The 2019 Infiniti QX50 Is a High-Tech, Leather-Lined Gladiator of a Crossover

Can a car brand take an aging, underperforming model and transform it into a top seller? Ladies and gentlemen, I direct your attention to the center ring, as Infiniti attempts this very feat with the all-new QX50. No pushing, please; there are plenty of seats for everyone at this crossover-centric show.

Infiniti’s sales are up, but maintaining the growth means code-cracking the compact luxury crossover space, where the upside is significant but the rivalry is bare-knuckled. The segment’s value-conscious buyers demand luxury and utility in equal measure, and have little tolerance for quirkiness. It’s not lost on Infiniti product planners that, while the previous QX50 offered luxury, it was number-one in quirk. An aging descendent of the fun-but-thirsty EX35-slash-EX37, the outgoing QX50 was a rear-wheel-drive rocketship that shared a sui generis sport-crossover ethos with the retiring QX70. That the new QX50 currently replaces both its own model and the QX70 (at least temporarily) signals a major strategy change for Infiniti’s SUV line. The market has spoken; it’s features, fuel economy, and utility, not high-performance thrills, that seal the deal.

We already know how Infiniti addressed the challenge with a trick, turbocharged variable-compression engine. Where the previous QX50’s revvy VQ-series V-6 defined its sporting spirit, the new model’s 2.0-liter four-cylinder redefines this crossover in terms more commonsensical. Beefier at low revs and more usable at legal speeds, the tech-heavy new mill produces a bit more peak torque than the V-6 (280 pound-feet versus 267). More importantly, the torque comes lower in the rev range and stays table-top flat as the revs build between 1,600 and 4,400 rpm, despite a dip in horsepower from 325 for the V-6 to 268 at 5,600 rpm for the four. Active engine mounts keep the powertrain proceedings plush through hard acceleration, braking, and cornering.

Unfortunately, getting to the engine’s power means reckoning with a CVT transmission—a common feature of modern Nissan products. Unlike a traditional cog-swapper with stair-step gears, the CVT levels out engine output to maximize efficiency. It’s most noticeable when your foot goes to the floor, when it causes the engine to drone like a Cessna throttling up. It takes some getting used to, but the latest CVT’s software does an honorable job mimicking a traditional automatic transmission when it can—and it can also approximate a manual mode well enough to make paddle-shifting-by-wire on twisty canyon roads not entirely un-fun.

Nonetheless, for buyers of compact crossovers, fun is lower on the shopping list than practicality. Buyers will note an increase in steady-state fuel economy over the previous V-6, at 31 mpg highway for front-wheel-drive models and 30 mpg for AWD ones, and a combined 27 mpg for FWD vehicles and 26 mpg for AWD ones. (That said, applying a heavy foot to the turbo-four can make a real dent in the fuel supply.) The new engine is also 40 pounds lighter than the V-6 while taking up less space, factors that carry more weight in this segment than peaky thrills.

Even more vital to the new model’s makeover is its all-new architecture. Transforming the QX50 into a competitive player demanded a wholly reengineered platform. Gone is the old, G-based rear-drive setup; in is a more practical, front-drive-based toolkit with the flexibility to maximize space that manifests in a higher driving position and big improvements in rear legroom and cargo volume. Sliding rear seats boost knee space to a homey 38.7 inches.

Design-wise, attacking a segment rife with entrenched actors and hungry newcomers (oh hello, Jaguar E-Pace)—where design and luxury are often pitted against utility—is no easy task. With tens of thousands of new sales at stake, the new QX50’s refreshed looks had to err on the side of approachable while still flashing bedroom eyes at potential buyers across the dealership floor—which is where the style team earned its pay. Atop a bulldog stance, designers staked out an attractive plot of land between the radical origami of Lexus’s NX/RX and Audi’s doctrinaire Q5. Sharp creases and character lines set off what is largely a conventional silhouette, while a descending roofline nods to its predecessor’s sport-crossover roots while helping reduce drag. (The new design extracts a 6 percent improvement in drag coefficient compared to the previous QX50.) A zig-zag D-pillar is a modern Infiniti design trope that adds a bit of spark to the rear quarter.

