Like a teenager, the Infiniti brand is in the midst of a revolution. Its automotive hormones are pumping and things are changing – both physically and emotionally. With luck at the end of this difficult period the company will be smarter, stronger and more mature.
|1. Fuel economy rated at 26 mpg city, 28 highway, 26 combined. |
2. Power comes from a supercharged 2.5-liter four-cylinder gasoline engine, a 15 kW electric motor and a compact lithium-ion battery.
3. Powertrain output totals 250 horsepower with 248 lb-ft of torque.
4. Base price for the QX60 Hybrid is $45,545 including delivery; AWD costs $1,400 more.
Executives at Nissan’s luxury division are running at redline to redefine the brand’s image. Over the past couple years they’ve relocated the corporate headquarters from Japan to Hong Kong and they’ve really focused on growing the business in global markets so Infiniti doesn’t have to rely as heavily on North America. But one of the biggest changes that’s been made, and really the only one visible to consumers, has to do with their product nomenclature.
Familiar nameplates like G, M and FX have been scrapped like rusted out pickup trucks. Starting with the 2014 model year, sedans and coupes are designated “Q” while crossovers and SUVs are graced with “QX.” These letters precede two-digit numbers denoting a vehicle’s size. It’s logical but a bit confusing at first glance.
In keeping with this strategy one recognizable face, the Infiniti JX crossover, has been rechristened QX60. Also new for 2014 is the availability of a hybrid drivetrain. The gasoline-electric version of this three-row hauler aims to deliver increased fuel efficiency with no sacrifice in capability or performance.
BASIC FOUR (CYLINDER)
The standard Infiniti JX — sorry — QX60 is hauled around by a 3.5-liter V6 engine. It’s a member of Nissan’s world-famous VQ family, which practically guarantees smooth, responsive performance. It delivers 265 horsepower and 248 lb-ft of torque and is matched exclusively to a continuously variable transmission (CVT) that’s either the best thing since sliced cold cuts or the worst experience this side of eating one of those plastic-encased gas station sandwiches.
In lieu of a bent six, hybrid versions of the QX60 feature a supercharged 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine. Similarly they’re matched to a CVT; sorry, there’s no escaping the moaning noises and slipping sensations associated with these gearless cogboxes.
Augmenting the gasoline engine is a 15 kW electric motor, two clutches and a small lithium-ion battery pack, the latter of which is cleverly mounted under the third-row seat. In this location it eats up zero interior or passenger space.
Infiniti calls this technology its “Direct Response Hybrid” system; it’s the third electrified vehicle to join the lineup. All together the powertrain delivers a total of 250 horsepower and 243 lb-ft of twist, numbers that stack up very favorably to the V6-powered version of the vehicle. In everyday driving you won’t notice a difference between the two.
The result of that gasoline-electric fusion is a 24 percent improvement in fuel economy over the standard drivetrain; that’s no small potatoes. Equipped with either front- or all-wheel drive the QX60 hybrid stickers at 26 miles per gallon combined. It’s expected to deliver 28 mpg on the highway and 26 around town.
With figures like that, Infiniti claims this vehicle offers the best fuel economy in the premium seven-passenger vehicle segment. With a 19.5-gallon fuel tank it’s got a theoretical maximum range of nearly 550 interstate miles. Can your bladder last that long? Better skip that 64-ounce cup of sweet tea and invest in a stadium buddy.
SAME GREAT TASTE, LESS FILLING (THE TANK)
In spite of its radical name change the QX60 is essentially the same vehicle as the JX35. This means drivers and passengers are treated to a pleasantly premium cabin with oleo-soft leather, squishy plastics and superb build quality.
The second-row seats are nearly as nice as the front chairs, but like hotdog slices in SpaghettiOs, the aft-most bench is probably best left to kiddies. Behind the third-row is a small but useable storage space that clocks in at nearly 16 cubic feet; you could probably fit a few grocery bags back there. Fortunately the seatback folds flat opening up a generous cargo space.
Along with its familiar interior accommodations, the QX60’s exterior is also instantly recognizable. It’s wrapped in the same smooth, flowing, almost puffy-looking body as the JX. It’s tastefully styled and instantly identifiable as an Infiniti.
Unlike other hybrids on the market today, designers were very subtle with the QX60. Many gasoline-electric vehicles shout at you with gaudy green badges and more stickers than found on the bumper of a hippie’s VW Beetle. Only two hybrid nameplates appear on the vehicle’s exterior – one on each front fender. Additionally there’s a small placard under the hood that indicates there’s a gasoline-electric powertrain in the vicinity. Drive a Prius if you want to shout about your eco-friendly intentions.
Out and about, the QX60 hybrid pretty much handles itself like a non-electric version. It’s decently quick for a large vehicle weighing more than two tons.
Not surprisingly it drives like a crossover; the QX is neither sporty nor completely disconnected. It falls somewhere in between. The ride is pretty smooth, though the handling is somewhat insulated and the body rolls a bit through corners – it’s all textbook car-based utility stuff, though.
But what you’re probably most interested in – and the reason you waded through the preceding 800-odd words is for some commentary on the hybrid system. Well, your patience is about to be rewarded.
Nissan’s 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine has never won any awards for refinement. For instance, it always lets you know it’s working in the 2014 Rogue, whether it’s with a choppy idle, unnecessary vibration or groaning noises. Thankfully in the Infiniti engineers have done a much better job isolating it. Almost all of its gritty vibrations have been canceled out, though not all of the noise.
Curiously the supercharger makes quite a bit of racket; its high-pitched whine either sounds really sporty or like a bad power-steering pump in a 1992 Mercury Sable. It’s hard to decide.
Beyond the forced-induction ruckus, the QX’s overall noise levels seem slightly higher than competing vehicles. At interstate speeds a small bit of road and wind noise breaches its NVH defenses, though it’s hardly loud inside.
Like other hybrids Infiniti’s system allows the vehicle to travel in electric-only mode in certain low-speed driving situations. Unfortunately in the QX60 it doesn’t seem to last very long, like barely a few hundred feet, then the gasoline engine kicks in again.
The transition between electric power and internal-combustion propulsion is really smooth, nearly imperceptible in fact. But as smooth as that is, the car’s regenerative braking could use a little polishing. The feel is somewhat artificial and it’s hard to tell when you’ve gone from regen to friction braking. Obviously you want to maximize regenerative braking for the greatest efficiency possible.
Obviously, the big story here is fuel economy. The 2014 Infiniti QX60 Hybrid delivers damn-impressive numbers on the window sticker with a combined score of 26 miles per gallon. As in years past the vehicle is attractive, comfortable and spacious.
But is the hybrid worth the extra outlay of cash? Well, Infiniti charges a $3,000 premium for all of the additional circuitry and electronics, which is not a small amount. A front-wheel-drive QX60 Hybrid stickers for a few bucks more than $45,500, including $995 in shipping and handling fees. If all-wheel grip is imperative, plan on shelling out an additional $1,400.
Like the JX before, the new QX60 is an all-around competent premium crossover. In hybrid guise it’s neither fast nor fun, but it makes up for these deficiencies with a combination of functionality and efficiency that really can’t be beat.