SUVs are the new family sedan and if you’re an automaker today and don’t have a showroom floor full of them, your future might be rocky.
Some have even given up on the traditional car altogether. SUVs and CUVs have essentially become a license to print money and one of the biggest reasons for this momentum is the near universal adoption of the small displacement turbocharged 4-cylinder engine.
Capable of endowing bigger, heavier vehicles with spirited acceleration and good fuel economy—although not simultaneously—boosted motors have transformed the industry overnight. While not enjoying the same amount of hype electric cars do these “little engines that could” go about their business in relative obscurity, powering millions of vehicles. They have even become standard fare in high-end luxury vehicles, where status is no longer measured in the number of cylinders under the hood but rather how much grunt is available at low-to-mid rpms, where most driving takes place.
Infiniti’s QX50 is the brand’s best seller and they seem to be on a high as of late with this past June being a record-breaking year for them. The QX50 slots right in the middle of their lineup (the QX70 is being discontinued) and just like medium roast coffee, and Goldilocks’ preference for porridge, most people prefer taking the middle ground.
A better economy in recent years has also led to a significant increase in the sales of premium vehicles and not surprisingly premium SUVs; but with so much choice on the market today it can be difficult to stand out, as most just seem to look at what the other is doing and offer their take on it. Needless to say, a redesign for a successful product like the QX50 could not have been taken lightly and with Infiniti’s track record for innovation and industry firsts, the engineers and designers really had their work cut out for them.
First-ever Variable Compression Engine
At the 2016 Paris Motor Show, Infiniti revealed the world’s first production-ready variable compression ratio engine. Deemed by many as impossible, a successful version of this technology was always an engineering “holy grail” promising power and efficiency in one package. This is technology that has pushed the traditional Internal Combustion Engine (ICE) into new territory during a time where they have been overshadowed by the slow march to electrification.
The all-new 2019 Infiniti QX50 is the first vehicle to come equipped across the line with this innovative new motor.
So what’s the big deal with a variable compression ratio?
To understand what this whole variable compression business means, you must first understand compression, a process that occurs within an engine’s cylinder.
When the piston is at the bottom of the cylinder (Bottom Dead Centre) the volume within the chamber is at its maximum; as the piston rises to top of the cylinder, it literally squeezes that air into a much smaller space until it is at the very top of its stroke (top dead centre). It is at this point maximum compression is reached.
The ratio between the piston at its lowest point and its highest point is given as a compression ratio. For example, in an engine with a 10:1 compression ratio the volume of the cylinder has been squeezed into an area that is 10 times less than it is when the piston is at bottom dead centre.
The higher the compression ratio, the more efficient the engine will be and it is one of the reasons that diesel engines can get such good gas mileage. They have compression ratios that range from 15:1 to 20:1 and higher where a typical gas engine will run a ratio of 10:1.
Turbocharged engines require a lower compression ratio for optimal power production when they are generating high boost pressures: for passing slower-moving vehicles, accelerating from a stop, or any other time that power is needed.
Being able to vary this ratio has not been possible in a production car until now. The new QX50’s 2 litre turbocharged mill can infinitely vary its compression ratio from 8:1 for power and acceleration all the way up to 14:1 for efficient highway driving or steady state cruising.
The solution that makes all of this possible is a rather elegant diamond shaped piece called “multi-link” that varies the stroke of the piston. For a detailed explanation of how it works click here.
Has it worked?
Short answer: Yes.
This new engine is a full 25 percent more economical than the outgoing 3.7 L V6.
Horsepower is rated at 268 at 5600 rpm and there is 280 lb-ft at 4400 rpm. Sharp-minded folks and owners of the previous generation will be quick to point out that it makes less power than the outgoing 6 cylinder, and they’d be right. It’s also slower to 100 km/h, but if I didn’t just tell you that you probably wouldn’t know.
Developing torque at low rpms, turbocharged engines always feel like they punch well above their weight class, making power where you need it. How often do you “floor it”, really, taking it all the way to redline?
With a combined rating of 9.0L/100 km and just 7.8 L/100km on the highway, it is also one of the most efficient in its class.
