Driving the redesigned Infiniti QX50 has some rewards, with a quick start off the line, a comfortable ride, and a quiet cabin.

However, its tricky transmission performance, loud engine, and overly complicated infotainment system left our testers underwhelmed.

The QX50 is the long-awaited replacement for its EX and QX50 predecessors, which dated back to 2008. This new SUV shares much of its mechanical equipment with the upcoming 2019 Nissan Altima, including an all-new turbocharged four-cylinder engine. Nissan says the engine will deliver the power of a V6 with the fuel efficiency of a four-cylinder.

These are our first impressions. (See the complete Infiniti QX50 road test.)

2019 Infiniti QX50 front

What we bought: 2019 Infiniti QX50 Essential AWD
Drivetrain: 268-hp, 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine; continuously variable transmission; all-wheel drive
MSRP: $45,150
Destination fee: $995
Options: Premium audio package, a package with heating for the steering wheel and front seats, and two driver-assistance packages: ProAssist and ProActive.
Options cost: $5,235
Total cost: $51,380

2019 Infiniti QX50 rear

How It Drives

All versions of the QX50 use the new Nissan variable compression turbocharged engine. It works by varying the mixture of fuel and air in the cylinders depending on the driving conditions (think traffic vs. open highway) and the driver’s need for power (a light touch on the accelerator vs. hard acceleration). The engine’s promise is that it can deliver high fuel efficiency most of the time, while delivering power and performance when the driver wants it.

Most testers found that the engine delivered good acceleration off the line with hardly any turbo lag, and thought it was very responsive in everyday driving. But the indicated fuel economy (as reported on the in-car computer) isn’t spectacular, the engine sounds strained and unrefined, and it requires the use of premium fuel.

The continuously variable transmission doesn’t help the driving experience. Nissan added fake shift points so that the CVT mimics a traditional automatic transmission. But as soon as drivers take the QX50 up a hill, or need power to merge, the CVT makes the engine rev higher, and the four-cylinder engine just roars.

Thankfully, the Infiniti shines in keeping wind and road noise out of the cabin. The only sound that breaks through the hushed cabin is that coarse engine note that happens under hard acceleration.

Our drivers haven’t been particularly impressed with how the Infiniti handles; it’s a compact luxury SUV that feels bigger than it is. The overly light steering isn’t particularly quick and makes it feel cumbersome, even when going through mildly sharp corners. The new Infiniti doesn’t provide driving pleasure, unlike such competitors as the Audi Q5 and BMW X3.

The QX50’s ride is unspectacular and forgettable, absorbing most bumps without a fuss.

2019 Infiniti QX50 interior

Inside

This cabin is a high point. The fit and finish is as good as the best in this class, such as the X3, Mercedes-Benz GLC, and Volvo XC60. High-quality materials are used throughout, including wood and tailored leather stitching and piping details. The armrests have generous levels of padding under leather surfaces.

Our testers have, so far, found the seats to be comfortable and mostly supportive. The seatback has firm cushions and supportive, but not intrusive, side bolsters. However, this $50,000 SUV has only two-way adjustable lumbar; most competitors offer four-way (up and down, in and out) adjustability. The bottom seat cushion is too short for average-height and taller drivers, and provides little hamstring support.

The second-row seats are roomy for two adults, though it would be tight for three. Testers with children reported that their kids could easily climb in and buckle up.

We appreciated the surround-view camera, which provides a 360-degree view of the area around the SUV on the center screen. This not only helps drivers identify any objects hidden from their direct view but also makes parking and reversing easy. The cameras also help compensate for the limited rear three-quarters visibility, which, like most luxury compact SUVs, is compromised by chunky roof pillars and a small-ish window in the rear.

At first glance, the controls for the infotainment, navigation, and climate systems look easy to use. There are a lot of conventional buttons and two touch screens.

Recent SUV Reviews

However, the infotainment system is slow to start up and convoluted to use. Once it’s active, it’s a hassle for drivers to find the function they want. The top screen is mostly for controlling the navigation system and for phone interactions, and important navigation system controls are in the bottom screen.

We found it tricky to make our way through the screens using the steering-wheel controls, touch-screen buttons, and center-console controller knob. Often the lower 7-inch screen will revert to showing the screen of app offerings rather than staying on the audio screen we’d previously selected.

The climate controls have dedicated buttons, but they’re split, flanking both sides of the lower touch screen. Drivers can change the audio volume with a knob, but there’s no tuning knob, and presets are controlled by large onscreen “buttons.” Most buttons and text are large and easy to read.

Some simple operations, such as manually tuning a station or setting a preset, require multiple steps and menu selections. This increases the time drivers have to take their eyes off the road and a hand off of the steering wheel.

The electronic gear selector returns to the center position after a choice has been made. It works fine, but the location of the park button isn’t intuitive.

Safety Gear

The QX50 is the first Infiniti model to use the ProPilot system. (The Nissan Leaf and Rogue already offer it.) ProPilot Assist combines distance-sensing adaptive cruise control and steering-assist systems to keep the car in its lane in case the driver becomes distracted. The system is a convenience in stop-and-go traffic but is not designed to be a self-driving system.

In order to get the ProPilot on our QX50, we first had to buy the ProAssist and ProActive packages. 

Our testers found the lane-departure and lane-keeping assist systems far less annoying than they did in the Nissan Leaf we are testing with the same system; they found that it issued a less jarring warning sound and made the steering vibrate only a little. We found it strange that when the QX50 is in ProPilot Assist mode, it will wander within the travel lane and sometimes bump against the lane markers—and make the same warning noise. It is as if the system is yelling at itself to get back in line.

CR’s Take

After about 600 miles of driving, our staff is underwhelmed by the QX50. It has handsome styling that doesn’t affect visibility any more so than its competitors. But at this point we can’t see that the highly touted engine is delivering on its promise of more power with better fuel economy. So far, the 2.0-liter powertrain hasn’t demonstrated any edge over competing four-cylinder turbocharged engines. 

Update: Testing is finished. See the complete Infiniti QX50 road test.