The big news for Infiniti’s 2016 QX50 crossover is an extra four inches of legroom in the back. With rear-wheel drive and terrible fuel economy, but more advertised horsepower than a rival Acura or Lexus. it’s billed as “the driver’s crossover.” In reality though, it’s no poor man’s Porsche Macan.
(Full disclosure: Infiniti bought me a train ticket to San Diego just so I could bask in the glory of their SoCal design facility and drink their booze. Also I drove the QX50 around for a couple hours.)
Infiniti claims they had “one of the first personal crossovers” when they came out with the QX50’s predecessor, the EX35, around 2007. Unfortunately it didn’t pan out to be an early-bird-gets-worm situation as Infiniti’s Vice President Randy Parker bluntly asserted at a press conference; “the current model doesn’t perform very well for us.”
Well, why not?
According to Infiniti’s focus groups, it’s because the small EX’s back seat wasn’t big enough. So yeah. That’s pretty much all the company changed for the 2016 refresh, along with some essentially imperceptible tweaks to the front, rear, and side skirts. Wait keep reading!
“Big things coming soon,” we’re assured. Expect more dramatic accents, more conformity of grilles across the brand. More interestingly it seems like Infiniti is trying to sneak out from under Nissan’s arm and cuddle up more closely with Mercedes. I could tell you specifics, but I’d have to kill you. Or make it up.
As-available today, the 2016 Infiniti QX50 is not a bad car. But contrary to the company’s insistence that it’s a performance vehicle, it’s really not that exceptional in that department either. Let’s dive into some details.
When the QX50 pulls up, my gut tells me I’m looking at what came out of the wash when somebody put last-gen Subaru Outback and a Toyota Rav4 in the laundry together.
Upon closer inspection, the tucked chin and whaleshark grille actually make for a decent looking front end. That wavy crease along the side isn’t really my style but it does give the design a lot more energy.
The wheels are undoubtedly retro, and easily my favorite part of the exterior. Look at those fan-blades go!
Infiniti has really nailed two extremely important parts of the human-machine interface: the gauges and infotainment screen are crisp and easy-to-read. The little cliff of leather it’s tucked under really helps shield it from glare and the hard controls right below it make using the system easy.
I can’t say I’m as crazy about the rest of the design, which feels a little retro in the wrong ways and what’s up with that butt crack in the middle of the passenger airbag area?
Interestingly enough, the steering wheel isn’t a true circle. But what looks a little like a manufacturing failure is actually intended design, the unconventional shape helps it fit the cabin better I was told.
You may like it, I ended up impartial after my time in the car was over.
The seats are much squishier than most other modern luxury vehicles I’ve driven. Your back really sinks in when you put weight into it, giving a “gel-seat” sort of effect that’s absolutely lovely with just a touch of recline and the butt-heater on crank.
But the side-bolsters were a little tight for me, and coming from a scrawny 6’ man you can take that to mean these seats are horizontally small.
Ample room in the back though, as promised. Specifically, the lengthened wheelbase (113.4 inches versus previous 110.2 inches as reported by Infiniti) equals 8.3 more cubic feet in the car. That’s supposed to add 4.3 inches of rear-seat legroom over the old car, and I can confirm pretty much anybody would be comfortable in the back.
Those rear seats snap down (and back up again) with the flick of a switch, which is actually real convenient for hot-swapping your payload between kids and groceries. Cargo space behind the seats in the “up” position looked like approximately three fully grown (and cramped) Golden Retrievers.
I would have liked to see a larger sunroof, but I understand those are the bane of engineers trying to keep an already-tall automobile stick to the ground.
Toys & Technology
Some version of most of the latest safety gadgets you’ve heard about in luxury cars lately are options. A lane departure that warning screams and cries when you get close to a painted line, a little orange light that comes on when somebody’s in your blind spot, and a forward collision warning are all part of the “technology package.”
