Infiniti has added a dash of magic under the hood of the second-generation QX50.
The 2019 QX50 is a compact luxury crossover, the middle child in the Infiniti lineup that includes the entry-level QX30, the seven-passenger QX60 and the audacious QX70.
There are five trim levels, starting at $44,490 for the Luxe. I drove the Sensory model, the second from the top, with a list price of $56,490.
Like many in this segment, Infiniti has ditched its award-winning V-6 in favour of a turbocharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder. But that’s where the similarities end.
What sets Infiniti’s turbo four apart from the competition (it’s actually a world first) is an engine that is able to vary its compression ratio.
An engine’s compression ratio is typically set. The only way to change it is to replace the crankshaft — until now.
With the addition of a joint between the crankshaft and connecting rods, Infiniti engineers were able to vary the compression between a low of 8.0:1 and a high of 14.0:1. A lower compression ratio gives the engine more power, and a higher compression delivers better fuel economy. Infiniti boasts of using a miserly 7.8 litres of fuel for every 100 kilometres on the highway, making it a standout in the segment.
The only way you can tell the change in compression is by a digital meter located between the speedometer and tachometer.
The engine is as smooth as the V-6 it replaces. While, at 268 horsepower, it is less powerful than last year, it makes it up with a 13-pound boost in torque, to 280 foot-pounds.
The engine exhibits very little turbo lag. Driven aggressively, the engine develops a low growl, which is contrary to the relaxed, hushed demeanour it usually exhibits under less taxing demands.
The transmission has been changed as well, from a seven-speed to a continuously variable unit with eight preset ratios — just in case you like shifting the QX50 manually. The driver can also choose between four driving modes: Personal, Eco, Sport and Standard.
In sport mode, with fingers on the steering-wheel paddle shifters, is the way I roll and the QX50 was perfectly willing to oblige.
I wager that those who grew up with — and enjoy the sensation of — mechanical gears will shed a tear of its passing.
But it’s hard to stand in the way of progress. With the higher compression and the CVT, it does deliver better fuel efficiency.
In Canada, the QX50 can only be ordered with all-wheel drive, a wise choice given our more severe winters.
The exterior of the 2019 is larger than the model it replaces. The most significant increase is in its width, which benefits from a 100-millimetre stretch. Conversely, the wheelbase has shrunk by 80 mm.
The designers have managed to find even more room inside, with maximum cargo capacity now 1,822 litres — more than the Lexus RX 350.
While gearheads will be impressed with what is under the hood, luxury-oriented buyers will appreciate the level of refinement that Infiniti has bestowed to the QX50.
While fit and finish is to a high standard, designers hoping to infuse the “wow” factor into the interior have draped ultrasuede trim to the door and center console.
I dare you to resist caressing the surface.
If you are a tactile person, the ultrasuede elevates the driving experience. My next impulse after running my fingers over the material was to get down close and smell it — but I resisted.
My tester also came with open-pore maple wood trim and premium leather surfaces.
The cabin, thanks in part to the increase in width and a panoramic sunroof, feels spacious and light.
There are actually two infotainment screens stacked on top of each other to inform occupants of the world around them. The upper eight-inch unit primarily displays the navigation data. Other data, such as apps, audio and phone controls, is found on the seven-inch lower unit.
The climate control features physical buttons flanking the lower screen.
The QX50 also comes with a heads-up display.
The QX50 faces a crowded market that includes competition from offshore and domestic luxury brands. Few buyers will single out the variable compression engine as a feature that compels them to purchase the Infiniti.
The innovation is, instead, the jewel in the crown of an otherwise impressive compact luxury crossover.
THE SPEC SHEET
Type: Compact luxury crossover, front engine, all-wheel-drive
Engine: Turbocharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine, 268 hp at 5,600 r.p.m., 280 lb.-ft. of torque at 4,400 r.p.m.
Dimensions (mm): Length, 4,691; width, 1,903; height, 1,677; wheelbase, 2,800
Curb weight (kg): 1,140
Price (base/as tested): $56,490/ $58,635 (includes $2,045 freight and PDI and $100 AC tax)
Tires: 255/45 R20 all-season run-flat tires on alloy wheels
Fuel type: Premium
Fuel economy (L/100km): 10.0 city/ 7.8 highway
Warranty: Four years/100,000 km new car and roadside assistance, six years/110,000 km powertrain