Infiniti wants so badly to show that it is back on the comeback trail.
It wants to do that so badly that it made a big marketing and P.R. push around the QX55 crossover. It even trailered the vehicle to journalists’ homes when it came time for each writer’s turn to evaluate the vehicle.
I declined the trailering – it’s not very TTAC-like, and the fact that my residence is located in a densely packed neighborhood on Chicago’s North Side would have made it a logistical nightmare – but that didn’t stop Infiniti from arranging a one-day loan anyway.
At first glance, the QX55 will remind those with long memories of the old FX crossovers/wagons. Those tended to be loved, and I still remember one of the cooler car ads of all time being associated with those. It features a couple gone antiquing, the male half looking very unhappy until he cranked “Smoke on the Water” on an old jukebox. My then-girlfriend said that I was that dude when she saw the ad.
The intent of that ad was to show the FX’s duality as a genteel crossover that could take a couple shopping in quiet luxury – a crossover that also held a fiery, sporty side that could be unleashed whenever the mood struck. One that could also take home plenty of antiques.
Infiniti seems to be shying away from FX comparisons with this new crossover, good or bad. Maybe that’s smart – the QX just doesn’t do what the FX did.
That doesn’t mean the vehicle is a total failure. Far from it. It does look good, at least to my eye (our resident Infiniti geek has been a fair bit more critical). Curvy lines are usually hard to argue with, and they’re sleek enough here to catch eyes. The big grille and gaping fascia below it will turn some of you off, I bet, but it looks better in person than in pictures.
That holds up inside – the design is generally coherent and keeps most obvious Nissan influences to a minimum, though there are exceptions. I especially appreciate the dual-screen design for infotainment. It’s nice to run Apple CarPlay up top while using the lower screen for other functions, instead of hopping out of CarPlay to operate the audio system or other menus.
Interior room up front was more than adequate, and my tall frame fit OK in the rear, though the sloping roof will eat into headroom for taller passengers. I’m six-one and it wasn’t an issue, but if I were a few inches taller, if I were a baller, it might’ve been.
It’s not a perfect cabin, though. Some of the panels didn’t seem to line up perfectly (though, to be fair, this was a pre-production unit, so build quality might not be up to production standards). Materials are class-appropriate but not quite in the conversation for class-leading. Some drivers will be annoyed with the large wheel that controls some infotainment functions, though I found it easy to use. Finally, some of the infotainment graphics look a bit old, and don’t differentiate from Nissan.
The biggest issue was noise. Most wind and tire noise seemed muted well enough, but the engine’s song came through all too clearly. This mill is a bit too loud and thrashy for a luxury crossover, and you will hear it should you summon revs much beyond idle.
Luxury buyers typically expect silky-smooth engines (except, perhaps, in dedicated performance cars or off-road rigs), and the 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder with variable compression just isn’t that. It’s heard and not seen, like an inversion of an admonishment I heard too many times as a child.
This might be excusable if the performance was a bit more in line with expectations. Two-hundred and sixty-eight horsepower and 280 lb-ft of torque sound solid, if not spectacular, on paper, but I felt like a bit more oomph would be appreciated. I suspect the fact that the peak torque isn’t available below 4,400 RPM plays a part in this.
That’s not to say the QX55 is slow. It’s adequate for most passing and merging situations. But if Infiniti is hoping to win over the lead-footed drivers who blast Deep Purple, that might not happen.
It especially won’t happen in Eco mode. You need to be in Standard or Sport to kick the spurs. Whatever electronic trickery is at play to maximize MPGs just really takes away the passing punch.
Ride and handling is similarly a mixed bag. On the positive side of the ledger is the sharp turn-in when cornering, along with accurate steering. On the other hand, that same steering felt more than a tad light and artificial in feel, even in Sport mode. Body roll is noticeable and it doesn’t take a lot of aggression to get squealing tires and some understeer.
That last bit of behavior announced itself on a dry road, but not half an hour before I’d been on a curvy stretch of tarmac that hadn’t yet dried from the previous day’s precipitation, and the QX seemed to want to slide just a bit, at lower speeds than one would expect. Different rubber might lead to an improvement, in both dry and wet conditions. The tires on this tester were Bridgestone Ecopias.
As a reminder, all QX55s are all-wheel drive, though with a bias towards front-wheel drive unless driving conditions demand an adjustment.
At the least the highway ride was pleasantly compliant without any hints of being soft. A quick note on the steering – this test unit had Direct Adaptive Steering, which is optional, though forced upon you should want Nissan/Infiniti’s ProPilot Assist system.
ProPilot Assist reads the lane lines and guides the car to stay in between them. It’s not automatically set to on – you must activate it. The system worked better for me than it has in past tests, though I’ve been told by Nissan folks that poorly marked lane lines can confound it, and in this instance, I was traversing a highway with pretty clearly painted lane markers.
Other TTACers interrogated me about the continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT), but while Nissan and Infiniti have been rightly criticized for the behavior of their CVTs in other applications, it was a model citizen here, with no wonky behavior or droning. Joe and Jane car buyer might not even know a CVT is in use.
Feature-wise, the QX55 is competitive, at least. There are three trims – Luxe, Essential, and Sensory – and my tester was a Sensory. Base pricing is $46,500, with the Sensory basing at $57,050. All trims come standard with AWD. Available features included Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, Wi-Fi, 20-inch wheels, remote start, moonroof, LED lighting (including fog lights), rain-sensing wipers, head-up display, a power liftgate, keyless entry and starting, wood interior trim accents, ambient interior lighting, power tilt/telescope steering column, tri-zone climate control, leather seats, navigation, premium audio, and heated and cooled front seats.
Driver-aid tech included hill-start assist, parking sensors, 360-degree camera, smart cruise control, ProPilot Assist, traffic-sign recognition, rear automatic braking, forward emergency braking with pedestrian detection, high-beam assist, predictive forward-collision warning, blind-spot warning, blind-spot intervention, rear cross-traffic alert, lane-departure warning, lane-departure prevention, and adaptive front lighting.
The only option was the Slate Gray paint, so with that and the destination fee, the sticker was $58,770.
Infiniti is a brand beleaguered. As is its parent, Nissan. But while Nissan is getting back to respectability in fits and starts, Infiniti took a big swing for the fences here. And while it didn’t strike out, it didn’t clear the outfield wall.
I tried to extend the baseball metaphor further, but like a ground ball hit towards Omar Vizquel, it went nowhere. Let’s just say that while the QX55 is likable, it doesn’t make the statement the brand really and truly needs right now.
The good news is that the QX55’s problems can probably be fixed at the mid-cycle refresh. More sound deadening and/or tweaks to the engine to increase smoothness probably don’t require a ton of engineering ingenuity or regulatory hoop-jumping. Nor, likely, would it be too difficult to shoe the QX55 with grippier rubber or to tweak the electronic power steering for better feel.
Until then, you have a sleek-looking crossover that doesn’t offend but doesn’t bring out the inner rockstar, either.
So much for Deep Purple. I guess yacht rock can be played on Wurlitzers, too.
[Images © 2021 Tim Healey/TTAC]