I love surprises. Buying a new type of beer and finding it to my liking. Having a tool work better than it should. These are all experiences which give me pure joy. Heck, I even bought my first house based on the fact the floorplan was not what I expected.
Imagine my delight, then, when I discovered the snappy responses of the Infiniti QX50. After all, SUVs and crossovers currently cover the landscape like rocks cover Newfoundland, so I must confess to expecting yet another ponderous box with the charm of wallpaper paste.
The 3.7L V6 engine, having appeared in a couple of different forms in just about everything Nissan/Infiniti makes, delivers 325hp in this guise. Not a huge amount compared to its competitors but it sings an excellent siren song all the way to its near-7000rpm redline. The engine is actually positioned behind the centre line of the front axle, contributing positive handling characteristics and making the whole package pleasant to drive. The seven speed automatic, controlled by a notably tiny gearshift knob, is a welcome relief from droning CVTs.
Testing in winter gave an opportunity to sample the AWD on snow covered roads. A switch on the centre console between the knobs for the furnace-quality heated front seats allow drivers to switch into Snow Mode, which blunts throttle response appropriately and adjusts the traction control threshold. Speaking of which…
Nissan REALLY doesn’t want you to turn off the traction control. Seriously, the button for doing so is down by the driver’s left ankle. The button for turning off lane-keeping is positioned only a couple of inches higher, still well out of view of any biped with eyes in their head and not their feet.
The centre console is cramped, failing to provide any practical real estate in which to lodge a phone being charged by the convenient USB port. Sure, the cupholder is there – notably covered with exquisite leather – but I refuse to dump my phone into well in which spilled remains of yesterday’s coffee may lie. It’s worth noting space in the centre console is so tight that two large double-doubles cannot reside side by side in the cupholder. At least the covered storage underneath the centre armrest is deep, if narrow.
Headroom abounded in the QX50, enough for this 6’6” author, even with a sunroof. There are odd vertical creases on the passenger side of the dashboard where the airbag resides, a styling flourish that left many riders puzzled. Great quality, soft leather covers just about every touch point. As a personal preference, I do favour a black interior rather than the tan trappings of our tester but that is a very subjective opinion. No matter the colour, this leather smells great. Every vehicle has that new-car smell; the QX50 had the sumptuous, deep aroma of new leather, even with nearly 10,000km on the clock. I tried to put the smell in a bottle with the intent of selling it at high end boutiques: Eau d’Nissan.
For 2016, Infiniti stretched QX50’s wheelbase by 3.2 inches, with all of that newfound space going to the passengers, much of it to the rear seat compartment. It’s certainly noticeable, too. Legroom is vast both front and rear and the 18cu.ft of cargo space is well shaped, easy to load, and lit from above by a light on the hatch. Why is this worth mentioning? Way up there on the hatch, the light won’t get covered by items in a fully laden cargo area. The fancy chrome handle on the cargo cover flops around like a freshly caught carp when not secured.
Starting at $37,900 in Canada, the QX50 makes a good case for itself at that price point. Our tester, continuing the Infiniti tradition of forcing customers to buy certain option packages in order to get other ones, was loaded up with $9900 worth of options. At that price, it’s value proposition is murkier. The $4400 Premium package is worth a look, given its high-zoot Bose sound system and trick Around-View camera system which allows a top down view of the vehicle during parking manoeuvres. Choose it but skip the pricey Navigation and Technology packages.
Infiniti has been struggling with its identity since the rocks-n-trees advertising campaign which launched the brand in the late-80s. Even now, its product offerings range from milquetoast convertibles to brawny body-on-frame SUVs. I think the QX50 inhabits the sportier side of the Infiniti showroom, offering a surprising and unpretentious alternative to the small crossovers from BMW and Mercedes.
Selling Points: siren of an engine, good interior space, leather that smells great
Deal Breakers: small centre console, skip the expensive option packages
The Bottom Line: this SUV wants to play