Test Drive column by Bill Owney
With a quiet, roomy interior and creamy-smooth powertrain, the 2019 Infiniti QX60 firmly establishes itself as a top-value contender in the three-row, luxury SUV niche.
At the same time, Infiniti's desire to maximize revenues and profits with serious upcharges for what ought to be standard, life-saving, driver-assist technology, make it hard to recommend the QX60.
Like three of Infiniti's four QX-series SUVs, (leaving aside the bulbous, gas-guzzling, outdated QX80), the QX 60 features a pleasing design with taut, muscular shapes and flowing lines, top-drawer noise, vibration and harshness management, and superb mechanicals based Nissan's iconic 3.5-L V-6 mated to the company's XTRONIC continuously variable transmission.
The company entered into full-on development of both components in the early '90s and its drivetrain mastery is seen in the QX60. Tuned to put out 295 hp and 270 ft.-lb of torque in this application, the QX60 hits 60 mph in 8.3 seconds, a little slow for the segment. A more important metric, however, is how a car merges into traffic and passes. The QX 60 moves out from 45 mph to 65 mph in 5.0 seconds, which is on the quick side.
That comes despite the fact that the Infiniti is built on the same platform as the Nissan Pathfinder, meaning the QX60 is a bit bigger (114.2-inch wheelbase) and heavier (4,400 lbs.) than the mean in a highly competitive niche. Still, it manages to get 20 mpg city and 27 mpg highway, which is average for the class. Like many entries, the QX60 requires premium fuel.
This is a tough segment to assess. With starting prices ranging from the low $40 thousands to $80 thousand or more for rivals from Germany and Great Britain, sorting out where the QX60 slots can be confounding.
Certainly, if athletic driving dynamics and long-term owner satisfaction matter to you, the BMW X5 ($60,700) and Audi Q7 ($53,550) sit at the head of the class.
The QX60 starts at $44,350, which puts it squarely up against the Lexus RX ($43,820) and Acura MDX ($44,300). None of the three attempts to be GT machines; rather, they aim to be comfortable and competent people haulers.
Model age matters in these comparisons. The QX60 was last redesigned in 2013, the MDX in 2014 and the RX in 2015. A year or two may not seem like much, but the pace of change in auto technology is so potent these days that model years are much like dog years. A lot happens in a short time.
Such is the case with the QX60. It does many things really well and none poorly, but the competition is able to offer more features, better engine technology, a better reliability record, and—most importantly—far better safety gear as standard equipment.
What's not to like?
First and foremost, the Infiniti QX60 is an altogether pleasant vehicle. Acoustic glass all around and rigorous sound deadening measures throughout give it one of the quietest cabins around. Even on the base model, the cabin is generously appointed.
Infiniti says the QX60 comes in four models, but really there are two: the Pure and Luxe. Each comes in FWD or, for $2,000 more, AWD.
The base Pure comes with Bluetooth, eight USB ports, Sirius Radio and XM Travel Link, push-button start, rear heating vents, power everything, welcome lighting, power seats for front driver and passenger, 6-speaker sound, illuminated steering wheel controls, electroluminescent gauges, voice recognition, auto dimming rear mirror, forward collision warning and prevention, blind-spot warning.
The list goes, but it's a lot. On the other hand, those goodies and more are also available on a Pathfinder, starting at $31,000), so If you're on a budget, a trip to the local Nissan dealer—or a visit to Nissan's build-and-price Web page—would seem a wise part of the shopping experience.
We expect SUVs to place above the fray, to isolate us from rough roads and noise, and provide a safe secure environment. On a sensory level, the QX60 excels at that task. It lacks the sporty driving characteristics of Infiniti's sedans and coupes, but the steering feels planted and compliant.
An emphasis on passenger comfort means the vehicle has more body sway than some, but the net effect is exactly what we want from a people-hauler.
In driver-assist technology and pricing, the Infiniti QX60 is behind its own curve. Though our tester started at $45,800 it ballooned to nearly $66,000 with the addition of five option packages, a premium paint job, running boards, and a wifi router.
All that did not get us Nissan/Infiniti's ProPilot Assist, one of the most complete and best integrated driver-assist package on the market
Oh, we got a whole host of desirable features, including a premium, 15-speaker sound system, wood accents, diamond-stitched leather seating, a theater package that included two, 9-inch monitors and wireless headphones, a 360-degree, birds-view camera system activated by a perfectly placed button to make perfect parking a breeze.
The list included a $3,400 Proactive Package that included a number of driver-assist features but still lacked a state-of-art lane-keep assist.
That one is critical because as Nissan notes in its own promotional material, 55 percent of crashes begin with a vehicle veering out of its lane. Infiniti's Proactive Package includes some vital components of a complete driver-assist suite, like backup collision prevention and dynamic cruise control, but it relies on the company's older lane-keep technology which, frankly, doesn't work that well.
Indeed, in a practical sense, it doesn't work at all. The older system combines an irritating lane departure warning beeper. Above 45 mph, it attempts to nudge the vehicle back into its lane by applying brake pressure to the wheels opposite the ones crossing the line. We tested it at multiple speeds in various conditions. The best it did was slow the vehicle, but it did not return it to the center of its lane, the way the ProPilot Assist does.
More importantly, the warning buzzer with no additional action below 45 mph means most people will simply turn it off, defeating a system that research shows can reduce casualties by a third because it reduces the number of head-on and rollover collisions.
These days, most companies' LKA systems quietly, but firmly, guide vehicles back into their lands. That is the way the Acura's and Lexus' systems—standard, no additional cost—function.
Do the math
Here are the numbers. There are no options packages available on Pure models. To buy anything optional, buyers must first spend $1,800 more for a Luxe model. To get the ProAssist Package ($1,900), buyers must first buy the Essentials Package ($2,900).
Hit total, and one has spent $6,600 to obtain fundamental, life-saving gear that competitors offer for free on even entry-level vehicles.
Infiniti's merchandising approach works as long as consumers are unaware of the existence and extreme value of these features. That's sort of a tax on ignorance, but one suspects upscale buyers soon will be beyond that tipping point.
Car buyers today have choices. In this case, one could opt for a Lexus RX hybrid ($50,970 for the top-of-line premium) which comes with a V6, more horsepower, and delivers 30 mpg in combined driving. That would keep the family safe and bathed in luxury and would eliminate the equivalent of one gas fill-up a month.