2020 Infiniti QX50 review: A good value made better – Roadshow

2020 Infiniti QX50 Autograph

Visually, the QX50 is the same as last year’s model.


Antuan Goodwin/Roadshow

The 2020 Infiniti QX50 is basically the same car we reviewed last year, with the same potent-yet-thrifty VC-Turbo powertrain, the same smart ProPilot Assist driver-assistance technology and the very same opulent blue-and-white leather interior. But it’s not exactly the same.

Like

  • Sharp design inside and out, especially with the white leather
  • The VC-Turbo engine provides excellent fuel economy and strong performance
  • More standard features and updated tech makes the 2020 model an even better bargain

Don’t Like

  • Tech updates are nice, but the dual display bones are awkward to use
  • The best ProPilot Assist tech isn’t available until nearly the top trim level

Infiniti has been uncharacteristically nimble with updating its small luxury SUV, tweaking the packing and tech just one year after this generation’s launch. The changes are subtle, but with competition so fierce in this class, every bit of edge matters. For 2020, the QX50 comes out more competitive than ever.

Better tech

Perhaps the most noteworthy change for the 2020 model year is the updated cabin technology suite. Oh, it still uses the same awkward, dual-screen setup, splitting the interface between an 8-inch display up top and a 7-inch screen below. But resolution for the upper unit has been bumped up and the on-screen graphics are now crisp and vibrant. Touch responsiveness has also been improved for both the top and bottom screens.

The physical control knob on the center console remains, allowing drivers to take control of the upper display without having to reach — it’s pretty far up there — or smudge the screen with fingerprints. These functions are replicated, somewhat, by a thumb switch on the steering wheel, which is nice.

The organization of the software that powers those displays, however, hasn’t changed much from last year. The upper display is primarily where the map for navigation lives and where the rear- and surround-view camera feeds show up. The optional navigation software has been updated with higher-resolution maps to better take advantage of the high-res display, and the functionality still gets the job done. The lower screen handles most of the heavy lifting with dedicated shortcut icons, destination input for navigation, settings, handsfree calling and audio controls, as well as secondary functions such as monitoring fuel economy or SiriusXM alerts for stock prices, weather, etc. 

Overall, the system doesn’t seem to actually do anything that you couldn’t get done with a single screen and smarter interface design.


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Infiniti’s system is still a bit clunky to use, but thankfully, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay connectivity are now standard for the QX50. Plug in via USB and your automotive-phone interface of choice will appear on the upper display where it can be controlled via touch input or the physical knob. Neither is really ideal. The physical controller isn’t quite optimized for Android Auto, so making selections or moving between the onscreen zones is tricky. I found it best to use the touchscreen directly, but as mentioned, the upper display can be quite a reach depending on your seating position. You might want to scooch up a bit.

Blink and you’ll miss that one of the QX50’s two dashboard USB ports has been converted to a type-C connection — the other remains the familiar, rectangular type-A port. It’s a nice touch for people who’ve converted all of their gadgets to type-C, but I don’t believe there are any function advantages beyond the connection itself. Both ports charged my Google Pixel 4XL at the same speed when connected.

More standard features

The available safety tech hasn’t changed for the 2020 model year, but a number of once-optional technologies are now standard across the QX50 lineup. This adds a bit to the starting price, but I think the extra value is worth it.

The SUV now offers lane-departure warning, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert with automatic braking and automatic high beams without checking a single option box. Those new standard features are in addition to the forward-collision warning with pedestrian detection and automatic braking, rear parking sensors and rear-view camera that carries over from last year. A surround-view camera is an optional upgrade.

Work your way up the trim level ladder to unlock Nissan/Infiniti’s ProPilot Assist. This combination of advanced adaptive cruise and lane-keeping tech will maintain a following distance behind a leading vehicle — all the way down to a complete stop — and center the QX50 in its lane with a single button press. The tech adds peace of mind during a long highway cruise, allowing the driver to relax a bit. However, you must keep your hands on the wheel at all times.

If ProPilot detects you’re going hands-off or getting drowsy, it will first beep and flash warnings, then tap the brakes in an attempt to jolt the driver awake. If that doesn’t get your hands back on the wheel — perhaps there’s a medical emergency that’s has incapacitated the driver — ProPilot will slow the vehicle to a stop within its lane and activate the hazard lights.

VC-Turbo performance

The QX50’s VC-Turbo engine is an interesting setup. The 2.0-liter, turbocharged four-cylinder uses a novel variable-displacement system that can alter the engine’s compression ratio on the fly, going from thrifty to powerful with a nudge of the accelerator. Tip into the power and the QX50 is good for 268 horsepower and 280 pound-feet of torque. Sounds good, right? 

I didn’t love QX50’s powertrain as much as some of my colleagues do. Maybe it’s the standard continuously variable transmission (CVT) that, while well-tuned, feels a bit rubber-bandy in the midrange. Maybe it’s the lag in throttle response when waiting for the VC-Turbo to flip between its two compression modes. Whatever is to blame, I always feel like the QX50 is two or three seconds behind me, whether it’s to accelerate for a pass or giving me power when exiting a bend. 

