A stylish and practical SUV. There’s nothing about INFINITI’s QX50 that would make a passer-by stop and stare, but it’s a perfectly handsome mid-sized SUV. Simple lines extend from a trapezoidal front grille to a clean rear with a hint of Audi to it. The oddly kinked rear quarterlight window adds an element of originality, but in a sober color like titanium grey, the QX50 won’t stand out in a car park.

Step inside, and if you choose a contrasting seat color, the cabin is a pleasant place to be. There’s 39 inches of rear legroom and 31 cubic feet of cargo space, while the powered front seats are impressively comfortable over long distances. There are two storage compartments in the center console, adding a practical touch. Another welcome dose of practicality is provided by three years of free scheduled maintenance, part of a four-year, 60,000-mile warranty.

An idea that doesn’t work. When cars were first being developed, they incorporated hand-held throttles, brakes operated by pulling a knob out of the dash, and engines started using gunpowder. To this list of long-forgotten innovations, future historians will probably add the twin-screen infotainment setup, as demonstrated in the QX50. An eight-inch screen sits above a seven-inch one, making it unintuitive to know which screen is doing what. We can’t understand the split-screen approach, and the lack of wireless Android Auto compounds the sense of a system that doesn’t really work properly.

The lower screen is also quite far down the dash, taking your eyes away from the road in order to – for instance – choose a radio station. Other manufacturers were placing car stereos atop their dashboards in the 1990s for ergonomic reasons, so INFINITI’s logic here is lost on us.

2023 INFINITI QX50 Interior

Another idea that doesn’t work – though it should. By now, you’re bound to know what an internal combustion engine is. The QX50 takes the concept one step further with a variable combustion engine, which can adjust compression while running to shift priorities between performance and efficiency. We won’t get into the technicalities of how this works, but it’s a highly innovative approach to gas engines that we’d like to see rolled out more widely. In this instance, it generates 268 hp from a two-liter turbocharged engine, returning 25 mpg combined in FWD guise. AWD costs $2,000 and removes one mile per gallon from the combined economy figures.

In practice, the engine’s dynamism is neutered by a CVT transmission that simply isn’t up to the job. It’s almost as disappointing as the steering, which is a technologically advanced steer-by-wire system that somehow contrives to be numb and unengaging. The QX50 driving experience is so much less than the sum of its parts, not improved by ride quality which is no better than average.

Part and parcel. On the subject of parts, the QX50 comes with quite a lot of them as standard. Our preferred trim is the entry-level Pure model, costing $41,495 and offering power front seats clad in synthetic leather, wireless smartphone charging, remote start and 19-inch wheels. We’re also delighted to see safety features like adaptive cruise control with lane centering fitted across the range, alongside automatic emergency braking. The NHTSA has given the QX50 a five-star rating, though the IIHS has yet to issue a definitive verdict.

With so much kit packed into Pure models, there’s little point spending over $3,000 to receive Luxe’s sunroof and leather. The Sensory model offers uprated interior finishes, while flagship Autograph brings open-pore wood and quilted leather, though at a price nudging $60,000. For that money, premium rivals like the Range Rover Velar and Jaguar F-Pace represent compelling alternatives. A better case is made by the new Sport model, costing around $50,000 and incorporating a Bose stereo and semi-aniline leather alongside 20-inch two-tone wheels.

Final thoughts. There’s a missed opportunity here – a sense that the QX50 should be a better car than it actually is. The variable combustion engine and steer-by-wire steering promise much but deliver little, while the dual infotainment screen is unlikely to be adopted by any competitor brands. The QX50 doesn’t handle or ride particularly well, and higher trims are unjustifiably expensive, while fuel economy is underwhelming.

The most logical route into QX50 ownership involves the cheapest Pure model. For just over $40,000, you’re getting a well-built and well-designed SUV with impressive second-row comfort and twice as much cargo space as the Mercedes-Benz GLA. Pure trim is packed with toys that make it feel like the premium product flagship QX50s are striving to be, though the latter fall short because they cost 50% more while offering the same mechanicals and accommodation. Add in a strong warranty and maintenance package, and there’s a lot to be said for the most affordable QX50. The rest of the range seems destined to fall some way short of its many fine SUV competitors.

Check prices for the 2023 INFINITI QX50 »