Ahead of its in-the-flesh reveal at the LA Auto Show, Infiniti has taken the wraps off its new mid-size luxury SUV and the ground-breaking engine technology behind it.
The QX50 is a vehicle that very much has storied European brands, as well as American and Japanese carmakers firmly in its sights.
In terms of interior packaging for leg-, shoulder- and luggage-space the car is on a par with or betters the BMW X3 and the Audi Q5. Meanwhile, thanks to the fact that this new-generation XQ50 is a clean sheet design, built from the ground up on a new platform with new materials and a closer focus on performance; the resulting car has a much greater torsional rigidity, meaning that it could also be on a par in terms of handling and driver involvement, too.
“The QX50 is the most important vehicle we have ever launched, and it embodies everything the brand stands for: Beautiful design, advanced technology and empowering performance,” said Christian Meunier, Infiniti Global Division Vice President. “As a premium, mid-size SUV, it’s the right vehicle at the right time in one of the world’s fastest-growing segments.”
And that means it’s heading into a massively competitive market and therefore needs something truly special to stand out. Luckily, the QX50 has a genuine ace up its sleeve.
It is the first mass production vehicle in history to boast a variable compression ratio engine.
The car can actually automatically adjust its compression ratio to maximize performance or optimize fuel efficiency, by autonomously raising or lowering the stroke of the cylinders, thus increasing or reducing the engine’s cubic capacity.
“Variable compression ratio technology represents a breakthrough in powertrain development. The QX50, powered by our VC-Turbo, is the first production vehicle ever to give drivers an engine that transforms on demand, setting a new benchmark for powertrain capability and refinement,” said Meunier.
The best way to describe what the engine delivers is to imagine having a sprightly turbocharged four-cylinder engine under the hood that is lightweight and can serve up 268hp, 380Nm of torque and sufficient acceleration to catapult the SUV from 0-60mph in 6.3 seconds.
But when racing stops and cruising starts, the engine can alter the ratio step by step — i.e., how far down each cylinder moves in order to let in fuel before it is compressed with air and combusts to power the wheels — from a sprightly 8:1 all the way down to 14:1, in effect becoming a virtual diesel engine in terms of fuel economy and torque delivery.
And as the engine is mated to a Continuously Variable Transmission it means that the car is always running in the optimum rev band, whether for performance or for fuel preservation.
The powertrain in the outgoing QX50 was a V6 engine. The new model, despite missing two cylinders, can offer the same power and performance but also serves up a 35% increased fuel efficiency (when the QX50 is specified with two-wheel drive).
As well as engine tech, the new car gets safety tech including parent company Nissan’s ProPilot system, which can autonomously control acceleration and braking in single lane highway situations as well as adjusting steering to ensure lane discipline.
“Our intention [with ProPilot] is to empower the driver and enhance feelings of pleasure behind the wheel, not to remove the driver from the equation,” said François Bancon, Vice President, Product and Programs.