(Bloomberg) — Infiniti has debuted its first crossover.
But the $46,500 Infiniti QX55 isn’t really all that new. It is built on the same platform, with the same engine and interior, as the eight-year-old QX50 SUV also produced by Nissan’s luxury brand. That is the one, you may recall, that was formerly sold as the Nissan Skyline Crossover and then as the Infiniti EX.
Priced $10,000 higher than its sibling, the new QX55 is positioned to feel like the sportier, sexier alternative to the five-passenger QX50.
With an oversized grille reminiscent of others who did it first and the bare minimum of tech and connectivity needed to earn it entry into the premium category, the QX55 targets luxury’s big-boys: BMW’s X4 ($51,600), Mercedes-Benz’s GLC Coupe ($51,650), Porsche’s Macan ($52,100).
Some contemporary elements, especially the wing-like taillights and wireless options do blend well with the premium SUV pack. Take the badges off and you might think this Infiniti is an Audi or a Jaguar but with less technology and leather inside. But those cars boasted first-in-class technologies, signature designs, and roaring performance apropos to their prices. The QX55, which costs just as much, attempts to mimic the trappings of luxury but doesn’t actually offer good value.
That’s the problem with Infiniti’s new offering: When keeping up with the Joneses takes precedence over genuine innovation and authentic brand philosophy, it makes for one very dull crossover indeed.
There are no truly “bad” cars these days, thanks to modern advancements in fabrication, engineering, manufacturing, and technology. Bad cars are unsafe and unreliable, like the famous failures and known lemons of the 1970s and ’80s. Think Chevrolet Vega, Reliant Robin, Delorean DMC-12.
Today’s problem vehicles are more likely to bore you to death. They are capable; they are comfortable; they are appliances. They are robotic to the point of stupefaction, with no more soul than a microwave. The QX55 is one such vehicle. Where this new entry to the crossover field should offer revolutionary features or a polarizing new look, it just disappears into the crowd.
Last month, I completed an overnight loan of one in slate grey with Monaco red interior. I drove it through Hollywood in Los Angeles high-afternoon traffic. I cruised through Griffith Park up toward the observatory. I wound through the verdant estates that line Mulholland Drive.
It was a very pretty drive. The QX55 was fine. The 268-hp turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine kept up with traffic. The nine-speed continuously variable transmission worked, though it felt disconnected from the gas pedal at times. (A snoozy 6.4 seconds to go from zero to 60 mph will have that effect. The base-level X4 will do it in 6.)
The steering and braking worked, too, which is about as nice a thing I can say about them. They lack the precision and conviction of better vehicles. I blame the “steer by wire” system Infiniti seems to prefer for its vehicles, which works via electric signals, therefore eliminating any mechanical connection between the steering wheel and the tires on the road. Infiniti debuted this technology in 2014 in the Q50 but ended up retrofitting that unit with the traditional hydraulic steering, and few others have used it since. Since then steer-by-wire has improved, presumably.
The system is reportedly better for some things like anti-crash technologies and integrating futuristic tech but horrible for anything that should be so enjoyable as actual driving. Meanwhile, rather than sitting in the QX55, feeling direct engagement, I had the weird feeling of sitting on it, like a chair. Everything about how it drives reflects that disconnect.
Three trim levels—Luxe (entry level, with faux leather upholstery), Essential (some additional treats leather-appointed perforated seats, climate-controlled front seats, a heated steering wheel), and Sensory (the kitchen sink, including natural open-pore wood trim accents, tri-zone automatic climate control, a motion-activated lift gate, and interior ambient lighting)—offer pleasantries that could include 360-degree exterior camera system, heated and cooled front seats, WiFi, crash-avoidance systems, and a 16-speaker Bose stereo system, all for an additional price. I drove in the top-of-the-line Sensory version, which cost $58,770.
The day behind the wheel passed by unremarkably, like watching a movie on mute in the background at a party. You see things moving but feel no connection to the plot. As I parked that evening, I struggled to feel anything about my drive other than the most tepid response—it was all the words you’re not supposed to use as a writer because they’re so descriptively limp. Words like, “fine,” “pleasant,” “enjoyable,” “meh.” Ugh.
The QX55 has a few things that the QX50 doesn’t, which are supposed to make the former feel more exciting. A lower roofline in the rear gives it a fastback look that mimics some of the luxury station wagons, but the sporty, sloping roofline compromises headroom. Cargo space is diminished, too, compared to the QX50, which accommodates 31.4 cubic feet behind its second row of seats compared to 26.9 in the QX55. That’s still more than the BMW X4, however, which has just 23.7 cubic feet of space behind its second row of seats. So it’s not all bad.
Inside the cabin, the base model of the QX55 comes with leatherette on the seats and components that look sorted from the Nissan leftovers bin. The higher models look and feel slightly better quality, with dark brushed aluminum trim along the instrument panel and doors in the lower Luxe and Essential levels and densely black Natural Maple open-pore wood trim that flows through the cabin in the Sensory trimline. Elsewhere, the interior is unremarkable. The by-now typical dual-stacked computer screens in the center console dashboard (and available Head-Up Display) delivers information to the driver projected across nine inches of the windshield.
The QX55 comes standard with four-wheel-drive and bigger-than-its sibling QX50, 20-inch wheels. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard too, as is wireless connectivity—a first for Infiniti. Plus the QX55 comes with that front fascia re-jiggered to look menacing with gaping air vents and an imposing grille. It’s meant to evoke feelings of lust and passion, or so the paperwork that Infiniti sent along with the car wanted me to believe. What I felt was like having a nap.
The QX55 is an accommodating premium vehicle. But with ho-hum interior accoutrements, lackluster driving performance, and an exterior that simply follows the leaders, it comes off as a marketing exercise. Rather than answering a need in the segment, having a true raison d’être, the QX55 is aimed at unsuspecting consumers easily duped by advertising and ordained to skim market share away from German automakers in a highly lucrative segment. Based on my time with the vehicle, I don’t expect it will make much of a dent.