2019 Infiniti QX50 First Drive - Your Compression May Vary

Tim Healey
by Tim Healey
2019 infiniti qx50 first drive your compression may vary

Miles per gallon can vary from driver to driver. We all know that. Now, Infiniti is trying out an engine that can vary its compression ration from scenario to scenario.

Miles per gallon is also a key spec for the new QX50, since the variable compression ratio tech is responsible for a claimed improvement in combined fuel economy – 35 percent for front-drive vehicles and 30 for all-wheel-drive units.

As is the usual case on first drives, I had no chance to verify those numbers – which, according to Infiniti, work out to 27 mpg combined with front-wheel drive and 26 mpg with all-wheel drive. Improved fuel economy is just part of the picture when it comes to variable compression, which is making its production debut in the 2019 Infiniti QX50.

Full disclosure: Infiniti paid for my hotel room in West Hollywood/Beverly Hills, my flight home, my parking for a press car I drove to the hotel, and several nice meals, including one at a sushi joint where I saw Chuck Liddell hanging out.

Billed as a “luxury mid-size crossover,” the redesigned QX50 offers more claimed interior space (the spec sheet doesn’t have a number yet for passenger compartment volume) over the previous generation, in addition to the variable compression ratio 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine and the addition of Nissan and Infiniti’s Pro Pilot Assist driver-assistance tech.

That turbo is the lone engine available, and it makes 268 horsepower and 280 lb-ft of torque. Putting the “variable” in the name is a compression ratio that ranges from 8:1 to 14:1. This is accomplished via what Infiniti calls a “ multilink system” that raises and lowers the reach of the piston. A high compression ratio provides more efficiency but raises the risk of engine knock, while a lower compression ratio generates more power and torque without the risk of premature combustion.

In practice, the system is mostly unnoticeable to the driver, just like Mazda’s Skyactiv-X system, which seeks similar results via a different approach.

What is noticeable to the driver is that the QX50 seems a tad slow to get power to the wheels when it’s summoned. This isn’t unusual, as many vehicles today seem to suffer from this malady. It’s unclear to me if this is a result of turbo lag or as a result of the variable compression tech. Perhaps the most likely culprit is the continuously variable automatic transmission lagging in its duties. Whatever the case, it takes a sec for the power to come on when you mat the pedal.

The good news is that once the power gets to ground, the QX moves with a decent amount of urgency, and the noises coming from underhood are agreeable. Furthermore, the CVT behaves better in light-duty scenarios.

Infiniti sent us out over some of the same roads that I’d driven the 2019 Jeep Cherokee on two days earlier (we even crossed paths with at least one pair of journalists on the Jeep launch), and the QX was notably more at home in the mountains. Perhaps unsurprisingly, as it’s less off-road focused than the Jeep (which isn’t a direct competitor, anyway). Slide it into Sport mode, and the steering firms up and the handling improves over the default setting. There’s sportier sheetmetal in this class, but the QX holds its own well enough.

I gave Pro Pilot a shot on the 101 west of LA, and while the system is supposed to follow curves as long as your hand is gently on the wheel, its ability to read the lane lines is inconsistent. It failed on the first few attempts, as the lane lines were likely too faded for it to read. A few miles later it worked, but I didn’t see any advantage to using it over just guiding the car myself, so I never bothered with it again. I can see how it might be helpful in slow-moving traffic, but I think most of us would just rather do the driving ourselves.

It also rides comfortably, as one would expect from anything in this class, and any increase in stiffness in sport mode doesn’t detract from that experience.

Really, comfort – and style – is what these mid-size luxury crossovers are mostly about. Infiniti and other OEMs turn journalists loose on those twisty roads and we report back on the handling, as I did a few paragraphs up, but most buyers are driving these to dinner, the mall, and the carpool lane. That doesn’t mean handling doesn’t matter – most folks want a least some personality in the car they drive – but it’s not necessarily the central theme.

The QX certainly is comfortable – my back never complained after a long day in both the driver’s and passenger’s seat, not even when stuck on the 405. You do have to deal with Infiniti’s complex infotainment system, and there’s no smartphone mirroring system available, but otherwise the interior is pleasant, adorned with the type of materials one expects at this price point.

