The verdict: The 2021 Infiniti QX50 is gorgeous, with evocative exterior styling and a dazzling cabin, but it’s not enough to distract from an unrefined powertrain and clunky multimedia system.
Versus the competition: Although the QX50 stands above the pack in cabin refinement, competitors offer more polished road manners and more modern controls.
The QX50 was redesigned for 2019. Infiniti added Apple CarPlay and Android Auto for 2020, and a few more convenience and safety features — such as Wi-Fi hot-spot capability and additional airbags — were made standard for 2021. The QX50 competes against the likes of the Acura RDX, Audi Q5 and Volvo XC60; see them compared. The QX55, a related SUV with swoopier styling, is coming for 2022.
Dazzling Cabin, Tired Controls
The QX50’s ooh-and-ahh-worthy cabin is its most becoming feature, and it’s the only part of the SUV that sold me on its luxury pedigree. I tested the top trim, called the Autograph, and was impressed by its well-done interior — from supple quilted leather seats with contrast piping to a classy dash and doors covered in high-quality materials. The convincing faux suede headliner and cabin trim, as well as silver-accented maple wood panels, combine for a rich, premium look and feel.
Alas, this vibe is short-lived, and the disjointed controls are to blame. The QX50 uses the latest version of Infiniti’s dual-screen InTouch multimedia system — quite a departure from the Audi Q5 and Volvo XC60’s slick, large single-screen setups. Yes, InTouch does at least include Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, but that’s the only modern thing about it.
The system comprises two displays: 8 inches for the upper unit, 7 inches for the lower. The menu structure is straightforward for the most part, but the setup is just odd. The top screen in the QX50 I drove was home to just the navigation and backup camera display, and it could function as a touchscreen or via a rotary dial near the center console. This screen looked to be lower resolution than the bottom screen, and its graphics looked retro (and not in a cool way). It was also fairly unresponsive; some inputs required multiple touches to register.
Scoot down an inch, though, and you’ll find what seems to be a totally different system. The bottom touchscreen has sharper graphics and a more modern design, and it’s quicker to respond. The physical climate buttons to either side of it are straightforward, and I enjoyed the handy placement of the large, central volume knob under the screen. Put them together and the two-screen system isn’t terrible, just strange. Competitors are better integrated.
The cabin stands out in other ways, too — many of them positive. Both the backseat and the cargo area are generous, with adult-friendly space in both rows and reclining and sliding adjustments for the backseat. I installed two child-safety seats with ease, thanks to exposed lower Latch anchors and ample backseat legroom. Check out our full Car Seat Check on the 2021 Infiniti QX50.
Behind the seats is a deep cargo area with a wide opening, offering a surprising amount of space for a vehicle with such tidy dimensions. Infiniti says the QX50 has 31.4 cubic feet of room; that’s a good deal more than Audi reports for the Q5 or Volvo for the XC60, and just a bit more than Acura reports for the RDX.
A Powertrain in Need of Polish
The biggest blow to the QX50’s premium vibe came from under the hood. The SUV is slow and cranky — not a good look for something that claims both sportiness and luxury. The Infiniti’s 268-horsepower, turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine works with a continuously variable automatic transmission, and the pair feels and sounds stressed. It’s especially bad from a stop, when power is sluggish, and it gets loud even under light acceleration.
I blame the CVT; Infiniti says its artificial “shifts” are meant to emulate traditional gear changes to make for a more regular, stepped feel, but instead they’re rough and oddly timed, making for uneven acceleration. Things settle down on the highway, where there’s decent mid-range punch and more natural power delivery.
What the CVT is good for, however, is fuel economy. The QX50 gets decent mileage, but so do its competitors: With all-wheel drive, the 2021 QX50 gets an EPA-estimated 22/28/25 mpg city/highway/combined. Front-drive models are rated a smidge higher, at 26 mpg combined. The AWD-only Q5 is rated 23/28/25 mpg, and all-wheel-drive versions of the RDX (21/27/23 mpg) and XC40 (22/30/25 mpg) are also close. The XC60 and Q5 also have more fuel-efficient hybrid versions available.
The QX50’s ride quality dips back into premium territory. It’s comfortable and composed, with good bump absorption and overall isolation. The cabin is also fairly well hushed from road and wind noise.
It handles decently, too. Although it’s not as precise as it could be — the Q5 feels more crisp — body roll is well checked and maneuverability is great thanks to a tight turning circle. Steering feel is mixed, however, likely due to Infiniti’s steer-by-wire setup, which it calls Direct Adaptive Steering. It reduces steering effort at low speeds, which is nice, but there’s not a lot of feedback at higher speeds and steering response is mushy.
Safety and Value
The 2021 Infiniti QX50 starts at $38,975 in its base front-wheel-drive Pure trim; AWD adds another $2,000. Rivals start higher: The Q5 is $44,395 with standard AWD, the RDX starts at $39,225 with front-wheel drive or $41,225 with AWD, and the XC60 is $42,695 with front drive or $44,995 with AWD (all prices include destination). My test car, an Autograph AWD, cost $61,765 with premium extras like upgraded leather, welcome lighting and special paint. That’s a hefty sum for a vehicle that’s hot and cold when it comes to delivering a luxury experience.
The QX50 at least delivers on safety and driver-assistance features. Forward collision warning and automatic emergency braking are standard, as are blind spot warning, rear cross-traffic alert, lane departure warning, high-beam assist and rear automatic braking. Also standard for 2021 are two new safety features: rear-seat mounted side-impact supplemental airbags and automatic collision notification with an emergency call system.
Also impressive is an available ProPilot Assist driver-assistance system. The semi-autonomous system works with adaptive cruise control and lane-centering steering to control the car both at highway speeds and all the way down to a stop. It’s easy to engage via a steering-wheel button and is a nice driving aid, but it isn’t a hands-free system, as several brands will soon offer.
Ultimately, the 2021 QX50 dazzles on a superficial level thanks to a posh interior and elegant exterior, but it’s just not enough; there needs to be some substance under that style for it to live up to its price.
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