Behind The Wheel: Infiniti — legroom, features, lower price

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Infiniti has added more legroom, standard equipment and technological features to its QX50 compact luxury SUV this year, all while lowering its starting retail price by $550.

The redesigned five-door QX50 also looks better, proportionally, because it is 4.5 inches longer, allowing it to give back-seat passengers more legroom.

Nothing has changed under the hood, where a stalwart 325-horsepower V-6 and seven-speed automatic transmission deliver sporty performance. And Consumer Reports predicts that the 2016 QX50, which is made in Japan, will have "good" reliability.

Judging by U.S. sales that are more than five times what they were for last year's model, the 2016 QX50 appears to have found a sweet spot by combining strong power and sporty handling with a nicely sized and appointed package at a competitive price.

Savvy shoppers know that the appeal isn't just the starting manufacturer's suggested retail prices, including destination charge, of $35,445 for the two-wheel drive 2016 QX50 and $36,845 for an all-wheel drive version.

These base prices include standard equipment that can cost extra in other compact luxury SUVs: Attractive leather upholstery, a power-operated moonroof, heated front seats and power adjustments for both front seats.

Better technology

More technology than ever is available this year, including a long list of safety features that includes distance control assist, which alerts the driver when the QX50's laser sensors detect that the vehicle ahead is slowing.

Another special attribute is that two-wheel drive QX50 is rear-drive. Even the all-wheel drive QX50 has power that's biased toward the rear wheels in normal driving. Rear-wheel drive is associated with performance vehicles that emphasize handling.

Then there's the QX50's 3.7-liter double overhead cam V-6, which comes from a much-lauded VQ family of engines. It is more powerful than those of competitors such as the 2016 Audi Q5, with its base 220-horsepower four-cylinder engine, and the 2016 Lexus NX200t, with its 235-horsepower four-cylinder.

In fact, the estimated 0-to-60-mph time for the QX50 is a sporty 5.5 seconds.

The QX50's quickness comes from its power-on-demand 267 foot-pounds of torque that compares with 260 foot-pounds of torque in a 2016 BMW X3. It's not turbo power, but it is forceful.

The performance was immediately noticeable in the test-driven QX50. The throttle tip-in, which is the quick response of power that comes with just a slight nudge of the accelerator pedal, was sensitive. The vehicle felt eager to get up to speed and it moved along easily in city and highway traffic, with the engine sounding strong and confident.

But the QX50 gulps fuel. The federal government fuel economy rating for the two- and all-wheel drive models of the 2016 QX50 is 17 mpg in city driving and 24 mpg on highways for a combined average of 20 mpg. Those numbers are on par with some larger vehicles, such as the 2016 Ford Explorer, which has three rows of seats. And the test-driven QX50 averaged less than the government's estimate in city/highway travel and had a driving range on a single tank of premium gasoline of 380 miles.

The back seat is much more comfortable now, with 35.3 inches of legroom instead of the 28.5 inches in the last model.

Front seat legroom remains a generous 44.3 inches. Virtually all the vehicle's extra length for 2016 went to the back seat, as cargo space behind the rear seats remains at 18.6 cubic feet.

A nice optional feature is power-up control via a button to return the folding rear seats upright.

The test-driven QX50 had optional 19-inch tires and rode well, keeping harshness away from passengers yet giving the driver a connected-to-the-road feel. Road noise intruded on rough pavement and there was some wind noise at highway speeds.


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