Two luxury compact crossovers. Two different ideas on what is essential for a rewarding driving experience and covering the bases of an upscale SUV. We tested the 2021 Lincoln Corsair AWD Reserve and 2021 Infiniti QX50 Autograph AWD to see if either one could deliver on the compact crossover promises.
The two compact SUVs share some common traits — both are similar in size, and each uses a 2.0L turbocharged engine. However, the two brands have dramatically different ideas about how their compact crossovers fit into a busy and already packed segment.
2021 Lincoln Corsair AWD Reserve Overview
Lincoln is on a mission to rebuild the brand cachet of yore and is putting fresh energy into its designs. The mid-size, three-row Aviator was released before the Corsair and successfully created a mobile sanctuary that felt divine. With the introduction of the compact-class, 2-row Corsair, Lincoln completes its family of small, medium, and full-size SUVs.
2021 Infiniti QX50 Autograph AWD Overview
The Infiniti QX50 is a stylishly shaped, premium crossover that competes for attention against a crowded cadre such as the Audi Q5, Volvo XC60, Acura RDX, and of course, the Corsair. Fully redesigned in 2019, the QX50 is lovely inside and out but particularly refined and inoffensive.
Drivetrain, Power, and Fuel Economy
2021 Lincoln Corsair: All the Options
Lincoln offers three different drivetrain options for the Corsair. The standard mill is a 2.0L turbocharged 4-cylinder engine good for 250 hp and 280 lb.-ft. of torque driving the front wheels. The second choice is a 2.3L turbocharged engine that delivers 295 hp and 310 lb.-ft. of torque.
Both turbocharged engines pair up with an 8-speed automatic transmission. Interestingly, EPA fuel economy estimates are similar for both engines: 24 mpg in combined city and highway driving for the AWD models. The FWD model with the 2.0L turbocharged engine gets estimated at 25 mpg combined.
Lincoln’s 8-speed automatic transmission had notably smooth shift transitions between gears and was responsive to load changes. Comparatively, the CVT in the QX50 was a tad slower to respond and noisier, especially when giving it the beans.
All-wheel drive is available with either engine choice and increases the Corsair’s all-weather capabilities. Power goes to the front wheels by default for efficiency until road conditions, speed, temperature, and detected traction cause a redistribution of power to the wheels with the most traction. If inclement weather and road conditions are less than favorable, you can select from five drive modes at a moment’s notice.
The third powertrain option for the Corsair is a plug-in hybrid system and all-wheel drive employing an electric motor in the rear axle in the Corsair Grand Touring. The PHEV model has an all-electric range of approximately 25 miles and a combined output of 266 hp.
Infiniti QX50: One Solid Choice
On the other hand, the Infiniti QX50 simplifies engine selection down to one option: a 2.0L variable compression turbocharged 4-cylinder engine with Infiniti’s Xtronic continuously variable transmission. Power, sent to the front wheels, tops out at 268 hp and 280 lb.-ft. of torque. All-wheel drive is also available.
EPA numbers for the QX50 are a wee bit better than the Corsair. The front-wheel-drive model is estimated at 26 mpg combined, while the all-wheel-drive version comes in at 25 mpg combined.
Interior Design, Seating, and Cargo Space
Inside the 2021 Lincoln Corsair AWD Reserve
Considering design and color choices, the Corsair presented itself as warmer and more inviting compared to the QX50 and other class competitors like the Audi Q5 and Cadillac XT4. The leather trim across the cabin looked rich and felt wonderful to touch.
The Corsair was fairly accommodating, whichever seat I chose. The dash is low, which aided visibility all around, and the electronic transmission with piano-key buttons opened up space in the center console.
One of my favorite features was the 24-way adjustable front seats with massage control. Onboard massage chairs aren’t new, but Lincoln’s version stayed on as long as I wanted, whereas others will shut off after a set period.
Since the back seats can slide up to six inches, legroom is a lavish 38.6 inches. At the same time, full-size adults would appreciate an extra inch or so of headroom. Cargo volume with the second row upright is 27.6 cubic feet and grows to 57.6 cubic feet after dropping the 60/40 split seatbacks.
Inside the 2021 Infiniti QX50 Autograph AWD
The QX50’s cabin was impressive and a welcome choice for a daily driver. The blue suede trim and white diamond-quilted leather seats helped the QX50 stand out from the crowd. Not only did the seats look good, but they also made extended drives a breeze. Overall, the comfort level of this crossover made even long commutes in San Francisco Bay Area traffic less stressful.
Surprisingly, that high level of comfort carried over to the back seat as well. The QX50 has a class-leading 38.7 inches of legroom and a generous amount of headroom for tall individuals. Like the Corsair, the second row will recline a few degrees and slide fore and aft.
The decision to build on a new front-drive platform allowed Infiniti to expand the interior space. The cargo capacity behind the back seats is 31.1 cubic feet but grows to a class-leading 64.4 cubic feet and offers more overall cargo space than the Corsair. Lift the rear floor cover, and there is a deep storage bin for even more gear stowed securely out of sight.
Safety Comes Standard
The Co-Pilot 360 Plus safety suite is the way to go if you want all the nifty modern safety features the Corsair has to offer. This package includes active cruise control with full stop and auto restart (great for use in heavy traffic), the 360-degree camera view, blind-spot warning, and automatic lane centering.
