2016 Infiniti QX50 AWD Review
By the way Nissan has treated its Infiniti brand over its quarter-century existence, the now Hong Kong, China-based luxury division might have a case for child abandonment. The majority of its models, which for the most part were style, performance and technology leaders when devised, have been left to languish far past their various shelf lives, the parent automaker seemingly crossing its collective fingers in hopes that premium buyers will purchase their outdated products on traditional luxury features and price alone. Granted, Infiniti often offers best-in-class value, but you’re not going to attract the vast majority of premium buyers with bargain basement deals, this reality casting a shadow on a brand’s cachet. True luxury buyers expect more than great pricing for good performance and the usual assortment of high-level features, they expect constant innovation across the board.
On this theme Infiniti should be lauded for introducing its EX35 way back in 2007 when very few premium brands offered anything in the compact crossover class. Sure, BMW’s X3 had already been on the market for four years and Acura’s RDX was just made available the year prior, but Audi’s Q5, Mercedes-Benz’ GLK and Volvo’s XC60 wouldn’t arrive for another year, Range Rover’s Evoque wouldn’t show up for another three years, and Lexus, Lincoln and Porsche wouldn’t wake up and smell the compact CUV coffee until 2014. So kudos to Infiniti for being way ahead of the curve, but what’s with waiting eight full model years before giving it a redesign?
This is nothing new for Infiniti, however. The second-generation G37 Coupe also arrived in 2007 and has yet to be redesigned despite being renamed Q60 for model year 2014 when Infiniti’s global brand-wide renaming scheme was all the news, while the G37/Q60 Convertible has been soldiering forward mostly unchanged since 2008. The FX mid-size crossover SUV was given a complete second-gen makeover in 2008 and while further updated with the brand’s new grille design in 2011 and renamed QX70 for 2014 it’s still the same going into 2016. This seemingly halfhearted lack of follow through is in sharp contrast to rivals BMW and Mercedes-Benz that are almost ridiculous in their attempts to create and expand on niche market segments that never before existed, let alone keep their top models up-to-date with regular styling, powertrain and feature improvements, while even once-staid and conservative Lexus has started to figure out the necessity for constant change too. The luxury market is mostly about style, performance, innovation, and of course image, and right about now a number of mainstream volume brands are doing a better job of wooing premium buyers than Infiniti. Believe me, Hyundai’s new upscale Genesis brand will have its crosshairs squarely on the Nissan luxury line’s back.
As it is, the EX35 was produced from 2008 through 2012 mostly unchanged until the 3.5-liter V6 and five-speed automatic combination was upgraded to the current 3.7-liter V6 and seven-speed automatic, causing its designation to change to EX37 for 2013, although as soon as model year 2014 arrived the renaming scheme mentioned earlier came into effect with QX50 being the result. Now, two years later Infiniti has finally come out with a redesigned version, or at least that’s what all the ads are stating.
It certainly looks like a new QX50 when viewed from up front. While the general shape appears the same at first glance, the headlights seem carryover and even the base eight-spoke 18-inch alloys look identical, anyone can see that Infiniti has clipped its now trademark double-arch grille to the front end, along with a nicely reworked front bumper and lower fascia with lots of satin silver and chrome trim, plus an intricate set of chrome rimmed LED driving lights along with LED fogs. Additionally, Infiniti has redesigned the side mirror housings while adding de rigueur LED turn signals, plus it’s reshaped the side sills, added a new rooftop spoiler with an integrated LED center-mounted brake light, and given the rear end design similar changes to those up front including updated LED taillights that visually pop, a restyled bumper cap with large rectangular turn signals and reflectors, plus a stylish aluminum look under-tray that frames two large bright polished tailpipes.
While the 2016 QX50’s updated styling now helps it visually fit within Infiniti’s lineup, the biggest change in its makeover may just be the global adoption of a previous Chinese-market exclusive long-wheelbase version as standard equipment. The stretch incorporates an 3.2-inch wheelbase extension plus 4.3 inches of added length resulting in 8.3 cubic feet more interior volume, this newfound roominess especially impacting the rear quarters that now enjoy 2.5 inches of extra legroom, while cargo volume gets a 2.7 cubic-foot bump. Additionally, Infiniti has increased ride height of the rear-wheel drive model by 0.8 inches and the all-wheel drive version by 0.6 inches, which will make some difference during off-pavement excursions to the cottage or ski hill, but I’m guessing this change had more to do with increasing the driver’s visual command of the road.