Inside, the revitalization continues. Infiniti’s gone all-in on improving interior design and classing up the touch points and visuals with a new spate of soft materials, touting “wrap and sew” production methods that create a cleaner look. In top trim versions, an artful slash of ultrasuede in contrasting color creates an avant-garde interior-design moment. Open-pore (i.e., natural-looking matte finish) maple wood contributes a clean, Scandinavian touch.

While driving dynamics are less important to the new model than ride quality, the QX50 hasn’t completely lost its handling spark. MacPherson struts in front and multilink ones at the rear, with floating-valve dampers all around, keep body roll at bay. While road feel isn’t the new QX50’s core competency, the fourth generation of Infiniti’s adaptive steer-by-wire system is vastly improved over previous versions, offering a more direct feel.

Infiniti is using the QX50's launch to roll out its version of Nissan's ProPilot semi-autonomous system, which bundles several driver-assistance functions—including direct adaptive steering, intelligent cruise control, lane-keeping assist distance-control assist, and more under the command of a single button on the dash. The radar-and-camera-based system is similar to that introduced in the new-gen Nissan Leaf, and it's the easiest system on the market right now to turn on. Engineers chose to limit its functionality to well-marked highways that host most drivers' commutes. Acknowledging the current killer app for autonomy is heavy traffic, the system excels when volume is high and variables are few. In light traffic, though, it feels locked down, with little lane modulation in turns. The system can become confused, however, when aggressive human motorists cut multiple lanes across its field of vision, at which point it applies the brakes too harshly. Still, it’s a solid 80-percent solution for now—one that leaves room for data collection and incremental improvement over time.

For the moment, the QX50 doesn't offer Apple CarPlay; rather, it uses the company's walled-garden InTouch infotainment system, controlled via dual touchscreen displays. Passengers can opt to stream onboard media to their devices via Bluetooth. A optional new 16-speaker Bose Performance Series stereo proved an improvement in dynamic range, particularly when tested with a 1980s hair-metal marathon. (No judgement, please.)

Infiniti says the QX50's sales will favor well-heeled young families and downsizing empty nesters, prime candidates for compact luxury crossovers; the trunk, its press release says, can accommodate “three golf bags, or a stroller situated length-wise.” No doubt, giving customers what they demand will likely serve the new QX50 well, even if it rankles enthusiasts. Infiniti has deconstructed the market to within an inch of its life, and built a crossover that is competitive one both raw hard stats and more nebulous X-factors. All of which will help Infiniti to try and suss out the best possible answer to the important question: How many QX50s can the company sell?

‘The Woz’ Doesn’t Believe Anything Elon Musk Says

What did the one mega-rich tech mogul say to the other mega-rich tech mogul? Apparently, the answer is “I don’t believe anything you say.” According to CNBC, while speaking to an audience at the Nordic Business Forum last week Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak said, “Now, I don’t believe anything Elon Musk says.” He did point out that he still loves driving his Tesla though.

Wozniak, also known as “The Woz,” outlined several times that Elon Musk has thrown these promises out there that simply haven't been kept. Often times these are pie-in-the-sky ideas for technological advancement that just don’t seem to pan out. "They came out with some sensors that Elon Musk said would [allow the car to] drive itself across the country to where you were by the end of 2016. Oh, I had to have that! Then they discovered those sensors would never drive across the country, so they got rid of their sensor company. They put in new sensors, instead of one camera, eight cameras, and that one will drive itself across the country by 2017. I believed that stuff.”

It's pretty well documented that Elon likes to throw these impossible deadlines out there in order to push his company forward. I don’t think he’s being deceptive or purposely misleading people, I think he’s just very ambitious. Kind of like when I tell my girlfriend I’m going to fix the garage door and take care of the garbage this weekend. I mean, well, it just never happens.

