VARI­ABLE VAN­GUARD

Will the QX50’s VC-Turbo com­pres­sion make a last­ing im­pres­sion?

Automobile - - Drives -

IN WHAT CAN be con­sid­ered a sign of the times (or a sign of the car­poca­lypse, de­pend­ing on your point of view), In­finiti now of­fers more crossovers than cars in Amer­ica. Nissan’s lux­ury arm, which has been up and run­ning for close to 30 years here, jumped into the SUV game more than 20 years ago with the Pathfinder-based QX4. Since then, the mar­que has had its share of in­ter­est­ing mod­els, most no­tably the V-8pow­ered FX45 with its “bionic-chee­tah” stance.

To­day, though, there are sadly no longer any chee­tah-based mod­els to be had. In­stead, the In­finiti lineup con­sists of sev­eral solid, com­pet­i­tive crossovers and even an old-school SUV de­signed to meet all your haute haul­ing needs, with sizes rang­ing from a com­pact hatch (QX30) to an XXL body-on­frame beast (QX80). We re­cently wrapped up a year with a QX30 Sport sprayed in In­finiti’s po­lar­iz­ing pink­ish-metal­lic hue, and we en­joyed our trou­ble-free time with it. But given that the QX30 is a Mercedes-Nissan mashup, we wanted to see what In­finiti has been up to on its own. So as one of the lat­est ad­di­tions to our Four Sea­sons fleet, we chose the thor­oughly up­dated sec­ond-gen­er­a­tion 2019 QX50. It’s a model that in many ways is serv­ing as a van­guard ve­hi­cle for In­finiti, and it all starts with what’s un­der the hood.

Ar­guably the big­gest rea­son why the QX50 piqued our in­ter­est (or, to use se­nior ed­i­tor and techno-geek Nel­son Ire­son’s words, has us freak­ing ex­cited) is that it’s the first ve­hi­cle to em­ploy Nissan/In­finiti’s new VC-Turbo en­gine. VC stands for vari­able com­pres­sion, and it uses a com­plex me­chan­i­cal link­age that al­ters each pis­ton’s stroke length while the en­gine is run­ning. Boot the throt­tle, and the stroke length­ens, low­er­ing the com­pres­sion ra­tio to 8:1; ease off the gas, and the stroke short­ens, in­creas­ing the com­pres­sion ra­tio to as high as 14:1 and (sup­pos­edly) max­i­miz­ing econ­omy. In an age when most tech­no­log­i­cal up­dates are soft­ware re­lated, it’s cool to see some­thing this novel and me­chan­i­cal make it to mar­ket. We wanted to un­der­stand how well it works—and, more im­por­tant, see if it holds up to a year’s worth of some spir­ited thrash­ing.

The VC-Turbo de­liv­ers 268 hp and 280 lb-ft of torque from just 2.0 liters (give or take, de­pend­ing on what the vari­able-com­pres­sion sys­tem is do­ing) and is paired with a con­tin­u­ously vari­able trans­mis­sion (CVT). We’ve never been big fans of CVTs, but they con­tinue to im­prove, and we’re ea­ger to find out how well it meshes with the new en­gine.

As far as the trim level goes, we opted for the top-ofthe-line QX50 Es­sen­tial AWD model, and we didn’t stop there. The just-shy-of-$60,000 price tag in­cludes nearly $13,500 worth of op­tions, the prici­est of which is the $7,500 Sen­sory pack­age. It bun­dles up a sen­sory over­load of fea­tures, in­clud­ing a 16-speaker Bose au­dio sys­tem, power tilt and tele­scop­ing steer­ing wheel, 20-inch rims, and spe­cial cube LED head­lights—some 19 up­grades in all.

Then there are the Pro pack­ages, the $2,000 ProAc­tive and $550 ProAs­sist, with the op­er­a­tive words be­ing Ac­tive and As­sist. The ProAc­tive pack­age fea­tures ProPi­lot As­sist (not to be con­fused with the ProAs­sist pack­age), a com­bi­na­tion of adap­tive cruise con­trol and lane guid­ance that es­sen­tially lets the QX50 kinda-sorta drive it­self (though un­like older it­er­a­tions found in the Q50 and Q60, the QX50 re­quires a hand on the wheel). ProPi­lot As­sist can also ap­ply the brakes when cruise is not en­gaged. The sys­tem serves as an elec­tronic co-pi­lot of sorts that se­nior ed­i­tor Aaron Gold dubbed the QX50’s “force field.” Check­ing the ProAc­tive box also nets you In­finiti’s steer-by­wire Di­rect Adap­tive Steer­ing sys­tem, a head-up dis­play, and lane de­par­ture and blind-spot warn­ing fea­tures. The ProAs­sist pack­age’s pri­mary sys­tems are rear cross-traf­fic and backup col­li­sion safety nan­nies.

