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New Cars Review: With Infiniti’s QX50, the variable compression ratio engine is here ... hang on, the what?

The big selling point of Infiniti's all-new 2019 QX50 mid-size SUV is its variable compression ratio engine.

Petrina Gentile

Does “the world’s first production-ready variable compression ratio engine” mean anything to you? For general automotive consumers, perhaps not a thing – at least, not yet. But that’s the big selling point of Infiniti’s all-new 2019 QX50 mid-size SUV.

The 2.0-litre VC-Turbo (short for variable compression-turbocharged), four-cylinder gas engine isn’t like a conventional combustion engine because the compression ratio can change on the fly.

Why? To optimize power and efficiency.

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How? It varies the distance the pistons travel – anywhere from an 8:1 low-compression ratio when you want the power of a much larger engine, up to 14:1 ratio which gives you the best in-class fuel economy and efficiency.

According to Infiniti, the engine is up to 25 per cent more fuel-efficient than the outgoing 3.7-litre V-6, which averaged 11.9 litres/100 km combined highway and city driving. The official fuel economy rating on the new QX50 is 9.0 litres/100 km combined driving. And while logging about 300 kilometres to Niagara and back to Toronto, the turbo engine lived up to its claim, averaging 9.1 litres/100 km combined -–not bad for an all-wheel-drive SUV weighing in at 1,795 kilograms.

The competition is fierce: Audi Q5, BMW X3, Lexus NX and Porsche Macan, to name a few. I drove the same route – Toronto to Niagara-on-the-Lake – just days later in an all-new 2019 Acura RDX, another competitor of the QX50. Compared with the Infiniti, the Acura was thirstier. Even with fuel-saving technology such as an engine auto-start-stop function that kills the engine when stopped, the reading on the dash of the RDX all-wheel-drive model was 11.1 litres/100 km.

The QX50's innovative driving assistance technologies such as ProPilot Assist help to make mundane highway drive more bearable.

Petrina Gentile

On the road, the QX50 is smooth and refined, yet with 268 horsepower and 280 lb.-ft. of torque, it’s also gutsy, powerful and agile, and hugs winding country roads nicely. The cabin is comfortable and whisper-quiet – the noise, vibration and harshness have improved since the last model. On the downside: the continuously variable transmission had a touch of lag and hesitation off the line.

The QX50 has four driving modes: Standard, for normal driving conditions; Eco, which automatically adjusts the engine output to optimize fuel efficiency; Sport, with faster throttle responses; Personal, where you can individually adjust transmission shifts, steering mode and steering response. Sport mode is definitely the best.

Innovative driving assistance technologies such as ProPilot Assist help to make mundane highway drive more bearable. While not as advanced as Mercedes-Benz or Tesla driving assist systems, it’s easy to use. You simply push a blue button on the steering wheel. The ProPilot technology is a hands-on system that has steering-assist to keep you within the lane markers and intelligent cruise control, which can apply the throttle and brake as needed – without the driver touching a pedal – while on a single-lane highway. The system works well. As does the other technology, including the back-up collision intervention system, the predictive forward collision warning system, the lane departure warning and prevention system, and the head-up display.

Built on an all-new platform and redesigned inside and outside, the QX50 comes in five trims, starting at $44,490.

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Tech specs

  • Base price: $44,490
  • Engine: 2.0-litre VC-Turbo four-cylinder engine with 268 horsepower and 280 lb.-ft. of torque
  • Transmission/Drive: CVT/All-wheel
  • Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 10.0 city; 7.8 highway
  • Alternatives: Acura RDX, Lexus NX, Audi Q5, BMW X3, Mercedes-Benz GLC, Porsche Macan

Looks

Like the competition in this over-crowded segment, the styling won’t stop people in their tracks. It’s a tasteful, attractive design with a sloped, aerodynamic roofline and distinct rear-quarter windows.

Interior

The 60/40 split rear bench seats recline and slide back-and-forth for extra legroom and space.

Petrina Gentile/The Globe and Mail

Inviting, upscale, spacious and well-appointed cabin with comfy, quilted white leather seats on my tester. Modern, high-tech feel with dual touchscreens for the navigation system (on the upper screen) and apps to access everything from the driver assistance systems to the phone to the vehicle settings (on the lower screen). The 60/40 split rear bench seats recline and slide back-and-forth for extra legroom and space. A huge panoramic moon roof makes it feel light and airy in the cabin, even when seated in the rear.

Performance

The 2.0-litre VC-Turbo, four-cylinder gas engine isn’t like a conventional combustion engine because the compression ratio can change on the fly.

Petrina Gentile

Powerful, refined, smooth new VC-Turbo I-4 engine that returns excellent fuel economy savings. Officials say the new engine combines the power of a 2.0-litre turbocharged gas engine with the torque and efficiency of a four-cylinder diesel engine. On the downside: the CVT. It’s nothing to write home about.

Technology

Loaded with available driver assistance technologies to keep you safer on the road, including ProPilot Assist with steering assist and intelligent cruise control, forward emergency braking with pedestrian detection, high beam assist, heads-up display and direct adaptive steering. Unfortunately, there’s no Apple CarPlay or Android Auto capability.

Cargo

With the rear seats upright and in the rear-most position there’s a huge cargo area – 880 litres.

Petrina Gentile

Excellent cargo space for everything from golf clubs, hockey bags and groceries. With the rear seats upright and in the rear-most position there’s a huge cargo area – 880 litres. The cargo space expands to 1,822 litres when you fold down the rear seats. Under-floor storage is smart for hiding valuable items out of sight.

The verdict: 8.0

Consumers should be drawn to the QX50 for its fuel-efficiency, pleasant road manners and upscale, spacious interior.

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