With stricter regulations on emissions and the pressure to improve fuel economy growing by the day, the automotive industry has been scrambling to adapt to new laws that are being enacted worldwide. As a result, we are seeing more and more carmakers head down the electrification/hybrid route. It would appear that the end of the internal combustion engine is nigh, but it isn’t about to go down without a fight. In fact, it might have just been given a new lease of life...

For over two decades, Nissan/Infiniti’s engineers have been toiling over an engine with variable-compression — and they’ve finally cracked it for what is fitted under the bonnet of the all-new 2019 QX50 is a motor that might just hit the stop button on a completely electric vehicle future, or, temporarily pause this movement at least. This premium SUV featured a potent V6 but it wasn’t the most frugal and with Infiniti’s competitors switching to smaller turbocharged engines some time ago, Nissan’s luxury arm has now also followed suit — but done it differently, and might I add, brilliantly.

The VC-Turbo 2.0-litre four-pot is one clever unit; it can change the compression ratio by varying the distance the pistons travel to optimize power and efficiency. No, this certainly isn’t your conventional combustion engine. With a CVT that has been designed to maximise fuel economy, the power plant works by changing from high-compression (14:1) to low-compression (8:1) depending on a driver’s inputs. High compression for efficiency, low compression for performance — it produces 268 horses, 380Nm of torque and drinks 8.7-litres per 100km. Infiniti says the fuel efficiency gained from variable compression operation is 8 per cent. It sounds like the complete package then, and even though it displays a hint of turbo lag when you mash the throttle, this motor will be taking plenty of plaudits, and deservingly so.

 

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Photos: Stefan Lindeque

The 2019 model is 90kg lighter than the predecessor and has an all-wheel drive system (split 60/40 front/rear) which sure makes it decent to drive. Handling is good with only a little body roll when pushed extra hard, and even with a sports tuned suspension the ride remains smooth even if the road is not. The paddle shifters behind the ‘steer by wire’ steering wheel allow you to control the eight simulated fixed gear ratios in the CVT and this makes driving that bit more engaging.

It also boasts eye-catching aesthetics; when every other carmaker is going down the sharp, angular road in terms of design, Infiniti has stuck to its more rounded and smooth approach to create a striking look. The bonnet in particular stands out with the way it rolls over the front fenders and the sloped, aerodynamic roofline and distinct rear-quarter windows are nice touches. Overall, it is sportier and more aggressive to behold while the cabin rams home the luxurious nature of the Infiniti with high-quality materials and soft-touch surfaces throughout including open-pore wood trim. Our tester came in a white semi-aniline leather interior with the seats finished with quilted stitching and packed dual-zone automatic climate control, panoramic sunroof, Bose audio system with 16 speakers and driver aids including adaptive cruise control, rear cross traffic alert, a head up display and lane departure warning. On the safety front, it had front, roof and knee airbags, ABS with Brake Assist, Traction Control, Tyre Pressure Monitoring System, Forward Collision Warning and Intervention, Around View Monitoring and adaptive, steering headlights. Basically, the lot — including a cargo area that expands to a whopping 1,822 litres when you fold down the rear seats.

Clearly then, it has plenty to shout about — and that’s before you get to that fancy motor...