2020 Infiniti QX50 Essential AWD Review
Technology dominates much of our lives and increasingly our automotive lives. So finding a nice blend of tech along with fun and practicality is a stretch.
Well, Infiniti’s QX50 makes that stretch without even glancing over its shoulder. Two things, no, make that three, stand out on this small- to medium-sized SUV. One you’ll barely notice, the other two become obvious fairly quickly.
First, a spin behind the wheel proves sporty and lively. The power comes on quickly and offers a spurt not always found in utes. Handling also is responsive giving the QX50 a sporty, athletic feel.
You might expect all that as the Infiniti looks muscular with its curvaceous hood and fender haunches that are clearly evident even from the driver’s seat.
But here is where you get a full-on technical tour de force that helps create this sporty feel, yet unless you read the tech specs and understand the finer workings of an internal combustion engine you likely won’t recognize the Nissan technology for how special it is.
Nissan tells us it has worked for more than 20 years on perfecting the engine technology that is on display in this 2.0-liter turbocharged I4. That’s because it features something called variable compression that can vary the piston’s stroke and thereby change compression as the driver demands more or less power. This is a first in the automotive world and may help the gas-powered engine remain viable a little longer.
Clever, and high-tech all at once and it not only cranks out 268 horsepower and 280 lb.-ft. of torque but is designed to improve fuel efficiency. It’s likely you won’t notice that much, but it’s reflected in the QX50’s fuel ratings from the EPA. This ute is rated 22 mpg city and 28 mpg highway. I managed 22.1 mpg in about 60% city driving.
Linking that special engine to the front-drive system, which is standard, and the all-wheel-drive system that came in this mid-level Essential model, is a good CVT. The continuously variable transmission makes a little whine under heavy acceleration but seemed quieter than in the previous QX50 I’d driven. Shifts feel natural.
Also, ride is fairly firm but well controlled so that a family can enjoy a sporty ride cross country in comfort and style. More on that in a minute.
OK, so you’ll notice the sporty power and handling, but not realize you have the world’s most high-tech gasoline-powered engine under the hood. That might be a good thing, as performance matters more than perception.
The other standout, hinted at earlier, is the near-autonomous suite of safety systems that link with the smart cruise control system Nissan/Infiniti has created. This ProAssist package that is now standard on this model melds smart cruise control with steering assist and lane departure to help you drive the car on the highway, when cruise control is engaged. It reads the road (mainly the lines) and not only keeps the car in its lane but adjusts the acceleration and braking as needed.
The key here is that you MUST keep your hands on the wheel, although a light touch is all that’s required. I have used ProAssist in heavy traffic and it worked like a charm. This is the best system that I’ve yet tested, easily keeping the car in its lane while avoiding the back and forth weave that some systems allow as you bounce from lane marker to lane marker. This is steady and smooth.
Note too that this scrumptious pearl white ($595 extra) test unit featured AWD (a $2,000 option on any trim level). Previously I’d tested a front-drive model. This AWD unit felt much more planted on sloppy roads.
Luxury lovers also will be fond of this soft black leather interior with comfy leather seats and soft leather that extends to the dash and doors, which include stylish gray stitching. Trim in a band from the doors across the dash is a textured metallic silver that looks fabulous but can reflect in abundance on a sunny day. I found this mostly a problem with the door trim.
Black gloss trim surrounds the two screens, the upper being a bit smaller for the navigation system and the lower being larger for infotainment. I found them easy to use as are the climate control buttons around the screen. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto also are standard now.
Seats here offer three heat levels and there’s a toggle on the console for four drive modes. Sport naturally bumps up the power by holding lower gears longer and Eco cuts torque to save fuel. Like many of today’s cars there’s a separate P button on the console for Park. That takes some getting used to. I still prefer Park to be part of the main gear shifting pattern.
Seats are relatively flat on the bottom cushion with the back’s sides offering more support, but these would be comfortable on long drives. There’s plenty of passenger room in the rear seat too and oodles of cargo space behind the second row seats, which will fold down flat to boost the cargo area. A power hatch allows easy access.
Overhead is a panoramic sunroof, and an SOS system, plus the Infiniti comes with a 360-degree camera and parking sensors too. The front sensors still are too sensitive, going off even when the SUV is in reverse.
Visibility is good in all directions except to the front sides as with many utes the A-pillars are quite thick. While on the subject of pillars, I want to say that the D-pillars here are especially stylish, giving the QX50 a distinctive profile. Yet one styling touch I don’t care for, and this is becoming a trend, is the giant logo on the ute’s grille. It’s garish.
I should add that the test SUV added a $1,200 Edition 30 package to mark Infiniti’s 30th Anniversary. It includes some special badging and larger 20-inch wheels and tires with black accents on the wheels, mirrors, grille, and front fenders. There’s also a rear diffuser along with graphite gray headliner inside.
I like the $495 welcome lighting too as it lights up a large area under the doors at night so you can easily climb aboard.
Base price here is $47,125, including delivery. With options this unit hit $49,630. That’s mid-market for this size luxury ute. You can go lower with a front-drive Pure model at $38,275 or go all the way up to the Autograph model with AWD for $56,875. Your call, but either way you’ll get a sporty nice handling ute that looks and feels luxurious and more tech than you’ll likely ever realize you have, or needed.
Overview: 2020 Infiniti QX50 Essential AWD
Hits: Sharply styled, especially D-pillar, high-tech high-efficiency turbo engine with strong power, good handling, AWD, and decent mpg. Roomy for cargo and people, proactive and near autonomous safety features, panoramic sunroof, heated front seats, power hatch, 4 drive modes, easy climate buttons and good lower touchscreen.
Misses: Big A-pillar can obstruct view, reflective door/dash trim distracting on sunny days. Garishly large logo on grille.
Made In: Mexico
Engine: Variable compression 2.0-liter turbo I-4, 268 horsepower
Transmission: CVT, automatic
Weight: 4,026 lbs.
Length: 184.7 in.
Wheelbase: 110.2 in.
Cargo: 31 cu.ft. (65.1 cu.ft., rear seat down)
MPG: 22/28, 22.1 (tested)
Base Price: $47,125 (includes delivery)
Major Options: Edition 30 package (RF20 tires, 20-in. dark painted wheels, black outside mirror caps, black grille mesh, dark chrome grille surround/front fender accents/liftgate finisher, body color rear diffuser, graphite headliner, Edition 20 illuminated kick plates, Edition 30 badge), $1,200
Premium paint, $595
Welcome lighting, $425
Cargo package (reversible cargo area protector, console net, cargo net, cargo blocks), $285
Test Vehicle: $49,630
Editor's note: Mark Savage's auto review column, Savage On Wheels, looks at a new vehicle every week and tells consumers what’s good, what’s not so good, and how the vehicle fits into the marketplace.