A decidedly ordinary replacement for a quirky luxury crossover

Infiniti was early to what has become one of the industry’s hottest market segments: the compact luxury crossover. The 2008 EX35 was much more of a car than an SUV, a slightly elevated, slightly roomier version of the acclaimed G35 sports sedan. Infiniti bet big that buyers would sacrifice utility for performance — and it bet wrong. Despite beating most competitors to the market, and even after numerous upgrades over the years (including a longer wheelbase and a name change to QX50), it never made a splash. Later arrivals were able to emulate the more successful compact luxury crossovers and avoid Infiniti’s mistakes.

So not surprisingly, for its first full redesign in more than a decade, the 2019 Infiniti QX50 similarly gravitates toward the class norm. It became taller and wider, adopting more SUV-like proportions. It switched from a V6 engine and a rear-wheel-drive platform to a turbocharged four-cylinder and front-wheel-drive (still with optional all-wheel-drive). All of that mirrors such top rivals as the Acura RDX, Lexus NX, and Cadillac XT4, though a few other competitors still have rear-wheel-drive roots.

But beyond being merely typical, the QX50 is decidedly ordinary as well. It checks general boxes for the luxury crossover class without managing to dazzle. It neither fun and sporty nor vault-like in its serenity. Its infotainment isn’t cutting-edge. It has advanced engineering behind its variable-compression engine, but the real-world effect is less notable.

To be sure, calling a luxury car “ordinary” compared to its peers is no great insult. That means it’s meeting the high standards of its class, even if it doesn’t exceed them. So if you’re looking for a comfortable, quiet, respectably spacious, and generally easy-to-drive small luxury crossover, the QX50 is one of many potentially attractive choices. Prices start at $37,645 including destination change.

2019 INFINITI QX50 - DESIGN

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When you look at the spec sheet, it’s clear the Infiniti QX50 has abandoned its predecessor’s hatchback-like proportions. The old 2008-2017 shape (the car skipped the 2018 model year) was longer and lower than the all-new 2019 iteration. Specifically, the QX50’s length dropped from 186.8 inches to 184.7 inches, while the height jumped from 62.7 inches to 66.0 inches. It also got wider, going from 71.0 inches to 74.9 inches. That puts it directly in line with the class norm. But visually, the QX50 still manages to look less SUV-like than its competitors. Maybe it’s the long front overhang paired with the short rear one. Maybe it’s the small windows atop a large expanse of sheetmetal. Or maybe it’s just personal taste, and you’re actually seeing something that looks as much like an SUV as any other compact crossover.

Alternatively, perhaps you see a car-like demeanor and feel less intimidated compared to a more SUV-looking competitor.

Whatever you think of the overall shape, the new QX50’s exterior is nicely decorated with Infiniti’s corporate face: slim, long headlights running along the tops of the fenders to where they meet in a chromed mesh grille. It’s not in-your-face like the Lexus NX or Acura RDX. Around the side, Infiniti’s designers worked in a kinked D-pillar and some creased bodywork. But perhaps the QX50’s best view is toward the rear, where the crisp, elegant taillight design stands apart from the amorphous blobs found on so many of today’s SUVs. A gentle chrome bar arcs between the two taillights, keeping things even classier.

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Inside, the QX50 makes an especially strong first impression, particularly on the tested high-end Essential model with quilted leather upholstery, suede accents, and gorgeous wood light-colored wood trim. The dashboard’s graceful curves are also more glamorous than the sterile, high-tech vibe you find in the RDX or NX, and the Infiniti also turns heads more than the subtle, simple designs found in some leading European luxury crossovers. But some of the details proved less impressive. The beautiful-looking leather feels stiff rather than coddling and inviting. Some moving parts, like the switchgear and the too-small cupholders’ sliding cover, feel borrowed from a much lower price bracket. It’s an interior that’s perhaps more pleasurable to look at than to be in.

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The interior’s ergonomics are also wanting. It all looks simple enough: straightforward-looking gauges, and infotainment screens flanked by buttons and knobs.

But the two screens don’t communicate with each other, an ongoing frustration among Infiniti products that the new QX50 doesn’t address. It’s a generation behind the big reconfigurable displays like in the Volvo XC60, Acura RDX, or BMW X3, though admittedly some more modern competitors also suffer from cumbersome controls. Our 2019 QX50 test vehicle also lacked Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone integration, though that feature is belatedly rolling out for 2020 models. And the QX50’s seemingly simple gauges frustratingly come in increments of 10 mph. This aesthetic minimalism is all well and good… until you’re trying to align your velocity with fully half the country’s speed limits. You’ll need the cruise control’s help to stay firmly on the safe side of 25, 35, 45, 55, or 65.

