New Engine Tech Hits the Highway
Infiniti brought world media members to Los Angeles in mid-January to learn about and drive the all-new 2019 QX50. When Infiniti says all-new, they mean it, as there is no carry-over from the outgoing model.
While there are many design changes on the 2019 QX50, the most important technology advancement is the all-new VC-Turbo, the world’s first variable compression engine. Automakers make all sorts of claims about being first and the best, but when Infiniti explained in detail the 20 years of engineering that went into the VC-Turbo, and then let the media drive the QX50 hard through mountain terrain, we became believers.
The 2019 QX50 midsize crossover is only offered with the VC-Turbo power plant, with “only” not being pejorative in any way. The 2.0-liter inline four-cylinder engine has 269 horsepower and a very useable 280 pounds-feet of torque that spools-up for max performance between 1,600-4,800 rpm. But what exactly is a Variable Compression Turbo engine, and what makes it so revolutionary?
- What it does: The VC-Turbo engine has multi-link components and continuously adjusts the compression between 8:1 (greater power and torque) and 14:1 (greater fuel efficiency), so engine optimization is on an instantaneous need basis.
- If the computer senses the need, the compression ratio can also adjust to 10.5:1.
- How it does it: The VC-Turbo engine has a small electric motor mounted to the lower part of the engine. Connected to this motor is a harmonic drive with a control arm. When rotating, the control arm moves the multi-link system, which changes and adjusts the piston positions–and the corresponding compression. All this is going on seamlessly, at all speeds and all demands on the engine.
On the Road
As hard as I tried while driving (creeping) through Beverly Hills or on the Ventura Highway at 75 mph, and then through the Santa Monica Mountains with speeds varying from slow to high-speed corners, I was unable to feel the variable compression taking place, nor was I able to trick the engine into trying to find the correct compression for my driving style. The smooth turbocharger, as
well as the direct and port injection, played a big part in how well the VC-Turbo performed. This is a wonderful engine.
VC-Turbo fuel economy, compared to the outgoing 2018 QX50 with the V6 engine, nets a 35-percent bump in the front-wheel drive model. EPA fuel economy ratings for the FWD are 24 city/31 highway/27 combined and 24/30/26 for the AWD model, making the QX50 a candidate for Clean Fleet Report’s 30 MPG AWD Club.
The premium-fuel engine is mated to a continuously variable transmission (CVT) in both configurations. The shift-by-wire CVT allows for manual shifting and is programmed to simulate a six-speed automatic with shift points. Infiniti lets the driver choose exactly how they want their VC-Turbo and CVT to perform with four Drive Mode options–Standard, Eco, Personal and Sport.
The Eco mode is best for open highways, where the engine and transmission can maximize fuel economy. Standard is for everyday around-town driving, but Sport is where the 2019 QX50 comes to life. Selecting Sport offers the most spirited driving, adjusting the engine to deliver higher power and torque. With the optional Direct Adaptive Steering set to Dynamic+ you get the most responsive steering available. I tried all the settings and, except for long highway runs, Sport and Dynamic+ are where I wanted to be. It was good fun pushing the 3,952-pound QX50 deep into corners, feeling confidence that the AWD system would grip and keep us planted to the road. Overall, the CVT worked as well as others on the market, which for some people is not saying much. For Infiniti, the CVT helps them achieve a smooth driving experience while maximizing fuel economy. I am sure there are some cost savings in the equation too. If you are an aggressive driver who is always pushing the limit, then the QX50 is not for you. However, if you are using the QX50 for what it was designed to do, then you will find the CVT to be to your liking.
New Design: In and Out
Styling on the 2019 Infiniti QX50 is sleeker and more contemporary than the previous model. The noticeable visual detail from the side is the kink in the D pillar. Infiniti has had this on several previous SUVs with different levels of design success. On the 2019 QX50 it looks right and is a positive design feature. Moving from a V6 to an I4 engine allowed for more front-end space, with the interior benefiting.
Carrying the Infiniti name and reputation means the QX50 is a premium crossover. The interior gets an update with the top trim levels including quilted seats and suede trim. It all works very nicely. All the operating systems, such as infotainment and power-everything are all there, and will be described in detail when Clean Fleet Report has the all-new QX50 for a week-long test drive. Suffice it to say that, if you want something on a new car, it is to be found on the QX50.
Along with the suite of advanced driver assistance technology, new on the 2019 QX50 is ProPilot Assist, which Infiniti repeatedly stressed is NOT autopilot. This system is hands-on and, when engaged, aids the driver keeping the QX50 centered between lane lines and can even bring the car to a complete stop in an emergency. Until the day comes where cars are completely autonomous, consider systems like ProPilot Assist to be very advanced cruise control that can reduce driver stress and fatigue while in stop-and-go traffic, or on long distance drives.
Observations: 2019 Infiniti QX50
Infiniti got the 2019 QX50 right, starting with contemporary exterior styling and premium interior materials. Size-wise, it is small enough to whip around in-town, but large enough inside to carry five full-size adults. The base QX50 in FWD starts at $36,550 and the AWD version starts at $45,150. Options, tax and destination fees will be extra.
Where Infiniti really did a great job is the all-new and first-to-market VC-Turbo engine. Twenty years of engineering innovation and development has resulted in an engine with diesel-like fuel economy, coming from a relatively small 2.0L engine that has a very useable torque band. It’s encouraging to see that gasoline-powered engines are still being improved upon.
For the family, the 2019 Infiniti QX50 will be perfect for everyday needs as well as long vacations. It’s priced competitively.
Flash Drive: Clean Fleet Report “Flash Drives” are concise reviews of vehicles that include the major points and are easy and quick to read. A “Flash Drive” is often followed later by a comprehensive test drive review.
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Clean Fleet Report is loaned free test vehicles from automakers to evaluate, typically for a week at a time. Our road tests are based on this one-week drive of a new vehicle. Because of this we don’t address issues such as long-term reliability or total cost of ownership. In addition, we are often invited to manufacturer events highlighting new vehicles or technology. As part of these events we may be offered free transportation, lodging or meals. We do our best to present our unvarnished evaluations of vehicles and news irrespective of these inducements.
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