The first time I rode in a continuously variable transmission, or CVT-driven car, it was with a Toyota engineer some 15 years ago. While CVTs have been around in various forms for many decades — especially in motorcycles and all-terrain vehicles — they were just starting to become more available in cars here.
The Prius and Ford Fiesta were among those offering a CVT which, rather than shifting through five or six gears, provides an infinite number of gear ratios between minimum and maximum values.
“Impressive, smooth” I said to the engineer in the passenger seat. “I’m guessing every car will have these some day?”
Not so fast, he smiled. Yes, CVTs are supposed to improve fuel economy, since they perform at the most efficient rpm at all times. But some say they feel like they strain to get up to speed. And some say they would prefer it shifting like a regular transmission.
Not to worry. Infiniti, or parent company Nissan, has taken care of that last complaint in the 2015 QX60 by programming the CVT to “simulate” the shifting of a conventional automatic transmission. You won’t even suspect it has a CVT. So I guess what’s new is old again. Or is it the other way around?
The QX60, a three-row, seven-passenger luxury crossover, gets its power from a 3.5-liter V-6 that produces 265 horsepower and 248 pound-feet of torque. That’s adequate power in most cases, but some might wish there was more in passing situations.
The ride, though, is superb. It is quiet, comfortable and has a luxurious feel. Railroad tracks and speed bumps are just minor distractions. On the highway, you’ll feel like you can drive all day and into the night.
On corners, not so much. There is significant body lean, possibly due to the soft suspension that gives it that smooth ride. Steering is on the lighter side and has precise feedback. Braking is strong and inspires confidence.
All QX60s are available in front- or all-wheel-drive.
While the CVT (Nissan models are getting it, too) may boost fuel economy some, it falls a bit short of Environmental Protection Agency mileage figures of 21 city, 27 highway. Most folks know those figures are achieved only at optimum conditions (no AC, no jackrabbit starts). My result for the week was around 20 mpg combined.
If mileage is critical in your decision, the QX60 also has a hybrid version that the EPA estimates at 26 mpg city, 28 highway. The gas-electric hybrid features a 2.5-liter 4-cylinder engine assisted by an electric motor and lithium-ion battery pack. Together they produce 250 horsepower and 243 pound-feet of torque.
Inside, the QX60 exudes luxury at every glance, with leather, wood and metal trim accents to class it up. Dials and buttons are all within easy reach and easy to figure out.
Seats are ultra-comfortable with just the right firmness. Legroom and headroom are fine even for taller folks. And the second-row seats slide back and forth 5.5 inches to ease the chore of climbing back into the third row.
But get this: The third row is one of the few that can accommodate more than just the kids. Adults (including me at 6 feet and 1 inch, 205 pounds) actually fit back there with reasonable comfort. Seat backs recline on both the third and second rows, too.
All that comfort and roominess comes at some cost, I suppose, as we’re left with only 15.8 cubic feet for cargo with all the seats up.
Among safety and convenience features, a 360-degree camera system has a top view of the vehicle and its surroundings, making parking a breeze. Optional are lane-departure and forward-collision warnings and a blind-spot warning system that automatically intervenes, if necessary, to steer you back into your lane.
Also optional is Infiniti’s “Connection” service, which offers stolen vehicle and collision notification service.
The QX60 comes in a single trim level, but it’s nicely equipped with 18-inch wheels, bi-xenon headlights, sunroof, power lift gate, keyless entry, leather seats with eight-way power, 7-inch touchscreen with satellite radio and backup camera.
Then there is a plethora of options packages. A Premium package gets power lumbar and 13-speaker Bose audio system and more. A Drive assistance package adds safety features like rear cross-traffic warning and backup collision intervention, plus the “Eco Pedal,” which pushes back if you’re driving uneconomically.
The Theater package includes a two-screen rear-seat entertainment system. And Deluxe Touring adds 20-inch wheels, panoramic sunroof, maple accents inside and a power third-row seat.
Truly, an exquisite blend of luxury and technology extras here. Makes all that talk of CVTs seem inconsequential.
Still, the CVT is the only transmission available, so you’ll have to like it or lump it. But it’s doubtful you’ll give it a second thought, which means you’ll like it.
2015 INFINITI QX60
As tested: $53,690 (With Technology package, $2,800; Deluxe Touring, $3,450; Premium, $1,550; and Premium Plus, $3,000)