The coolest thing about Infiniti’s newly redesigned QX50 crossover has nothing to do with its looks, its technological goodies, or even its ability to (kinda) drive itself. No, the best thing about this vehicle is sitting under the hood, and it’s got an important message for the drivers of Earth: Reports of the internal combustion engine’s demise might be a tad premature.
That’s because this compact five-seater features the world’s first variable compression engine. We’ve known about this clever system for a few years, but now it’s finally entering the market.
The trick lies in the engine’s ability to change the compression ration, which determines how tightly the pistons squeeze the air and fuel before the spark plug ignites the mixture (that’s the combustion bit). It does that by changing the angle of a center link, which rotates around the crank shaft and separates upper and lower piston links, and thus the distance the piston travels up the cylinder.
If you didn’t catch that, all you need to know is that Nissan, Infiniti’s parent company, has developed an engine that can optimize its behavior for whatever you want in the moment: performance or fuel economy.
The somewhat Rube Golbergian contraption smacks of added complexity, but the company’s engineers have been working on the VC-Turbo, as the call it, for 20 years, and swear it will stand up to hundreds of thousands of miles of use. The automaker plans to eventually distribute the engine to other models across its Nissan and Infiniti lineups. As that happens, it could stave off the advent of electric propulsion, or at least ease the transition.
The QX50 has some other goodies worth mentioning. It’s the first Infiniti to offer Nissan’s ProPilot semi-autonomous system (which was already available on the Leaf and Rogue). Like Tesla’s Autopilot, ProPilot can control braking, acceleration, and steering, tracking road markings to keep in its lane and radar to monitor its proximity to other vehicles.
Like most of these systems, it really only works on the highway, and still requires hands-on participation from the driver (otherwise it beeps aggressively), but it has an easy to understand user interface, a bonus in the too often murky world of semi-autonomy. It also capitalizes on Infiniti’s steer-by-wire technology to generate more precise control of the vehicle’s reactions to obstacles and other vehicles.
If you’re eager to take home the new engine—then let it drive you around—you’ve got until late 2018 to save up $35,000.