When is a crossover not a crossover?

The crossover formerly known as the Infiniti EX, and presently known as the Infiniti QX50, isn’t exactly a crossover at all. It’s not tall, blocky or towering. A person of average height can see the top of its roof. Entry occurs after stepping in over a thin sill, followed by a plunk down, as if boarding a sedan. Seated, you’re not left towering over the road, or surrounded by excessive space.

Key crossover benefits like AWD, extended flexibility and cargo capacity, and a slightly-elevated driving position come with none of the bloat.

It’s comfortable inside, though not full of emptiness.

So QX50 is technically a crossover SUV, but it comes off more like a station wagon. Or maybe, a luxury sports sedan wearing a backpack.

When shopper priorities in an upscale, high-utility model fall far from a towering driving position, heavy towing capabilities, or a jacked-up ride height for off-roading, the QX50 makes an interesting and compelling choice. Key crossover benefits like AWD, extended flexibility and cargo capacity, and a slightly-elevated driving position come with none of the bloat. It handles like a car, not a wheelbarrow. Elderly passengers and clumsy canines will find entry and exit a breeze, the seating position is barely higher than that of a big family car, and you feel like you’re surrounded by the QX50’s leather-lined cabin, not sitting up above it.

And QX50 maneuvers, drives, steers and rides just like a car does. And a sporty one, too.

On smooth, winding roads, a heavy and solid steering with above-average feedback, a quick ratio, and a heavy effort, work towards a confident and nearly mischievous feel. The QX50 steers quick, responds fast, and exhibits minimal slack, all without feeling hyperactive or nervous on straight highways at speed. The fine-tuned and direct feel to the QX50’s steering is delightful, and increasingly uncommon in the segment.

A finely tuned suspension backs it up. It’s taut, solid and tightly sprung, though careful calibrations around the first bit of suspension travel enables a layer of softness around the edges. On rougher roads, this translates to more comfortable ride than typically expected of a machine with this sort of handling. There’s a just-right layer of cushioning dialed in around a just-right layer of stiffness, which helps give the QX50 a just-right ride over just about anything.

Body roll? Clumsiness? Forget it – she’s dialed in. She’s dialed in real good. If steering, handling and the way your vehicle feels at the tips of your fingers and toes matters to you, you’ll like what’s going on here.

If you’re a performance buff, you’ll like what’s going on under the hood, too.

Here’s the setup: a howling V6 of 3.7L displacement that’s quiet and creamy at low revs but spins eagerly to a lofty 7,500 rpm when requested. A seven-speed automatic with entertaining rev-matching capabilities and smooth-as-glass shifts. An intelligent AWD system that sees the rear axle fed the majority of the engine’s power, the majority of the time.

With a big-for-its-price 325 hp, lots of revs and frisky-pants rear-drive handling, the QX50 has the luxury sports character covered off in the driveline department, too. Give it the beans, and it gobbles up the road ahead with delightful urgency, and a solid press of all occupants into their seatbacks, the VQ-series V6 slathering the cabin with its trademark mechanical howl all the while.

And despite the thrill factor of driving it hard, QX50 proves about as refined and effortless and quiet as you’d expect a luxury-branded machine to be, when driven in no particular rush.

Functionality-wise, a generous cargo area is accessed by a manual tailgate that’s light, easily opened, and lifts up high to prevent impacts with nearby skulls. The tester’s motorized rear-row seats fold up and down with a button press, totally flat, adding more room when required. When upright, two full-size adults can lounge in comfort, thanks to the recently expanded rear-seat legroom, and a roof that doesn’t begin sloping backwards until behind where rear occupants are sitting. Up front, a dual-cockpit layout slightly encroaches on available space, though the QX50 should prove snugly comfortable, and no less roomy than driving a big mid-sized sedan, from the driver’s seat.

The Bose stereo system is magnificent, though the central command interface which controls it is showing its age in terms of responsiveness, graphics, and integration with certain systems and functions. Still, the interface is powerful and effective once learned, even if a little fussy at times. A ledge covered with hard buttons in front of the screen calls common functions up instantly, and provides a resting place for the palm while making precision on-screen selections with one finger.

Elsewhere on board, the cabin is dated in terms of some materials and interfaces, but the overall look and execution have largely stood the test of time. Some shoppers may wish for less glossy wood and metal, (these are a little glitzier and more old-school than today’s modern luxury crossover cabins with matte finishes and brushed metals as the flaunted trimmings) though QX50’s cabin looks high-tech and unmistakably formal nonetheless. Other complaints include the sometimes-too-sensitive safety systems, and an around-view camera system that’s effective, though low in resolution and lagging behind the competition where image quality is concerned.

The dense, rough-road feel, quick and heavy steering, and overall tuning to the ride reminded your writer of the Audi Q3 S-Line, but with QX50’s smaller wheels and thicker tires, ride quality is more admirable through the rough stuff. The Acura RDX, also in my recent memory banks, is bigger, more spacious and has an equally-fantastic engine, though it’s heavier, less comfortable on rough roads, less fun to drive, and about 50 hp short the QX50.

Choices, choices.

Mostly, as a high-utility alternative to a luxury sports sedan, the QX50 is a worthy one. It’s flexible, luxurious and refined, though an authentic secret-sportiness is dialed in to reward drivers who push it a little. Here’s a ride that’s as thrilling or relaxed in virtually any situation as your right foot cares for. And, with that very robust power output and relatively calm and discreet styling, it’s a bit of a sleeper with all of the charm of a quiet-looking and sensible wagon that’s packing heat under the hood.

Mind you, you’ll pay for the performance. The big-power QX50 put away an average of 12 l/100 km of premium on my watch, which included several hundred kilometers of highway cruising at a good clip, and extensive foot-down browsing of my favorite winding backroads. If you want to play, you’re gonna pay.

Thing is, the pricing may help compensate. Skip the navigation system, safety beepers and other techy bits, and pricing comes in from under $38,000. That’s very decent as a high-flexibility, 325 hp sports wagon goes.

 

Specifications

Model Tested 2016 Infiniti QX50   Destination Fee $1,995
Base Price $37,900   Price as Tested $50,180
A/C Tax $100  
Optional Equipment
Premium Package ($4,900), Navigation Package ($2,500), Technology Package ($2,550)