From behind the wheel, the change in compression ratio is imperceptible, and it feels like any other small turbocharged motor.
How does it drive?
It has enough power to get out of its own way and is adequate for day-to-day driving, most people will be fine with it. This is not a fast vehicle and its not trying to be one either.
Stalwart supporters of the Continuously Varaible Transmission (CVT), Infiniti has once again decided to pair this advanced new engine with one, and while they don’t have the best reputation with journalists, there’s nothing really wrong with it. The CVT keeps this motor in the meat of its powerband and is fairly quick to react to throttle inputs, more so in sport mode.
Standard on all new QX50s, the drive mode selector allows the driver to toggle between Standard, Eco, Sport and personal. On our drive from Toronto to Niagara-on-the-Lake and back, I set it to sport and left it there. This mode added some heft to the steer-by-wire Direct Adaptive Steering and the CVT held on to revs a bit longer for a sportier feel.
Eco mode is best avoided as it basically anesthetizes the gas pedal.
Admittedly, the QX50 will not induce goosebumps and that’s just fine. That is not its intended market and shoppers in this segment care about other things. Things like ride quality and refinement, a comfortable, quiet and well-appointed cabin, space and utility, and most importantly all-wheel-drive.
In these areas the QX50 excels, it is genuinely a nice vehicle to spend time in.
How about that styling?
One of my favourite things about the new QX50 is how it looks. The clamshell hood and slim LED headlamps, coupled with the upright and much larger signature Infiniti double-arch grille give this SUV a commanding presence. That hood appears long and voluptuous from the driver’s seat and adds a tiny bit of theater to the driving experience.
A deep sculpted character line runs the length of the body and the distinctive crescent-shaped C-pillar design language really works here. I wasn’t so keen on the chrome strip between the rear lights and I feel it would look even better if it was gone, or blacked out at the very least.
Available 20-inch wheels look great and stood out on our Lunar white tester.
Design sells and they’ve got this one right.
How much does it cost?
The base or in this case “Luxe” model starts at $44,490 which sits somewhere in the middle of its competition that includes heavy-hitters like the Acura RDX and Lexus NX and is bit cheaper than the German Audi Q5 and BMW X3.
But with features like a standard panoramic moonroof, heated seats and steering wheel, LED headlights, dual-zone climate control, power liftgate and, Canadian favourite, remote engine starter it is exceedingly good value.
Moving up a rung to the Essential package($48,990)—which will account for about 40 percent of sales—will add leather seats, navigation, parking sensors, the around view monitor and more.
It all tops out with the QX50 Autograph trim at $57,990 that comes with premium quilted leather seating with blue piping and dark blue ultra-suede interior trim on the door and centre console.
Infotainment is similar to other Infiniti models with two screens, one on top for the nav and another below to operate the media, phone, and climate controls.
If you are unfamiliar with this system, there is a learning curve and screen transitions and response can be a bit laggy. The graphics are otherwise crisp and colourful, but the lack of Android Auto and Car Play is a bit of an oversight and is offered in nearly all of the competition.
Should you buy one?
Infiniti’s distinctive design language has translated very well to the new 2019 QX50 and in a segment this competitive, good design is what attracts customers.
An award-winning interior, lots of standard equipment, and an engine that does what was once thought impossible make this a clever redesign and one that should continue to sit at the top of Infiniti’s food chain.
Photos © Kunal D’souza
2019 Infiniti QX50
BODY STYLE: 5 passenger, mid-size premium SUV
DRIVE METHOD: Front-engine, All-Wheel Drive
ENGINE: 2.0 L turbocharged variable compression 4 cylinder (Power: 268 hp @ 5600 rpm; Torque: 280 lb-ft @ 4400 rpm)
TRANSMISSION: Xtronic Continuously variable automatic transmission
CARGO CAPACITY: 880-1822 litres
FUEL ECONOMY: (Premium Gasoline ) 10.6 L/100 km city, 7.8 L/100 km highway, 9.0 L/100 km combined
PRICE: $44,490 (Luxe) $48,990 (Essential) $52,990 (ProACTIVE) $56,490 (Sensory) $57,990 (Autograph)
WEBSITE: Infiniti QX50
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