It isn’t much of a stretch to state that the new Infiniti QX50 is probably the most important vehicle that the Japanese brand has produced this century.
In a segment that has grown exponentially in the past 10 years, the QX50 has received its biggest overhaul since its debut (as the EX) in 2007. There is, for one, a new, lighter, stiffer chassis for improved agility and cabin space.
More noteworthy than that though is its new VC-Turbo engine. More compact than the 3.5-litre V6 it replaces, the 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder produces 268hp and 380Nm of torque, enough to shift the all-wheel drive QX50 from 0-to-100kph in 6.3 seconds, and on to a top speed of 230kph.
But that isn’t the important bit. This is the world’s first production example of a variable compression ratio engine, which essentially transforms on demand to offer the performance of a 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine and the fuel efficiency of a diesel four-cylinder in the same unit.
Such is the faith Infiniti has in it, the VC-Turbo is also the only engine option available for the QX50. A big risk, but one Infiniti seems to have nailed.
My opening run in Standard driving mode is beautifully smooth, with the variable compression transition between Power and Eco pretty much seamless. Switch to Sport mode, and acceleration gets notably punchy around the 3,000rpm mark. Admittedly, there isn’t quite the oomph I had hoped for below that, but the continuously variable transmission is similarly smooth and well-calibrated to the VC-Turbo’s performance.
At speed, though, is when things start to come unglued – although fortunately not literally. There is no escaping the CVT’s grating drone at high revs, especially in Sport, at which point Infiniti has chosen to pipe in yet more engine noise. There are also some question marks over the drive. Yes, there is plenty of front-end grip and the heavily stiffened chassis has considerably reduced body roll. The steering feels almost lifeless in Standard, unfortunately. It weighs up nicely in Sport, but lacks any real sense of feedback to the front end, and ultimately robs the drive in the QX50 of any real thrills. It isn’t all doom and gloom, however. Inside the QX50 is a continuation of the handsome exterior design, which is possibly the best yet from Infiniti. There are two seven-inch touchscreens on the centre console – the lower one for the car controls, the upper for satnav – that are easy to use, plus a good-quality, 17-speaker Bose
surround-sound system, masses of head- and legroom both front and rear, and a decent-size boot.
There has also been particular attention paid to premium detailing, such as the leather across the glovebox that is hand-stitched for greater precision. In terms of top-rate build quality, category rivals from BMW, Audi, Mercedes-Benz and Cadillac offer a tough benchmark. Regardless, it is a huge stepup versus the outgoing model.
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The new QX50 is sharp on the eyes and through the corners, sets new benchmarks for the company in terms of interior space and comfort, and boasts probably the most significant new tech yet from Infiniti via that gutsy new VC-Turbo engine. Admittedly, I can’t quite forgive the droning, albeit well-mated, CVT, nor the astonishingly light steering, especially given the performance capabilities that the QX50 had threatened. Premium cabin or otherwise, these are significant downfalls against Infiniti’s well-established rivals in this sector.
Make no mistake, though, these are gargantuan steps forward, of which rivals from Germany and the United States might want to take note.