Will new QX55 fastback help rescue 2021 Infiniti QX50 premium-compact crossover?

By Chuck Giametta

2020 Infiniti QX50

What changes will make the 2021 Infiniti QX50 different?

A fastback companion for the returning squared-off body style. The QX55 would give Infiniti a premium-compact crossover rival to costlier fastbacks from BMW and Mercedes-Benz. But whether it’ll be enough to reverse the fortunes of this pretty but underperforming nameplate.

Today’s QX50 debuted for model-year 2019, its calling cards elegant styling and a turbocharged four-cylinder engine with innovative variable-compression technology. Production delays and early quality problems got it off to a rocky sales start, though. It finished ninth in a field of 18 competitors in its first year and demand was off a troubling 14 percent through September 2019.

It doesn’t help that the pioneering powertrain isn’t a standout for performance or fuel economy. A lackluster infotainment system is a drag, too. Don’t expect either to change for 2021. Laudably, Infiniti expanded availability of helpful safety features for model-year 2020. That’ll repeat for ’21. So will a comfortable ride and a roomy cabin that, on top-line trims, is positively opulent. But in a class defined by the sportier driving, better selling BMW X3, Mercedes-Benz GLC, Audi Q5, and Acura RDX, the 2021 QX50 needs the new fastback to ignite some interest.

Should I wait for the 2021 QX50 or buy a 2020?

2020 QX50

Wait for the ’21 if the QX55 “four-door coupe” intrigues you. It’ll have some of the presence of a BMW X4 or Mercedes GLC Coupe, fastback versions of, respectively, the conventional X3 and GLC. Like others of its ilk, the Infiniti will sacrifice some cargo space and perhaps a little rear headroom to its fashion-conscious roofline. Otherwise, it’ll share the conventional QX50’s understructure and mechanical features.

Buy a 2020 QX50 if you like its familiar proportions and want to save a few bucks over the 2021 version, which ought to be a virtual duplicate except for higher prices. In fact, the QX50 isn’t likely to change appearance until a midcycle facelift, probably around model-year 2023.

Expect the basic 2020 lineup to carryover for model-year ‘21. The conventional QX50 should reprise four trim levels: Pure, Luxe, Essential, Sensory, and top-line Autograph. Infiniti may well position the QX55 slightly upmarket, perhaps beginning its roster at the Essential or Sensory tier. Every 2021 QX50 and QX55 will come with the variable-compression engine, a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT). The QX50 will again offer a choice of front-wheel drive or optional all-wheel drive (AWD). The QX55 may be AWD only.

Will the styling be different?

Teaser image of the 2021 Infiniti QX55

Not for the QX50. It’ll maintain the look that came with the model-year-2019 redesign. Representing the best of the Japanese automaker’s design cues, it’ll return an assemblage of sweeping curves, trendy venting, tastefully applied chrome, and the brand’s familiar dogleg rear roof pillar.

Model-grade differentiators should be common to both body styles and be most evident in wheel size and design. Expect 19-inch alloys on Pure, Luxe, and Essential, 20s on Sensory and Autograph, although the “Coupe” could offer 21-inch alloys. All 2021 QX50s will again come with bi-LED headlamps, LED daytime running lights, and LED puddle lights in the front door handles. All but the Pure should return with LED fog lamps, aluminum roof rails, and a panoramic moonroof with a power sunshade as standard.

2020 QX50

Unchanged exterior dimensions would keep the QX50 midpack in the class. But clever packaging will again provide fine accommodations for five, highlighted by an exceptionally roomy rear bench elevated slightly from the front seats, for an ambience of airy visibility.

The QX55 will likely share the QX50’s wheelbase (the distance between the front and rear axles) and many of the same styling cues. But its aft bodywork appears slightly abbreviated, and its roof starts tapering over the rear-seat area. That could cut into backseat headroom and almost certainly will trim cargo volume from the more squared-off QX50’s generous 31.4 cubic feet behind the rear bench and 65 with the 60/40 split seatbacks folded. To pitch the QX50 as a more exclusive, more urban proposition, Infiniti could even reduce its seating capacity to four.