If you were hoping to find change for the sake of change inside, get ready to be disappointed because the cabin remains status quo ahead of the front seatbacks, except for the inclusion of a standard power tilt and slide tinted moonroof with sunshade overhead. This said it was already a very appealing interior with a soft dash top and an even softer leatherette primary instrument hood, plus a soft plastic instrument panel and a similar high-quality pliable synthetic covering each door from top to bottom, various trim bits, switchgear and comfortably padded armrests aside. Even the glove box lid is made from the softer stuff, something even Audi doesn’t do, although the lower console is hard plastic, and not particularly high-end feeling. A very upscale stitched leather-topped lid opens up to a set of cupholders, however, with a unique drop floor that makes way for taller bottles, while a comfortable padded leather and chrome trimmed armrest covers a larger velvet lined bin just behind, complete with a 12-volt power supply and USB plug.
There was plenty of aluminum trim in my tester, along with patterned aluminum inlays across the stylish door panels, while the entire center stack was surfaced in a glossy gray composite that’s easier to keep clean than the piano black lacquer used on so many other vehicles these days. It’s not wood or carbon fiber, the former available with a reasonably priced $500 Premium package upgrade, but it still looks good.
Speaking of good looking, the QX50’s primary gauges are simple and straightforward with two large, bright dials done out in a beautiful electroluminescent white on black with purple highlights, while a contrastingly low key black and white LCD multi-information display sits at center. The aforementioned center stack gets a reasonably large infotainment display accessed via Infiniti’s quality feeling metal edged rotating controller that’s surrounded by a bevy of buttons. In base trim it features displays for regular and satellite radio, fuel economy details, maintenance info, and vehicle settings, and is extremely easy to sort out. Quick access audio controls are positioned just below, set around Infiniti’s trademark analog clock that looks as elegant as ever, while a neat row of dual-zone auto HVAC controls are positioned in a separate interface underneath. In addition, the lower center console incorporates a gorgeous leather and metal gear selector assembly ahead of two variable temperature rotating seat heater controls positioned closer to the armrest, these flanking some dummy buttons surrounded by a single driver-selectable Snow mode.
Yes, oddly there’s no Sport mode in that mix to enhance performance, but then again with standard V6 power, a brilliantly reactive seven-speed automatic, sports car-like rear-wheel drive or as-tested optional rear-biased all-wheel drive, conventional rack-and-pinion steering delivering good feedback, a fully independent sport-tuned double wishbone front and multi-link rear suspension, and body mass that’s generally lighter in weight than most SUVs, it hardly needs one. I would’ve liked steering wheel paddles to make the most of that Adaptive Shift Control-enhanced gearbox and the QX50’s seriously sporting 24-valve, DOHC 3.7-liter V6, the former blipping the throttle ahead of rev-matched downshifts and the latter infused with continuously variable valve timing and Variable Valve Event and Lift (VVEL) for 325 horsepower at a heady 7,000 rpm and 267 lb-ft of willing torque at 5,200 rpm, but regular shift lever manual-mode sufficed. Then again this is a critically important model for Infiniti, so while this base example was sportier than most entry-level rivals, its edges had to be refined enough to allow an agreeable level of comfort. Still, I think Infiniti has found the right balance.
To that end the QX50 is thoroughly enjoyable around town while impressively capable on the open road, whether cruising at high-speed down the freeway or tackling a twisting two-laner. Its longer wheelbase has improved the former and doesn’t seem to have impinged on the latter, while it certainly enhances rear seat comfort. Unfortunately I never had opportunity to sit in the rear while the QX50 was mobile, but lounged in back while taking notes and found the rear seats offered better lumbar support than most, whereas rear legroom should be more than adequate for the majority of adults. My five-foot-eight frame still had a good six to seven inches ahead of my knees when the front seat was set to my optimal driving position, while four inches remained above my head. A large armrest folds down between the two outboard positions, providing additional rear seat comfort and the bonus of twin cupholders.
The slightly larger cargo compartment is particularly well finished, with what I think is the nicest tonneau cover in the industry. It’s comprised of an aluminum cross member filled with a retractable canvas scroll cover that’s completed by a thick chrome metal handle. It’s easy to remove and put back in place, too. Also, lowering the rear seats couldn’t be easier being that Infiniti has included a standard switch to each sidewall that immediately drops the 60/40-split seatbacks down to lay completely flat. Most competitors don’t manage this task anywhere near as skillfully.