2019 INFINITI QX50 - UTILITY

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The QX50’s shift from a rear-wheel-drive platform to a front-wheel-drive one has paid huge dividends for its interior volume. It’s not only a big improvement over the old model, but it also beats most competitors for passenger space and all of them for cargo capacity. There’s plenty of space in both the front and rear seats, and the rear features a handy fore-aft adjustment — unusual in this class — that lets you choose between maximum legroom or cargo volume.

You get 31.4 cubic feet of cargo capacity behind the rear seat, and 65.1 cubic feet with the rear seat folded down.

While that trails ultra-roomy mainstream compact crossovers like the Nissan Rogue and Honda CR-V, most luxury models sacrifice even more space for styling. The Lexus NX has barely half the QX50’s cargo space with all seats in use (17.7 cubic feet), and Infiniti beats the Mercedes-Benz GLC by a similar margin. Maximum cargo volume is best-in-class, and space behind the rear seat has just a few close rivals. It’s worth noting, too, that Infiniti doesn’t achieve its roominess by stretching the exterior dimensions; on the outside, it’s right in the heart of the segment.

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When you need to carry more stuff than you can fit inside the QX50, the vehicle can tow up to 3,000 pounds when properly equipped. That beats competing American and Japanese luxury crossovers, though most European models do even better.

2019 INFINITI QX50 - HOW IT DRIVES

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We mentioned that the old QX50 never found a market with its performance-oriented mission. Sporty handling and a powerful V6 engine just couldn’t beat competitors with a roomier interior and better gas mileage. So it’s not too surprising that this time around, Infiniti prioritized fuel economy and interior spaciousness, while putting relatively little focus on sportiness. The result is that the QX50 is easy to drive but not designed to hustle. While some folks will find no fault, even some non-enthusiasts will notice gaps in the QX50’s driving experience.

Let’s start with the powertrain, which is unusual in the segment in several ways. It’s not that the 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder has unusual output.

At 268 horsepower and 280 lb-ft of torque, it edges out the base engines in most competitors without blowing them away.

But its variable-compression technology is a Nissan pride and joy, and the QX50 is the first production vehicle to use it. It increases the engine’s compression ratio — how much each cylinder can compress the air/fuel mixture inside while the engine is running — when you’re pressing the engine hard, and then decreases the ratio when you’re not. This means the engine can run more efficiently when it’s the most important to do so, without overstressing the components by staying at maximum compression all the time. To further reduce fuel consumption, the QX50 comes with a continuously variable automatic transmission, which is not a new innovation but which is found primarily in economy cars.

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The good news first: The QX50 does beat nearly every competitor’s EPA fuel economy ratings, with scores of 24 miles per gallon in the city, 31 mpg on the highway, and 27 mpg overall with front-wheel-drive, and 1 mpg less with all-wheel-drive.

Most competitors are closer to 24 mpg in mixed driving. And despite some critics’ experience to the contrary, our all-wheel-drive test vehicle did match that EPA rating, averaging right around 26 mpg during a week’s mix of city and highway conditions.

But then again, that efficiency is not really world-changing, given this powertrain’s extra engineering complexity. What’s more, the CVT allows the engine to get loud at higher rpms. CVTs have won many enemies even in economy cars for this same characteristic, and there’s a reason that this transmission design grows quickly rarer at higher price points. Additionally, the QX50’s throttle is awkwardly tuned; in the selectable fuel-saving eco mode, the gas pedal becomes unnaturally stiff and harder to push, while normal mode can be too jumpy. The same engine felt far more agreeable in the Nissan Altima midsize sedan. Otherwise, the engine does at least feel pleasantly eager, and it hums quietly when you aren’t pushing it hard.

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The QX50’s ride and handling, meanwhile, are firmly in the camp of competent but not extraordinary. This crossover makes no secret about ceding the class’s performance-car mantle to models like the Alfa Romeo Stelvio and Porsche Macan, along with the BMW X3 and Lexus NX 300. Some critics have gone so far as to call the QX50 clumsy to drive, but the tested vehicle felt appropriately composed and agile — not fun and sporty, but perfectly easy to drive. One neat trick makes the steering extra-light at very low speeds, making the wheel extremely easy to twirl while you’re parking or maneuvering in tight quarters. It’s a boon in a world of sporty SUVs that can take some extra muscle as you wrestle the wheel back and forth to squeeze into a tight parking space. And if it feels wrong to you, fear not: There’s a setting to deactivate this extra steering assistance.

2019 INFINITI QX50 - PRICING

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The 2019 Infiniti QX50 starts at $37,645 including destination, which is relatively affordable for the class. While it’s about the same base price as its Japanese competitors, the Europeans tend to cost several thousand dollars more.

