Innovations in the car industry over the past decade have focused on connectivity, safety and taking the driving functions away from humans. Not engines.
But Nissan-owned luxury brand Infiniti is bucking the trend with an all-new engine that debuts variable compression ratio technology, something that will debut on the upcoming QX50 midsize SUV, due next year.
Changing it up
As the name suggests, the VC-Turbo engine can alter the compression ratio, or how much the engine compresses the air/fuel mix before igniting it for the bang that makes power.
That allows it to be optimised depending on how the car is being driven, rather than being set at a compromise for all conditions.
With gentle throttle applications, for example, the engine runs in its leanest setting with a high (14:1) compression ratio, sipping gently on fuel.
But step on the accelerator and it quickly shifts to a low compression (8:1) to allow more fuel to create a bigger bang.
The result is impressive flexibility across the rev range, as we learnt at a drive through the stunning (and remote) Gobi Desert in Mongolia.
There's 200kW of power, but it's the 380Nm of torque that's always on tap in a broad, generous dollop that gets the most attention.
There's a real big engine feel to its response, the strong pull maintained all the way to the engine's peak. Plus, it arrives soon after pressing the throttle, the response in keeping with its sporty flavour.
The new variable compression engine drives through a CVT auto, or continuously variable transmission.
Once moving, it does a stellar job of marching things along nicely, the transmission constantly varying its drive ratio to match what you're asking of it.
But from a standstill it's less enthusiastic, sometimes taking its time to build momentum; that's particularly noticeable during three-point turns, where it's a tad lazy.
Fuel for thought
A low thirst is the prime reason for the VC-T engine. Infiniti claims it can deliver diesel-like efficiency.
Blasting through the desert was not the ideal place to test it, fuel use typically into double figures as we constantly adjusted our speed and often enjoyed the torque thrust.
What we did learn is the four-wheel drive system (there will also be two-wheel drive models) is intelligent in the way it apportions drive, reducing wheel slip significantly.
Despite the tech going on beneath the bonnet there's nothing particularly sexy about the four-cylinder engine, its sound very generic.
But it is impressively quiet.
Make some noise
The QX50 has the option of a terrific 17-speaker Bose sound system, with excellent clarity and soft, meaty bass.
As with the headphones the brand is famous for, Bose's car system uses noise cancelling, sending an opposing frequency to counter things such as tyre and engine noise.
It's not new in the car industry – some luxury cars use it, as does the Ford Everest – but it's done well in the QX50, making for an impressively quiet cabin, one interrupted predominantly by the stutter of corrugations during out remote drive.
Thankfully, the suspension coped with the desert bashing.
The QX50 sits on an all-new architecture that makes for a more engaging drive.
All our driving was done on dirt roads, sometimes through dry creek beds and over the sort of terrain best tackled in a dedicated off-roader.
The QX50 is very much from the soft-roader school – there's not even a spare tyre – although it dealt with the occasionally rocky pinches nicely.
While we can't speak of its high speed dynamics, its ability to settle and suppress bumps was impressive, the independent suspension absorbing imperfections effortlessly.
Those into their tech will also like playing with the steer-by-wire system, which allows adjustment to the steering feel and ratio.
It's all very PlayStation, although there is a mechanical link to the wheels in case the electronics give up.
Is it enough?
Infiniti has had a tough time in the Australian market in the face of continued dominance of German luxury brands.
Don't expect that to disappear overnight.
But the QX50 has the most potential of anything in the modest lineup.
For starters, it's playing in the biggest luxury playground; SUVs are what have delivered the growth to luxury brands in recent years, none moreso than the mid-sizers. It's also a market segment where loyalties tend not to be as strong as, say, in coupes or sedans.
Secondly, it's by far the most convincing machine ever to wear Infiniti's oval badge. It has an impressive interior and there's a distinctive design outside.
Luxury buyers love something new and innovative, and the QX50 certainly delivers on that front.
The VC-Turbo engine will debut in the QX50 that arrives here early in 2019.
But expect it to quickly spread to other models throughout the Infiniti family.
It will also be used by Nissan, the parent of Infiniti, first up in the Altima sedan.
Ultimately, it could also be used by Mercedes-Benz, which shares major components with Nissan/Renault as part of an ongoing cooperation.