Full Disclosure: Infiniti offered to fly me down to San Diego, put me up in a swanky hotel, and show me around their design studio. Since I live in LA, I passed on the flight, but gladly accepted the hotel room, and all the food (and beverage), that they provided.
You’d be forgiven for thinking that the 2016 Infiniti QX50 is an all new model for the Japanese luxury automaker. Since it hit our shores in 2014 it hasn’t exactly been grabbing headlines, and even if you go back to when it was known as the EX35, and EX37, the vehicle didn’t have a widespread audience. Eight years into its lifespan, Infiniti’s compact crossover is still a blank slate, a ball of clay waiting to be mashed up, and re-formed into something totally new. I was told by members of their team that “a big shift is coming at Infiniti”, and I saw some things at their design studio that certainly seem to reinforce that statement. However, big things on the horizon, and what’s available now, are two very different things, so lets talk about the latter shall we?
When you walk up to the QX50 the first thing you’ll think to yourself is “this is it?“, which will then be followed by “I guess it could be worse“. Both thoughts are perfectly reasonable, the former because the QX50 lack any sort of panache, and the latter because the Lexus NX, and Acura RDX exist. Infiniti touts the QX50 as being refined when compared to the competition, but there’s a big difference between refinement, and blandness. I’m sure there are a number of hardworking individuals at the aforementioned design studio that would take issue with me calling the QX50 bland, but having seen the other amazing stuff that they’ve been focusing their energy on, I don’t think they should take it too harshly. Besides, a design leaning towards blandness vs outrageousness has a far better chance of becoming timeless, and if improving the longterm image of Infiniti is their goal, they’ll need vehicles that hold their value on the used market.
I’d say the QX50 is poised to be once such vehicle because it’s just good enough in all key areas that buyers should give consideration. Fuel economy isn’t good at all, 24 highway, 17 city, 20mpg combined, but the tradeoff there is that you get the proven VQ series engine. The 3.7 litre V6 is rated at 325 hp, and 276 lb-ft of torque, and it feels like it when you’ve got the revs up over 5,000. It’s worth noting that in a segment flooded with turbocharged motors thirsty for premium fuel, the VQ power plant is happy to drink regular old 87 octane. Whether the savings on the price of a gallon will balance out the dismal numbers is a toss up, but if you were to go easy on the right pedal, you might be able to say the QX50 is kinda, somewhat, sort of efficient.
The big glaring problem it that Infiniti is marketing the QX50 as being the sporting driver’s choice in the segment, and if you want to have any semblance of fun, the whole idea of efficiency goes right out the window. That is of course if having fun driving this thing was at all possible in the first place. I have no doubt you can have fun while IN the QX50, but the experience of driving itself is just engaging enough to keep you from nodding off. No paddle shifters, a laughably high seating position, and a soggy transmission are all indicators of just how un-sporty this thing is.
Given that Infiniti is still struggling to find itself, it shouldn’t come as a shock that their entry in a rapidly evolving segment is suffering an identity crisis. Hideous as they may be, the RDX, and the NX both have a distinctive, imposing look. By comparison, the QX50 just looks, wimpy. The long sloping hood, and runny egg headlights don’t do it any favors either. The car just looks like it would have been really cutting edge 15 years ago, you know, when Nelly was still putting out hit records. As it stands now, the 2016 QX50 is in a too little, too late situation. The infotainment setup is outdated, reminds me of the Blackberry World Edition that I had prior to the release of the first iPhone. The interior, while nicely crafted, isn’t particularly inspired in terms of design, just more of the same old Infiniti that we’ve seen for a long time now.
Yes, they managed to add 4.3″ of legroom for the rear seat passengers, but only because consumers complained about the tiny backseat, and that’s the only real improvement over last years model. Those rear seats can now be raised, or lowered from the front using two switches in front of the center armrest, and there’s also an optional coat hanger integrated into the drivers seat headrest, because you know, BUSINESS…MAN. Both of those amazing technological innovations are included as part of the $2,400 Deluxe Touring Package, which also gets you HID headlights, 19″ wheels, an 8 way power drivers seat, 2 way power passenger seat, and premium stitching on the gauge cluster hood. That last bit is worth mentioning because the gauges are one of the few things Infiniti does well in all their vehicles. The QX50 is no exception, the blue/white glowing cluster is clear, and easy to read, thanks to it being deeply set under that ever so opulent hood. Bottom line, you’ll have no trouble seeing that you’re going 10 miles an hour under the speed limit, while texting and driving, because the QX50 doesn’t have any sort of mobile integration to help you out. I’m kidding of course, no one driving an QX50 will be texting, and driving, they’ll be leaving comments on their grandchildren’s Facebook pages.
In an increasingly crowded marketplace, vehicles really need to have at least one thing that makes them stand out from the crowd. Unfortunately for the QX50, a coat hanger that pops out of a headrest doesn’t quite capture the imagination the way that it would have in, oh I don’t know, the 1970s? It’s not that it’s a bad vehicle, it’s really quite solid, but solid isn’t enough when you’re shelling out $44,935 for a loaded up AWD model, and it’s barely enough if you opt for the $34,450 RWD base model. Infiniti is pushing value as their main concern, and 5 years ago the QX50 would have been a good value, but while times have changed, it has not. If there is one redeeming quality the QX50 has, it is the suite of safety technology included on all models, and the additional systems you can add with the $2,750 Technology Package. I’d wager that the take rate for the Technology Package is quite high given the type of driver the QX50 attracts, and that’s a good thing for the rest of us out on the road.
Infiniti would no doubt like to see this vehicle welcomed by young urban types, that had to give up their G37 coupe when a a new addition to the family came along, but in reality it’s a country club cruiser for the budget conscious. Unlike the Q50, which I really enjoyed in “S” form, the Q70, and QX80, the QX50 is very much “Old Infiniti”. In terms of driving dynamics, and the powertrain, that’s not a bad thing, but in all other areas, it’s what makes the car fall flat. My advice, wait for the “New Infiniti”, I can tell you that from what I’ve seen, it’s going to be quite good indeed.