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    When Bigger Isn’t Better

    By Philip Ruth–

    The city can be tough for size queens. Especially in terms of cars.

    This came into focus after a succession of full-sized SUV and pickup-truck press vehicles. It was a subsequent relief to slip through traffic in either of the crossovers we’re examining this week: the BMW X1 and Infiniti QX50.

    Though they start at about the same price—the BMW X1 xDrive28i starts a mere $1,400 less than the $38,350 Infiniti QX50 Pure AWD—the BMW is a size class smaller, with a compact overall length of 175.1 inches.

    That makes the BMW 9.4 inches shorter than the Infiniti, and in the suburbs where you have your own driveway, you might feel like you’re accepting less car in exchange for that vaunted BMW brand status. But in the city, the QX50’s almost extra foot of length can really test your parking karma, and it’s why you can’t drive a few blocks in San Francisco without seeing at least one X1.

    The QX50 beats the X1’s familiarity with a bold style that got lots of looks. I tend not to notice silver cars, and the tester’s Graphite Shadow paint blended into the Bay Area’s foggy days of January. Heads still swiveled, though, wherever we went. Crossovers are common enough to seem like a dime a dozen, and so it is significant that Infiniti made one so provocative.

     

    Inside, the respective sizes of these two crossovers become less distinct. The BMW is notably roomy, with only one less cubic foot of passenger space than the Infiniti. Taller drivers will like the smaller model’s greater front legroom. Width is the Infiniti’s main advantage: the QX50 is more than three inches wider, which translates into 2.3 inches more shoulder room and makes the larger model’s proportions feel more relaxed.

    Despite the deluxe accommodations in both of these premium crossovers, I couldn’t get comfortable in either. The BMW’s driver seat is cut wide enough that my torso never contacted the side bolsters, and so the main touch points were under the fronts of my thighs and behind my shoulder blades. This was enough to hold me upright, but not enough to fend off the fidgets.

    The QX50’s perch had the usual too-low lumbar support for those of long torso, and the invasive headrest had my head tap-tap-tapping against it until I reclined the backrest to an awkward angle. These seats fit somebody, and that somebody isn’t me.

    Over the road, the flavors of each of these brands become clear. The BMW is a little slow off the line but loves to romp around, with firm steering and an athletic suspension. The Infiniti is very nearly the polar opposite, with authoritative acceleration coupled with feather-like steering at lower speeds. The BMW cavorts, while the Infiniti encourages you to sit back and rocket forth.

    So if urban living keeps you from indulging your size desires, either the X1 and QX50 could compensate with their own compelling interpretations of crossover style and performance.

    Philip Ruth is a Castro-based automotive photojournalist and consultant ( www.gaycarguy.com ). Check out his automotive staging service at www.carstaging.com