2020 QX50 Autograph

Both body styles will share a handsome dashboard with two centrally stacked screens. The upper display is principally for the navigation system that should again be optional on the Luxe trim and standard above that. The lower display will remain mainly for climate, audio, and phone functions. At 8 inches in diameter, nav screen is a little undersized by today’s standards, its graphics seem dated, and it could use better menu logic. You’re compelled to interact with the 7-inch lower screen to access functions like drive modes, radio-station selection, and the heated steering wheel. There is a console knob, but it governs just the upper screen.

Expect Pure, Luxe, and Essential models to return with leatherette upholstery. Look for leather to remain optional on the Essential and standard on the Sensory. An understated band of aluminum trim spanning the dashboard and doors will remain standard on all those models. The ’21 Autograph should again come with sumptuous diamond-quilt semi-aniline leather and replace the aluminum band with one of open-pore maple wood.

The knockout ensemble would be the optional Premium White Leather Package. Likely to remain exclusive to the Autograph, it’ll cover the semi-aniline leather with the blush of fresh snow and offset it with striking Ultrasuede accents – blue on the doors, dashboard, and center console, brown on the roof pillars, headliner, and seat bolsters.

Any mechanical changes?

No. All ’21 QX50 and QX55 models will come with one engine, a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder with 268 horsepower and 280 pound-feet of torque. That output is slightly above average for 2.0-liter turbo fours in this class. But the engine’s real distinction is the ability to continuously adjust piston travel, raising the compression ratio to maximize fuel efficiency, lowering it to emphasize power-generating torque. Infiniti dubs it the VC-Turbo.

In our tests of the QX50, changes in compression went unnoticed, the engine behaving much like any other 2.0-liter turbo four in this class. After a momentary pause away from a stop, it delivered good thrust and, given liberal throttle application once underway, notably satisfying response for merging and passing.

In many driving situations, however, the powertrain tends to bog and surge, making smooth progress illusive as you negotiate everyday traffic. We blame the engine’s uneasy alliance with the continuously variable transmission. CVTs aren’t known for prompt power delivery, and this one seems particularly incompatible with the VC-Turbo. We’d urge Infiniti to consider recalibrating the CVT for ’21 and to think about setting up the QX55 for a more aggressive feel.

2020 QX50

AWD is a good choice for best traction no matter the weather and a nice safeguard against the torque steer – pulling to the side during rapid takeoffs – than can plague front-drive vehicles with this much power and torque. The trailer rating of 3,000 pounds is a little below par for this segment, but even that ceiling is achieved only with the Tow Package that up to now has been available just on AWD Autograph models.

On the road, the QX50 should again favor comfort and friendly maneuverability over taut dynamics. Even on the 20-inch wheels and tires, our test examples easily absorbed bumps and ruts without disturbing the cabin. Handling is less than sporty but never lacks for confidence or control. Again, the QX55 might be tuned for sharper manners. In any case, wind and road noise should remain nicely suppressed and while the CVT will promote some engine drone during rapid acceleration, it isn’t unpleasantly intrusive.          

Will fuel economy improve?

2020 QX50

EPA ratings shouldn’t change for the QX50, remaining just slightly above average for rivals of similar power, despite Infiniti’s claims about the VC-Turbo’s fuel-efficiency advantages.

Expect 2021 QX50s to again rate 24/31/27 mpg city/highway/combined with front-wheel drive and 24/30/26 with AWD. If the QX55 gets larger tires or its own powertrain calibrations, its EPA ratings would likely trail those of the wagon by a mile or two per gallon in each category. Infiniti will probably continue to recommend premium-grade 91-octane gasoline for the QX50 and QX55.

Will there be new features?

Unlikely, because there isn’t much to add. There could be some shuffling of package content but expect standard and optional features to largely carryover. As noted above, Infiniti liberalized safety-equipment availability for model-year 2020 by equipping every trim level with blind-spot and rear cross-traffic detection along with valuable rear-automatic braking.

