Think of the 2019 Infiniti QX50 as Nissan’s significant other. The two-row luxury crossover SUV, like its cousin the midsize Nissan Altima sedan, gets its power from the automotive world’s first variable compression engine.
It is a design and engineering tour de force, developed in cooperation with Germany’s Daimler AG, parent company of Mercedes-Benz. Internal mechanical wizardry automatically varies the piston travel and cylinder volume by a small amount to enable the 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine to operate at compression ratios ranging from 8:1 for high performance to 14:1 for maximum efficiency.
Looking at a cutaway demonstration model, you get the feeling that you’re witnessing a contraption by famed cartoonist Rube Goldberg, who dreamed up impossibly complicated gadgets to perform simple operations.
Called the VC-Turbo or simply VC-T, the new engine also is turbocharged. Tuned for premium gasoline, the QX50’s engine makes 268 hp (compared to 248 hp in the Altima, which runs on regular fuel). Both engines deliver 280 lb-ft of torque, or twisting force.
The QX50’s sends the power to the front wheels or all four wheels through a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT), which uses belts and pulleys to multiply the engine’s power.
Ordinarily, CVTs have no shift points but because that bothers some drivers who are used to feeling automatic transmissions shifting through the gears, the QX50’s CVT uses computer software to mimic shift points. The transmission also can be manually shifted with paddles on the steering wheel as if it were an eight-speed automatic.
With its all-new basic architecture (called a platform in the industry), the QX50 transitions from its previous rear-wheel drive to front- or all-wheel drive. Luxury compact crossover competitors include the new 2019 Cadillac XT4, Acura RDX, Mercedes GLC, Jaguar E-Pace, BMW X3, Lexus RX and NX, and Audi Q5.
It’s a tough playground but the QX50 exhibits the sort of array expected by customers who can spend upwards of $50,000 on their rides. Though the QX50 starts at $37,545 the tested front-drive Essential topped out at $55,385. All-wheel drive is a $1,800 option on all versions.
Exterior styling is handsome, though not especially head-turning — given the limitations of what is essentially a tall station wagon.
The interior is similarly attractive with quality materials and workmanship, especially on the upper trim lines. Overhead on the tested QX50 Essential was a panoramic glass sunroof with one-touch operation for the glass and sunshade. Thankfully, the sunshade was opaque instead of the perforated cheesecloth-like sunshades on too many luxury vehicles.
Front seats are supportive and comfortable, and the outboard rear seats have ample head and knee room with adjustable fore and aft travel and seatbacks that recline for comfort. Even the center-rear seat has decent knee and headroom, though it is compromised by a small, hard cushion and a prominent floor hump.
Cargo space is a generous 31 cubic feet and the rear seats fold nearly flat for bigger loads. On the tested Essential version, there was no spare wheel or tire. Instead, it rode on hard-rubber run-flat tires, which likely contributed to the stiff, choppy ride. Hammering over some rough surfaces, it felt as if the suspension system was bottoming out.
Other than that, the QX50 delivered capable handling given its tall profile, as well as a reasonably comfortable ride on smooth roads. It cruised quietly with little intrusion of wind and road noise, and only some minor engine drone because of the CVT.
There are four driver-selectable driving modes: Eco for leisurely acceleration and fuel economy; Sport for rapid throttle response (called throttle tip-in); Standard for comfort, and Personal, which allows the driver to choose a mix of settings.
There’s some slight turbo lag off the line before the VC-T comes on with a vengeance, especially in the Sport mode. Zero-to-60-mph acceleration arrives in the six to seven second range. Under hard acceleration, the engine announces itself with a satisfying growl.
The QX50 comes with Nissan’s semiautonomous ProPilot driver assist, which includes adaptive cruise control, automatic lane centering, forward collision warning, backup emergency braking, blind-spot warning and a backup camera with overhead surround-view monitor.
Though there is no Wi-Fi, Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, dual center screens handle navigation and infotainment functions, including apps, vehicle settings, audio controls and phone pairing. Buttons handle some of the chores as well, including climate control settings.
- Model: 2019 Infiniti QX50 Essential FWD four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
- Engine: 2.0-liter variable-compression four-cylinder, turbocharged with direct fuel injection; 268 hp, 280 lb-ft torque.
- Transmission: Continuously variable automatic with manual-shift mode and front-wheel drive.
- Overall Length: 15 feet 5 inches.
- Height: 5 feet 6 inches.
- EPA passenger/cargo volume: 102/31 cubic feet.
- Weight: 3,950 pounds.
- EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 24/31/27 mpg. Premium fuel required.
- Base price, including destination charge: $44,345.
- Price as tested: $55,385.
Disclaimer: This test drive was conducted at a manufacturer-sponsored press event. The manufacturer provided travel, accommodations, vehicles, meals and fuel.
Photos (c) Infiniti