2016 Infiniti QX50: The utility vehicle that thinks it’s a car

2016 Infiniti QX50

2016 Infiniti QX50

Unless you dig into its past, you may think of the 2016 Infiniti QX50 as an all-new crossover utility vehicle from the upscale division of Japanese manufacturer Nissan.

However, a little research will tell you that it is actually the latest upgrade to the luxury compact CUV that was introduced as the Infiniti EX35 for the 2008 model year and renamed the EX37 in 2013 to account for an upgrade of its V-6 engine.

The important news, however, is that the QX50 does represent a lot more than a name change. The most important updates are a partial redesign that stretches the wheelbase 3.2 inches, to a total of 113.4, and a mild restyling that gives the QX50 a greater presence on the road.

The 3.2-inch stretch increases rear leg room by 4.3 inches and knee room by 3.9 inches. As a result, two six-footers can sit comfortably in the second row behind the front seat passengers even if they, too, are six-footers.

Infiniti instruments

Infiniti instruments

Since the extra inches were added to the middle of the vehicle, luggage space remains a barely competitive 18.6 cubic feet with the rear seatbacks in place, but can be expanded to 50.1 cubic feet by folding the seatbacks forward.

So, it’s fair to say that the QX50 is in important ways more practical than the original EX35 and, with now-standard sunroof, heated front seats and LED daytime running lights, it is also more upscale.

But the more important question is whether the 2016 model retains the driving dynamics that gave the EX35 an athletic edge over many of its competitors when it hit the road in 2008.

Fortunately for the enthusiasts among us, the answer is a definite “yes,” but it must be noted that the sporty driving attitude also diminishes all-weather capability that is important to drivers in the country’s snow belts.

With its powerful engine, manually controllable transmission, modern independent suspension and a scant 6.9 inches of ground clearance, the QX50 tracks down the road much like a car.

It will hustle along the winding two-lane roads with responsive steering and drivers will notice little body lean in the corners. Strong brakes are available to keep bursts of driver enthusiasm in check.

Infiniti front seats

Infiniti front seats

And thanks to the independent suspension —- double wishbones up front and a multilink design at the rear wheels —- the QX50 not only handles competently, but the ride quality is comfortable in normal driving situations.

The QX50 I tested came with rear-wheel drive, but all-wheel drive is available for an extra $1,400. Oddly, ground clearance diminishes to 6.5 inches on AWD models.

Now, to some specifics.

The QX50 retains the 3.7-liter V-6 engine of the 2013 model and it is good for 325 horsepower and 267 pound-feet of torque. Most drivers will be satisfied with the abundance of power, which can speed the 3,855-pound vehicle from a stop to 60 mph in less than six seconds.

Adding to enthusiastic drivers’ pleasure is the 7-speed automatic shifter, which matches engine speed to the gear selected during manual downshifts.

However, what they may not be satisfied with is the fuel efficiency. The EPA estimates that the QX50 should average 17 miles per gallon of premium unleaded fuel in the city and 24 on the highway. I averaged about 22 mpg in a couple hundred miles of relatively tame driving.

The power steering is speed sensitive with variable assist and the brakes are four-wheel antilock, vented discs.

Infinitdi back seats

Infiniti back seats

Standard safety features include a full complement of seat belts and airbags, traction control, stability control, emergency brake assist and electronic brake force distribution.

The optional Technology Package ($2,750) includes adaptive cruise control, blind-spot warning, lane-departure warning and brake assist with forward collision warning.

Unfortunately —- to me, at least —-the lane departure warning is activated with a distinctive ring and that can be annoying on certain narrow roads. Much less grating in my experience are the systems which alert the driver with a little vibration of the steering wheel.

The interior of the QX50 is well appointed, with leather upholstery, black lacquer trim and maple accents. But, anyone who has spent time with the earlier EX vehicles can’t help but think the interior has become somewhat dated.

It’s odd, too, that after all these years the crossover vehicle’s tailgate has not been revised.The problem: when it is fully raised, it’s simply too high for short folks. My diminutive wife had to jump up in the air to snag it and haul it closed again.

Among the standard features not previously mentioned are 8-way power driver’s seat and 4-way front passenger seats, dual-zone temperature control, automatic on/off halogen headlights, keyless lock and ignition, satellite radio and an Ipod connector.

Infiniti cargo area

Infiniti cargo area

With the several available option packages, the QX50 can be turned into a comprehensively equipped luxury crossover.

The Deluxe Touring Package ($2,400) adds 19-inch aluminum alloy wheels, high-intensity-discharge headlights, 8-way power passenger’s seat, and power folding second-row seats.

The PremiumPackage ($500) upgrades the sound system from 6 to 11 speakers, and adds a driver’s seat memory system, maple interior accents, and a power tilt-and-telescoping steering column.

The Premium Plus Package ($2,000) adds a 7-inch color touch screen, an around-view camera system that monitors the entire outside of the vehicle, XM traffic and weather and Bluetooth streaming audio.

If you take the base price of $34,450. add in all of the options and the $995 delivery charge, the QX50’s suggested retail price comes to $43,535.

Obviously, the 2016 Infiniti QX50 is not the vehicle for everybody. The bulk of small-crossover buyers are more interested in practicality than spirited driving pleasure. This vehicle is for those who are more interested in sport than utility.

And, for them, the QX50 could be an obvious choice.

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