STEVENSON, Wash. -- So we're scooting down the Lewis and Clark Highway, Washington state route 14 through the Columbia River Gorge. This twisty asphalt strip -- rolling over rugged terrain, threading through clefs in granite, wrapping around fir-forest hillsides and dipping low in swings down to the broad river's northern bank -- seems like it was designed expressly to show off the road-hugging agility and sticky tire traction of the stretched and reconfigured 2016 QX50, Infiniti's 5-door and 5-seat crossover utility vehicle (CUV) for the compact class formerly known as the EX35.
Reflecting Infiniti's revised model nomenclature (badges of passenger cars get an alphanumeric name beginning with the letter "Q" as wagons use the letters "QX"), the revised 2016 QX50 earns a 3.2-inch stretch to the wheelbase length which creates 8.3 cubic feet of additional cabin volume and 4.3 inches more legroom for backseat riders.
Drawn out for 15.5 feet long and carved with a raked face flashing a chrome-ringed grille with large L-shaped headlights and new LED daytime running lights posted on front corners plus curvaceous fender blisters bulging over multi-spoke alloy wheels, the QX50 resembles a streamlined sport utility vehicle yet it drives and handles more like a pavement-hugging sporty car.
Its rear-wheel-drive platform -- called FM, for Front Midship, which describes the motor's position on the chassis -- stems from Infiniti's racy Q60 sports coupe.
The suspension is independent with lightweight aluminum components. Up front is a double wishbone mounted on a subframe and in back is a multi-link arrangement with stabilizer bars plus twin-tube shocks fore and aft.
Steering, through a quick-to-respond rack and pinion mechanism, feels firm despite the assist from a vehicle-speed-sensitive power boost.
A vented disc brake stands at every wheel and each ties by computerized links to the anti-lock brake system with electronic brake assist and electronic brake force distribution.
Further, all QX50 models carry Infiniti's vehicle dynamic control device and traction control system to automatically check lateral skidding on slippery pavement.
The 2016 QX50 is available with either rear-wheel-drive or automatic all-wheel-drive traction organization.
Power stems from Nissan's VQ37VHR dual-cam 3.7-liter V6 engine mounted longitudinally and keyed to an electronically controlled drive-by-wire throttle and a continuously variable valve timing control system. The VQ V6 delivers 325 hp at 7000 rpm with torque pumping up to 267 lb-ft at 5200 rpm, all translated by a 7-speed automatic transmission with downshift rev matching and manual shift mode.
QX50's 5-passenger cabin with form-fitting seats and a carload of electronic gizmos features upscale materials like standard premium leather covering seats and aluminum accents plus optional genuine maple wood trim. Up front, bucket seats flank a floor-mounted console. On the second row a bench seats two comfortably but can hold three riders if necessary. The rear seatback splits 60/40 and folds flat to expand the cargo area.
The 2016 QX50 comes in two models -- QX50 RWD and QX50 AWD -- with four optional equipment packages.
The Premium Package installs an advanced climate control system and 11-speaker Bose premium audio system, maple wood trim, power tilting/telescoping steering column, 2-person memory settings for driver's seat plus exterior mirrors and steering wheel, entry/exit assist for driver's seat and steering wheel, outside mirrors with reverse tilt-down feature, auto-dimming inside mirror with HomeLink transceiver, and aluminum roof rails.
A new Premium Plus Package brings the Infiniti Hard Drive Navigation, Around View Monitor and Front and Rear Sonar System.
The Deluxe Touring Package adds 19-inch 5-spoke aluminum-alloy with 245/45R19 all-season performance tires, high intensity discharge xenon headlights, adaptive front lighting system with auto-leveling headlights, 8-way power for the front passenger seat plus power folding rear seats.
And a Technology Package features advanced electronic controls like Lane Departure Warning and Lane Departure Prevention, Intelligent Cruise Control, Distance Control Assist, Intelligent Brake Assist with Forward Collision Warning, and Blind Spot Warning.
We estimate the MSRP points for Infiniti's 2016 QX50 running from $35,600 to $39,400.