QX35 blends coupe shape with potent SUV

John Gilbert

North Shore sunset forms backdrop for Infiniti QX55. Photo by John Gilbert.

If you are as easily confused by the contemporary trend of alpha-numeric auto identification, Infiniti may have set a new standard with the QX55 SUV. Or sedan, whichever you prefer.

Technically, it’s an SUV, and all sarcasm aside, it’s probably my favorite among the ever-proliferating array of crossover SUVs from Infiniti, which is Nissan’s upscale brand.

What always impressed me about Infiniti was that parent Nissan always built straightforward, dependable vehicles under the Nissan name, and gave its advanced stuff to the upscale Infinitis.

That may still be the case, but the lines are blurring a little these days. With the naming plan, you can buy an Infiniti Q50 and get a fine, German-like sporty sedan with a 300-horsepower turbocharged V6 engine and 7-speed automatic transmission.

You could select a QX50, and find you instead have a nice, midsize SUV, with a squared off back, and the otherwise shared Q50 platform, but with the high-tech 268-horsepower turbo 2.0-liter 4-cylinder and a continuously-variable transmission.

Now Infiniti has brought out the QX55, which is the SUV I most-recently tested, which uses the QX50’s platform and powertrain, makes the all-wheel-drive system standard, but has a dramatically different appearance, with a sloped-back roofline that gives it the appearance of almost changing into a coupe.

It remains a 4-door, and the sloped rear really only reduces headroom a small amount, and doesn’t really cut into the spacious storage area much, unless you’re hauling tall, square things.

The front buckets are firmly supportive, including under your thighs, where you can set the adjustments wherever you need to for optimum comfort. All the controls are well at hand, although it may take awhile to become accustomed to them – particularly the audio system, which has impressive sound, but requires a Masters degree to change frequencies.

The setting for drivability include Normal, Eco, Sport and Personal, and you can feel the firmness in handling and steering change with each setting switch.

All the materials on the dashboard, console, doors and anywhere a human might touch are classy to feel, or just look at. You know you’re in an upscale vehicle, even if you’re not driving it.

The QX55 – best way to remember is that adding an “X” makes it all-wheel-drive – makes a glorious sound for driving enthusiasts, because the engine is Nissan’s variable-compression-ratio gem that can alter its compression from normal sedan ratios to high-performance high-compression at the stomping of your right foot.

 That’s more high-tech than a normal consumer might realize, or comprehend, but it is how the engineers extort 268 horsepower out of a 2.0-liter 4-cylinder.

While doing so, with your right foot pinned down to accelerate into freeway flow, for example, the sound you hear is not coming from a 1970-era Boss 302, but from your own QX55.

If you prefer docile and quiet, just slow down and don’t stomp that go-pedal.

And don’t let the CVT bother you; Infiniti engineers make sure you have steering wheel paddles to allow manual alteration of shift points, even though the CVT (continuously variable transmission) technically never shifts, always selecting the right tension on a serpentine belt that can be altered with the paddles.

While I greatly enjoy small engines that over-achieve – and this Nissan engine does that – I also like to get astronomical numbers for fuel economy. And this high-powered Infiniti falls down a bit there, in two ways.

First, we never got more than 26 or 27 miles per gallon during our weeks of normal driving, and second, opening the fuel door advises you that this engine wants to be served 91-plus octane premium fuel.
The gas station we stopped at during our week showed regular at $3.96 per gallon, and 91 octane was $4.69. Those prices have come down a bit in the weeks since I drove the QX55, but we’re still looking at a difference of around 65-70 cents a gallon. That can add up, especially if you enjoy driving your car because it’s such a blast to drive.

The sticker price of right around $57,000 includes all the luxury and comfort you could want, and ProPilot Assist, which is Nissan’s name for a lane-keeping assist that pressures the steering to keep you in your lane, and can alter speed based on traffic ahead of your.

The array of safety features, such as parking assists and alerts, are standard, and Infiniti was first to offer the magical overhead view that appears to be shot from a low-flying helicopter, or at least a drone, to show your vehicle and the space on all sides around it, which is very handy whenever backing out of a garage or driveway.

The bright red Infiniti QX55 stood out, even in the subdued light of late afternoon, with the multihued sky over Lake Superior in the background.

By the way, Infiniti does also have a QX60 now, which is a similarly shapely 3-row SUV with a more powerful V6, and the largest QX80 with a V8 that can make the turbo V6 or 4 seem far more economical by comparison.