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Infiniti QX50 review: Smooth operator

An innovative engine gives Infiniti's QX50 a valuable edge over other luxury Sport Utility Vehicles.

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Infiniti's turbocharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine is a standout winner. Lots of cars have one of those, but the Infiniti's engine breaks new ground: It's the first production engine that can alter its compression ratio on the fly, a technology that Infiniti calls VC-Turbo.

BT_20190222_INFINITI22A_3703601.jpg
Infiniti's turbocharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine is a standout winner. Lots of cars have one of those, but the Infiniti's engine breaks new ground: It's the first production engine that can alter its compression ratio on the fly, a technology that Infiniti calls VC-Turbo.

Singapore

ASIDE from all the things a luxury car needs to be - smooth, silent, plush and comfortable - perhaps the one thing it really has to do is impress your friends. Not every Benz or Bentley buyer would freely admit to that, of course, just like the people who say they wear a Richard Mille just to keep track of the time.

But how does the Infiniti QX50 measure up against those characteristics, nonetheless?

Superbly, as it turns out, although its ability to draw ready admiration from pals does warrant some investigation.

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Since Infiniti is to Nissan what Lexus is to Toyota, the QX50 is a car with plenty of high-priced and impressive foes. In addition to the Lexus NX, the Infiniti has to square off against such rivals as the BMW X3, Mercedes-Benz GLC, and Volvo XC60.

It starts off by looking the part, with an enticingly sculptural body draped in high quality paint that's been beautifully applied.

But it's under the skin where the Infiniti does one better than its competition. Or, more specifically, under the bonnet, where there's a turbocharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine. Lots of cars have one of those, but the Infiniti's engine breaks new ground.

It's the first production engine that can alter its compression ratio on the fly, a technology that Infiniti calls VC-Turbo.

Figuring out how it's done is enough to make your head spin, but the effect is something your stomach can understand.

The aim is to give drivers the best of both worlds: a low compression ratio permits a high level of turbo boost for plenty of power, and a high one gives better efficiency at low speeds. Infiniti says VC-Turbo gives the engine the smoothness and punch of a big V6 while letting it consume no more fuel than a typical four-cylinder.

Sure enough, when you hit the accelerator you're left in no doubt that every one of the 268 horses under the bonnet is in extremely good health.

Infiniti says the QX50 will do 0-100km/h in 8.3 seconds, but it feels so much faster than that. It also has a Continuously Variable Transmission that feels like one of the best in the business, responding quickly and smoothly in a way that helps the engine deliver an unrelenting surge of power and torque at any speed.

What's even more impressive is how smoothly the engine goes about its business, a handy side-effect of the VC-Turbo gubbins.

There's so little vibration when the engine starts up that you'd swear the starter button somehow got disconnected.

It's not just the QX50's engine that's a smooth operator, but the ride too. It floats over rough roadworks and cushions road humps both big and small, despite wearing huge 20-inch rims.

A couple of competitors might be more fun to hustle through bends, but none of them can quite match the Infiniti's suppleness. In fact, its refinement on the move is such that it out-Lexuses the Lexus NX.

If the suspension makes the QX50 a joy to ride in, it's the car's cabin that makes it nice to simply sit in. There is plenty of legroom, a gargantuan 881-litre boot, the front seats are ventilated, and the swathes of open-pore wood and fuzzy Alcantara (a suede-like material) feel suitably plush. The QX50's biggest drawback is its infotainment system, which is clunky to operate, with a bizarre twin-screen setup that is neither consistent in its looks nor its controls.

The top screen - reserved for the map and 360-degree camera - is controlled by a rotary dial or steering wheel buttons, while the 7.0-inch screen on the bottom, where you input navigation settings and sync your phone, is tricky to use. It's touch-operated but the keys are small and the display is way below your sightline.

Using it, you half expect 2009 to call and ask for its graphics back, too.

At least the climate controls, probably the most important ones given our weather, are physical buttons which are less distracting.

While the digital systems could use updating, the QX50's engine feels state-of-the-art enough to be a valuable ace card.

This is obviously a vehicle for people who value a lot of oomph in their car, and its case is bolstered by how it outguns the competition while being no more expensive: pricing for the QX50 starts at S$185,800 with Certificate of Entitlement, for which you can only get the least powerful variants of its rivals.

That it aims to give more for less is straight out of the Japanese luxury car playbook, anyway. To establish itself in the early days, Lexus had to make its cars better than Mercedes did, after all. And in this segment, at least, Infiniti goes further by building a car that's better than its Lexus equivalent.

Whether that's enough to wow your friends is anyone's guess, but the QX50's ferocious acceleration will certainly take their breath away.


Infiniti QX50 Sensory Engine

Engine 1,997cc, inline 4, turbocharged
Power 268hp at 5,600rpm
Torque 380Nm at 1,600-4,800rpm
Gearbox Continuously Variable Transmission
Top Speed 230km/h
0-100km/h 8.3 seconds
Fuel efficiency 8.7L/100km
Price S$202,800 with COE
Agent Wearnes Automotive
Available now