Crossovers

Piloting the 2019 Infiniti QX50 is like driving 2 engines at once

The company has done some crazy witchcraft in its latest crossover, varying the engine's compression from 8:1 to 14:1.

Infiniti

Watching the cutaway of the Infiniti QX50's new 2.0-liter Variable Compression Turbo engine, I'm mesmerized. The piston takes an upward stroke, and the engine's compression ratio is 8:1, which is great for performance and acceleration. But two strokes later, the piston's reach is expanded just a bit, resulting in a compression ratio of 14:1. The transition is so smooth, and it seems totally crazy, but it's working.

The 2019 QX50 is the first crossover in the Infiniti lineup to get the VC-Turbo engine. The automaker plans to offer electrified versions of all its models by 2021, and I'm told the VC-Turbo engine is the company's bridge to this goal. I'm not exactly sure how Ye Olde Combustion Engine will be modified for electrified duty, but nevertheless, the VC-Turbo setup is quite a feat.

Behind the wheel of a QX50 on an Infiniti-sponsored drive in Los Angeles, California, the revolutionary engine tech feels like no big deal. There are no jarring moments or hiccups from under the hood; the engine seamlessly switches between high and low compression for a smooth driving experience. The VC-Turbo's 268 horsepower may be less than that of the previous QX50's 3.7-liter naturally aspirated V6, but it peaks at a lower rpm, making it more usable. Torque is up to 280 pound-feet, a gain of 13 over the old engine, coming on strong at 1,600 rpm and remaining flat until 4,800 rpm. The engine is eager to accelerate and happily cruises at highway speeds. Fuel economy sees an improvement, too, with front-wheel-drive models able to achieve as much as 27 mpg highway, a nice improvement over the old QX50's 24-mpg highway rating.

My fully loaded QX50 comes equipped with Infiniti's Direct Adaptive Steer system, the steer-by-wire technology that debuted in the Q50. Instead of a traditional mechanical linkage from the steering wheel to the tires, everything is done electronically. I find this technology to be super twitchy in the Q50, but the system has improved, resulting in a steering feel that is quick and lively, customizable with a light or heavy feel, depending on preference. Not perfect, but better, at least.

The QX50 is available with either front- or all-wheel drive, and only comes with a continuously variable transmission. The CVT actually does an admirable job during aggressive driving in the hills outside Malibu, keeping the crossover in the power band for maximum fun. But once I get into the more mundane task of driving in Los Angeles during rush hour, the CVT's buzzy drone is more pronounced, and really gets annoying.

2019 Infiniti QX50

Well, hey there, QX50. That's a fine makeover you got there.

Infiniti

If you routinely encounter heavy traffic on your commute, you could do much, much worse than tackling it in the QX50. The ProPilot Assist semi-autonomous cruise control system not only works flawlessly in stop-and-go traffic, it can also keep you centered in the lane without any driver inputs. Of course, you can only take your hands off the wheel for a few seconds before the QX50 starts making angry beeping noises at you. A few times the system couldn't follow the lane, usually when approaching a fairly sharp turn at a high rate of speed. And since the system cedes control to the driver at the first input, it's very important to pay attention.

The QX50 is available with all the driving aids you could ever need, including Predictive Forward Collision Warning, which monitors the vehicle in front of the vehicle in front of you for any sudden stops. Also on hand is Distance Control Assist, which physically applies the brakes and even pushes back on your right foot if you start to creep up on the car in front of you. There's also blind spot monitoring and lane-departure warning, both of which are becoming de rigueur in these advanced and techie times.

Inside, Infiniti's InTouch infotainment system features two screens, one for navigation and one for everything else. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are annoyingly not available, although the company says it anticipates wireless phone app interfaces will arrive in 2020. That doesn't help things currently, but OK.

There's good stuff inside, with super-comfy zero-gravity seats. The name may be a bit of hyperbole, but make no mistake, these chairs are incredibly supportive and by far my favorite seats in this segment. The rear bench can slide forward 6 inches and fold flat for a maximum of 65.1 cubic feet of space, much more than the 50.1 cubes of the outgoing model. In fact, the QX50 bests many in its class in cargo space including the Lexus NX and RX, as well as the Audi Q5. Only the BMW X3 comes close, with 63.3 cubic feet. 

The QX50 is a clean-sheet redesign, which gets new sheetmetal and specific styling elements that echo the design language of its siblings. The front fascia goes from C-list celebrity looks in the old car to hubba-hubba A-list status with sleeker headlights and a new grille. A sculpted side-silhouette flows through a new crescent-shaped D-pillar, right around to a handsome rear end.

The 2019 Infiniti QX50 will be in dealers by early March. Pricing starts at $36,550 for a base Pure model with front-wheel drive and goes up to $45,150 for an all-wheel drive Essential trim. The ProPilot Assist package is a steal at $550, but that only includes Intelligent Cruise Control, Distance Control Assist, Rear Cross Traffic Alert and Backup Collision Intervention. If you want the steering assist you'll have to pony up $2,000 for the whole shebang. A fully-loaded QX50 Essential with all-wheel drive will set you back $57,200, but includes many luxury touches like open-pore wood accents inside the cabin, ultra-suede material and 20-inch wheels.

There is a lot to like about the latest QX50. It's one of the techiest vehicles out there in terms of driving aids and the Variable Compression Turbo engine is an engineering feat in and of itself. It lives in a crowded segment, but it easily holds its own and is worth a test drive. 

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