Mountain Wheels: RWD oddity helps accentuate the Infinity QX50s sporty character
2016 Infiniti QX50 RWD
MSRP: $34,450 ($35,850 AWD); As tested, $43,535
Powertrain: 325-HP 3.7-liter V6 engine; seven-speed automatic transmission
EPA figures: 20 MPG combined (17 city, 24 highway)
For the first time since my shortsighted decision to rent a rear-wheel-drive-only Jeep Grand Cherokee during an ice storm in Oklahoma City, I got the chance to discover what you sun belt immigrants feel when you bring your slightly underequipped SUVs to Colorado — at the wheel of a brand-new, rear-wheel-drive Infiniti QX50.
We Colorado, Wyoming and Utah car writers (there’s a bunch of us) spent the winter sharing our oddball QX50 tester, seeing exactly what happens when the cocksure complacency that comes with all-wheel-drive isn’t a given.
And while the results were nowhere near as hilarious as trying to head to A-Basin in a Mustang GT in January, the rear-biased QX50 did give me a chance to ponder the occasionally deceptive nature of our all-wheel-drive-automobile obsessed, High-Country culture.
The QX50, in Infiniti’s simplified but still difficult-to-translate automotive taxonomy, is the new name for the slightly ahead-of-its-time EX35, though that admittedly smallish crossover has been supplemented with four extra inches of rear legroom, among other changes. Overall wheelbase is enhanced, the ride height has been lifted 0.8 of an inch and there’s 8.3 more cubic feet of overall storage, as a result of the bump in size.
For 2016, you’ll also see new design for the wheels, available in sizes up to some very wheel well-filling 19 inchers, plus a moon roof and heated seats as standard options in every trim level.
Maybe the best way to describe the QX50’s position in the Infiniti food chain is that it’s much like a more-than-slightly upright version of what used to be known as the G35 sedan (and now is the Q50), itself a premium four-door cousin of the Nissan 370Z sports machine. The QX50 is more car-like in its scale and handling, though it carries with it all the tools and tech bits you’ll find in its bigger or even gigantic SUV stable mates.
And that’s where the RWD setup was a real eye-opener, when not also forced to directly contend with the car’s compatibility in five inches of morning snow: the 3.7-liter, 325-horsepower V6 produces a considerable amount of power in this size of a vehicle, and the twisty, more natural feeling of rear-wheel drive really did make it seem like a taller sports car — complete with a sports car-worthy cockpit.
There’s a throaty exhaust note and even a little menacing rumble at start-up, attributes you are not going to experience (perhaps ever again, actually) as most competitors move to 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine choices. Infiniti has mated it to a seven-speed automatic that very comfortably and quickly channeled all of that power, as I found it especially joyful to floor this SUV as frequently as possible.
Another nice RWD benefit was the 26.3 combined mpg I experienced during my drives, considerably higher than the 24 mpg window sticker figure.
The more-elevated posture does of course slightly mess with the physics you’d feel in a real car, but it’s by far the most grounded crossover I’ve driven in a long time. And yes, there is a “snow” setting on the center console, which mostly tones down the rear-biased burnouts.
Given that Infiniti’s all-wheel-drive version of the QX50 is only $1,400 extra, I don’t imagine that many Colorado buyers are going to skimp on the extra security and stability, as unique as it might make the vehicle as a RWD orphan up here.
The QX’s looks are now more in line with its other SUV family relatives — a smaller cross-mesh grille, lots of bumper-level silver bars and curves and a sleek overall design that helps blur that car/crossover divide. From the rear, you’ll see a lot of Subaru Outback, as is the going theme, these days, plus sporty twin exhausts.
The interior’s entirely consistent with the standards on the more expensive Infinitis, with attractive and aggressive leather seating, concise navigation inputs featuring that oversized swirling bottlecap controller, an analog clock and a small, tall, hard-edged console channel.
If you’re looking for a good deal, seek out a QX50 with the $500 premium package, which adds an 11-speaker Bose audio system, advanced climate control, real maple wood highlights and aluminum roof rails.
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