The Infiniti QX50 Is Launching a Not-so-Hostile Takeover

Infiniti's updated its midsize SUV with an eye toward usability and luxury. Are Lexus and Acura scared yet?

Infiniti Motor Company, Ltd

Sometimes, high drama can be found in the most mundane of venues. Take the midsize luxury SUV segment. For years, Infiniti had been losing sales to the more efficient, more usable, but less exciting, competitors from Lexus and Acura. The rear-drive, FM-platform Infiniti QX50, a direct descendent of the EX35, was a 325-hp muscle truck. It was a blast to drive, but it had nary a utilitarian spec--from fuel economy to cargo space to rear legroom--that could touch the top players.

Infiniti Motor Company, Ltd

This year at the LA auto show, Infiniti is fighting back. No longer rear-wheel-drive, the 2018 Infiniti QX50 gets a new front-drive platform that's more-rigid (23 percent over the current QX50), and a new variable-compression, single-scroll turbocharged 2.0-liter four cylinder engine, which uses an electric motor, a space-age Harmonic Drive reduction gear, and a multilink mechanism to change piston travel. That means continuously adjustable compression from 14.1 to a turbo-happy 8.1. The result is the torque and efficiency of a diesel, 268 hp and 280 lb-ft. It's not quite on par with the old, naturally-aspirated VQ V6, performance-wise, but the midsize luxury SUV market doesn't sweat stoplight-to-stoplight races. They want luxury, legroom, and, er, L-egance. 

Infiniti Motor Company, Ltd

Now connected to Nissan's near-ubiquitous continuously variable transmission (CVT), the main benefit to the new powerplant is a palpable fuel efficiency boost over the previous V6, without a precipitous drop in power and torque. That is, a combined mileage gain of 35 percent overall for the front-wheel-drive version (27 mpg), and 25 percent for all-wheel drive (26 mpg).

A new suspension setup includes MacPherson struts all around, with active, floating-valve-type dampers. The QX50 also gets a a specially tuned version of Infiniti's Direct Adaptive Steering, the first front-wheel-drive application of the system, or a standard electric power steering rack.

Infiniti Motor Company, Ltd

The new platform also enables more cargo room, more rear leg room, and a three-golf-bag trunk. The interior, with a new, high-concept design that encompasses new textures and open-poor wood, promises more utility space like larger cupholders and space for handbags. A new Bose Performance Series, 16-speaker stereo system means an audio upgrade as well. The entirely new exterior design, introduced with the QX50 concept at the Detroit auto show earlier this year, gives the QX50 more visual cohesiveness with the rest of the brand's SUV line, in particular the large QX80.

Infiniti Motor Company, Ltd

The QX50 also gets a new suite of semi-autonomous driver-assist functions, packaged under the ProPILOT name, similar to those introduced with the Leaf. 

The new Infiniti looks good, inside and out. It's never had a better chance to conquest sales away from the category players, even if its left its 370Z roots behind.