The craze that is the crossover utility vehicle certainly isn’t anything new.
Starting from relatively humble truck-based origins, it was quickly established that the vast majority of owners never actually ventured off-road in their tough-looking monstrosities. Over the years, these big trucks became softer, and friendlier to drive on the groomed concrete that makes up the urban and suburban landscape. Most CUVs catered towards maximum versatility to families, which meant being able to carry passengers and cargo, with an option for all-wheel-drive, both of which prove to be supremely useful in our climate. A lot of people simply want a higher-up driving position, which allows for a different view of the road ahead.
One of the trade-offs since the beginning has been driving dynamics. Increased weight and height are typically not in the formula that is usually associated with sports cars, so it’s fairly rare to see a CUV marketed with an obvious sporting slant. The latest trend has been the downsizing of CUVs, into a “compact” or even “sub-compact” class. Not everybody needs the size associated with a mid-size CUV, so we’ve seen just about everybody, from mainstream to premium marques, reach downward with smaller products. The only thing is, Infiniti has been in this game somewhat, for quite a long time now.
Infiniti’s entry-level crossover, the EX35, was introduced back in 2008, and it was a quirky offering in a fast-growing segment. I remember looking at it like it was an Infiniti G37, but slightly jacked up and a hatchback grafted onto the rear end. It kept all the bits that made the G35 good, including its muscular VQ-series V6 and its smart ATTESA E-TS all-wheel drive system, but gave people the desired “command” driving position, and more space behind the rear seats for cargo. The Infiniti EX would see numerous updates, including a larger 3.7L engine (and a new name: EX37), and yet another name change to QX50. I picked up the updated 2016 Infiniti QX50 for a review, painted in an attractive shade of Hagane Blue Metallic.
The QX50 isn’t a new vehicle, simply put. It still looks like the way the G37 did, because it’s technically still on a similar design that the original EX35 was on. Cars like the Q50 and upcoming Q60 coupe represent what the brand image should look like going forward into the future, but the QX50 soldiers on with the previous Infiniti familial styling – and that’s not entirely a bad thing. 2016 brings a significant update that brings a much-needed length and wheelbase extension. One of the biggest criticisms of the original model was rear seat accommodations. For something that was touted as a usable family vehicle, it was never really considered to be roomy. The wheelbase grows by a significant 3.2-inches, and the overall length grows by 4.5-inches.
Up front, the available HID headlamps give it a familiar look, but the 2016 model brings forth a different grille (shaped similarly to the Q50), and LED daytime-running lights freshen up the front end. The side profile is clean, leading rearwards to a hatchback design, complete with satin-finish roof rails. My particular tester was equipped with the Premium package, which adds attractive 19-inch wheels with 245-section tires. Overall, I quite like the external footprint of the QX50, but I’m not too sure if the jacked-up wagon look will work for everybody. The most awkward feature has to be the rear turn signals, installed low in the bumper. Some of the proportions and styling features work on the G37 sedan and coupe, but the bottom line is that the QX50 styling needs more than just an update. If the next full redesign looks anything like the current Q50 (see review here) consider it a good thing.
Inside, the QX50 is well furnished, with lots of leather and premium-feeling soft surfaces just about everywhere you look. However, kind of like the outside, you can tell that the interior design has been around a while. The buttons to control the screen are handy, but the entire centre stack is just covered in buttons. Owners will probably be able to figure everything out and remember where everything is via muscle memory. Out back, the rear tailgate is not powered – a motorized closing mechanism simply isn’t available for it.
My particular QX50 came equipped with the Navigation Package, Technology Package, and Premium Package – in other words, fully loaded. The Navigation Package ($3,000) adds satellite navigation, but also adds the AroundView monitor, which gives the driver a bird’s eye view surrounding the car, so you can spot curbs or get lined up perfectly between the lines. The navigation system gets the job done, but the labels for cross streets on the screen show up in a funny way, depending on where you are. This package also, curiously, adds Bluetooth streaming audio. That’s right – if you don’t opt for satellite navigation, you don’t get the ability to listen to music from your phone through Bluetooth. This is my preferred method of consuming my media, and it’s quite baffling to see a premium vehicle come without Bluetooth streaming audio in the year 2016.
