Some folks who buy luxury cars want them to command attention — to stand out in a crowd — and to remind them every day that it’s a glorious machine. But for other buyers, the best thing about a luxury car is that it does everything so well that you never have to think about it.
That’s the approach taken by two recently tested models from the popular compact luxury crossover class: the newly redesigned 2019 Infiniti QX50 and the 2019 Audi Q5, one of the segment’s regular best sellers. You can count on these models to be smooth and quiet, safe and fully featured, and roomy enough for most things you’ll need to carry. They just won’t jump out and thrill you very often.
We’ll start with the new QX50. Unlike fellow Japanese luxury brands Acura and Lexus, Infiniti designed its compact luxury crossover to be graceful and elegant, rather than edgy and sporty. It’s all about flowing smoothly, even where the body is dressed up with elaborate creases. It’s not a car that screams performance.
That’s in line with the car’s personality on the road, too. The previous QX50 was essentially a hatchback version of the G37 rear-wheel-drive sports sedan, with agile handling and a big V6 engine. The new 2019 model favors the space efficiency of a front-wheel-drive-based platform, resulting in more passenger and cargo room, plus the improved fuel economy of an advanced turbocharged four-cylinder engine.
The QX50 hums along smoothly and quietly, without stress or thrills. It should neither amaze nor disappoint unless you have high hopes for sporty performance. Anyone can appreciate the improved fuel economy, which has jumped to an EPA-estimated 27 miles per gallon in mixed driving with front-wheel-drive and 26 mpg with all-wheel-drive, up from 20 mpg on the old V6 model.
Some reviewers have struggled to match those EPA ratings. Others have criticized the QX50’s continuously variable automatic transmission for making the engine too noisy when you floor the accelerator. But with a strong 268 horsepower, you don’t need full throttle to get moving nicely. We averaged 26 mpg during a weeklong test of the all-wheel-drive model.
One area of complaint is the QX50’s dashboard. It looks great from a distance, with flowing curves and rich materials — once again, a far cry from the sport-themed Acura RDX and Lexus NX. But even though it’s an all-new model, its infotainment system looks and feels dated. It is spread across two screens, and neither has the modern graphics you’d expect in a luxury car. Nor does it support Android Auto or Apple CarPlay smartphone integration.
Meanwhile, a bin that covers the console’s small cup holders operates clunkily, and a speedometer marked only in increments of 10 is frustrating on a planet with speed limits in increments of five.
The QX50 is priced from $37,645, which is competitive in that segment. That makes it a strong blend of useful spaciousness, excellent fuel economy, relative value and lovely styling even if the vehicle does have some drawbacks.
The Audi Q5, meanwhile, is more conservatively styled. Although Audi fully redesigned it just last year, the current Q5 didn’t change much cosmetically from its predecessor. The conservative design looks like any Audi SUV from the past five years, for better or for worse.
But like the QX50, the redesigned Q5 did change from a fuel-thirsty V6 engine to a more fuel-efficient four-cylinder. It’s not quite as amazing as Infiniti’s variable-compression motor, but the Q5 still manages a respectable 24 mpg in mixed driving with its standard all-wheel drive system.
The two models are starkly different inside. While the QX50 has the old-school luxury, with lots of rich-looking materials and a curvy design, the Q5 is high-tech minimalism. Its infotainment system is one of the best in its class, with crisp graphics and an intuitive Google-based navigation interface. You can even turn the customizable digital instrument cluster into a Google Maps satellite view.
As in the QX50, the interior quality is mostly excellent, though there are a few areas that don’t live up to the overall ambiance: some cheaper plastics and less-elegant panel fits.
On the road, the Q5 doesn’t have exuberant sportiness like an Alfa Romeo Stelvio or even Lexus NX. However, it has excellent suspension composure if you do choose to drive it harder. That makes it more fun to drive than the Infiniti, even as it’s also comfortable and quiet.
Perhaps its weakest point is a tight rear seat, with less legroom than the QX50 and some other competitors. But otherwise, the Q5 is a solid all-around vehicle that generally meets or exceeds the standards set by its price tag.
It starts at $42,950, which is on the high side for its class, but it makes up for some of the premium by adding more standard features, including genuine leather upholstery and all-wheel-drive.
The Q5 and QX50 compete against such “can’t miss” models as the spacious, sporty and affordable Acura RDX, the all-around excellent but pricey BMW X3, and the smaller but still-useful Volvo XC40.
Brady Holt is a member of the Washington Automotive Press Association.