2019 Infiniti QX50 first drive review: variable compression, constantly good Page 2

Nearly as transparent is the transmission that works alongside the new engine. Infiniti ditched the old QX50's 7-speed automatic in favor of a continuously variable transmission. Now, stop moaning and groaning about the CVT—it's great in this car.

Making yet another case for Nissan being the king of CVTs, the unit in the QX50 is quick to engage, doesn't hold revs unnecessarily, and does a fine job of simulating an 8-speed automatic in manual mode. On the steeper downhill grades in Malibu, California, where I tested the new car, neither engine nor transmission complained about engine braking. And when flipped into Sport mode, the CVT holds its "gear" without much provocation, helping keep the 2.0-liter turbo in its sweet spot.

The QX50's new powertrain sounds better than the coarse, raspy 3.7-liter V-6, too. The VC-Turbo is smooth and refined, with a buzzy intake note that pleases the ears under hard throttle, and none of the V-6's harshness at high rpm. But it's freakishly quiet under light load and at freeway cruising speeds.

Quiet comfort

But there's more than the standard Bose active noise cancellation contributing to this hushed character. Infiniti attached what it's calling an Active Torque Rod, a kind of active engine mount, to further reduce noise, vibration, and harshness from the engine. Combined with a new platform, the QX50 has arguably the quietest cabin of any Infiniti product.

That new platform is also more rigid—there's a 23-percent improvement in torsional rigidity over the outgoing QX50. It provides more agile, competent handling. But that improvement is relative. The 2019 QX50 feels more poised and better balanced around bends than its predecessor, but it has a long way to go before reaching Jaguar, BMW, or Alfa Romeo levels of roadholding and behavior.

2019 Infiniti QX50, first drive

2019 Infiniti QX50, first drive

2019 Infiniti QX50, first drive

2019 Infiniti QX50, first drive

2019 Infiniti QX50, first drive

2019 Infiniti QX50, first drive

Instead, the suspension—MacPherson struts in front and a multi-link setup in back—leans toward comfort. Push the QX50 into a corner and the suspension bites casually, before the weight shifts to the outside wheels. There's a lot of roll, but it's linear and predictable, rather than sloppy. This behavior is fine for a family crossover and should satisfy the vast majority of owners. But while the suspension won't win any awards for handling, it does a fantastic job of absorbing bumps and imperfections.

The new QX50's cabin is one of the best in a crowded class, although there's a catch. The only vehicles available at the launch program wore the top-of-the-line Essential trim level. Of the two vehicles I drove, the first replaced the trim's standard leather seats with the Sensory Package's semi-aniline hides, while the second featured beautiful quilted stitching from the Autograph Package—both vehicles wore high-end open-pore wood and suede accents. All told, these two vehicles featured $7,500 and $9,500 in extras, respectively. That's in addition to the $6,800 jump from the base QX50 to the range-topping Essential. In other words, the pictures attached to this review are not what most QX50s will look like.

But goodness, I wish they did. Interior styling, particularly on high-end trims, has been Infiniti's strong suit over the past several years, and those talents are on full display with the high-end QX50 trims. The leather looks and feels fantastic, and with the Autograph Package's coarse diamond-stitched pattern, it's easy to forget this is a $50,000-ish compact crossover. Likewise, the wood trim looks far more expensive than the price tag would indicate, and the blue suede is just quirky enough.

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