2016 Infiniti QX50: First Drive

·Contributor
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What is it? 2016 Infiniti QX50

Price Range: $34,450 base for rear-wheel drive; $35,850 base for AWD

Competitors: Lexus NX, Acura RDX

Alternatives: Mercedes Benz GLE Coupe, BMW X6

Pros: Pricing. Infiniti has lowered the base price of the 2016 QX50 by $550 and offers more standard equipment than others in the segment. The sheer bang for your buck is worth it.

Cons: Heavy steering feel, a wonky navigation system, an aggressive lane departure warning and distance control system, and relatively snoozy styling. Don’t worry, most of those things you can turn off.

Would I buy it with my own money? Yes. It’s a great bang for your buck—particularly if you want crossover space for sedan money.

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Back in 2007 Infiniti launched the EX35, the shrunken version of their popular FX luxury SUV. Thanks to revamped naming conventions at Infiniti, the EX35 has now become the QX50 and it’s getting what Infiniti is calling a “light refresh,” to make it slightly bigger overall and give buyers more base options for less money.

Infiniti says that despite the popularity of small luxury SUVs, it was only selling these when people would “trip over them in the showrooms,” according to Randy Palmer, Vice President of the Americas for Infiniti. That yielded just 250 cars sold per month—which essentially amounts to one QX50 per U.S. dealer. When the first EXs hit the showroom back in 2007, empty nesters and childless 30-somethings snapped them up en masse; however, purchases tapered off considerably. The cause of this sudden drop in sales: the rear seat was practically unusable, as the ingress and egress were too tight for most adults to navigate.

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To tackle this issue, Infiniti has lengthened the wheelbase of the new 2016 QX50 by an additional 3.2 inches, giving rear passengers 4.3 additional inches of legroom and 3.9 more inches of knee room. In addition to more passenger space, the overall interior volume of the new QX50 has increased by 8 cubic feet. Though most of that is absorbed in the rear passenger area, the cargo volume with the rear seats down increases by 2.7 cubic feet, allowing for a total of 50.1 cubic feet of space. Infiniti also raised the crossover by just under an inch, with an eye toward a more SUV-like stance than the previous model.

In addition to adding space for passengers, Infiniti has also made some subtle updates on the outside. The QX50 gets a new set of integrated LED fog and daytime running headlights, a new integrated bumper, new side view mirrors with LED turn signals, and Infiniti’s updated double-arch grille that, according to designer Alfonso Albaisa, makes “all the Infinitis sing the same song.” The crossover also gets a new side sill design and new wheel options.

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Both the rear-wheel and all-wheel drive versions of the QX50 are powered by Infiniti’s older but still quality 3.7-liter V-6 engine, and paired with a 7-speed automatic transmission. The engine in the QX50 is just behind the front wheel line, giving it a nearly balanced front-to-rear weight ratio. The engine puts out 325 horsepower and 267 lb-ft of torque. In the all-wheel drive version, the QX50 does have an optional manual mode, but Infiniti opted out of adding paddle shifters. Rev matching is fun to listen to, though hard to hear in the quiet cabin. Manually shifting the QX50 is really more of an experience of sportiness in name only.

Saying it’s as fun as a sports car would be pushing it, but the new QX50 is one of the more enjoyable crossovers on the road. The steering is surprisingly (and intentionally) heavy in the QX50. At first it seems to be a rather strange choice for an SUV, but after spending a little time on the road , the weighty feel lends itself to a slightly sportier driving feel that clearly and reliably translates what’s going on under the tires. Though both the all-wheel and rear-wheel drive versions get the same engines and transmissions, the AWD version feels a bit more sluggish and heavier overall. In the all-wheel drive version, the bias is toward the rear wheels until the system feels the car slip. At that time up to 50% of the power can be pushed to the front wheels to bring the car back in line. Both versions get a “snow” setting which is activated by pushing a button on the center console. This setting allows for the transmission to start in second gear and retards the wheel spin to help with grip in slippery conditions.

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One of the best parts of the new QX50 is the standard equipment that Infiniti offers. Included leather, power moon roof, and heated front seats come standard on the base 2016 QX50. Infiniti has also updated its packages, flattening the unending choices to four levels: Premium, which includes a better Bose sound system, a more advanced climate control system, and roof rails; Premium Plus, which includes navigation and backup camera features; Deluxe Touring which offers a different wheel package, power fold up rear seats and adaptive headlights; and finally the Technology package which offers intelligent cruise control, blind spot warning, lane departure warning and prevention and distance control. Infiniti expects that a majority of QX50s sold will be outfitted to the max, topping out at around $45,000.

The interior of the 2016 QX50 is spacious and relatively luxurious. And should you ask, yes, an adult or two can get into and ride in the back seat. Both the rear-wheel drive and the all-wheel drive versions we drove were outfitted to the max, and a few of the features left us with some niggling complaints.

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First, in the all-wheel drive model, the front passenger foot well is significantly smaller than the space in the rear-wheel drive version as a result of the components needed for AWD. It makes for a lumpy, slightly awkward space under the passenger’s feet. Second, the navigation system is a bit slow and rather convoluted. We had to cut our trip short to make a flight and the navigation system proved frustrating from top to bottom, whether putting in the destination or following the system’s directions. We eventually gave up and resorted to Google to get us to the airport on time. The lane departure warning system hits in-laws level of intrusion and annoyance; after five minutes of tossing the car around on a moderately twisty road we had to disable the system for the sake of our sanity. Finally, the automatic cruise control system plays conservative, and yet also drives in a disconcerting way. When driving along at highway speeds with the system on, the car will push the gas pedal back into your foot as you approach a car in front of you. In rush hour San Diego traffic, you don’t want to leave 300 feet of space between cars or else you’ll never arrive at your destination. From what we could see there was no way to reduce the system’s engagement distance, and eventually we gave up and turned it off completely, too.

All of those niggling frustrations aside, the QX50 is a surprisingly good bang for your buck. Infiniti has reduced the cost of the base crossover by $550 while increasing the amount of included features. That means that they expect to sell a lot of the new QX50s in order to make back what they lose by dropping the price. After driving one for a few hours in the hills around San Diego (and in rush hour traffic, on a mad dash to the airport) you can see why.

The 2016 QX50 gets 17 mpg city, 24 mpg highway and 20 mpg combined and is available in showrooms now.

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