Test Drive: 2019 Infiniti QX50 exceeds expectations

Redesigned for 2019, the Infiniti QX50 delivers everything one might expect from a Japanese luxury sport-utility vehicle. It's bigger than previous incarnations of the QX50, and it rides and handles more like a luxury sedan than an SUV. But drivers who want a spirited, sweet-handling SUV likely will gravitate to one of the European models or the Cadillac XT5.

Our test car was a top-of-the-line QX50 Essential with all-wheel drive. It served us well as a comfy commuter car for a few days, then performed admirably in snowy, icy conditions the weekend of Jan. 19-20. We had our doubts about the low-profile, 20-inch all-season tires, but the QX50 handled every challenge with ease.

The base price for the QX50 in Essential trim is $45,150. The base model, called the Pure, starts at $37,545. It has the same engine and transmission combination as the higher trim levels, but its front-wheel-drive system delivers just one more mile per gallon on the highway than AWD versions.

All QX50s are equipped with a 268-horsepower turbocharged inline Four, with continuously variable automatic transmission. We found the transmission inconsistent; it didn't always respond crisply to the accelerator pedal. But it undoubtedly contributes to the QX50's impressive fuel economy of 24 mpg city, 30 highway. Infiniti recommends the use of premium gasoline.

In addition to its conventional luxury accouterments, the QX50 has an impressive assortment of technological features. Our test car, sticker-priced at $56,995, had all the customary safety electronics, including blind-spot monitoring, backup collision intervention, distance control assist, intelligent cruise control and rear cross-traffic alert. The ProActive package added more aggressive accident-prevention technology: blind-spot intervention, lane-departure prevention, high-beam assist, and other features that make the SUV easier to park and steer in tight quarters. One of the more interesting aspects of the ProActive package was the ProPilot Assist system, described this way by Infiniti:

“It is not a self-driving system. It uses an enhanced version of intelligent cruise control … along with a steering assist system to help maintain both distance from proceeding vehicles and vehicle lane centering. … If clear, consistent lane marks are present, the steering assist provides small steering corrections to help keep your vehicle near the center of the lane while driving.” It's mainly for highway use, in that it cannot be activated at speeds below 37 mph.

Let's face it, the ProActive system edges pretty close to self-driving. Does this technology work? We dared use it only in short spurts, mainly because the lane marks on western Connecticut's highways are emphatically NOT “clear and consistent.” When we couldn't see the broken white lines clearly, we didn't trust the QX50 to see them, either. But this technology in a mainstream SUV lets the world know how close we are to the era of self-driving cars, trucks, buses and taxis.

Overall, the QX50 is luxurious, comfortable, reassuring and roomy for passengers in front and in back, with an unusually large cargo compartment as well. But its most striking feature is not its luxury, but the glimpse to the future it provides.

2019 Infiniti QX50 Essential

Price : $56,000

Engine: 2.0-liter turbocharged inline Four, 268 horsepower, 280 lb.-ft. torque

Transmission: continuously variable automatic

Drive: all-wheel

Weight: 3,857 lb.

Suspension: 4-wheel independent

Ground clearance: 8.6 in.

Wheels: 19-in. alloy

Tires: 255/40R20

Seating capacity: 5

Luggage capacity: 31.1 cu. ft.

Maximum cargo capacity: 64.4 cu. ft.

Maximum towing capacity: 3,000 lb.

Fuel capacity: 16 gal.

Fuel economy: 24 mpg city, 30 mpg highway

Fuel type: premium unleaded gasoline (recommended)

Steven Macoy (semacoy@gmail.com) is a longtime car enthusiast and full-time editor who lives in Bethel, Conn.