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2019 Infiniti QX50: First Drive Review

Compact crossovers are all the rage right now, and premium compact crossovers are boiling over. As Infiniti continues to make over its crossover and SUV lineup, the 2019 Infiniti QX50 has been given a little elbow room in the middle with the discontinuation of the QX70. Here’s how it looks now: QX30 sub-compact 2-row; QX50 compact 2-row; QX60 mid-size 3-row; and QX80 full-size 3-row. QX50 has come due for a makeover, and it’s major — nearly a clean sheet. The former EX35 rides on a new platform, with an all-new exterior and interior.

What’s New?

Everything is new, and some of it is new to the automotive world. The new platform includes the VC-Turbo engine, the world’s first variable compression ratio engine. All-new sheet metal wraps the QX50, and a new interior greets driver and passengers with a wider cabin and a second row that slides fore and aft. ProPILOT Assist is now available, and Direct Adaptive Steering with steer-by-wire technology is also a feature. A 17-speaker Bose Performance Series audio system gets its first home in upper trim levels. See the 2019 Infiniti QX50 models for sale near you

Variable Compression Pumps Interest

Engineering geeks will love the new engine. Infiniti has figured out an internal mechanism that alters the compression ratio of the 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine in response to demand. Getting deep into the weeds here, a precisely machined linkage dynamically varies the piston’s stroke, which has the effect of changing the compression ratio from 8:1 to 14:1 in about one second.

Why would you want to change the compression ratio? High compression ratio generally squeezes more out of its fuel, as the space where detonation happens is smaller and more densely packed with air. This is great for efficiency, but it can be challenging to maintain knock-free detonation. In higher demand situations where the priority is more power and torque over efficiency and where your really can’t risk knocks, the engine reverts to 8:1 for safer operation. Infiniti engineers have been working on this technology for years and, in the process, they refined the milling and manufacturing processes for the engine internals, tightening tolerances for all of the parts involved. As a result, they were able to eliminate the balance shafts required for smooth operation in the previous generation engine. The new engine doesn’t need them, thanks to lower vibration and an active torque rod engine mount. It is lighter than the outgoing engine, while producing 268 horsepower and 280 lb-ft of torque. The front-wheel drive QX50 is rated to achieve 24 miles per gallon city/31 mpg highway/27 mpg combined — a 35 percent improvement over the 2017 model’s 20 mpg combined rating.

CVT Takes Over

The new engine gets mated to a new transmission, replacing the outgoing 7-speed automatic transmission. The 2019 model gets a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT) with standard paddle shifters that have eight steps and multiple drive modes. Manual shift mode is a little redundant with a CVT, as the transmission is specifically designed to keep the engine and drive wheels in the most efficient harmony possible at all times.

Body Movement

QX50’s new exterior design brings the crossover into line with the Infiniti design language, adopting the brand’s signature features like the double arch grille and the cut D-pillar. The wheelbase has been shortened a couple of inches with shorter overhangs both front and rear. QX50’s overall length is down, while overall width is up, which makes the vehicle look a little more planted and secure. Infiniti is great at fit and finish, and QX50 gets rich, lustrous paint and liquid chrome, enhancing the premium look and feel. The design doesn’t break any new ground, but fits right in with current trends.

Inner Space

The QX50’s designers have reapportioned the vehicle’s interior space to create a roomier second row. The wider body has allowed for greater hip and shoulder room in both rows, and there’s now more leg room in the second row. Cargo volume behind the second row is now significantly larger than before, 31.4 cu ft. vs. 18.6 cu ft. The overall feel in the interior is much roomier and more comfortable.

The new dash is lovely, with real wood and metal trim, cut and stitch materials and a segmented design. The Infiniti signature clock has been abandoned. Dual touchscreens are mounted in the center stack, with a nav screen at top (where it belongs) and a control screen below. An analog audio volume knob has been retained at the bottom of the center stack. A sliding tambour cover hides a cubby with USB and 12-volt connections. A beefy, multi-function steering wheel sits in front of an instrument panel with dual analog gauges flanking an LCD driver information center.

The driver and front passenger get Nissan Zero Gravity Seats with 8-way power adjustments and leatherette or available leather-trimmed upholstery or semi-aniline leather.

