2017 Infiniti QX50: Suburban Snoozer or Performance Bruiser?

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The compact luxury crossover segment has become an oversaturated open air market, as wealthy buyers find themselves overwhelmed with options when shopping for the ideal upscale automobile. With selections ranging anywhere from the swift supercharged Jaguar F-Pace to the hybridized Lexus RX 450h F Sport, the number of directions you and your checkbook can go is dauntingly diverse.

Infiniti’s answer to the small SUV sub-genre is the QX50, and in all-wheel drive with a few package options might be one of the most underestimated luxury hatchbacks on the market today. Infiniti has been stacking its chips in a manner that leads us to believe that a full overhaul will someday raise the stakes significantly for this platform, and all we can do is wait and pray that they retain the fun driving dynamics the QX50 offers.

Built in Los Angeles, the QX50 lives life somewhere between CUV culture and the station wagon world

This CUV sits somewhere between a small crossover and a modern station wagon, an Infiniti answer to both Volvo’s XC60 and V60 Cross Country, with big V6 attitude and a surprisingly strong emphasis on driving engagement. Even though it may be getting a bit long in the tooth, it retains many of Infiniti’s more cut-and-dry approaches to internal configurations and we found the sure-footed little CUV to be an engaging drive with loads of promise.

The 2017 QX50 has a surplus of strengths that make it an enjoyable daily driver, and a damn comfortable one at that. So while we remain interested in how future generations might improve upon this mildly updated model, the strengths found within this current generation deserve some serious praise — because there is a lot to this CUV that is on point.

Exterior

With its sequential welcome lighting, and LED fog lamps and running lights, the QX50 strikes a sophisticated pose day or night

With its sequential welcome lighting, and LED fog lamps and running lights, the QX50 strikes a sophisticated pose day or night | Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet

We like the way in which Infiniti has made the second generation of its small CUV appear proportionally petite, and with its stretched wheelbase, it looks much like a luxury alternative to a Subaru Outback. We mean that as a compliment; updated LED lighting, a large dual-port exhaust, contrasting silver lower trim accents and roof rails, and a sleek set of 19-inch alloys make for an appearance that is simple and attractive, and while it may feature an older design, the car has aged gracefully. We are confident that once the next generation emerges and the QX50 adopts Infiniti’s latest styling cues, there will be no denying the appeal of this SUV mixed-breed.

With its 19-inch split-spoke alloy wheels and smoothly carved quarter panels, the QX50 has ample amounts of curb appeal

Exterior pros and cons

+ The 19-inch alloy wheel upgrade and large dual-port exhaust look sporty and sophisticated.

+ LED running lights, fogs, and automatic leveling adaptive HID headlamps serve double duty as attractive accents and safety systems.

+ External color accents on the lower front air dam, shrouds, rear diffuser, and roof rails contrast nicely and look classy.

– Dated-looking headlamps/taillights, front and rear fascia, and unattractive safety sensor plaque in the lower grille lose style points.

2017-qx50-awd_14

Powertrain

Powertrain performance may be the QX50’s strongest selling point. The 325 horsepower 3.7-liter V6 kicks out 267 pound-feet of torque and one hell of a sophisticated exhaust note. It may not be the most cutting-edge engine on the market today, nor is it the most efficient, but the moment you engage Infiniti’s Intelligent all-wheel drive setup and that seven-speed transmission’s manual shift mode starts matching downshift revs, the fun side of the QX50 emerges.

Having a dedicated snow drive setting is a good idea, even in an all-wheel drive vehicle

Powertrain pros and cons

+ The stout 325 horsepower V6 generates 267 pound-feet of twist, and gets even more aggro when put in Sport Mode.

+ No CVT here, just a smooth-sailing seven-speed automatic gearbox that supports downshifting rev matches.

+ Snow and Sport drive modes can be selected on the fly, making the all-wheel drive version more appealing and useful to buyers.

– The QX50 doesn’t have paddle shifters, and that big V6 is thirsty — while Premium fuel is not required, Infiniti does recommending using it for maximum performance gains.

The black graphite interior on the QX50 may be a bit tame in regard to contrasting materials and colors, but it makes up for it in comfort and class

Interior

Much like the QX60 midsize SUV we reviewed the week prior, Infiniti’s smaller ute retains a graphite colored interior that is more mild than wild. Nevertheless, we were keen on how Infiniti offers things like aluminum race pedals, a coat hanger on the back of the driver’s seat, a power-adjusting steering column, and more heated seat configurations than you can shake a piston at. The backseat is also a nice place to spend some time, with loads of room at every angle. Cargo volume jumps from 18.6 square feet to 50.1, as the power-folding rear bench quickly collapses with the push of a button.

The rear cargo space in the QX50 should be plenty spacious for most buyers

Interior pros and cons

+ Stylish and simple, the leather interior is a plush place to park your rear, for both driver and passenger.