Those features will continue as standard for ’21, along with autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian detection. However, we’d urge Infiniti to make driver assists such as lane-maintaining automatic steering and adaptive cruise control available on the Pure and Luxe models instead of continuing them as options on the Essential and standard on the Sensory and Autograph.

Expect the automaker to again make its semi-autonomous ProPilot Assist technology, designed to keep the crossover centered in its traffic lane with minimal driver interaction, optional for the ’21 Sensory model and standard on the Autograph. Same for the head-up instrument display. The useful Around View Monitor, which projects bird’s-eye video on the nav screen, should return as standard on Essential and above. 

In addition to the technology and features mentioned earlier, expect all ’21 QX50s to come with a power liftgate but only the Autograph to include hands-free operation. Power front seats will also be standard, with heated buckets standard on Essential and above and ventilated front seats optional on the Sensory and standard on the Autograph. Infiniti would do well to introduce heated rear seats, though. We’d also suggest it make the Pure and Luxe trims available with the heated mirrors that are standard on the other trims. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto should again be standard across the board.

Will 2021 prices be different?

2020 QX50

They’ll rise, and if Infiniti is wise, increases will be kept to a minimum, even if more standard equipment is added to boost interest. The QX50 isn’t as expensive as similarly equipped European-brand competitors, but that doesn’t mean it’s compelling enough to get much more expensive without further harming sales.

Infiniti hiked QX50 base prices a modest $730-$880 on carryover trim levels for model-year 2020; expect about the same for ’21. For reference, here are 2020 QX50 base prices, including the manufacturer’s $1,025 destination fee. Since most QX50s are purchased with AWD, these base prices include that feature; subtract $2,000 for the front-drive version of each model.

With AWD, the 2020 QX50 Pure started at $40,275, the Luxe at $43,275, and the Essential at $47,125. Base prices were $51,925 for the AWD Sensory trim and $56,875 for the AWD Autograph.

Nissan’s upscale division probably will charge a premium for the 2021 QX55. Our guess is that base prices will be no more than $2,500 or so above equivalent trim levels of the conventional body style.

Expect key options to be priced about the same for 2021. Infiniti charged $700 to equip a Luxe model with imbedded navigation. The Convenience Package cost $1,650 for the Essential and added such features as leather upholstery, memory for the front seats, mirrors, and steering column, a heated steering wheel, and reverse tilt-down outside mirrors.

To the Sensory model, the $1,600 ProActive Package included ProPilot Assist, lane-maintaining automatic steering, blind-spot detection, and the head-up display. The $1,050 Climate Package added heated and ventilated front seats, rear sunshades, and tri-zone automatic climate control. The Premium White Leather Package for the Autograph cost $2,000.

When does it come out?

Look for the formal unveiling of the QX55 in early 2020, with an on-sale release date for the 2021 Infiniti QX50 and QX55 in summer 2020.

Best competitors

Acura RDX, Alfa Romeo Stelvio, Audi Q5, BMW X3 and X4, Cadillac XT5, Jaguar F-Pace, Land Rover Discovery Sport, Lincoln Corsair, Mercedes-Benz GLC and GLC Coupe, Porsche Macan, Tesla Model Y, Volvo XC60

About Chuck Giametta

This nationally recognized, award-winning writer brings to Carpreview.com two decades of automotive testing and reporting for newspapers, books, magazines, and the Internet. The former Executive Auto Editor of Consumer Guide, Chuck has covered cars for HowStuffWorks.com, Collectible Automobile magazine, and the Publications International Ltd. automotive book series. This ex-newspaper reporter has also appeared as an automotive expert on network television and radio. He’s a charter member of the Midwest Automotive Media Association, the president of the Rocky Mountain Automotive Media association, and a juror for the annual Active Lifestyle Vehicle of the Year awards. Chuck writes from Colorado Springs, Colo. If you have a question for Chuck, write to him at [email protected]