Technology

ProPILOT Assist, Infiniti’s latest step toward autonomous or automated driving, is available as an option on the top trim level of the QX50. The system includes Intelligent Cruise Control with Full-Speed Range, lane-departure warning, lane-departure prevention and lane-keep assist. You can engage the system and allow the vehicle to control throttle and brake inputs, as well as steering within the lane. You have to remain engaged — if sensors can’t detect torque inputs on the steering wheel, you get an audible and visual warning before the system rapidly disengages and slows the vehicle to a halt. This is not hands-free autonomous driving; it’s driver assistance. Infiniti has made the system easy to operate via a steering wheel button and simple graphics on the driver information screen in the instrument panel.

Infiniti InTouch Navigation is standard on Essential trim level, as is an around-view monitor.

Several advanced technologies have been employed to connect the driver to the vehicle. Steer-by-wire puts sensors in between the steering wheel and the motor that actually steers the car — disconnecting the direct link between the driver and the road. A similar system replaces the traditional throttle cable (throttle-by-wire) and shifter (shift-by-wire). While the driver is still controlling the vehicle (most of the time), computers are collaborating to send the driver’s inputs and intentions to the systems that actually make things happen. Don’t worry — there are backup systems and failsafes in place.

Safety

The QX50 gets loaded up with a ton of standard safety systems, including advanced air bags, LATCH connections, vehicle dynamic control, traction control, forward-collision warning and forward emergency braking with pedestrian detection. Available safety (part of the ProACTIVE Package) includes Backup Collision Intervention, Distance Control Assist, Intelligent Cruise Control, Rear Cross-Traffic Alert, ProPILOT Assist with Steering Assist and Intelligent Cruise Control with Full-Speed Range; blind spot monitoring; lane-departure warning; lane-departure prevention; high beam assist, head-up display; direct adaptive steering and Easy Park Assist.

Trim Levels and Options

The QX50 will be offered in three trim levels for 2019: Pure FWD (starting at $36,550); Luxe FWD (starting at $39,400) and Essential FWD (starting at $43,350). Add $1,800 to any trim level to upgrade to all-wheel drive.

Several packages of options will be available, mostly confined to the Essential trim level: Premium Audio ($900); ProASSIST Package ($550); ProACTIVE Package ($2,000); Sensory Package ($7,500); Autograph Package ($2,000) and Tow Package ($900).

Driving Experience

After listening to engineering presentations about the new VC-Turbo engine, looking at engine cutaways and trying to absorb the gist of what makes the engine so unique, anticipation built toward driving the new QX50. In the default "Drive" mode, throttle response is a little bit sluggish off the line, but picks up as the vehicle gains momentum. The star of the show is the steering and handling. The QX50 carves the corners and feels direct and natural in most situations — a contrast to earlier steer-by-wire systems which felt vague and disconnected. The suspension keeps things flat and controlled, and overall handling and braking is better than most in the class.

When the "Sport" mode is selected, throttle response sharpens significantly, and the crossover gets much more responsive. The little 2.0-liter engine has a very unique voice, almost Italian in character, and never sounds thrashy. Active Noise Cancellation in the cabin is tuned to produce a quiet environment, but not an artificially anechoic tomb (very undesirable). QX50 isn’t particularly fast, but thanks to well-balanced, crisp handling and performance, it’s fun to drive and can be quite rewarding.

Our Recommendation

QX50 is in a very competitive class of compact premium crossover vehicles that includes the Lexus NX, the Acura RDX, the Audi Q5, the BMW X3 and the Mercedes-Benz GLC class, among others. Some buyers may also be looking at the Mazda CX-5, the Volvo XC60, the Subaru Outback, the Volkswagen Tiguan and other crossovers, especially if price is a concern. A fully-equipped 2019 Infiniti QX50 Essential AWD will run at $58,100, which is quite a chunk above the starting price of a base model. The popularly equipped QX50 Essential at about $46,900 seems like the sweet spot. Buyers who choose that model will get a healthy dose of Infiniti innovation in a fun-to-drive crossover.

To gain access to this information, Autotrader attended an event sponsored by the vehicle’s manufacturer.

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