The 2019 Infiniti QX50 grows into its role in the fiercely competitive compact luxury crossover segment.
The problem with the previous generation Infiniti QX50 was that it was just too small. Originally launched as the EX35 and then rebadged to EX37 when its engine grew a bit larger, the QX50 had a horrendously cramped rear seat, which was even worse prior to the 2016 update, and paltry cargo space. It was barely a shoebox and there were coupes on the market with more rear legroom than that crossover. You could argue that it was also too thirsty with a powerful V6 moving a small compact hatchback excessively quickly, but that gave it a bit of character with which to carve out a small niche in the compact luxury crossover market. That niche was indeed small, and Infiniti needed a crossover that would fit in with the rest of the segment, a formula that works far better for so many brands.
Now, you wouldn’t think that making a vehicle smaller when its biggest problem was interior space is the way to go, but that is what Infiniti did, and through some form of black magic, it worked. Problem solved. The old QX50 was 186.8 inches long with a 113.4-in. wheelbase, and the 2019 QX shrinks to 184.7 in. in length and 110.2 in. in wheelbase, chopping over 3 inches out of that wheelbase and two overall. Then how is it that they’ve gained over 13 cubic feet of cargo space in the trunk and 6 cu-ft in passenger volume? Width and height of course.
It’s almost four inches wider and over three inches taller at 74.9 wide and 66 tall, and four adult human beings can actually fit in comfort now, even taking along a few pieces of luggage or a hatch full of shopping spoils. However, the cargo space isn’t a simple fixed 31.1 cu-ft space because, as with most in the segment, the seats split 60/40 and fold for a maximum of 64.4 cubic feet with the rear seats folded down. However, the rear seats can also slide almost six inches forward in their upright position, taking the cargo bay depth from 39.0 to 44.9 inches when you just need that extra little bit of space but still need to drive the kids around or don’t want to take out the latched-in child seat. Granted, that would severely eat into the 38.7 inches of rear legroom, which for the record is 3.4 inches more than the last generation, although some of that comes out of the front row legroom, which drops by almost 5 inches. Front and rear headroom, hip room and shoulder room have all grown and the QX50 is now competitive with segment sales leaders like the Audi Q5 and Lexus NX 300.
Aside from having the space to sit like a normal human, the seats are comfortable and supportive, and the $45,150 Essential AWD trim we had featured the pricey $7,500 Sensory Package with supple, perforated semi-aniline leather with Ultrasuede trim and pale, silvery, matte-finish open-pore maple wood trim splashed about the cabin to delight fingertips and eyes. The driver’s seat is also power adjustable, with heating and ventilation, so my butt was happy and cool all week long. Base “Pure” models, which start at $36,550 (all models get slapped with a $995 destination fee) get synthetic leatherette that can be upgraded to standard leather in a couple different color combos, and the top Autograph Package (another $2,000 over the Sensory Package) has white, quilted leather with contrasting blue stitching, piping and Ultrasuede that creates a genuinely unique and upscale look. Combined with a thick leather steering wheel and stitched leather and Ultrasuede covering the dash, plus soft plastics and solid switchgear, the QX50 cabin is a welcoming environment.
At the center of it all are two stacked screens, one of which fits perfectly with its sharp detail and crisply rendered graphics, while the other is a hot mess that is both touchscreen and knob controlled, but looks and works like a system conceived over a decade ago. To be honest, the newer touchscreen system isn’t that great. But it’s far easier on the eyes and to operate than the one up top, which is rendered in grainy, pixelated quality controlled by touch or the dial controller. Here, a pop-up list menu features common functions, but also some oddities, and mostly items that were redundant to the lower screen. Infiniti needs to pick apart the Land Rover Range Rover Velar to learn how a dual screen setup should divide the labor. Its saving grace may have been that it displays the 360º parking monitor that makes parking easy despite limited rear visibility.
To Infiniti’s credit, that screen is just about my only significant complaint about this vehicle, because despite its growth spurt and less powerful engine, it still drives well, uses a lot less gas and looks a heck of a lot better than the weirdness of the previous generation. Aside from the entirely new platform underpinning this small crossover and bigger interior attached to it, the engine is the big deal with this redesigned crossover.
The QX50 features Infiniti’s first application of its VC-Turbo powertrain, VC standing for Variable Compression in a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder unit. There’s some mechanical wizardry that changes the pistons’ starting point in the combustion cycle, creating the ability to control the compression ratio on the fly, using high compression for greater efficiency when cruising or low compression for more power and torque when you mat the throttle.
Going from a 3.7-liter V6 to a 2.0-liter four-cylinder, it’s not surprising the QX50 doesn’t make the same levels of power, but it actually gives up very little on the road. The 50+ horsepower drop to 268 hp partially offset by 13 more lb-ft of torque (280 lb-ft) arrives almost a thousand rpm earlier and at 3,957 lb for the fully loaded Essential AWD we drove – it's more than 50 lb lighter than its AWD predecessor.
The CVT transmission responds almost instantaneously and the electronics are quick to switch to a power profile, but between those two actions and the time it takes the turbo to spool up, there’s a small delay before everything clicks into place and take off, whether from a standstill or from a steady cruise to pile on passing power. Traditionalists will appreciate that Infiniti introduced the affectation of a kick down to the CVT when you floor the throttle for passing maneuvers. The Infiniti still feels plenty quick to get up to speed in real-world situations with a mean little snarl under hard acceleration, although officially it is about a second slower in the 0-60 mph sprint (6.3 seconds with all-wheel drive compared to 5.5 for its predecessor).
Its ride and handling keep right up with the power, with a composed ride that smothers bumps and potholes, but turns in promptly and stays respectably flat through corners. Although the steering is completely electric and ‘drive-by-wire’, I was impressed by how little I noticed it, meaning it felt accurate, natural and not too loose or too heavy, but with a good bit of resistance in the wheel to simulate some feel. Even pushing it to the tires' limits on an onramp, the steering was consistent and felt loaded up like the car itself. Overall, after even my first good rip in it, I was thinking to myself, “Damn, I’d forgotten how good Infiniti’s are to drive," so it has some of the same qualities as the previous generation, which was a blast to drive.
However, the all-wheel-drive system is aimed more for practicality than dynamics, defaulting to front-wheel drive when conditions are ideal, and sending only up to 50 percent of torque to the rear axle, which is the default split for acceleration. The QX50’s AWD is also purely brake-based torque vectoring unlike the advanced system in the Acura RDX SH-AWD. Having driven them both recently, I must say the RDX has a bit of an edge dynamically with better use of its power distribution. Although the Infiniti's adaptive cruise and lane-keep assist, part of its ProPilot suite of driving aids, felt more natural and better executed than Acura's system.
Is it as good as the rest of its competitors? In many areas, it absolutely is. The 2019 QX50 has a distinctive and attractive interior, loaded with tech and saddled with just one glaring flaw, and drives as well as almost anything and better than most. While it gives up the power advantage it once had, the luxury crossover has caught up in terms of practicality and technology without giving up too much dynamically. It also offers tremendous value and quality for its price.