To test that stuff out we stumbled into one of the press cars after the boozy reception and tried to see if we could make it back to the hotel with our eyes closed. Not really, but I did try to rear-end one of my fellow journalists and got a pretty favorable impression of the crash mitigation tech.
If you’re trucking too fast toward an imminent collision the gas pedal will actually push back on your foot. It’s jarring and should definitely get somebody’s eyes off all but the steamiest sexts and back on the road. At the same time the brake is pre-pressurized and comes on particularly hard when you move your foot over to the stop-pedal.
360º parking cameras help mitigate bumps and scratches in low-speed maneuvering, always a welcome feature and resolution is adequate. Can’t really say the same for the little trip computer between the gauges though, which is a cheap LCD lifted off a Nokia burner phone.
Infiniti’s QX50 Product Planner Keith St. Clair was proud to report that 27 percent of buyers pick their car for “performance,” versus an average 17 percent in the segment. This is a meaningless piece of information you can do nothing with, but Infiniti wants associate their cars with the concept of sporty.
A VQ37VHR 3.7-liter V6 engine factory rated at 325 horsepower and 267 lb-ft of torque is the only power option. Stomp the gas in the AWD version in “D” and the car makes a little more noise, eventually carrying the car forward. Acceleration feels noticeably (but slightly) swifter in the rear-drive version. The good news is the only gearbox is a 7-speed automatic transmission, so you won’t be saddled with some abysmal, fun-killing CVT like in other members of the Nissan family. Both AWD and RWD cars get a “Sport” mode, which actually makes the drive markedly quicker as a result of keeping the revs up.
But at the rate this little thing burns fuel you quickly realize that it’s better to wait for a wider merge opening rather than run around in the lower gears. Just 17 MPG in the city and 24 MPG on the highway? That’s where the VQ V6 is really showing its age. If the power delivery doesn’t make you feel like it’s 2005 again, the mileage will.
Ride & Handling
The QX50’s ground clearance was raised 0.8 inches for 2016. Having never driven the previous car I can’t make an impartial comparison, but I will say the seat feels a whole lot higher than the pavement. Infiniti was trying to nail this sweet spot between a “sporty cockpit” and the lifeguard-height driving position Americans seem to love. I found the contrast a little disconcerting, but others might appreciate it as a best-of-both.
Normal driving in the QX50 is soft and pleasant. Turning is significantly smoother and more satisfying in the rear-drive car, which I reckon is more than enough reason to spec that version even though I know you won’t.
I say fuel economy’s also opt to be better in the rear-drive car, even though the EPA rates them dead-evenly deplorable at 17 MPG city/24 Highway. We ended up on the lower end of that in both the AWD and RWD cars after a day of mucking around on backroads and booting the gas.
Since this car is set to compete with the Acura RDX and Lexus NX, a hybrid variant seems inevitable. I mean, it better be. Unless the QX50 is somehow so inherently thirsty it’s flat-out beyond saving in the efficiency department.
Another journalist suggested to me that folks buying this car wouldn’t care about running costs, which I categorically reject. Anyone shopping “personal crossover” who doesn’t care about running costs is getting one of the sexier European options.
Running cost is the backbone of Japanese luxury brands’ very existence, and as decent as the QX50 is I’m not really sure how anyone could look see “17 MPG” on a car this small and slow and incapable of towing or going off-road and say to themselves; “seems reasonable.”
The 2016 QX50 AWD starts at $35,850 with the RWD version about a grand below that. They option up to about $43,000 and come in just below a fully-loaded Acura RDX or Lexus NX.
Infiniti’s trying to be about value, making the 2016 QX50 (and presumably more future models) less expensive and more powerful than the competition. This is a solid strategy, and RWD really does elevate the driving experience of this crossover. Thing is, that experience still isn’t exceptional enough to justify the fuel tax on this thing.
It feels like Infiniti’s working its way toward good things; a deeper partnership with Mercedes and some genuinely interesting concept designs. But if they get too far away from practicality by doing things like selling a 4,000 pound crossover that gets 17 MPG, they might get themselves into trouble.
Images via Infiniti and the author