San Diego – Space: the final frontier. It can be the make-or-break in many vehicles, especially compacts, so finding more of it in Infiniti’s latest version of the QX50 is definitely welcome.
That extra room is the major change to the 2016 model, along with a few smaller ones, including some subtle shifts to the mirrors, grille, bumpers and side sills. Since this has generally been a decent but often overlooked vehicle, the extra interior space—all of it devoted to the rear-seat legroom that was too cramped before—should broaden its appeal.
(Disclosure: Travel, accommodation, meals, and a predetermined driving route were provided to the writer by the automaker.)
The extra room is achieved by swapping out the existing North American QX50 (previously known as the EX before Infiniti chose to Q-ize everything) with a longer-wheelbase version originally built for the Chinese market. This provides an extra 109 millimetres of rear legroom, and more space for one’s knees. Cargo capacity remains the same as on the shorter-wheelbase model from last year.
The engine is also unchanged from the previous QX50, and so you get a 3.7-litre V6 that spins out 325 horsepower and 267 lb.-ft. of torque, mated to a seven-speed automatic transmission. Buyers in the U.S. can opt for a rear-wheel version, but all Canadian models have all-wheel drive.
I had the opportunity to drive both and in this case, there’s no loss in not having a choice. The all-wheel is the hands-down winner. It’s far better balanced and you can really feel it hugging the curves, whereas the rear-wheel feels a bit light in the front, and lets you know that it’s pushing the vehicle from behind into the turn.
Having all-wheel only shortens the trim list. There’s a single model, starting at $37,900, which can then be optioned with one of three packages, each of which builds on the previous one: Premium at $42,800, Premium Navigation at $45,300, and the top Premium Navigation with Technology package, at $47,800, which was the model I drove.
My trek out from San Diego took me into the mountains and some deliciously twisty roads. In addition to its longer length, the QX50’s ride height is marginally taller than before, but that’s no barrier to having fun with it. For starters, this engine is a near-perfect fit to this vehicle for power. Its seven-speed does an equally good job of keeping the revs right where they need to be, and with a rev-matching function on downshifts. If there’s any complaint, it’s that the throttle is firm, and it can be tough to take off smoothly from a stop at moderate speed.
Many automakers are going with smaller-displacement turbocharged engines, but I like this gutsy, naturally-aspirated powerplant. And while I know that technology is considerably better than it’s been in the past, I still can’t help but wonder about the long-term lifespans of small engines that are constantly under the pressure of forced-air induction.
Somewhat surprisingly, there’s no “Sport” mode (although there is one for snow), and while there’s a manual mode at the shifter, there are no paddles on the steering wheel.
But this is still more of a driver’s car than you might expect from a longer and higher crossover. I started my morning as the passenger, and on that side of the console, the ride is somewhat firm and noisy. Still, as can sometimes happen, there’s a transformation once the wheel is in one’s hands. What was vaguely annoying on the passenger’s side combines with the nicely-weighted steering to deliver far more feedback than many competitors in this segment.
The interior follows Infiniti’s playbook, with soft-touch surfaces everywhere, the signature glossy-wood trim upper-line trim, and a busy centre stack that, once you start getting into the functions, is fairly intuitive. I’m definitely not sold on the three vertical lines slashed into the dash pad above the glovebox though. They’re meant to break up the broad expanse but instead just look weird. And there’s no three-flash-to-pass function on the turn signal switch. It’s just a little thing, but the lack of this handy feature, which you can find on many econo-boxes these days, makes the QX50 feel cheap whenever you tap the switch before changing lanes.
On the plus side, the seats are comfortable, although you have to move up to the Premium trim to get power lumbar on the driver’s side, and eight-way power on the passenger’s chair. That package also gives you power-folding second-row seats that fall completely flat, and then rise electrically when you want them back up again, either from toggles in the cargo compartment or in the centre console. The Premium pack also adds a neat pull-out coat hook from the back of the driver’s head restraint.
My ride also had the Technology Package attached, which adds a collection of electronic nannies: lane departure warning and prevention (it lightly applies the brakes to nudge you back), adaptive cruise control and distance control that can handle stop-and-go traffic, forward collision warning that can fully brake if necessary, and a blind spot warning system. It’s possible to turn off the adaptive cruise control in favour of the ordinary kind, which is a bonus in my books (I don’t care for the automatic type, although Infiniti’s is relatively smooth). And when a company rep explained that the departure warning could be turned off if the beeping became too annoying, I turned to my co-driver and whispered, “Or you could just stay in your lane…”
Beeps and bells aside, this is a far more engaging driver than you’d expect from its looks, and Infiniti has now solved its major issue, that lack of rear-seat legroom. If that’s all that was holding you back, time to test-drive it again.