Steve Wozniak

The Woz even threw a little shade at Tesla’s autopilot system, saying that other car manufacturers are well ahead of the Tesla’s technology. “Man. you have got to be ready. It makes mistakes, it loses track of the lane lines. You have to be on your toes all the time. All Tesla did is say, 'It is beta so we are not responsible. It doesn't necessarily work, so you have to be in control.’ I will tell you, that car does so little. Everything I read told me every other car manufacturer in the world, the Audi's the BMW and all, were actually ahead of Tesla for self-driving cars.”

Then at the end, Woz threw in the fact that he drives the Chevy Volt EV instead of the Tesla as his daily driver. Hey, at least Tesla doesn’t make its old cars obsolete every few years.

Man Lucky to be Alive After Photographing Rally Car Racing

On Jan. 27, a person attending Sno*Drift Rally in Michigan chose the wrong place to take a photo and instead was hit by a rally car in a corner of the track.

My initial response to watching the video of the incident was, “Oh! F**k!”

So, before you watch the video, let me offer a disclaimer: the following contains graphic footage and language that some may find disturbing (NSFW).

Jalopnik and two major photography blogs, FStoppers and PetaPixel are reporting that photographer David LaClair was shooting the Sno*Drift Rally, the first event of the Rally America 2018 championship, when a rally car lost control going into a sharp corner, slid off the road and hit LaClair. The impact sends LaClair flying into the air like a sack of potatoes.

It is my personal opinion that LaClair is not a professional photographer and it’s an injustice to all working photographers to label him as one. Let me tell you why.

In the video, LaClair does not appear to be wearing a media vest. He is not using professional or even consumer level equipment. It appears that he is shooting the oncoming Subaru with a point-and-shoot camera or mobile phone. This leads me to believe that he was blatantly disregarding safety standards on the rally stage and fancied himself an enthusiast photographer who made a very bad decision.

As a working professional photographer, I shoot a lot of motorcycle and automotive work for various clients and in my own articles here at The Drive. Shooting any moving vehicle traveling at high velocity is inherently dangerous. Rally racing photography even more so. It requires an understanding of the sport, the stage conditions, and possessing a modicum of self-preservation.

Any working professional (or reasonable enthusiast) knows that in rally racing, courses are marked off with yellow and red tape. All of which are clearly seen in the video. As a spectator and photographer, you are permitted to stand behind yellow tape but the red tape is a no-go zone. It marks areas of particular danger where vehicles can run off the road.

This photographer weighs the risks of getting the shot at an off-road vehicle. This photographer is wearing a high-viz safety vest and is not in the path of travel of the vehicle.

While LaClaire could have been told by race officials on-location to move before the incident, he could have ultimately made the decision to disregard safety instructions. This is pure speculation on my part.

The Drive reached out to LaClair and he did respond with, "No comment."

Photographers who are granted credentials to shoot these events are often given free reign to go where they please to get their shot. Part of that decision-making as a professional photographer means exercising excellent judgment and accepting the risks of your actions.

Every time I set up for a shot, I have an internal conversation with myself about the risks versus the rewards. Is there safe harbor in my present location? Am I in danger if things go horribly wrong? Where are my escape routes?

Rally America clearly outlines safety measures for all spectators and even shares an easy to understand diagram of where to stand and not to stand along the course. For every rally or track based race I have photographed, most organizers have safety briefings for credentialed media outside of spectators. Safety is such a paramount concern along all lines of motorsport that I don’t think there needs to be more regulation put in place to limit photographers. Especially since this incident may not involve a professional.

When you work at the professional level in this business you have to exhibit professional judgment as well. This does not appear to be the case with LaClaire. According to Jalopnik, LaClaire suffered two broken scapulas and a lacerated liver from the impact. He is alive and I wish him a speedy recovery but let this serve as a lesson to everyone. Rally racing is both a dangerous and amazing sport, which makes it wildly attractive and fun to watch.

