Redesigned for 2019, the compact 2021 Infiniti QX50 luxury crossover utility vehicle returns sporting welcome minor trim updates, including a standard Wi-Fi hotspot, and laminated front side glass for a quieter ride.
Safety enhancements include side-mounted airbags in the rear seat and automatic collision notification with emergency calling. Offered in ascending Pure, Luxe, Essential, Sensory and Autograph trim levels, QX50 Luxe models now get standard ProPilot Assist, Intelligent Cruise Control, Lane Departure Prevention and Blind Spot Intervention, along with heated seats. An optional appearance package adds 20-inch black painted aluminum-alloy wheels, and dark chrome accents.
Overview: Boasting modestly adventurous styling and all the mod cons, the Infiniti QX50 is trying to grab the market with an innovative engine that promises potent performance, but not at the expense of fuel economy. It seems like a tempting proposition, although you’ll be disappointed if you’re expecting sporting performance. Instead, think of the Infiniti QX50 as the perfect automotive salve, a respite that puts you at ease in uneasy times.
Exterior: The QX50’s taut yet supple sculptural design aesthetic presents the volumetric voluptuousness of a Renoir nude, albeit in automotive garb. Its sensuous curves pull your eye across its rounded exterior, with LED headlights that seem to emulate the human eye, serving as an anchor for the crisp creases that add a taut counterpoint, drawing you rearward toward Infiniti’s unique crescent-cut D-pillar.
Interior: The QX50 Autograph’s alluring interior sports whitewashed wood accents, pale leather and leatherette trim offset by navy-colored suede and diamond-quilted seats. At once comfortable and comforting, it’s more stylish than most homes, a feeling accentuated by such niceties as rear sunshades. After all, how many cars come with window coverings? While base Pure models get pleather; other trims get actual leather, which improves in quality with trim level.
“… The QX50’s taut yet supple sculptural design aesthetic presents a volumetric voluptuousness of a Renoir nude, albeit in automotive garb …”
As you’d expect, the QX50’s seats place you high in the saddle and are all-day comfortable, with plenty of room in both rows. A truly mammoth panoramic sunroof brightens the interior, although it robs headroom for taller passengers.
Thoughtfully, the rear seat can slide back and forth several inches, giving more space for cargo or people, depending on your need. Cargo room is impressive for the size of the vehicle, with a low liftover and up to 44.9 inches of cargo length with the seats moved forward. The cabin is quiet most of the time, with road noise becoming prominent at highway speed.
Powertrain: Offered with front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive for an additional $2,000, the QX50 tries to make its mark under the hood, where the world’s first production 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder variable compression ratio engine “represents a breakthrough” meant to “optimize power and fuel efficiency,” according to the company.
By continuously raising or lowering the pistons’ reach, the compression ratio changes from 8:1 (for high performance when you mash the throttle to the floor) to 14:1 (at light throttle for fuel efficiency).
The engine generates 268 horsepower and 288 pound-feet of torque, about the same amount of juice as Nissan’s naturally aspirated 3.5-liter V-6, with 27% better fuel economy, at 22 mpg city, 28 mpg highway, 25 mpg combined with all-wheel drive.
Skip the all-wheel drive, and the figures jump to 25, 29 and 27 mpg respectively. By comparison, the all-wheel drive 2021 BMW X3 xDrive30i return 23 mpg city, 29 mpg highway, and 25 mpg combined without the QX50’s complexity, although it has 20 less horsepower.
Technology and Safety: The biggest disappointment resides in the center console, where two touchscreens and bevvy of buttons make the infotainment system cumbersome to use. The top screen is used for navigation and phone, while the bottom screen, buried at the base of the center console, houses audio, climate and phone controls.
Both screens are touchscreens, but for some reason, the top one can also be controlled by a controller on the center console. Both are burdened with a cumbersome user interface that’s hard to use at a glance and in dire need of a redesign. And while the QX50’s two hidden USB plugs are a nice thought; it would be nicer to have wireless charging. At least the center console bin is large and roomy enough to house an iPad or small laptop computer.
The Bose audio system provided decent sound. Too bad SiriusXM’s sound quality is only slightly better than your grandmother’s 70-year-old table radio. But you could always use Android Auto, Apple CarPlay or the standard CD player.
For 2021, Infiniti offers ProPilot Assist, an electronic nannie that helps the driver accelerate, brake and steer, and can operate the car operate on the driver’s behalf in stop-and-go traffic. All models come with rear automatic braking, blind-spot warning, lane-departure warning, forward-emergency braking with pedestrian detection, high-beam assist, rear cross-traffic alert and rear parking sensors.
Driving impressions: The variable compression 2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder engine, dubbed “VC-Turbo” by Infiniti, provides decent acceleration, although it gets noticeably better once you switch the driving mode to Sport and plant your right foot to the floor, although it gets rather vocal.
The all-wheel drive works as advertised, but heavy downpours showed the system is still susceptible to hydroplaning if pushed too hard. Steering doesn’t return much in the way of feel, but it’s nicely weighted. The QX50’s continuously variable automatic transmission is typical of the breed, reacting sluggishly to demands for more power, and off-the-line.
A traditional automatic or dual-clutch transmission would be a far more appropriate solution for a luxury vehicle, as it would provide the effortless response buyers in this class expect. CVTs are best left to economy cars.
The test model is rated by the EPA at 22 mpg city, 28 mph highway, and 25 mpg combined; the 245-mile test loop returned 22.9 mpg. Premium fuel is required for optimal performance and fuel economy. Towing capacity is 3,000 pounds when equipped with the optional Tow Package.
And there is no spare tire or tire inflator kit; the QX50 uses run flat tires.
Wrap Up: While plenty of SUVs try to impress with sporty pretension, and others attempt to excite you with affectations of off-road prowess, the 2021 Infiniti QX50 is a calm, quiet, powerful-yet-fuel-efficient chariot that provides comfortably competent premium driving experience wrapped in distinctive styling that fulfills its mission, but may not be satisfying to more demanding drivers. Most will find it a comfortable cruiser in a world where comfort is increasingly hard to find.