But the Infiniti sheds some of its value advantage by restricting desirable equipment to pricey trim levels. The extra-lavish interior materials are only on the top-of-the-line Essential model (priced from $44,345), and they’re an extra-cost option at that. Other extra-cost features limited to the Essential are Infiniti’s well-regarded ProPilot Assist suite of driver-assistance technology (including adaptive cruise control and lane-keeping steering assist), name-brand audio (a 16-speaker Bose system, in place of the standard six-speaker one), ventilated front seats, and hands-free operation for the power liftgate. This trim level’s standard equipment includes a surround-view camera and genuine leather upholstery; the more affordable Pure and Luxe models make do with synthetic leather. By the time you’ve added in all the good stuff, the QX50 costs well north of $50,000. That’s the playground where BMW and Mercedes bring superior driving dynamics and even introduce their throaty six-cylinder engines.

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The 2020 QX50 brings a few more safety features to the base model, and renames some of the Essential’s options packages as standalone trims. But be warned: If you’re interested in the QX50, know what features you want and how much they cost on competing models. Depending on what you’re looking for, you might be able to save thousands.

2019 INFINITI QX50 KEY COMPETITORS

2019 Acura RDX

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The redesigned 2019 Acura RDX is one of the best all-around compact luxury crossovers, blending spaciousness, driving enjoyment, and value for the money. Like the QX50, it doesn’t have many particular standout qualities, but it offers sharper handling, superior infotainment, and wider availability of valuable features. The QX50 counters with additional cargo space, a more elegant rather than ultramodern dashboard design, and thriftier fuel economy.

Read our full review on the 2019 Acura RDX

2019 Volvo XC60

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The 2019 Volvo XC60 offers a similar driving experience to the QX50: pleasant and unobjectionable, but not elevated to a higher tier of driving pleasure. It’s also notable for its gorgeous interior, which manages to not only drip with elegance and top-quality materials, but also to incorporate an artful and highly functional infotainment system. The Volvo is also available with optional engines that are much more powerful than the Infiniti’s, though you’d have to step up to the pricey T8 plug-in hybrid version to beat the QX50’s fuel economy.

Read our full review on the 2019 Volvo XC60

2019 Lexus NX 300

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Although the 2019 Lexus NX 300 is markedly sportier than the QX50, it’s a top seller among the Japanese compact luxury crossovers and therefore a key competitor. Between the two, the QX50 is the obvious choice for comfort, quietness, interior opulence, and cargo volume. Meanwhile, the NX 300 delivers a comparatively zesty driving experience, with sharper steering and handling that make it more fun to drive than most compact luxury crossovers. There’s also a fuel-efficient NX 300h gas-electric hybrid, though its engine is noisy and sluggish.

Read our full review on the 2019 Lexus NX 300

2020 Lincoln Corsair

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The QX50’s quiet-luxury niche is about to face a strong challenge from the resurgent Lincoln brand’s 2020 Corsair compact crossover. It promises a serene ride and a stylish yet also high-tech and user-friendly interior, like we’ve seen in the larger Lincoln Navigator and Aviator models. The Infiniti will still hold an edge for fuel economy and cargo space, though, and will likely be less expensive.

Read our full review on the 2020 Lincoln Corsair

2019 Nissan Murano

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Nissan fans might also compare the 2019 Infiniti QX50 with another luxuriously equipped, moderately sized, high-style, low-sport crossover: the 2019 Nissan Murano, freshly updated with revised styling and new features. Although it’s about half a size bigger than the QX50 and its competitors, and it has a throaty V6 engine instead of a four-cylinder, the Murano manages similar fuel economy to many QX50 competitors. But while the Murano looks like a luxury vehicle from a distance, its soggy steering and handling, inconsistent interior quality, and downscale-looking infotainment system detract from the overall experience.

Read our full review on the 2019 Nissan Murano

2019 INFINITI QX50 IN A NUTSHELL

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The compact luxury crossover class is filled with strong choices. The 2019 Infiniti QX50 fits right into the crowd without delivering a knockout punch. It won’t wow fans of the quirky old model, who accepted lower fuel economy and less interior space because they wanted a powerful engine and sporty handling. Instead, the QX50 has become a far better fit for pretty much everyone else shopping in this segment. It’s hard to imagine a buyer being truly disappointed. The same, though, could be said about a large and growing number of compact luxury crossovers. And with its fussy throttle calibration, its hard-to-read gauges, some inelegant interior bits, the way many desirable features are restricted to the top model, the QX50 does manage to annoy in perhaps too many little ways. Infiniti has earned your test drive, but don’t be shocked if your heart and mind are won by one of its competitors.

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