Also wor­thy of note is the $2,000 Au­to­graph pack­age, an in­te­rior de­sign bun­dle the In­finiti press pack likens to a trop­i­cal va­ca­tion: “The rich choco­late brown repli­cates wood ap­pli­ca­tions in the re­sort and the sur­round­ing trees, fol­lowed by a creamy off-white rep­re­sent­ing the sand on the beach. The high­lights of a cooler dark navy blue on the cen­ter con­sole, rem­i­nis­cent of ocean wa­ter, strike the proper bal­ance between warm and cool, cre­at­ing a com­fort­able yet in­vig­o­rat­ing en­vi­ron­ment.” Mm­mmm-kay. Mar­ket­ing-speak aside, we’re most con­cerned with how those off-white quilted leather seats will hold up to nor­mal wear and tear and the oc­ca­sional kid and dog.

IN AN AGE

WHEN MOST TECH­NO­LOG­I­CAL UP­DATES ARE SOFT­WARE RE­LATED, IT’S COOL TO SEE SOME­THING

THIS NOVEL AND ME­CHAN­I­CAL MAKE IT TO MAR­KET.

We’re also cu­ri­ous to get more re­ac­tion from the staff about the wild com­bi­na­tion of the seats with the brown leather and blue suede on the dash and cen­ter stack. Edi­torin-chief Mike Floyd, for one, likes the QX50’s digs: “I love this color and ma­te­ri­als com­bi­na­tion. It’s one of the more in­ter­est­ing in­te­rior ex­e­cu­tions I’ve seen in a long time.”

Al­most as soon as it ar­rived, Gold swiped the QX50 for a drive from L.A. to Phoenix and back. “I didn’t like this thing much when I first re­viewed it,” he wrote in the log­book. “To me, it seemed like a shadow of the old QX50/ EX35. But the more I drive our Four Sea­sons car, the more I like it. Let me put that a dif­fer­ent way—the more I drive every­thing else, the more I like the QX50. I’ve re­cently spent time in Jag’s F- and E-Pace, BMW X3, Volvo XC60, and a well-heeled Range Rover Su­per­charged LWB. The QX50 com­pares fa­vor­ably to all: It drives well, it’s quiet, it’s solidly built, and it’s supremely com­fort­able.”

Gold also noted that his step­mother’s poo­dle, Bounty, spent the hour­long drive from Sun City West to Mesa lick­ing the blue suede on the cen­ter con­sole. “Maybe he’s an Elvis fan,” Gold sur­mised. (Ewwww, we don’t care who he’s a fan of, please get that dog slob­ber cleaned off the suede, pronto.) As for the QX50’s in­te­rior room, so far it seems more than ad­e­quate for a mid­size, two-row crossover in its seg­ment, and it looks as though rear oc­cu­pants won’t be do­ing any com­plain­ing. When car­ry­ing stuff is re­quired, its 60/40 split rear seats eas­ily plop down and fold flat at the pull of a tab from the cargo area to open up 64.4 cu­bic feet of space with them down (31.1 cubes with them up). Fur­ther am­pli­fy­ing the open­ness of the cabin is a mas­sive panoramic and slid­ing tinted glass moon­roof.

The 2019 QX50 nets an EPA rat­ing of 24/30 mpg city/ high­way with a com­bined rat­ing of 26 mpg. So far we’ve only av­er­aged 21.8 mpg, but it’s early days yet, and we hope the QX50 will prove more ef­fi­cient as we pile on the miles. Given that one of the sup­posed ben­e­fits of the VC en­gine is to bet­ter take ad­van­tage of sit­u­a­tions where fuel can be saved, we sort of ex­pect it, quite frankly, even from a four­cylin­der pow­er­train pulling around a not in­signif­i­cant 3,857 pounds.

Will the QX50 win our hearts like our last Four Sea­sons In­finiti? Will the VC en­gine be every­thing it’s com­pressed, er, cracked up to be? Will more dogs like to lick the blue suede? We’re go­ing to find out and let you know. AM

The In­finiti QX50’s de­li­cious navy blue suede trim is a hit with staffers and their furryfriends.

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