San Diego, CA – When Infiniti launched its EX35 compact luxury crossover in 2007 as a 2008 model, vehicles of this ilk were pretty thin on the ground and counted for a minuscule slice of the market.
My, how things have changed. Currently, the premium compact CUV accounts for 26 percent of Canada’s luxury car market, and so far this year (and for the first time ever) these little leather-lined tykes have outpaced the compact luxury sedan crowd in sales – those being the Mercedes-Benz C Class, BMW 3 Series, Audi A4 and the like. So it makes sense Infiniti wants in on the action.
The 2016 sees an 80 mm wheelbase stretch that translates to an extra 109 mm of rear knee room – enough to make the back seat experience now quite pleasant for two adults.
But wait. They already have a player in the veteran EX35, which became the QX50 when Infiniti adopted its new alphanumeric naming system a couple of years ago. Problem is, the QX50 has not been a player of late, selling way less than half of its chief Japanese rivals, the Acura RDX and all-new Lexus NX. Though significantly smaller, the Audi Q3 and Mercedes-Benz GLA handily outsell the QX50 too. Then there’s the Lincoln MKC, Range Rover Evoque and new BMW X3 and Mercedes-Benz GLC to complicate matters.
So what’s new with the 2016 Infiniti QX50 that warrants a comprehensive launch in sunny San Diego? More interior room aft of the driver, that’s what. And that is an area when Infiniti’s small SUV has literally fallen short. Back seat room was stingy from the get-go, which we learned in our own Compact Luxury SUV Comparison, and no doubt it hurt sales too.
While mechanically identical to last year’s model, this 2016 sees an 80 mm wheelbase stretch that translates to an extra 109 mm of rear knee room – enough to make the back seat experience now quite pleasant for two adults. The hatch space behind the rear seat remains the same at 527L, which is compromised by that sloping roofline, but with the seats folded, overall cargo room increases to 1,418. There is now a full power function available for those 60/40 seats.
The 2016 QX50 also gets a new grille, LED running lights, rear valance, standard 18-inch alloys and it sits 20 mm higher. Despite all this, it still looks imminently identifiable as Infiniti’s pioneering cute ute, all organic curves and arching roofline.
Ordering a 2016 QX50 will be a fairly anxiety-free process. There are four trim levels, no standalone options, and as all models sport all-wheel drive (the US gets rear-drive models) and are powered by Nissan/Infiniti’s ubiquitous 3.7L VQ-series DOHC V6 (325 hp, 267 lb-ft) hooked to a seven-speed auto, there are no drivetrain options to confuse matters. Official Canadian fuel economy numbers are 13.7 L/100 km city, 9.7 highway and 11.9 combined.
The QX50 runs mostly as a rear-drive vehicle – the active electro-magnetic centre clutch only sends torque up front under acceleration and when traction issues arise. A snow mode locks the all-wheel drive in a 50:50 front to rear split.
The 2016 QX50 starts at $37,900 and for that we get a sunroof, proximity key with push button start, real leather seating (heated front, powered eight-way driver and four-way passenger), aluminum interior trim, seven-inch display, 18-inch alloys, dual-zone climate control, USB, rearview monitor and Bluetooth.
Moving up to the $42,800 Premium bestows Around View Monitor, an excellent 11-speaker Bose system, Advanced Climate Control System, memory system for driver’s seat, heated outside mirrors and steering wheel, entry/exit assist for driver’s seat and steering wheel, outside mirrors with reverse tilt-down feature, auto-dimming inside mirror with HomeLink, maple interior accents, power tilt and telescopic steering column, 19-inch split 5-spoke alloys, (HID) xenon adaptive headlights with auto-leveling, power driver’s seat lumbar support, coat hanger on driver’s seat head restraint, eight-way power passenger’s seat, power up-folding second-row seats, and premium stitching.
If you want navi, you’ll have to spring for the $45,300 Navigation that also includes front and rear park assist and Bluetooth audio streaming. The full-blown Technology at $47,800 layers on a suite of radar and camera based systems – adaptive cruise with full stop, collision warning and auto braking, lane departure warning and blind spot warning.
Needless to say, the vehicles we drove on the launch were loaded to the max. But beyond that, what impresses with the 2016 QX50 is how much of a nice all-round package it is – for both luxury and driving enjoyment.
And that’s because it’s, well… not all new. In fact, it’s kinda’ old. And that’s what makes it good. The unfashionably large 3.7L V6 may not return great fuel economy, but it pushes this CUV along with a quiet, seamless urge that spells luxury in my books. Remember linear throttle response? This one’s got it. No turbo lag and gear hunting that is the hallmark of most modern smaller displacement blown fours with their multi-cog trannies.
Oh, and steering feel. Before Infiniti went all high-tech with its drive-by-wire steering in the Q50 sedan, the automaker’s hydraulic racks were up there with the best from Europe. This old warrior still has that system and it feels great. Combine that with the expertly tuned chassis that we loved back when, and this refreshed old-gen Infiniti shows poise, polish and a relaxed secondary road pace that smacks of a maturity not found in many upstarts. It is such a sporty and engaging performer, I kept flicking at shift paddles that weren’t there.
The 2016 QX50 is like a fine wine that has come into its own.
The interior shows no signs of aging either. Infiniti’s traditional layout with the central screen and a plethora of buttons and controls below it works just fine. As far as design, quality of materials and execution, the QX50’s cabin still ranks with the best in the business. It’s not flashy or gimmicky, yet it exudes a style, richness and warmth that is totally unique to the brand. There are no cheap bits to be found in here. The testers with contrasting shades of leather looked especially good. At night, the white and violet illumination is high art.
Structurally, the QX50 feels like is it hewn from an anvil. The doors close with a reassuring thunk, and once underway occupants are cocooned in a chamber largely insulated from wind and road noise.
But there are a few things missing. Cabin storage is minimal, there’s no one-touch repeater function for the turn signal, and no powered liftgate. Infiniti tells us the latter is not necessary because the composite hatch is a featherweight, but at this price point that little convenience is expected. As the original vehicle was not equipped with a powered hatch, it’s likely too costly to engineer one in at this point.
So what to make of this refreshed and stretched CUV that has been around for almost a decade? As a testament to its original design, both inside and out, the QX50 still feels fresh and contemporary. Yes, a big V6 won’t do you any favours at the gas pump, but it sure gives this fine-handling crossover a proper sense of purpose. And now that back seat riders are no longer in the penalty box, this “classic” could very well get a new lease on life.