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2020 Infiniti QX50 Long-Term Review, Part 3: Machine Rule

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Auto123 reviews the 2020 Infiniti QX50 in a long-term test drive. Today, Part 3.

See also: 2020 Infiniti QX50 Long-Term Review, Part 1: The Mysteries of Fuel Consumption

See also: 2020 Infiniti QX50 Long-Term Review, Part 2: An Interior That Whispers “Love Me”

See also: 2020 Infiniti QX50 Long-Term Review, Part 4: Seduction and Reputation

In the end, I did not, during my two-week confinement in Nova Scotia, learn by heart the owner’s manual of the 2020 Infiniti QX50, despite having brought up the possibility in part two of my review of the model. Essentially, the fault for that lies with Netflix, and Crave and Disney+, etc. But I did leaf through it. Enough to learn that the manual devotes a hundred or so pages just to the drive assist systems found in the SUV! As a QX50 owner, you too could read all about the dozen electronic babysitters that help ensure the safety of you, your passengers and those you encounter on the road.

You’re probably familiar with all of them, of course, like for instance the emergency braking system that will stop the vehicle for you if a sensor detects an object in the wrong place in your path, or a pedestrian or cyclist you might be bearing down on.

Essentially, this suite of technologies warns you, slows you down, brings you back to the middle of your lane. But it never completes these manoeuvres without requiring the input of the driver, who must still be the final arbiter of what’s the correct thing to do in a given situation. For now, the idea of a vehicle’s occupants snoring away, watching Netflix or playing cards together while the vehicle takes care of everything remains the purview of science fiction. Until we reach Level 5 autonomous driving mastery as common currency on public roads, “smart” vehicles like the QX50 will continue to demand the collaboration of humans.

And for now, when you consider the combined effect of all the QX50’s digital crutches, you might ask yourself if they weren’t invented to allow those who’ve flunked their driving tests to operate a motor vehicle anyways.

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2020 Infiniti QX50, steering wheel and its buttons
Photo: D.Boshouwers
2020 Infiniti QX50, steering wheel and its buttons

So about that CVT
I’ve previously touched on the variable compression engine of the Infiniti SUV. Since one of the main goals of this new unit is to reduce fuel consumption, it’s only natural that Nissan would choose a continuously variable transmission as its dance partner. On top of which, the Japanese automaker was a pioneer in developing and using the CVT, which is synonymous with fuel economy. For better and for worse.

The “better” could still stand getting better, because as I’ve mentioned the 10L/100 km average I maintained on the highway is not exactly worth singing Hallelujahs over.

As for the “worse”, well that depends on your relationship with the gas pedal. If you’re tender with it, the transmission does its thing going through the faux gears quite fluidly. But if you’re aggressive with your right foot, it’s as if the CVT is faced with such a wide choice of gears it hesitates which to choose.

The 2020 Infiniti QX50, in front of the Fisheries Museum of the Atlantic, in Lunenberg
Photo: M.Crépault
The 2020 Infiniti QX50, in front of the Fisheries Museum of the Atlantic, in Lunenberg

This is accompanied with certain sounds. To be fair, on startup you get a kind of a war cry invading the cabin. It’s surprising coming from this vehicle, but it’s stimulating and it somehow fits the pretty 20-inch wheels you’re riding on. You might even feel a certain twinge of nostalgia as you call up in your mind the 2008-era EX35 SUV, the ancestor of the QX50 and cousin to the fascinating G35 coupe. The latter, I recall writing, was the most fun-to-drive vehicle Infiniti had ever come up with.

Reality bites
The reverie is of short duration. As with all CVTs, climbing through the speeds is done to the tune of some pretty strident howling. It can be tough on the eardrums.

That Infiniti thought it appropriate to equip the model with paddle shifters mounted on the back of the steering wheel feels like insult added to injury. These are there so you can pretend to be changing gears, when in reality it’s the vehicle’s onboard computer modifying the CVT’s mechanism to make it “skip” a speed, instead of just progressing at intervals through the theoretically infinite number of speeds that characterize the continuously variable transmission.

As you can see, a two-week confinement can make the mind wander all over the place, including to dwelling on small details most people don’t give a hoot about…

In any event, the use of these paddle shifters actually improves the acoustic behaviour of the QX50 by offering your ears crescendos you’d almost call normal.

The 2020 Infiniti QX50, in front of the old Lunenberg jail
Photo: M.Crépault
The 2020 Infiniti QX50, in front of the old Lunenberg jail

They do the thinking
Similarly to the many drive-assist systems in place in the QX50, the drivetrain and steering don’t just sit there, unthinking. Nope, they are also “intelligent”!

In the case of the former, this means that the rear wheels receive up to 50 percent of torque when the road conditions require it. No Canadian snowbird preparing to flee south to escape winter (pandemic permitting) will mind that.

As for the steering – excuse me, the adaptive steering – it makes micro-adjustments up to 1,000 times per second. That’s some concept to wrap your head around. According to the model’s engineers, that’s to ensure more-precise steering. But you know what they say about too much of a good thing. This constant electronic micro-managing that intends to dictate my driving style ends with me holding in my hand a steering wheel whose contact with the road feels like it’s always passing through a thick filter. Add to that the steering system’s mandate to erase all vibrations coming from the road surface, and you’re left with handling that feels artificial and saps your desire to drive like a pilot.

Tell yourself it’s for your own good. The 2020 QX50, after all, wants you to relax in its environment decked in leather seating and accessories that encourage well-being. All you have to do is hold the wheel gently; the vehicle takes care of everything else, and you can feel comforted knowing that the radar, sonar, sensors and cameras are watching over things. Don’t drift off, though. You need to pay attention to the road nonetheless. It even says so in the owner’s manual.

Fall colours...
Photo: M.Crépault
Fall colours...
Peggy's Cove
Photo: M.Crépault
Peggy's Cove
Lighthouse by the sea
Photo: M.Crépault
Lighthouse by the sea
The 2020 Infiniti QX50, feeling pious
Photo: M.Crépault
The 2020 Infiniti QX50, feeling pious