As crossover SUVs go, the Infiniti QX50 is a pleasant thing, with a load of the latest luxury gadgets and tech that includes a unique variable-compression engine design shared for now only with the latest Nissan Altima. The front end may have too much chrome slathered on it for my taste, but it’s also the Japanese company’s best-looking current model, with great proportions and attractive detailing. Still, as I spent time in one recently, I began to ponder on the white-hot SUV segment as a whole. Really, how can anyone get excited about an SUV?
Part of my concern has to do with the value proposition; the QX50 is competent in most areas but after spending some $50,000 on one, I’d wonder if it was worth the outlay. This isn’t a specific dig at Infiniti; the QX50 is actually commensurately priced with the competition. But these sorts of vehicles can get expensive in a hurry. I remember driving the Range Rover Velar during our 2018 All-Stars competition, and while I wasn’t overly impressed by the ride quality or the overall driving experience, the most notable thing to me was its as-tested sticker price: $90,170! That’s crazy. The Porsche Macan is also super spendy, and while it drives and rides better than the Velar, it’s not as if it feels like a proper Porsche or offers impressive cargo or passenger room.
And therein lies the problem; in my view, buyers tend to spend more money and end up with a less of a vehicle when they go the crossover route. The sedan market continues to shrink but that’s really where the value sits. But it seems most people can’t get their head around the traditional four-door automobile these days.
Returning from a family trip this summer, I needed a rental car to travel from the Detroit airport to my home in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Walking off the shuttle bus to the Hertz Gold lineup, I deliberately skipped the crossovers and went for a sedan—a new Toyota Camry. A Hertz employee saw our large volume of luggage and tried to sway me towards the adjacent Nissan Rogue instead. I advised the helpful person that the Camry’s trunk is huge and I don’t like driving crossovers. The blank stare I received clearly told me that the Hertz employee thought I was from Mars. Unsurprisingly, the Toyota easily swallowed all our gear and it whisked us comfortably home with loads of legroom front and back plus good overall manners and mileage of 35 mpg.
Getting back to the Infiniti QX50, it’s by no means a handler. It’s cumbersome and big-feeling in the corners and the steering is dead. The variable-compression engine makes good power, but I had to get down on my hands and knees to confirm there were actual half shafts running to the rear wheels on the Infiniti. The amount of torque steer when accelerating briskly in the QX50 makes it feel like power is solely being sent to the front wheels. It’s just not that impressive to me when you start dissecting the driving experience. I actually preferred my time in the rental-spec Camry.
I feel similarly about pretty much every other crossover. There is simply only so much tuning can mask when dealing with additional weight and ride height. Sure, they can be made to handle pretty well but this always comes with the “for a crossover” proviso.
Do yourself a favor the next time you’re shopping for a vehicle. Unless you have a specific use case, resist the ever-more infectious “it’s gotta be a crossover SUV” mentality of the times and at least test drive a sedan. Compare the specs, features, and space and see what you actually get for your money. Take particular note of fuel economy. You may find that you don’t really need to sit up all that high.