After its second-best month of the year in September when Infiniti moved 263 QX50s, October saw 989 sales of the new model, which has to make the powers to be at Infiniti smile. Still, raining on this parade is Lexus’ upstart NX that sold 3,399 units, still shy of the class sales leading Audi A5’s 4,863 October sales, but no doubt deflating. On top of that Infiniti’s other Japanese rival, Acura, sold 3,891 RDXs, BMW found 3,028 X3 buyers, Lincoln unloaded 1,982 MKCs, Mercedes delivered 1,941 GLKs, Volvo pawned off 1,912 XC60s, and Land Rover hawked 1,265 Range Rover Evoques, with only Porsche delivering fewer Macans, albeit not by much at 908 units. Like I said in the beginning, today’s luxury market doesn’t necessarily reward those who pay their dues through longevity, but rather puts its money toward dramatic newness and innovation.
On that note the addition of a standard sunroof is helpful, but where is the optional panoramic sunroof? Likewise, while absolute power under the hood will be a strong selling point for many would-be buyers, most rivals are offering less powerful yet still amply energetic turbocharged four-cylinder alternatives that are easier on fuel, or for that matter yet stingier diesels and cleaner hybrids, while their conventionally powered models deliver fuel-saving, eco-friendly technologies such as cylinder deactivation, regenerative braking, auto idle stop/start, and more. The QX50 offers none of these, leaving it with a less than ideal claimed EPA fuel economy rating of 17 mpg city, 24 highway and 20 combined for both rear-wheel and all-wheel drivetrains.
Still, it delivers an impressively long list of standard features for a luxury SUV starting at just $34,450 plus freight and dealer fees, including everything already mentioned plus all the expected comforts and conveniences including auto on/off headlights, speed-sensitive variable intermittent wipers, auto-locking doors, powered heatable side mirrors,illuminated vanity mirrors, dual-zone auto HVAC, an eight-way powered driver’s seat and four-way powered front passenger seat, a leather-wrapped tilt and telescopic steering wheel, a leather-wrapped shift knob, plus a large high-resolution color infotainment display, which in the QX50’s case is seven inches in diameter and filled with audio, climate, fuel economy, maintenance, comfort and convenience functions, whereas the stereo is a good sounding six-speaker system with a CD, aux and USB plugs, satellite radio, RDS and speed-sensitive volume.
Unexpected but welcome, the QX50 also comes standard with a rearview camera system, not always part of the base package in the premium sector, and while the standard multi-information system ahead of the driver is a rather rudimentary black and white LCD screen, those gorgeous Fine Vision electroluminescent primary dials previously mentioned are set to each side. Another bonus that’s often extra with competitors is proximity-sensing keyless access, along with an illuminated start/stop button, plus stainless steel front doorsill plates, and possibly most notable, premium leather upholstery throughout. The Germans only come standard with leatherette, which is something else to consider, while the QX50 also includes the benefit of variable-temperature heatable seats up front. What’s more, Infiniti even lets you choose between Graphite (black), Wheat (beige) or Chestnut (caramel) interior color themes at no extra charge, the cabin color only dependent on your choice of exterior color.
My tester’s interior was black and its exterior wasn’t painted light grayish Hagane Blue, the only new hue added to the QX50’s seven-color pallet, but it looked stylishly understated in no-cost Asgard Gray Metallic. You can update your QX50 with much more, that $500 Premium package mentioned earlier adding maple trim, 11-speaker Bose audio, memory seats, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, reverse tilt side mirrors, a powered steering column and more; a $2,000 Premium Plus package upping content with navigation, Bluetooth streaming audio, front and rear parking sonar and an Around View monitor; a $2,750 Technology package adding adaptive cruise control, distance control assist, blind spot warning, lane departure warning and prevention, and intelligent brake assist with forward collision warning; and a $2,400 Deluxe Touring package adding 19-inch rims, adaptive HID headlights, a premium stitched meter hood, powered lumbar, an eight-way powered front passenger’s seat, and power up-folding rear seats, but even in base trim it should be pampering enough for most.
The 2016 QX50 really is a superb value and a particularly rich looking CUV, capable of pulling new customers to the Infiniti brand and keeping the majority of its highly satisfied clients within the family, but it’s not going to be the runaway hit Infiniti needs.
Story credits: Trevor Hofmann, American Auto Press; Photo credits: Karen Tuggay, American Auto Press; Copyright: American Auto Press