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Infiniti Unveiling QX50 “Concept” at NAIAS

New CUV loads up the tech, including new AutoPilot and variable-compression engine.

by on Dec.30, 2016

The Infiniti QX50 Concept will reappear in 2017 -- largely unchanged -- in production trim.

It may be called a “concept,” but what you’ll see when the Infiniti QX50 debuts at the North American International Auto Show is darned close to what you’ll be getting in showrooms next year.

Heavily influenced by the earlier Infiniti Sport Inspiration Concept, the crossover coming to Detroit in little more than a week is meant to strike a “perfect balance between lust and logic,” according to the luxury marque’s chief designer, Alfonso Albaisa.

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But the Infiniti QX50 Concept is more than just a styling exercise. It will introduce a variety of significant technical innovations, including the breakthrough variable-compression engine developed by parent Nissan, as well as Infiniti’s next-generation steer-by-wire system and near-autonomous driving capabilities.

The Pro Pilot system is meant to handle the most routine of driving duties, such as navigating through stop-and-go traffic. Infiniti calls the system a “co-pilot,” rather than a replacement for the driver – perhaps influenced by the controversy rival Tesla Motors found itself in for using the term “Autopilot” for its own semi-autonomous technology.

A more sculpted exterior - but can you spot where the door handles are hidden?

There’s a good shot that the Pro Pilot system will carry over into the production Infiniti QX50 considering that Nissan itself plans to have its first fully autonomous vehicle rolling down the assembly line in 2020. CEO Carlos Ghosn has promised that the maker will take a series of incremental steps leading up to that point, and Pro Pilot would seem the logical next step.

So would an improved version of the current steer-by-wire technology introduced by Infiniti a few years back. While there’s a mechanical fail-safe, there’s no direct link between the steering wheel and the front wheels under normal operation. The original system was considered an intriguing but not quite yet-perfected technology. The goal, insiders tell TheDetroitBureau.com, is to give the next version a more natural and sporty feel.

Perhaps the most significant new feature on the QX50 concept is the use of the VC-Turbo engine. Normally, internal combustion engines are optimized to use a fixed compression ratio in order to deliver the best balance of performance, fuel economy and emissions. The VC-Turbo can adjust the length of the piston’s stroke, however, to what works best at any specific moment – anywhere from 8:1 to 14:1 — depending upon driving conditions and the driver’s input.

The new VC-Turbo engine's compression ratio can range from 8:1 to 14:1.

Among other things, that could yield as much as a 27% fuel economy bump while also delivering V-6 power. The turbocharged 2.0-liter inline four makes an estimated 268 horsepower.

While Infiniti isn’t confirming final plans, expect to see the VC-Turbo show up in the production QX50, quite likely from the start of production, TheDetroitBureau.com has learned.

(For more on the VC-Turbo, Click Here.)

Also expect to see a completely revised infotainment system on the QX50 Concept, and the production model to follow.

The use of the QX50 platform to launch all the new technology is no surprise. The steer-by-wire system first debuted on the current Q50 line, but the market has moved significantly since that sedan was introduced. Today, light trucks account for almost two-thirds of the American automotive market, and they are the fastest growing part of the luxury segment.

The current QX50 is, in fact, Infiniti’s fastest-growing model, sales rising an astounding 272% through the first 11 months of 2016 – all the more amazing when you consider the ute has been around since 2007 with only slight updates. That said, the QX50 is still an afterthought for most luxury buyers, the crossover generating 14,947 sales through the end of November. So, the maker clearly wants to send a signal to potential buyers.

Infiniti unveiled the QX Inspiration concept at the Paris Motor Show earlier this year.

“It’s a very exciting step for us, not only the technology built into this car with the new engine and auto-drive function, but the design of the car,” said Roland Krueger, Infiniti’s Hong Kong-based president. “We have defined very clearly some design features that are unique to Infiniti.”

(Click Here for a review of the new Infinit QX30.)

From a styling standpoint, the QX50 Concept picks up on cues first seen on both the Infiniti Sport Inspiration concept in Paris, as well as the Q60 coupe concept. The new show car coming to Detroit retains the familiar Infiniti grille and the distinctive boomerang kick in its D-pillar.

The overall look is more sculpted than the existing QX50. It gets a more coupe-like curve to the roofline, though the interior appears to be slightly larger. In concept form, the door handles appear almost invisible. Meanwhile, there’s a large skid plate which might not carry over into production.

The new look is “taking the language and showing what a crossover will be,” said Albaisa.

We’ll see whether observers agree when the Infiniti QX50 Concept makes its formal public debut at Detroit’s Cobo Center on January 9, 2017.

(Infiniti’s design chief reveals brand’s new DNA during breakthrough trip to Cuba. Click Here for more.)

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