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Compact Infiniti QX50 dials up performance, panache

With its long hood, short front and rear overhangs, and rearward-sloping roofline, the 2016 Infiniti QX50 looks more like a coupe than a family hauler.

  • Infiniti QX50 2016-main
  • Infiniti QX50 2016-rear
  • Infiniti QX50 2016-interior
  • Infiniti QX50 2016-front seats
  • Infiniti QX50 2016-cargo
  • Infiniti QX50 2016-rear seats

THE PROS & CONS

    • What’s Best: Coupe styling, car-like ride and handling
    • What’s Worst: A bit thirsty on fuel
    • What’s Interesting: One of the few in this segment to offer a V6 – with robust power

Infiniti’s smallest utility vehicle has never been big on utility.

This isn’t a knock against the Infiniti QX50, formerly known as the EX and then renamed in 2014. It’s an observation that this contender in the red-hot compact CUV/SUV segment is more than just a grocery getter.

Indeed, if cargo carrying tops your list of “must haves,” go mid-size. There are plenty of options near the QX50’s starting price of $37,900.

RELATED: 2015 Infiniti Q50 Review

Or to stay within the luxury space, choose a compact like Acura RDX or BMW X1 that can easily schlep more boxes and bags.

These have a more traditional – more space-friendly – SUV shape, which contrasts with the curves, low roofline and swoopy silhouette of the QX50.

rear cargo

In this vehicle, Infiniti has created an offering that is more car-like than many of its rivals, other than perhaps the Mercedes GLA, which has even less cargo space.

The QX50 has sporty proportions, with its long hood, short front and rear overhangs, and rearward-sloping roofline that ends in a steeply-raked rear hatch.

For 2016, it gets a revised front bumper, fascia and double-arch grille (putting it more in line with its siblings), along with new LED daytime running lights and LED fog lights.

Other exterior tweaks include an updated sill design, new rear fascia and LED side mirror turn signals.

More importantly, the QX gets a longer wheelbase (80 mm) that translates into significantly more rear leg room (172 mm) and knee room (100 mm). There’s also another 76 litres of cargo space.

Perhaps Infiniti’s greatest strength has been its interiors.

All have fit, finish and materials that rival anything in their segments, and the company’s second least expensive vehicle is no exception.

My base tester, which included none of the upgrade packages (Premium $4,400, Navigation $3,000, Technology $2,500), still came with a long list of standard content: leather seating with heating up front and eight-way power adjust for the driver (four-way for passenger); dual-zone climate control; six-speaker audio with seven-inch infotainment display; rearview monitor; pushbutton start; auto headlights;  aluminum roof rails and rear spoiler. Power moonroof has been added to the list.

interior

Heating and cooling are managed by knobs and buttons on centre stack, as is the audio system, which also gets analog controls. This includes pushbutton presets that make changing stations so much easier than finding your way through menus and submenus on a touchscreen.

Also standard is a remote release in the 527-litre cargo hold to drop the second-row 60/40 seats. You can get a power-up function with the Premium package, which also includes 19-inch alloys (replacing the standard 18-inch), Bose 11-speaker premium audio, front/rear sonar, seat memory, adaptive headlights and more.

Navigation also adds an around-view monitor, and Technology provides a full suite of driver aids like intelligent cruise control, blind spot warning, lane departure warning (and prevention), and intelligent brake assist with forward collision warning.

Opt for all three, and the QX50 starts pushing $50K.

All models are powered by a naturally-aspirated 3.7-litre V6 that produces 325 hp and 267 lb/ft of torque, besting much of the competition.

rear seat

Infiniti’s rivals, particularly from Europe, have swapped their sixes for turbo fours. Even Lexus has done the same, with Acura RDX one of the few still offering a V6: at 279 hp and 252 lb/ft.

The QX’s power is routed through a smooth seven-speed automatic with downshift rev matching.

If you want to choose your own gears, manual mode is accomplished through the shift lever – there are no paddles.

I seldom used this feature, as the transmission’s adaptive shift control worked well enough on its own. Step hard on the pedal, and the QX50 jumps briskly off the line, delivering strong, linear acceleration on demand.

And it comes with a nice, throaty exhaust note thanks to a tuned system with equal length exhaust manifolds and reduced muffler back pressure for better breathing.

Most automakers claim their CUVs offer car-like handling. The QX50 delivers.

Infiniti’s intelligent all-wheel-drive is rear biased, for a more performance-oriented experience on dry pavement. Especially on twisty roads where this vehicle feels at home.

There’s still more to its nimble driving dynamics. Compact size plays a role, as does its relatively long wheelbase and short overhangs.

So does its 54/46 front/rear weight distribution, fully independent suspension and speed-sensitive variable assist steering that provides decent feedback.

rear

In an industry with more segments than ever before, and blurred lines between them, Infiniti has resisted the urge to make the QX50 all things to all people.

There’s no pretense of outstanding practicality – although it can hold its own. And no boasting of exceptional fuel economy.

If, on the other hand, you want something that drives more like a sports sedan, but with a little more space, a higher driving position and the security of all-wheel-drive, the QX50 is worth a closer look.

Infiniti QX50 2016 at a glance:

BODY STYLE: compact premium CUV

DRIVE METHOD: front-engine, seven-speed automatic with all-wheel-drive

ENGINE: 3.7-litre DOHC V6 (325 hp and 267 lb/ft of torque)

FUEL ECONOMY: 13.7/9.7/11.9 litres/100 km (city/hwy/comb)

CARGO: 527 litres with seats up; 1,419 with second row folded

PRICING: base $37,900, Premium $42,300, Premium with Navigation $45,300, Premium with Navigation and Technology $47,800

WEBSITE: www.infiniti.ca

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