First Drive | 2016 Infiniti QX50 small luxury crossover

Wed, 09/02/2015 - 23:14
Heading into 2016, Infiniti has big plans for both its current models and the new Q30 (unveiled at the Frankfurt Motor Show), Q60 and QX30 concepts. Kicking off a series of vehicles we’re anxiously awaiting to get our hands on in the New Year, is the refreshed QX50 crossover. Now with 3.8 inches more wheelbase, the 2016 Infiniti QX50 not only offers more legroom but it also brings us an even more authentic Infiniti experience.

Infiniti updates models across the board

Sean McNamara, Infiniti Manager of Product Planning, provided an update on the brand’s plans for 2016 before an intimate group of journalists inside the Nissan / Infiniti Design Center in an undisclosed location in San Diego, CA. This year alone, Infiniti has launched the Q50 sedan, updated the Q70 and added a long-wheelbase Q70L, tweaked the QX60 three-row SUV, and upgraded the largest-in-the-lineup QX80 with a new Limited trim. All of this activity has had a positive impact on Infiniti’s numbers, too. Continuing a 12-month stint of record sales months, Infiniti’s sales have grown by 10.5 percent in the U.S. and 14 percent worldwide. The Q50 sedan remains Infiniti’s top seller; refreshes for the 2016 model year include a powertrain overhaul and a Tennessee-built, jointly developed Daimler-Infiniti 2.0L turbo offering. The addition of a long-wheelbase version of the Q70 luxury sedan resulted in about 47 percent of the model’s sales mix in 2015. Infiniti also refreshed the styling for the QX60–our preferred mommy mobile, Infiniti’s highest volume crossover and their only SUV assembled in Smyrna, TN. Finally, the top-dog QX80 SUV received a new Limited trim for MY15, which pushed its price tag up to the $90,000 territory. Surprisingly, however, this massive ute comprises 13-15 percent of the total Infiniti sales mix. McNamara added that the Limited trim for the QX80 has been a very successful move for Infiniti, garnering the vehicle consideration from buyers of other high-end brands.

2016 QX50: Heart of a coupe. Body of a crossover.

Did you know the QX50 has been around since the 2008 model year? Of course, it was known as the EX35 back then. Infiniti touts it as one of the first small luxury crossovers available on the market. For 2016, the QX50 maintains the “heart of a coupe with the bodystyle of a crossover,” says McNamara. The compact SUV receives updated styling all around, including a longer wheelbase, adding 4.3 inches to rear seat room and 8 cu. ft. more to the interior. Those extra inches don’t just make the 2016 QX50 the longest in its segment at 113.4 inches, they enable passengers to access the rear seats with greater ease. The QX50’s higher stance also makes getting in and out of the vehicle more comfortable for a broad range of potential drivers. Like its siblings, QX50 gets a double-arch Infiniti grille, LED fog lamps and daytime running lights, an updated rear bumper and side sills. That phrase about having the “heart of a coupe”? That’s referring to the QX50’s 3.7-Liter DOHC V6 that pumps out 325 hp and 267 lb.-ft. of torque–a figure pushing the QX50’s performance beyond that of its smaller-engined competitors. Even with a larger motor, both RWD and AWD versions of the 2016 QX50 garner 17 mpg city / 24 mpg highway fuel economy thanks to an efficient seven speed automatic transmission. Consumers looking to secure a luxury compact crossover in the mid-$30,000 range will be pleased with this Infiniti’s price point. The RWD model starts at $34,450 and all-wheel-drive trims begin just north of that at $35,850. These base MSRP figures are a $550 reduction from the outgoing model, excluding the value of updated standard features Infiniti is now offering on the QX50.

Priced to Sell: Choose from four QX50 trim levels

The 2016 QX50 provides plenty of choice for customers based upon their in-car preferences: Premium, Premium Plus, Deluxe Touring and Technology packages are available at incremental additional costs. The new Premium package is just $500 more for the consumer, yet it packs a $2,200 value, featuring a Bose stereo system with 11 speakers and 2 subwoofers, maple interior accents and a power tilt and telescoping steering wheel. Infiniti expects 95 percent of QX50 buyers to opt-in for the Premium package. For another $2,000 buyers can opt for the Premium Plus package, which will get them full-color touchscreen navigation, Bluetooth audio streaming and Around View Monitor. Tack on $2,400 for the Deluxe Touring package, boasting lovely 19-inch aluminum-alloy wheels, HID xenon headlights, an integrated coat hanger on the driver’s seat headrest, and power folding rear seats. Finally, if you want to go all out, and spend closer to $41,000 than $35,000, go for the Technology package at $2,750. This will get you lane departure warning, lane departure prevention, intelligent cruise control, intelligent brake assist, and several other safety technologies.

QX50: Petite, posh and performance-minded

Infiniti’s most compact crossover in the fleet (at least until the QX30 makes its official debut) receives design updates to bring it in line with the latest aesthetics from the Japanese brand. It is small in stature yet maintains a sporty stance that’s verifiably more than just a “look” when tossing the QX50 into tight corners. We spent a day in the desert, beyond the San Diego city limits, putting Infiniti’s cute ute to the test. Once in the driver’s seat, we quickly discovered a comfortable seating position, with adequate visibility out the rear when not engaging the backup camera. We appreciated–and quickly recognized–the performance capability of the QX50, a bonafide characteristic of its Infiniti heritage. The mountain roads provided a bounty of twists and turns as we rose to more than 3,000 feet above sea level and then back down again. The QX50 handled each corner like a champ. Enter “DS” mode for a sportier suspension and tighter wheel and it’ll handle the landscape even better, but we found normal drive mode to be sufficiently enjoyable. No doubt the 2016 QX50 is petite in size: average-sized adults will be the most comfortable in this Infiniti. Our only complaint about the car is it’s not simply coupe-like by heart; it’s diminutive in its hip and elbow room as well. (In fairness, for perspective, we entered the QX50 after spending a week in the cavernous 2015 QX80 Limited.) We see the Infiniti QX50 as the ideal competitor to the Acura RDX, BMW X1, Mercedes-Benz GLA250 and Audi Q3. The closest in size and stature would likely be the GLA250, where the feel is less sport utility and more wagon-like. All in all, we found the 2016 Infiniti QX50 to be a hoot to drive–albeit a tight fit for taller drivers. But not to worry, with the QX60 and QX80 in the lineup, Infiniti’s bound to have a car that’s right-sized for you. And that’s the goal. The brand has introduced an even smaller crossover in the QX30 concept, which means Infiniti will join the likes of its German competitors in downsizing for both fuel efficiency and pricing reasons, hoping to win over young buyers for a lifetime of new vehicle purchases.

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