I wish the powertrain was more responsive, but even I can appreciate how well-balanced the 2020 QX50’s performance and efficiency can be.


Antuan Goodwin/Roadshow

That said, I don’t dislike the performance, either. As is often the case, more relaxed drivers will probably not mind a little bit of lag and the patient will be rewarded with what could be described as a powerful V6-feel once the CVT and VC-Turbo system get on the same page. The ride is comfortable and the cabin is as quiet as you’d expect from any vehicle this class, keeping road and wind noise largely in check. The optional Direct Adaptive Steering — standard equipment on my Autograph model — allows me to toggle the steering feel, weight and responsiveness between a nicely tuned Comfort setting and a more awake Sport mode with a smaller on-center dead zone.

On the thrifty side of the equation, you’re looking at 26 miles per gallon combined (23 city, 29 highway) for the front-wheel-drive configuration. All-wheel drive — a $2,000 option — also costs you a few mpg, dropping to 22 city, 28 highway and 25 combined. My AWD example rounded out the week with an average of 25.9 mpg on the trip computer, which is pretty good for this class. Not counting hybrid models, only the BMW X3 xDrive30i edges it out when comparably equipped with a 26-mpg combined estimate.

Sensory and Autograph Editions

The 2020 tweaks continue with two new trim levels at the top of the lineup – the Autograph and Sensory — in addition to the carryover Pure, Luxe and Essential models. 

The new-for-2020 QX50 Sensory ($48,900), gets you 20-inch wheels, Bose audio, “Cube Design” LED headlamps, leather seats and blind-spot intervention — an active safety upgrade to blind-spot monitoring that uses bias-brake intervention to prevent merging into a vehicle. 

Between Pure, Luxe, Essential, Sensory and Autograph, the QX50 may win the award for Most Ornamental Trim Names this year.


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Sensory is also the lowest trim level where you can opt for ProPilot Assist — part of a $1,600 Proactive package that includes a head-up display, traffic sign recognition and adaptive steering, and has a $1,050 tri-zone climate package prerequisite. Factor in the $1,025 destination charge and the least expensive path to the QX50’s best safety feature is $52,575.

The top-of-the-line QX50 Autograph ($53,850) is now a trim level, rather than a special package. Autograph models add standard ProPilot Assist, 20-inch wheels, a head-up display and tri-zone climate controls with a Plasmacluster air purifier system that claims help keep the cabin smelling fresh by automatically sense exterior odors and scrubbing the air. At $2,300 more than the optioned up Sensory model, it doesn’t seem like that great a deal. Then again, if you’ve checked the box for Autograph without also checking the box for the $2,000 Premium White Leather package, you’re sort of missing the point of this trim level. 

The $2,000 Premium White Leather package outfits the QX50 Autograph with a unique cabin color scheme that matches creamy white and chocolate brown leather upholstery with Pantone 2019 Color of the Year “Classic Blue” suede trim. Exposed maple wood details and satin finish metallic touches complete the look, setting this QX50 apart from its ilk. As a luxury upgrade, this cabin punches well above its weight class for the money. Slap on AWD, illuminated kick plates ($485) and welcome lighting ($425) to reach my lofty as-tested price of $59,785.

Do not let your kids eat in here unless you enjoy scrubbing chocolate out of white, quilted, perforated leather seats.


Antuan Goodwin/Roadshow

How I’d spec it

The fully kitted Autograph is dope, but it’s the lower trim levels benefit most from the new standard safety features and the improvements to the cabin tech. The base 2020 QX50 Pure is a very good value for its $37,250 asking price with its 19-inch wheels, keyless entry and push-button start, while the Luxe ($40,250) adds nice-to-haves like a panoramic moonroof, LED foglamps and roof rails.

The sweet spot is the 2020 QX50 Essential ($44,100) which adds useful features including a surround-view camera and Automatic Collision Notification, which calls emergency services if you’re in an accident. Essential models can be further upgraded with an $800 Pro Assist package — not ProPilot Assist, mind you — that adds adaptive cruise control, lane-departure prevention, blind-spot intervention and those “Cube Design” LED headlamps with adaptive lighting. This level of adaptive cruise won’t work in stop-and-go traffic and the steering assist won’t center the QX50 like ProPilot Assist will, but this package will get you very well-equipped for about $45,925 — about $6,650 less than a Sensory with ProPilot or $13,860 less than my as-tested Autograph. 

Stiff competition

I’m not saying you should avoid the white leather Autograph, but you’ve really gotta like this car to spend almost 60 grand on it. At the entry level and mid-range, the 2020 Infiniti QX50 is an excellent value and very competitive in this small luxury SUV class that includes the Acura RDX, Audi Q5, BMW X3, Cadillac XT5 and Lexus NX — not the best, but competitive for sure, with one of the largest cargo capacities and fuel economy at the top of its class. And, despite a slight price bump for 2020, it still manages to come in cheaper than all but the Lexus NX 300.

Yes, I wish the powertrain was more responsive, but even I can appreciate how well-balanced the 2020 QX50’s performance and efficiency can be. And now, with smarter packaging and better tech, it’s even better than before.

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