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This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
2016 Infiniti QX50: First Drive Review - Autotrader