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2019 Infiniti QX50 a well-engineered CUV that hits hard on fuel economy, safety

Infiniti launched its all-new QX50 crossover into a hugely-competitive segment brimming with well-established competition. A few big stories are in play to help this latest offering from the Japanese luxury brand to stand out.

First, some background.

The new styling language sees the QX50 come off as quietly upscale and premium, but not glitzy, overdone, gaudy, or chromed-out like something a real-estate agent on HGTV might arrive in.

Like its competitors, QX50 has five seats, good cargo space, lots of safety, tech, luxury and all-wheel drive. On the surface it’s not dramatically different from the other dozen or more competitors it might be cross-shopped against.

But there are some stand-out reasons to consider it and you might say that Infiniti aims for the front of the pack on two specific fronts — fuel consumption and safety equipment.

On the first topic is the new engine, a very special new variable compression ratio turbo engine (aka, the VC Turbo). This two-litre, four-cylinder comes turbocharged for 268 horsepower and is also the world’s first production engine that can actively alter its compression ratio on the fly.

This is a holy grail of flexibility when it comes to efficient and compromise-free performance.

In oversimplified terms, this engine can instantly and intelligently alter the travel length, or ‘stroke’ of the pistons within their cylinders. In every other engine, the stroke (and therefore, the compression ratio) is fixed. In the QX50, it can shift from an 8 to 1 to a 14 to 1 compression ratio on the fly, which gives drivers pleasing performance and excellent fuel mileage without compromise.

The technology works. I enjoyed the engine’s punchy performance, all-RPM responsiveness and a fuel bill on my watch comparable to a (much less powerful) Honda CR-V or Toyota RAV4.

All of the compression-ratio altering witchcraft happens without anything detectable or audible to the driver. You get plenty of sauce, a reduced fuel bill, and no detectable compromise.

The other big story is on the safety front. Click a little button and you activate the ProPilot Assist system, which uses a networked array of cameras and radar and sensors to help the QX50 analyze and understand its surroundings.

Infiniti says its shoppers don’t want autonomous driving, so these features are instead intended to work with (and not in place) of your safe and attentive driving for another layer of peace of mind. You’re still in control and can turn the systems on and off, entirely or individually, as you like.

When ProPilot assist engages the steering stiffens up dramatically in your hands, encouraging you to let the system do most of the work for you, while it follows the lane markings and steers, ever so slightly, to help “magnetize” the vehicle to the centre of its lane.

If someone runs behind you while reversing, the QX50 can stop itself automatically. Come up on slower traffic and the cruise control slows you down to maintain a safe distance. The list goes on.

Best of all, the systems mostly do their work in smooth, seamless and natural fashion, feeling like they’re working with you, not for you.

I did note one problem though, related to the automatic high beams which exist somewhere beneath this advanced safety umbrella. This system often seemed confused and failed to activate when I’d like them to.

On several occasions they blinded oncoming motorists. Work the lights manually and their performance easily puts them up with the best headlights I’ve recently used.

In back, the cargo hold is big, wide and low, making it easy to insert and remove gear and groceries. The low floor height can aid the entry and exit of your family canine(s) if they ride in the back.

Further ahead, there’s little issue fitting two average-sized adults in the rear seats, though headroom will disappear most quickly for larger occupants.

Up front, there’s room to spare, plenty of nearby storage, and plenty of tactile and touch-screen controls for easy access to a multitude of functions, once you’ve gotten comfortable with where everything is.

The interior styling reflects the exterior — upscale but tidy and simple, sophisticated and rich without overdoing it, and packed with delightful touches that help make it look and feel that little bit more expensive.

That is, other than the dual-screen infotainment system which sees two screens stacked over top of one another. The top screen is fairly low in resolution and looks like a carry-over from 2009.

Feature content goodies on my high-end “Sensory” grade tester included a big sunroof, the punchy 16-speaker BOSE Performance Series stereo, remote start and climate-controlled seats.

There’s also a drive-mode selector — toggle the modes to trigger various changes to the QX50’s systems that tweak the feel and response of the vehicle for standard driving, extra sporty driving, or extra economical driving.

The ride is semi-sporty, mostly comfortable, a touch on the athletic side, and never feels like a soggy tarmac waffle or a harsh and stiff sports car. It’s largely firm and dense on rougher in-town roads without typically crashing into bumps. Mostly, it rides in the middle ground between sporty and squishy.

The feel of the steering and brakes are both unremarkable; each system performs well enough and the brakes get the QX50 stopped in quick order with minimal fuss.

Still, here’s a machine that feels built to wow more with the looks and tech than the way it feels and responds at the tips of your fingers and toes.

Expect excellent throttle response virtually everywhere, though a big stomp on the throttle is required to get things firing along urgently.

Here, the sound is pure four-cylinder, but it’s a smooth sound and the engine operates with refinement, even pushed. Drive gently and you hardly hear or feel a thing.

After a week, I found the QX50’s central dual-screen display to dull the appeal a little, though a pleasing cabin, excellent headlights and a fantastic driveline that’s punchy, smooth and excellent on fuel were easily appreciated.

Take this machine as a sign of where things are going; shoppers are demanding higher efficiency, higher levels of safety and confidence, and minimal compromise and that’s just what this QX50 delivers. Pricing from the mid 40s.

The specs

Model: 2019 Infiniti QX50

Engine: two-litre, four-cylinder, VC Turbo, 268-horsepower

Drivetrain: all-wheel drive

Transmission: CVT with paddle shift

Features: Power tailgate, memory seats, climate controlled seats, BOSE stereo, steerable LED lights, ProPilot assist system, navigation, push-button start, heads up display

What’s hot: great performance and fuel economy, elegant styling, upscale cabin, loaded with safety technology, powerful stereo

What’s not: strange dual-screen display setup, low-resolution backup camera displays

Price as tested (QX50 Sensory): $56,490

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