Ah, price point. The QX50 starts at a humble(ish) $36,550 for the Pure trim and front-wheel drive. There are two other trims – Luxe and Essential (which Infiniti predicts will be the best seller). Both are available with front-drive or all-wheel drive.

Depending on options (which include heated front seats, cooled front seats, heated steering wheel, premium paint, premium audio, power liftgate, head-up display, infotainment system, dual- and tri-zone climate control, remote start, 360-degree camera, rear-view camera, satellite radio, driver-assist tech and leather seats) and how you group them via option package, you can come close to a $60K sticker. None of the proceeding includes delivery and destination fee.

Infiniti has blended a balance of sport and comfort here, with an emphasis towards comfort and the best fuel efficiency possible. The new engine tech is intriguing but mostly invisible, and Pro Pilot probably isn’t worth it for most of us.

You get a well-rounded package if you pick the QX, but if you’re on a budget, be careful as you check the boxes.

[Images © 2018 Tim Healey/TTAC]

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4 of 38 comments
  • Conundrum Conundrum on Feb 13, 2018

    So the new TTAC is now a vehicle for the editor to attend every pressfest car intro available, guzzle the proffered refreshments, down the food and then produce a milquetoast first impressions article. Baruth must be having a fit. He's written more than a few articles on just this sort of scenario - when he judged the car important enough to review, he paid for the trip himself more often than not. I can read this sort of review in 20 other places and learn just as little. Some from people who manage to register as motoring journos just for the trips. No more catty reviews from TTAC, apparently. It's all good or you don't get invited back for the next reveal. Any problems noticed? Well they "were" early production vehicles after all - "we'll check back later on a true production model". Which rarely occurs, if ever. The edge is off this place, that's for sure.

    • See 1 previous
    • Tim Healey Tim Healey on Feb 19, 2018

      My goal is honesty, not cattiness. I liked some aspects of the QX50, not others. If that reads as milquetoast, well, maybe I can work on my writing, but believe me, our goal is to remain honest. I will rip a car when called for and so will the others. I dinged the Cherokee for being underpowered and still having a bad transmission. I've been harsh on vehicles loaned to me. I was critical of the Kia Stinger's handling. We go on trips because we have to -- otherwise we won't get access to the vehicles until much later. It's a messed-up system. We disclose so that you know what the OEM is doing to try to work a favorable review. But I don't let a nice hotel, exotic locale or good food free sway me. Nor does anyone else on staff who travels or gets press-car loans. As for cutting slack on pre-pro vehicles, well, that's done out of fairness.

  • B534202 B534202 on Feb 13, 2018

    In actual driving, how often does/can it change compression ratio?

  • Bullnuke Well, production cuts may be due to transport-to-market issues. The MV Fremantle Highway is in a Rotterdam shipyard undergoing repairs from the last shipment of VW products (along with BMW and others) and to adequately fireproof it. The word in the shipping community is that insurance necessary for ships moving EVs is under serious review.
  • Frank Wait until the gov't subsidies end, you aint seen nothing yet. Ive been "on the floor" when they pulled them for fuel efficient vehicles back during/after the recession and the sales of those cars stopped dead in their tracks
  • Vulpine The issue is really stupidly simple; both names can be taken the wrong way by those who enjoy abusing language. Implying a certain piece of anatomy is a sign of juvenile idiocy which is what triggered the original name-change. The problem was not caused by the company but rather by those who continuously ridiculed the original name for the purpose of VERY low-brow humor.
  • Sgeffe There's someone around where I live who has a recent WRX-STi, but the few times I've been behind this guy, he's always driving right at the underposted arbitrary numbers that some politician pulled out of their backside and slapped on a sign! With no gendarmes or schoolkids present! Haven't been behind this driver on the freeway, but my guess is that he does the left lane police thing with the best of 'em!What's the point of buying such a vehicle if you're never going to exceed a speed limit? (And I've pondered that whilst in line in the left lane at 63mph behind a couple of Accord V6s, as well as an AMG E-Klasse!)
  • Mebgardner I'm not the market for a malleable Tuner / Track model, so I dont know: If you are considering a purchase of one of these, do you consider the Insurance Cost Of Ownership aspect? Or just screw it, I'm gonna buy it no matter.The WRX is at the top of the Insurance Cost pole for tuner models, is why I ask.