+ Rear bench room has been stretched significantly, providing passengers with one of the most spacious rear seating spaces in the segment.

+ Touches like coat hooks that are integrated into the back of the driver’s seat headrest, one-touch switches, power telescoping steering controls, memory seating settings, power retracting seatbacks, and alloy pedals all add considerable value.

– The QX50 is sadly nowhere near the top in regard to cargo volume, and storage spaces and cubbies are small.

– Sadly, faux wood trim continues to be an Infiniti staple.

360-degree camera views are just one of the many reasons why Nissan and Infiniti have a strong grasp of what tech appeals to practical people

Tech and safety

The QX50 had its fair share of hits and misses in the tech/safety department. While nothing stood out as a deal-breaker to us, the dated looking driver display and 7-inch center stack’s not-so-3D mapping left us pining for Jaguar’s outstanding 12.3-inch digital instrument panel. Safety and convenience-wise, almost $10,000 worth of upgrade packages add a profusion of smart sensory systems and camera setups, as well as things like streaming Bluetooth audio and XM NavTraffic/NavWeather.

Many safety sensors on modern Infiniti models use sonar power for detecting danger

Tech pros and cons

+ Tech, Touring, Premium, and Premium Plus packages give buyers upgrades like entry/exit assist, navi, adaptive/self-leveling lighting, intelligent cruise control, and much more.

+ The 11-speaker Bose audio upgrade sounds solid, the CD player doubles as a DVD and MP3 player, and having button controls limit touchscreen headaches.

+ Around View cameras show 360-degree angles, front and rear sonar systems pinpoint hidden dangers, and both forward collision warnings and brake assist keep stopping power a priority.

– Lane departure warnings can be hit or miss, 3D maps are dated-looking, 7-inch center stack screen seems small compared to the competition, and graphics look dated on both driver and infotainment screens.

Driving the QX50 in AWD trim is a surprisingly sharp experience thanks to its strong engine and rev-matching capabilities

The drive

Filled with V6 vengeance and absent from any sign of a CVT, the QX50 puts down one of the more engaging driving experiences in the segment. This makes for the most convincing argument for buying one, in our book; while we would prefer a pair of paddle shifters over the slap-stick style manual gear selector, the way in which the slick seven-speed gearbox grabs revs to match downshifting around corners is right on the money.

This drivetrain also does an excellent job of limiting wheel-slip, and while it was not nearly wintry enough to warrant popping it in Snow Mode, driving the QX50 in normal and sport settings on icy roads returned plenty of confidence-inspiring grip. This is one of those vehicles that demands to be driven with performance talons extended (read: Sport Mode), because when 17 mile per gallon city averages are the best you’re going to get, efficiency versus fun suddenly turns into a one-sided argument. Super-direct steering, a tightly drawn chassis, minimal body roll, and very little torque steer means performance is an edge to this CUV that demands to be utilized.

But naturally, if the kids are asleep in the backseat and weekend roadtrips to grandma’s house are in the cards, the QX50 also delivers an effortless driving experience that is finely honed by a suite of safety systems and semi-autonomous driver assists. This is where the luxury side of that sticker price really comes into play. The QX50’s tranquil cabin, encompassing controls, smooth acceleration, sturdy brakes, and svelte heated leather seats provide confidence, comfort, and convenience.

A dual-port exhaust sits nestled within the confines of a rear diffuser on Infiniti's smallest hatchback

Wrap up and review

The QX50 looks dated, is not class-leading in regard to technology, efficiency, or interior space. But it comes with a saucy V6, superb all-wheel drive options and functional performance modes, and goes like a bat out of hell once whipped. Maxed-out at $45,535, the QX50 is also quite a bargain when compared to segment leaders like the Porsche Macan and Jaguar F-Pace, both of which start out in base trim where the optioned-out Infiniti leaves off.

It may not have 380-400 horsepower like these two, but some people don’t mind trading a little grunt for a full safety suite and premium Bose audio upgrades, making it hard to ignore the value associated with it. This generation is without a doubt an aging platform, but it also continues to show plenty of promise. Once reforged and properly marketed, it could morph from snoozer to strong seller for Infiniti.

What really gets our blood pumping is that Infiniti has recently revealed a gorgeous concept model that previews the next QX50 at the 2017 North American International Auto Show. Coupled with the VC-Turbo variable compression ratio engine, Infiniti might just have what it takes to rocket the next generation into the lead. Housed behind a front fascia that matches the rest of the modern Infiniti lineup, this advanced drivetrain could be the cornerstone this CUV has been needing all along. With futuristic internal and external updates, we feel that the QX50 might soon be impossible to ignore.

(cheatsheet.com, https://goo.gl/Ng1prf)

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