The Technology package ($2,500) adds adaptive radar cruise control, blind spot warning, lane departure warning, and forward collision warning (with brake assist). This package is well executed and is still somewhat unique at this price point, but this is also the type of technology that is already trickling down to more mainstream price points (see the Honda Civic, for example). The Premium Package ($4,400) adds those attractive 19-inch wheels, upgraded Bose 11-speaker audio, glossy maple-coloured wood trim, two-position seat memory for the driver, adaptive high-intensity discharge low-beam headlights, power folding second-row seats, and heated mirrors. I imagine most buyers will, at the very least, opt for the Premium package.
You may have noticed a recurring theme by this point: the QX50 likes do many things in an old-school type of fashion – this also extends to the powertrain. It holds onto the mantra that there’s “no replacement for displacement”, and shoehorns a large 3.7L V6 engine under the hood. It forgoes a lot of modern trickery, like direct injection and forced induction to produce 325hp at 7000rpm, and 267 lb-ft at 5200rpm. Nissan’s renowned VQ-series V6 is very well known for delivering smooth power, a lofty redline, and a great soundtrack in most applications. As you can see, this very traditional powerplant produces most of its power very high up in the rev range, which is quite different from a lot of the competition that utilizes forced induction. It is paired up to Nissan’s corporate 7-speed automatic transmission, which includes a Sport mode and manual override (but no paddle shifters behind the steering wheel). Canadian QX50s come with all-wheel drive as standard equipment.
Like in other Nissan/Infiniti products, such as the 370Z and the Q50, the VQ37 is happier when you push it hard. It comes alive north of 4000rpm and pulls strongly up to the 7500rpm redline. The transmission in Sport mode is more than happy to drop you down two, or sometimes even three gears to keep the engine in its sweet spot. From the driver’s seat, handling is surprising for a crossover-type of vehicle, thanks in part to the favourable 54/46 percent weight distribution from front to rear. The components that make up the suspension share their design with the G37, but the ride height makes up the biggest difference. The steering is noteworthy in that it still utilizes a hydraulic assist system – something that is quickly disappearing across the industry. Steering feedback is surprisingly good, and the overall feel reminds you of the good old days.
Fuel efficiency is one area where the QX50 shows its age. As good as the VQ37 engine is under the hood, fuel consumption is not one of its strong points. Infiniti rates the QX50 at 13.7L/100km in the city, and 9.7L/100km on the highway. My week consisted of quite a bit of highway driving in the cold, and I managed to come up with an indicated average of 12.2L/100km. The fuel tank will hold a generous 76L of premium fuel, but I wasn’t able to hit 500km before I had to start hunting for a gas station.
Infiniti does a good job at aggressively pricing the QX50. It starts at just $37,900 for the base model, but add on the option packages, and that price will climb north of $40,000 very quickly. All three packages (Navigation at $3,000, Technology at $2,500, and Premium at $4,400) were included on my tester, which brings the MSRP to $47,800. One of its closest competitors was the outgoing BMW X1, which matched the QX50 in several ways, including overall footprint, styling, and rear-drive dynamics. The 2016 X1 changes all that by going to a slightly more conventional premium-CUV formula. While a lot has changed, the X1 still starts at a base price of $38,800. Adding in some options (but still not all of them) sees the price hit almost $50,000.
It seems that Infiniti is pursuing the notion that “more is better”. With the QX50, you get more power (a lot more, compared to some of the competition) and more gadgets (good for stacking those spec-sheet comparisons), for about the same amount of money. I think it still remains relevant to the enthusiast – someone who would like more horsepower and values the rear-drive feel that is disappearing from the segment. The higher-than-average fuel consumption and an overall dated feel inside and out may steer some buyers away and into something a little more modern, but Infiniti wasn’t wrong in extending the wheelbase. If you like big horsepower out of the box, and can live with all the quirks, the QX50 represents a high-value choice in this very cutthroat segment.
What’s even more interesting is the existence of the upcoming Infiniti QX30. Heavily based on the Mercedes-Benz GLA250, it shows Infiniti’s commitment to compact premium CUVs. It is also arguably the more relevant formula today – as seen by the sheer amount of GLA250s you see on the roads already. I wasn’t totally sure what they would do with the 2016 Infiniti QX50, but refreshing it in this manner shows it’ll be here to stay for at least another year or two. Infiniti recently unveiled the new Q60 coupe at the North American International Auto Show. Here’s to hoping the next QX50 sees the new turbocharged 3.0L V6 and that attractive new styling and design, inside and out.