Perhaps you’d forgotten about the QX50; it was certainly beginning to seem like Infiniti had.
Engine: 3.7 liter V6; 325 hp, 267 lb-ft
Transmission: Seven-speed automatic
Fuel Economy: 17 MPG city/24 MPG highway/20 MPG combined
Price range (US): $35,445 - $44,995
When it first came out in 2008 — back then, it was known as the EX35 — this slick little SUV emphasized performance over practicality, with a powerful V6 engine up front and cramped accommodations out back. The EX was a great performer with a lovely interior, but it was the wrong combination for a country just learning to cope with $4/gallon gas. Aside from an engine change in 2013 and a name change in 2014, it’s been withering on the vine ever since.
For 2016, Infiniti seems to have suddenly remembered that the QX50 exists, and it has made one very meaningful change: It has stretched the car by 4.5 inches, with 3.2 inches of that length added between the wheels. Nearly all of that extra space has been added to the back seat, which sees an increase of just under four inches of knee room and just more than four inches of legroom. And with this one change, Infiniti has fixed the single biggest drawback with this SUV.
What a difference four inches makes! The QX50’s back seat is now habitable by adults, and while the rear-drive platform still makes for an intrusive driveline hump — something you won’t find in front-wheel-drive based crossovers like the Acura RDX and Audi Q5 — at least there is now enough legroom for grown-ups to sit comfortably.
Infiniti has complemented the increase in length with a bigger back door, eliminating the calisthenics that were necessary to get into the old version’s back seat. Luggage space remains unchanged at 18.6 cubic feet, which is not a great number, but the QX50’s trunk is oriented horizontally, like a wagon, rather than vertically like many SUVs, and that makes the space more usable than the spec sheet might lead you to believe. The new QX50 does store a bit more cargo with the seats folded down (50.1 cubes, as opposed to last year’s 47.4 cubic feet).
With the added length has come a redesigned profile, and kudos to the Infiniti design studio for managing to do this without screwing up the QX50’s proportions. A slight increase in ride height (0.8 inches) helps. Infiniti says the purpose of the taller stance was to give the QX50 a more SUV-ish look; I still think the QX50 looks like the feminine version of the Q50 sedan, just as Minnie looks like the feminine version of Mickey (though the QX50 does it without the big bow).
The front end is also new, with the QX50 sharing its corporate grille with other Infiniti designs. The jutting bumper and domed hood make the car look like it has an underbite, but I can live with that.
It still drives like an Infiniti
One thing that hasn’t changed is the emphasis on performance. The QX50 is powered by our old familiar friend, Infiniti’s 325-horsepower 3.7-liter V6. The QX50 is one of the only SUVs in its class to use a rear-drive platform, and out on the open road, it’s still every bit the athlete. The torquey engine offers right-now power, or at least it does if you have the seven-speed automatic transmission in manual mode; when left to its own devices, it’s still a little slow to downshift, even with Sport mode selected. But once you get that engine on the boil, look out: The QX50 jets ahead like … well, like every car used to back when every car offered a V6 engine.
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Unfortunately, the QX50’s EPA fuel economy estimates aren’t exactly modern: 17 mpg city, 24 mpg highway, and 20 mpg combined (for both rear- and all-wheel-drive models). You can expect high teens if you give in to the temptation to drive with vigor. Bear in mind, too, that Infiniti recommends (but does not mandate) premium fuel for the QX50. Infiniti has announced a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder for the Q50 sedan, and if it fits in that vehicle, it should fit in this one, too. Though Infiniti so far has not made any announcements, I’d be surprised if that more fuel-efficient engine doesn’t show up in the QX50 at some point.
The handling is a lovely blend of sharpness and comfort. Remember, the QX50 is built on the bones of the old G-series sedan, and like the old G, it dives into corners eagerly and grips with abandon (and does not easily abandon its grip). Slightly taller tires take the edge off the ride; the test cars I sampled had 19-inch wheels and 245/45R19 all-season performance tires (part of the Deluxe Touring Package), and I found it to be just the right blend of grip and comfort. I’d like to see if the standard 18-inch wheel and slightly taller tire dull the QX50’s edge; that will have to wait for my next test drive. Thanks to its age, the QX50 still uses hydraulic power steering. I loved the feel, and are a bit reluctant to complain about the heavy low-speed effort (hydraulic steering is a dying breed, and I’ll take what I can get).
Like many luxury cars, the QX50 offers adaptive cruise control (Intelligent Cruise Control in Inifiniti parlance), which adjusts its speed to maintain a set distance behind the vehicle ahead. Unique to Infiniti is Distance Control Assist, or DCA. With when this system is engaged, the driver controls the car’s speed, but the car automatically eases off the gas and applies the brakes as traffic ahead slows down or stops. The sensation is a bit eerie at first, and a lot of my colleagues expressed displeasure, but I rather liked the system. It’s a bit like having a co-pilot to work the brakes while you work the accelerator.
Luxury done right
Aside from the back seat, the QX50’s interior really hasn’t changed much since 2008, and I’m amazed by how modern it feels. Padded surfaces on the dash and an infotainment system with multiple inputs (touchscreen, dial and redundant buttons in the case of the QX50) are ideas that many automakers are just starting to employ, but Inifinti has had them for years. Material choices are top-notch; I like the warm maple wood (an extra-cost option, unfortunately) and the sparing use of aluminum trim, and every last bit of switchgear feels good under the driver’s fingers. Infiniti was wise to leave the QX50’s cabin alone.
New pricing scheme brings extra value
Pricing for the 2016 Infiniti QX50 starts at $35,445 (including the $995 destination fee; add $1,400 for all-wheel-drive). For those who pay attention to this sort of thing, the 2016 model is priced $550 less than last year, and with more standard equipment, including heated seats and a sunroof. (Keep in mind that the QX50 also offers leather upholstery as standard; several of its competitors have vinyl, with an up-charge for genuine cowhides.)
Among the option bundles is the Premium Package, which includes a Bose stereo, power-adjustable steering column, maple interior trim, a driver’s seat that motors back when you open the door, and a memory function for the driver’s adjustments. Priced at $500, it’s not so much an option package as it is a gift, and I expect that most QX50s on dealer lots will have this package. Other options include navigation, headlights that steer with the wheels, adaptive cruise control, and the AroundView monitor, which uses cameras placed around the vehicle to give a top-down view and makes parking a breeze.
A fully loaded EX50 lists for $44,995 (not including port-installed accessories, which can add another $1,700 or so to the price), but Infiniti expects the volume seller to be the all-wheel-drive QX50 with the Premium Plus package, which stickers for $39,570. It’s an attractive buy compared to comparably equipped SUVs in the same size range.
An SUV out of time?
I love the QX50’s sporty demeanor, which stands it in sharp contrast to the family-truckster-feel so prevalent in this segment. But in a market shocked by volatile fuel prices, a value-priced luxury SUV with a healthy thirst for premium unleaded may not have particularly broad appeal. The real growth is in subcompact luxury SUVs, a segment Infiniti will join shortly with the debut of the 2017 Infiniti Q30.
The Verdict: 2016 Infiniti QX50 Review
Still, I like the changes Infiniti has made to the 2016 QX50. I’m pleased that it invested the money to fix the QX50’s back seat, rather than just slapping on a new grille and shoving it out the factory door. The revised QX50 is fantastic to drive and properly luxurious, and the additional back seat space gives some much-needed utility to this sport utility vehicle. Is the 2016 Infiniti QX50 the right vehicle for the times? Probably not. But I still really like it.
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