For 2021, Infiniti included more standard safety features on all trim levels for the QX50, namely rear-seat-mounted side-impact supplemental airbags and automatic collision notification with an emergency call system.
Standard in every model of the QX50 is also a Wifi hotspot along with some additional driver-assist features. Standard equipment beginning with the LUXE model includes Distance Control Assist, Blind Spot Intervention, Intelligent Cruise Control, ProPILOT Assist, and Lane Departure Prevention. The top-grade AUTOGRAPH model I tested boasted Direct Adaptive Steering and the 360-degree Around View Monitor with moving object detection — a valuable tool for parking and close maneuvers in tight spaces.
To benefit from the full range of safety systems offered for the QX50, the ProActive Assist package is necessary. The bundle has the adaptive cruise control system, which adds full-speed-range stop-and-go capability, a Direct Adaptive Steering system with lane-centering capability, lane-departure warning and prevention, active blind-spot intervention, automatic high-beam headlights, and a head-up display.
Driving Impressions: The Deciding Factor
Lincoln and Infiniti took two different approaches tuning the suspensions of their premium compact crossovers, which is likely to sway the buying decision. Lincoln’s goal was to set up the Corsair with a refined and smooth ride, resulting in one of the most comfortable and pleasant driving vehicles on the market today.
“Corsair’s smooth and powerful ride inspires confidence,” said John Jraiche, Lincoln Corsair chief engineer. “The technology is designed to respond to the road, truly enhancing the drive.”
Drive dynamics accounted for the most significant gap between the 2021 Lincoln Corsair and 2021 Infiniti QX50. You can try to wake up the smooth Corsair by switching to “Excite” mode or flipping through the gears using the paddle shifter. Nevertheless, the automatic transmission lacked a snappy response, and the soft suspension settings did not encourage vigorous driving.
However, the adaptive suspension did well at keeping the Corsair planted through the turns, albeit with some extra body lean. The copious amount of low-end torque kept things chugging along at a nifty pace.
Considering that, the QX50 has more performance aspirations than the Corsair, but it came up short. When I came into a turn, too hot, and the front end pushed its way off into the wrong direction. Pressing hard on the go pedal caused the CVT to moan with a loud drone.
When cruising at highway speeds, I came to appreciate the abated road noise and the ProPILOT Assist working to keep me safe. However, that was quickly forgotten, given the QX50’s firm ride as I felt many of the smaller road imperfections along the way.
Is Downsizing Right-Sizing For You?
At the end of the week, I didn’t grow to love the 2021 Infiniti QX50 Autograph AWD, but I learned to appreciate its assets. Infiniti’s modest-size SUV looks terrific, and its combination of comfort, ample cargo space, and ProPilot Assist safety technology made it a fantastic daily driver or enjoyable road trip hauler. However, it’s hard to recommend the QX50 over the Corsair until Infiniti incorporates a powertrain that uses a transmission with actual gears and sorts out its handling weaknesses.
The 2021 Lincoln Corsair AWD Reserve impressed me with its plush ride, conservative styling, and refined cabin. Power from the turbocharged four was more than adequate. More so if you select the 2.3L model. Moreover, the cabin design and ergonomics all came together, which gave me the perception that I’d spent time in a true luxury vehicle.
Cross-shop these class competitors if the Corsair or QX50 are on your list: BMW X3, Audi Q5, Mercedes-Benz GLC-Class, Volvo XC60, Lexus NX, Cadillac XT4, Acura RDX, Alfa Romeo Stelvio, and Jaguar F-Pace.
|2021 Lincoln Corsair AWD Reserve
|2021 Infiniti QX50 AWD Autograph
|Price As Tested
|2.3L turbocharged 4-cylinder
|2.0L turbocharged 4-cylinder
|295 @ 5500 rpm
|268 @ 5600 rpm
|310 @ 3000 rpm
|280 @ 1600-4800 rpm
|EPA Combined w/AWD (mpg)
|Longitudinally-mounted front-engine, all-wheel drive
|Transverse-mounted front-engine, all-wheel drive
|Front: MacPherson strut, twin-tube shock absorbers, 27 mm stabilizer bar
Rear: Independent multi-link, monotube shock absorbers, 22.5 mm stabilizer bar
|Power-assisted four-wheel discs w/electric parking brake
|Four-wheel disc with ABS and electric parking brake
|Dimensions: length x width x height (inches)
|180.6 x 76.2 x 64.1
|184.7 x 74.9 x 66.0
|Ground Clearance (inches)
|Approach/Departure Angles (degrees)
|17.2 / 23.9
|Headroom front/rear (inches)
|39.5 / 38.7
|40.0 / 38.4 w/moonroof
|Hiproom front/rear (inches)
|55.6 / 50.8
|55.6 / 53.8
|Legroom front/rear (inches)
|43.2 / 38.6
|39.6 / 38.7
|Shoulder room front/rear (inches)
|57.1 / 56.3
|57.9 / 57.1
|Passenger Volume (cu. ft.)
|54.4 / 53.1 w/moonroof
|Cargo Capacity behind 2nd row (cu. ft.)
|31.4 / 31.1 w/moonroof
|Max Cargo Capacity rear seat folded (cu. ft.)
|65.1 / 64.4 w/moonroof
|Curb Weight (pounds)
|Towing Capacity (pounds)