We're awaiting a response from Rally America on whether or not LaClair was issued media credentials to cover the event in a professional capacity and will update this article when we hear back.

If you feel compelled to photograph a rally race, obey the yellow and red tape and invest in a telephoto lens. Abide by this simple rule and it could save you a trip to the hospital.

Waymo Self-Driving Cars Are The Most Competent, CA Reports Say

Companies certified to test self-driving cars on California public roads submitted "disengagement reports" to the California Department of Motor Vehicles yesterday, detailing how often test cars disengaged from autonomous mode. Waymo's self-driving cars drove the farthest without any human intervention, according to Reuters.

Waymo autonomous cars drove 352,545 miles in California between December 2016 and November 2017, and disengaged from autonomous mode 63 times, according to the company's report. That works out to 5,596 miles between disengagements. General Motors' Cruise Automation division went the second longest without human intervention, at 1,214 miles. Cruise autonomous cars drove 127,516 miles, with 105 disengagements.

Nissan had the third-lowest rate of disengagements, although its test cars covered much less mileage than their Waymo and Cruise counterparts. Self-driving cars form the Japanese automaker covered a total of 5,007 miles and had 24 disengagements, for an average of 208 miles per disengagement.

Other companies didn't fare as well. Chinese tech giant Baidu had an average disengagement rate of 41 miles, Nvidia, which is pumping up its autonomous-car computer chip business, averaged 4.6 miles, and Mercedes-Benz self-driving cars required human intervention every 1.3 miles on average. Uber wasn't required to submit a report because it didn't receive its California testing permit until May 2017. It tried testing in the state without a permit prior to that, made a big show of moving its cars to Arizona when California's DMV cried foul, but eventually complied with the California rules.

BMW, Ford, Honda, Tesla, and Volkswagen are all certified to test self-driving cars in California but said they did not conduct any testing on public roads during the period covered by the reports. These companies may have conducted testing on closed courses, or at locations outside California.

The latest round of disengagement reports shows that self-driving cars can operate with only occasional human intervention, but that may not be good enough. The public is still uneasy about autonomous cars, and it's unclear if the average person would be able to take back control of a self-driving car when needed. There is a push to accelerate the deployment of autonomous cars, largely due to anticipated safety benefits, but the technology shouldn't be rushed into production before it is truly ready.

Nissan Backs App That Pays People To Carpool

Carpooling can help reduce traffic, but that doesn't mean people always want to do it. So Nissan is trying to give commuters near its North American headquarters in Tennessee an incentive. The automaker is partnering with Hytch Rewards, an app that pays people to carpool.

Hytch connects drivers with riders who are going to the same destination, just like regular carpooling. But it also tracks the route and pays both driver and passengers for making the trip together. The goal is to get more people to carpool, and in turn, reduce traffic congestion. Hytch claims that if six percent of road users switched to carpooling, it would eliminate 1,500 daily trips into Nashville. Depending on traffic speeds, that could be equivalent to adding an extra lane to the interstates that pass through the city, according to Hytch.

But Nissan has its own motivation for backing the app. It believes Hytch will allow for closer studying of consumer habits, and that this information could become a competitive advantage as automakers move into mobility services.

Carpooling, car sharing, and ride sharing may decrease the need for people to own cars, but automakers also view these services as an opportunity. Companies like BMW, Daimler, and General Motors already operate their own car-sharing services. Ford operates the Chariot shuttle service in multiple cities, as well as a bike-sharing service called GoBike in San Francisco. These services represent potential new sources of revenue for automakers.

All of these services provide the convenience of not having to drive oneself from Point A to Point B, but when it comes to reducing traffic congestion, they may not all be equal. Ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft encourage people to ride by themselves (although Uber and Lyft both offer carpooling options), which doesn't really reduce the number of vehicles on the road. By putting multiple people in one car, services like Hytch and Ford's Chariot are the most likely to reduce traffic.

