“There is a roundabout.” This direction from the feminine voice of the Infiniti QX30's GPS navigation system could be the title of a short film about car travel in Portugal. I’m here testing the new compact crossover—three types (a forward wheel drive, all-wheel-drive, and a sport version) will appear in the States in summer 2016—on circle after circle, heading northeast from Belem, on the outskirts of Lisbon, toward the mountains around Sintra and the Atlantic beaches of Cascais.
Roundabouts or traffic circles are as rare in the U.S. as they are common in Europe. Navigating one is mostly about timing—a short, intense burst of speed married to deft handling. But the QX30 AWD I'm driving handles the demands of a roundabout better than I do, considering I occasionally miss the desired turnoff and have to loop around for another try. The car isn’t super fast, but it’s quick when it matters, perhaps not surprising since the engine, all-wheel-drive system, and underlying electronics architecture are made by Mercedes-Benz, which owns a stake in Infiniti.
Riding slightly higher than vehicles of similar proportions, and with a seat that sits taller than any other vehicle in its class, the QX30 AWD's lofty center of gravity initially felt worrisome on twisty Sintra roads, but a firm suspension kept the vehicle on track. The seats themselves are comfortable even over a long trip as they are engineered to follow the curve of the spine. That attention to creature comfort is mirrored by a similar emphasis on high design. The most striking exterior details are eye-shaped headlights and a crescent-shaped C-pillar at the rear. The black cloth and leather interior of the version I’m driving has dashboard lines that flow away from the driver in a wavy design that complements the view of the Cascais shoreline. There is a touch of the old school thanks to manually adjusted seats and an ignition that requires an inserted key to get things started. Especially in a place where bridges and streets are named for famous explorers of centuries past, that hint of yesterday feels more charming than outdated.
Price not yet released; for more information, visit infiniti.com.