Infiniti’s new luxury SUV has any number of high tech tricks up its sleeve yet its most significant lies tucked away under the bonnet, hidden out of view. The QX50 is the first production car in the world to be fitted with a variable compression turbocharged engine, a 2.0-litre, four-cylinder in line ‘VC Turbo’ unit which Infiniti claim has the advantage of delivering both increased power and greater economy, two parameters of engine performance usually diametrically opposed. They achieve this apparent marvel by varying the effective stroke length of the connecting rod through an ingenious cam mechanism, which reduces the stroke length and thus decreases the compression ratio when the driver demands power, but maximises the stroke length and thus the compression ratio when the engine is idling or under low load.
If that doesn’t mean a great deal to you, don’t stress; in layman’s terms, Infiniti are promising sporty acceleration when required, greater economy when it’s not, so customers will no longer have to choose between a frugal four cylinder or a thirsty V6 — instead they can have the best of both worlds. The engine also weighs less than a V6, and generates lower levels of vibration, thus improving overall performance and comfort levels.
That rather clever engine, the technology within which took Nissan / Infiniti over 20 years to perfect and bring to market, is mated to an Xtronic Constantly Variable Transmission (CVT) gearbox, which itself is designed to maximise fuel economy. Infiniti stress that this CVT features their latest control software in an effort to ensure the gearbox delivers a more natural driving experience; in the past, CVTs have earned a reputation for creating a monotonous driving sensation, since they are designed to keep an engine’s rev range within certain close limits and provide seamless changes. Certainly on predominantly level ground, the gearbox in the new QX50 performed perfectly well, when accelerating hard there is a normal sensation of changing gears, akin to that of a regular automatic.
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When commuting around town, the VC Turbo’s 268 horses and impressive 380Nm of torque make for an effortless and quiet drive, whilst on the open road, the combination of smart engine and gearbox, coupled with dynamic engine mounts and a well soundproofed cabin, mean a hushed, relaxed journey for the occupants. Of course if they want to liven that up with a few tunes on the 16 speaker Bose Active Sound system, that’s also possible — the entertainment system is controlled from a 7.0in lower display screen whilst the upper 8.0in screen is dedicated to navigation and the rear view camera display.
Part of the route taken during my test drive led up the mountains behind Salalah, towards the spectacular Wadi Darbat. Although that should have been a good test of the engine and gearbox’s performance under load, sadly due to slower cars ahead of me, poor visibility in the late Khareef season’s fog and the large number of cattle on the road (not a problem I encounter very often!) I was unable to give rein to the QX50 as I would have liked. Rather than enjoying a spirited drive I was left frustrated at the pace and the car obviously felt the same way; this was the only time when the CVT reverted to type and I resorted to manually selecting gears, or rather, sets of ratios, to improve the driving sensation. But unless your daily driving route involves climbing cattle strewn mountains in thick fog, the QX50’s power plant and transmission are unlikely to warrant your attention.
The basic Luxe edition of the car is equipped with only front wheel drive, cruise control and rear parking sensors but the other three variants come with all-wheel drive and a host of additional driver aids including adaptive cruise control, rear cross traffic alert, a head up display and lane departure warning. The latter is one of the more nicely executed systems I’ve used, with only a very subtle vibration through the steering to raise the driver’s awareness. The driver’s actual steering input is, in line with several other Infiniti models, normally not physically linked to the front wheels but instead a ‘steer by wire’ system is utilised, so steering wheel inputs are monitored and processed by muiltiple ECUs then turned into a physical movement at the road wheel through electrical motors moving the steering arms. It’s fiendishly clever engineering, but personally, I find the reduced tactile feedback to the steering wheel a little disconcerting. I guess I’m just used to the way a more conventional system feels in my hands, perhaps with time I’d learn to adapt.
Handling is pretty neutral and though I was unable to push the QX50 particularly hard on any stretches of road, calm commuting is no doubt indicative of the way it will usually be driven so there are no unpleasant surprises to report. Wheel sizes start at 19in, though the top two models enjoy dark finished 20in wheels. The monocoque shell is now 23 per cent more rigid than the previous model, helping to reduce noise levels and thanks to the use of lighter specialist steels, the QX50 now weighs in at around 1,800kgs. Styling wise the QX50 is clearly making a statement, with prominent crease lines on the bonnet, the familiar and Infiniti grille and distinctive C pillar styling — I like that Infiniti has chosen to venture a little away from the generic streamlined look and given the QX50 some unique characteristics.
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Inside the cockpit, Infiniti have certainly gone to great lengths to remind the occupants that this is definitely a luxury vehicle. The top of the range Autograph model I was driving was trimmed with white semi-aniline leather throughout, the seats looking exceptionally good with their quilted stitching finish. Around the doors, centre console and dashboard there blue Alcantara panels, with set silver effect wood trim inserts across the dash. It’s certainly all very eye catching, though I hate to think how much havoc a small child armed with just a bottle of juice and a bag of sticky sweets, could wreak on that glorious white leather in the time it takes to shout “No, no, not the seats!”
Those front seats by the way, described as ‘Zero Gravity’ by the manufacturer, have a patented structure designed to provide continuous support from your hips all the way up to your shoulders. This is done to prevent occupants from slumping and thus maintain good blood flow throughout your body, to maximise comfort on long journeys. All I know is, they were very restful, eight way power adjustable and featured both heated and cooling airflow, the latter being much appreciated.
Open up the panoramic moon roof and you’ll notice the 60:40 split rear seats slide, recline, and fold-flat. With the seats upright, rear leg room is I noticed, much improved over the old model yet still there’s almost 900 litres of boot space at the rear, with double that when the rear seats are down, and underfloor storage areas to keep valuables hidden from view. The Luxe and Luxe Essential have power, remote tailgate release, whilst the Sensory and Autograph models have motion activated releases.
That rather clever engine, the technology within which took Nissan / Infiniti over 20 years to perfect and bring to market, is mated to an Xtronic Constantly Variable Transmission (CVT) gearbox...
The Infiniti certainly hits the spot in terms of cocooning the driver in luxury, but equally in safety features, with front, roof and knee airbags installed, Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children (LATCH), ABS with Brake Assist, Traction Control and Tyre Pressure Monitoring System to name but a few, even on the entry level Luxe. The Autobiography comes fully loaded with others features including Forward Collision Warning and Intervention, Around View Monitoring and adaptive, steering headlights. So no lack of aids to cosset and comfort the driver, that’s for sure.
The mid sized SUV market is a major battle ground in the automotive market, perhaps nowhere more so than in the UAE where fuel efficiency, or lack of it, was rarely a sticking point when it came to vehicle selection. But times they are a changing, belts are being tightened and many buyers are now consciously hoping to reduce their impact on this beautiful planet we call home. If switching from a larger V6, or even V8 engined SUV to a smaller vehicle means spending less money — and less time — at the fuel pumps in future, but not having to compromise on luxury, then the QX50 may well have what it takes to attract a more forward thinking clientele.
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