By on February 13, 2018

2019 Infiniti QX50

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.

2019 Infiniti QX50

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.

2019 Infiniti QX50

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.

2019 Infiniti QX50

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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38 Comments on “2019 Infiniti QX50 First Drive – Your Compression May Vary...”


  • avatar
    Odiemac

    These PR-organized first drives are usually never a good place for semi-autonomous systems like Pro Pilot. Given the likely percentage of working-class stiffs that commute to work in urban/suburban areas that will buy this car, I think that Pro Pilot is probably the most valuable option you can check on this car. Certainly more likely to be useful than AWD.

    • 0 avatar
      Tim Healey

      I can’t fault the idea, even though I like driving myself at all times. It just didn’t work well — it has to “see” the lane lines clearly and older lines that were faded, well, it didn’t pick them up. With some time and tweaking, it will be better.

      • 0 avatar
        Odiemac

        I haven’t personallly tried Pro Pilot, and its likely that it could use some fine tuning and software updates (by the way, how does this car get updates, over the air or only via dealer visits?). But usually in traffic these systems can follow the car in front of you when lane markers get indistinct.

  • avatar
    dal20402

    Even variable compression can’t make me feel *desire*, as opposed to left-brain admiration, for a vehicle that has a turbocharged four and sounds like it. I’m curious whether this tech could improve economy as applied to naturally aspirated engines like, oh, say, an updated version of the VQ in this vehicle’s predecessor.

    In its defense, the difference in fuel economy really is dramatic if the stated numbers are even close to real. The old QX50 was super thirsty; it was lucky to get 20 mpg even on the highway.

    • 0 avatar
      CaddyDaddy

      Are there any other colors for interiors other than flat black and silver / gun metal grey exteriors? Yuk. …..and why does every car review happen on the 405? I can not think of a more unrevealing test review drive than bumper to bumper traffic on a snow free Mediterranean coastal climate interstate.

    • 0 avatar

      VQ gon hurt ya fuels.

    • 0 avatar
      indi500fan

      It appears that the path to mandated fuel economy levels in anything smaller than pickup trucks is 4 cylinder turbos. So I’m not sure if using that complex VC mechanism in a NA engine will ever be done.

    • 0 avatar
      TW5

      If you look at the system, I don’t think it will work on a V-engine. It’s inline or nothing, hence the I-4 turbo.

      I think VC could be more compelling than manufacturers realize. Many Americans have 50+ mile commutes. Any vehicle that can go weekend to weekend without a weekday fill up is quite luxurious. If the QX50 maintains the current 20 gallon tank, even exurbanites can do weekly commutes without worrying about fuel. Quite luxurious.

      • 0 avatar
        ACCvsBig10

        looks like fuel tank has decreased to 16gal, chasing mpg numbers sigh

        • 0 avatar
          TW5

          Thanks for the info. A bit disappointing. Maybe the average American could do one tank per week, but my commute is too long.

          Maybe I’m wrestling with the inevitable–hybrids are the only way to do the one-tank per week from the exurbs.

          • 0 avatar
            dal20402

            If your long commute is all highway speeds, you might get one tank per week out of a big luxury sedan. They often have big tanks and get ~30 mpg at constant highway speed. (If you have any stop and go, though, you’re looking at under 15 mpg and your extra range vanishing.)

            My recently departed LS460 would do 600 miles on a tank highway, and I think the last two generations of S550 are even better.

          • 0 avatar
            ajla

            (whisper it)

            Maybe a diesel?

          • 0 avatar
            TW5

            @dal

            Thanks for the info. I’ve always commuted in ruthlessly cheap compact 4-bangers. Something amazing about buying a car for $3,000 then putting 80,000 on the clock and selling it for $2,000. Unfortunately, I think that era of my life my be coming to an end. I’m getting to old to bang gears in rush hour traffic in a Japanese tin can.

            I’ve looked at older LS’s, mainly because they are incredible value for money, and the interior is sufficiently spartan for my taste (since it’s 10 years old). However, the maintenance costs worry me. I’m worried that something relatively minor like a set of pads and rotors will set me back a couple grand.

            @ajla

            If you buy diesel, you’re paying for emissions equipment. If I’m going to pay a premium, I’d rather get batteries. That’s just me.

  • avatar
    DetroitDiesel6V53T

    Wouldn’t a lower compression ratio provide less power and torque, just less risk of detonation?

  • avatar
    turbo_awd

    Now if they would offer the 3.0T / Red Sport engines as an upgrade for another $2-3k..

  • avatar
    legacygt

    Wouldn’t know without sitting in the car but from the picture the steering wheel looks very large for this kind of car.

  • avatar
    ajla

    If they were ballsy Infiniti would have brought a 2017/2018 QX50 along for a comparison drive.

  • avatar
    TW5

    This is one of the most compelling new cars to hit the market, but it’s also a case of good news bad news.

    Bad news is that the 30%-35% fuel economy improvements are compared to the outgoing 3.7L V6, which makes poor fuel economy. Good news is that 27mpg combined for the FWD QX50 variant is still nearly 20% more efficient than the 23mpg combined for the FWD Lexus RX350. The bad news is 20% fuel economy improvement might not be worth the cost and the possible reliability problems associated with VC engines. Good news is that variable compression works best at sustained partial throttle, thus the QX50 should make really good economy on the highway for commuters. Bad news is that the novelty of driving a variable compression engine probably wears off quickly, and the fuel savings might not be enough to make anyone care.

    Features are known. What are the real benefits, other than CAFE compliance? Anyway, it might be worth a lease. Interesting tech.

  • avatar
    JMII

    The real problem with this Infiniti is that its a Benz. Sorry but I am not fan of the MB button-fest interiors vs Infiniti’s more simplified layouts.

  • avatar
    make_light

    I’m glad Infiniti is getting back on track it seems like (although I’m not as harsh towards their recent models as I’m sure some people are). Remember when the new 03 G35 launched? I remember first seeing a photo of it as an ad in Motor Trend when I was a teenager. It’s probably the only time in my life I remember seeing a car in an ad and can still picture it to this day. It looked like the future, without being bizarre like the new Prius. It was stunning.

    • 0 avatar
      James2

      That first-gen G35 coupe was a beauty.

      This was, apparently, before designers realized that they needed ghastly, oversized grilles and tortured sheetmetal–visual evidence to prove to their bosses they were actually working.

    • 0 avatar
      KalapanaBlack7G

      Their commercials around that time were memorable, too. The Q45, I35 and G35 driving around outside a recreated 1950s auto show, with some very cool acid jazz playing and the patrons losing interest in paper-based “navigation systems” and passenger seat-mounted record players to stare at the futuristic Infinitis outside the hall.

      I still remember them.

    • 0 avatar
      JMII

      The new G, which is the Q50/60, looks great I think. The bigger Infiniti crossovers have been wacked with the ugly stick but the smaller ones are well styled.

  • avatar
    Tinn-Can

    Sounds like a great car to lease for three years and then give back before the motor self destructs…

  • avatar
    conundrum

    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.

    • 0 avatar
      Maymar

      But would you be willing to pay for that level of journalistic integrity? If not, who should foot the bill so you can get free hard-hitting inquires to the blatant flaws of lower-end luxury crossovers?

    • 0 avatar
      Tim Healey

      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.

  • avatar
    b534202

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


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