If you’re an auto maker like Infiniti, with a cool, new mid-size premium SUV on offer, how do you break out from the crowd?
For starters, can I humbly suggest you dump your totally-forgettable alpha-numeric naming strategy?
Infiniti’s brand new cute-ute is badged the QX50. But it might as well be the QP49. Or QT4U. Or any alphabet-soup of letters and numbers. Believe me, potential customers are confused. I’m confused.
Infiniti needs to take a leaf out of the Lincoln book. After struggling with MKZs and MKXs, MKSs and MKTs, they’ve admitted defeat and are reverting back to good ol’ fashioned names. Like Continental, Nautilus and Aviator. Next up? I’m guessing Zephyr.
For the new 2019 QX50, it’s a pity because behind the tofu-bland badge, there’s a terrific soft-roader trying to get out. And it boasts a cool piece of new technology to separate it from all those Audi Q5s, Merc GLCs, Jag E-Paces and Acura RDXs in the busy $35,000 to $55,000 segment.
What the QX50 offers is – drum roll, please – the world’s first variable compression engine. Infiniti calls it VC-Turbo and it’s the result of 20 years of painstaking development.
What it’s capable of doing is varying the compression ratio of this 2.0-liter turbo four-cylinder between 8.1:1 (performance) and 14.1:1 (economy) by means of a motorized lever that adjusts the length of the piston’s stroke.
Stay with me because there’s some pretty trick stuff going on here.
What it delivers is much beefier torque at lower revs – an impressive 280 lb-ft from just 1,600 rpm. Plus plenty of power (268-hp) and excellent fuel economy (a combined 27mpg).
Remember, it’s torque more than power that makes driving more fun. And compared to the outgoing 3.5-liter V6-powered QX50, this new VC-Turbo version summons-up 280 lb-ft of torque compared to 267 lb-ft. That’s quite an achievement.
Don’t get too excited however, because this new engine doesn’t really feel, or perform that differently from every other four-cylinder turbo engine out there. And unfortunately it’s burdened with being mated to a less-than-stellar Nissan CVT continuously-variable transmission.
So when you nail the right pedal to zip past slower traffic, the four-cylinder drones like an Evinrude on wide-open throttle.
I know, I know; progress is paramount. But I can’t help thinking how lovely this new QX50 would be if it had stuck with the previous car’s silky-smooth, sweet-revving V6 and its traditional seven-speed automatic.
This latest QX however, is much more than a fancy new engine. There’s a brand new front-drive-based chassis that offers big benefits in interior space. With rear seats that can now slide backwards, legroom in the back is positively limo-like.
Yet perhaps most important in this style-focused segment of the market, the new QX50 looks positively stunning. From its bold, gaping front grille, bulging hood and swept back LED headlights, to its sculpted waistline and funky zig-zag rear roof pillar, it’s a shape that will spin heads faster than a Kim Kardashian sighting at Kmart.
Inside, the cabin is equally gorgeous, especially in the top-trim versions with their Bentley-esque quilted leather, open-pore wood veneers and suede highlights. Our test car mixed off-white leather for the seats, with brown hides for the wheel and dashtop, plus blue suede for the center console. And somehow it all worked.
As for the driving experience, this new QX50 offers just enough playfulness to be sporty, while still focusing on comfort and refinement. It’s this middle ground that should ensure its appeal to a wide audience, much as Audi does with its Q5, Volvo with its XC60 and Lexus with the RX.
Yes, you’ll find the electric-assist steering to be a little light and numb, and the front-drive chassis lacking in precision through curves. But it makes the ute easy to drive, comfortable, and smooth-riding over ripply blacktop.
Pricewise a base QX50 Pure front-drive kicks off at $37,545 rising to $46,145 for the flagship Essential all-wheel drive model. Start adding must-have options – the Sensory package alone will cost you $7,500 – and you’re looking at the mid-$50s.
While there’s no shortage of terrific competitors in this burgeoning sector of the market, Infiniti’s new QX50 is definitely worth a closer look. You could be very PC with this VC.