Polaris RZR RS1 Will Be the Red Bull GRC Class’ Racecar of Choice

Late last year, Red Bull Global Rallycross announced that to go along with the freshly announced electric vehicle series it would be debuting a new Polaris RZR class. It was revealed that the Polaris RZR series would start in the 2018 season and span multiple years. Today, we now know what vehicle the participants will be driving—the new Polaris RZR RS1.

The Polaris RZR RS1 debuted yesterday via video on the official Polaris YouTube channel. In the video you see, Polaris sponsored three-time Red Bull Global Rallycross championship winning driver Tanner Foust thrash around in the RS1. Along with watching Foust play around in the sport ute, some details are revealed that deem the RS1 worthy of full-time race duty. The go-fast side-by-side features Walker Evans Needle Shocks, 18'' of suspension travel, dual fan rear radiators, and puts out 110 horsepower all available for only $13,999 which makes it one of the cheapest race cars in any series (not counting LeMons or Chump Car).

In its announcement, Red Bull Global Rallycross said explained why it chose the RZR RS1 for its upcoming race category. “Since we first announced the addition of a Polaris-exclusive class for the 2018 Red Bull GRC season, fans have been eagerly awaiting the news of which side-by-side model would compete,” said Red Bull GRC CEO Colin Dyne. “The RZR RS1 will be an exceptional addition to our grid and will provide an action-packed experience for our fans all season long.”

The Polaris RZR® RS1 will make its Red Bull Global Rallycross debut on Saturday, May 19 in the 2018 season opener, taking place at the Kentucky Exposition Center in Louisville.

Check out Polaris' RZR RS1 announcement video featuring Red Bull Global Rallycross driver Tanner Foust below.

California Market Up Next After Mitsubishi Hits 100,000 Outlander PHEV Sales in Europe

There’s an acronym you folks are just going to have to get used to seeing this year, and that's "PHEV." Nope, it’s not the noise you make when you’re relieved that cop you passed didn’t whip a 180. It’s short for Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle. And if Mitsubishi has its way this year, it will become as ubiquitous as SUV.

Just in time for its California debut, the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV reached a milestone of 100,000 units sold in Europe, making it the world’s best-selling PHEV crossover according to the manufacturer. And in a market that’s totally smitten over the crossover SUV segment, that’s good news for Mitsubishi. The Japanese brand has sold the Outlander PHEV with great success in the Netherlands and Scandinavia where they care about things like the environment. Hoping to catch some of that green rush, Mitsubishi’s California debut is full of hope.

The PHEV version of the Outlander was derived from a fully electric vehicle and sort of reverse-engineered to be a hybrid plugin. It comes with both front and rear electric motors, giving it improved traction and power through a system which Mitsubishi calls Super All-Wheel Control. Mitsubishi brags that the Outlander PHEV comes standard with DC Fast Charging capability which allows it to charge up to 80 percent capacity in as little as 25 minutes at commercial charging facilities. That's not quite as quick as the 2 ½ minutes it takes to fill a gas tank but it’s taking a step in the right direction.

Get used to seeing a few PHEVs on a road near you

Speaking on the European success and U.S. launch of the Outlander PHEW Don Swearingen, Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer of Mitsubishi Motors North America, said, "The Outlander PHEV has been a game-changer for the brand since its launch in the European market, and we're extremely proud of the industry strides it's made ever since. As the latest addition to our U.S. lineup, we're excited to welcome the Outlander PHEV to the Outlander family and offer our customers the best of both worlds – EV efficiency and SUV capabilities. The new CUV model arrives at a time when Mitsubishi continues to ride its recent sales momentum as the fastest growing non-luxury brand in the U.S. in 2017.”

Get used to seeing a few PHEVs on a road near you because the plugins are heading our way, as many recent reports have already shown. That's good news for the environment but bad news for your home light bill—seems like a fair trade.