If you thought high gas prices and a questionable economy meant the era of big SUVs was over, you’d be wrong; 2011 saw large SUV sales in the US grow 3.7% with a 7.4% growth in the luxury SUV segment. If you are one of those people with six-figure salaries and snow-filled school runs, the Cadillac Escalade is probably on your short list. But what about the person who isn’t ready to look “gangsta” while dropping Jimmy Jr. off at softball practice? Infiniti might just have the answer: the all-new, all-enormous QX56. Michael Karesh snagged a QX56 from a dealer back in March 2011, and in December Infiniti tossed me the keys to a 7-seat QX to see what the behemoth is like to live with for a week.
The luxury SUV formula is simple (and almost universally applied); take a mass-market SUV, add bling, softer leather, and wood trim (real or fake, take your pick). The Cadillac Escalade is the best known example. The Caddy borrows so heavily from the Chevrolet Tahoe and GMC Yukon that it’s hard to tell them apart unless you’re looking at them head-on. Toyota/Lexus uses the same formula to make the LX570 out of the Toyota Land Cruiser. If this doesn’t appeal to you, Nissan/Infiniti may have been listening. While Infiniti’s last generation QX was a tarted up Nissan Armada, this time around the QX is a re-badged Nissan Patrol. Same story different names you say? Not quite, the Patrol has never been sold in America, and in all likelihood never will be. You see, the Patrol is not some budget Nissan, it’s Nissan’s flagship SUV in markets where Infiniti doesn’t exist. This sounds strange to the average American buyer, however it is perfectly normal (in many markets) for a single brand to compete in the budget-compact market and the full-size luxury niche at the same time.
Outside, the QX looks big. Really big. Infiniti attempted to put the QX on a visual diet by adding the Infiniti signature grille and “bubbly” hood treatment. The nip/tuck works to some extent and made me believe the QX56 is smaller than the competition, until I parked between an Escalade and GL550. At over 208-inches long and 80-inches wide, the QX56 is 6-inches longer and more than an inch wider than the Escalade (if want an SUV that rivals river-barges, Cadillac’s Escalade ESV is 229-inchs long). The QX is so large that while on the freeway I came too close to a pair of Smart Fortwos and accidentally pulled them into orbit. While I find the quarter-panel “portholes” an awkward styling job, the rest of the slab-sided QX is more attractive in my mind than the sedate LX570, the angular GL or the Escalade.
The super-size theme continues inside with wide, flat-bottomed front seats, a large center console between the front and second row seats (in the 7-seat QX) and large expanses of real wood trim. Anyone who owns or has driven a late model year Infiniti will feel immediately at home inside the QX as Infinit’s interior design department still chants the “same sausage, different sizes” mantra, and I’m OK with that. Parts quality inside the QX is extremely high with all the major touch points lacking the plastic feel the Cadillac is burdened with. Still, budgets are a way of life and back in 2010 when I reviewed the redesigned M56, I loved the “knurled” rings around the speedo and tach, the QX borrows the style but not the 3-D plastic bits opting instead for a painted-on faux knurl. Other than the painted gauge bling, the QX’s cabin is easily on par with Mercedes’ GL and Lexus’s LX.
Under the QX’s bulbous hood beats but one engine option: the lightly re-worked 5.6-liter direct-injection V8 VK56VD. While the V8 is shared with the M56 sedan, exhaust differences reduce the output by 20HP and 4lb-ft to 400HP at 5,850RPM and 413lb-ft at 4,000RPM. Despite the downgrade in twist, the new engine is more powerful than all of the competition except the Escalade’s 403-horsepower, 417lb-ft 6.2-liter pushrod V8. Despite being down on displacement versus the Caddy, Infiniti’s direct-injection and variable valve timing tech help the QX’s V8 not only deliver its peak torque earlier than the Caddy’s 6.2L V8, but it doesn’t run out of breath as easily either.
As a result of the advantageous torque curve, high horsepower and a well matched 7-speed transmission, the QX56 recorded a faster 0-60 time than the 2011 Infiniti G37 convertible we tested recently. The QX boasts an 8,500lb towing capacity (slightly higher than Escalde), and in a back-to-back test with a friend’s 2011 Caddy and the same trailer, the QX felt far more composed going up steep grades with a 5,000lb trailer. The fast acceleration times and improved towing feel are largely due to the 7-speed automatic which spent less time hunting than GM’s 6-speed. Overall, the QX transmission’s shifts are fast and crisp like other Infiniti products (with rev-matched down-shifts), however the unit is programmed to be up-shift happy for fuel economy reasons. Fear not piston heads; romping the go peal will still trump the EPA. All 400 ponies are routed to the tarmac via the rear wheels or an optional all-time four-wheel-drive system with a two-speed transfer case. Sadly the terrain selection dial (ala Land Rover) from the Nissan Patrol didn’t make it into the QX.
Out on the road, the QX’s 121-inch wheelbase (5-inches longer than Escalade), independent rear suspension and standard 60-series rubber help the QX deliver a fairly compliant ride. Upgrading to the 22-inch wheel package drops the aspect ratio on the tires to 50 but improves the look of the vehicle whiel taking a slight toll on harshness over rough pavement. If handling is a priority for you, look beyond the 22-inch low profile tires and shop the 300lb lighter Mercedes-Benz GL550 or a crossover. Compared to the LX570, the QX delivers better grip than the Lexus, but slots firmly between the base Escalade and the Escalade with GM’s Magnetic Ride Control. Does any of this matter? I say no. Let’s face it – as long as a large SUV handles as well as a 1980s minivan it has succeeded in my book.
While Green Peace will never give a thumbs-up to any full-size SUV, the 5,850lb QX56 manages to win the award for the most fuel efficient “full-size non-hybrid SUV,” delivering 14 city MPG and 20 highway MPG. (The Escalde and GL450 both scrape the bottom at 13 MPG city/18 MPG highway.) During our 640-mile week with the QX56, we averaged a respectable 15.2MPGs in mixed driving and a daily commute over a 2,200ft mountain pass and our best highway mileage of 22MPG was achieved during a 48-mile run on level highway.
Lately Infiniti has been taking nanny state to the next level with “prevention systems” rather than just “warning systems.” As much as I may dislike systems that take control at any time (as opposed to systems that take control when you are inattentive), when you are driving a living room sized vehicle aroundm it’s probably a good idea for the nannies to kick in early. Sure, the Lexus LX has a pre-collision system and the Mercedes GL can be had with lane departure warning, but the QX takes electronic prevention to a whole new level. “Lane Departure Prevention” not only tells you when you cross the line without signalling, it will actually use the brakes to “steer” you back in your lane. Similarly, “Blind Spot Avoidance” will act (more drastically) to keep you from side-swiping that motorcycle or Smart car in your blind spot. While the Lane Departure system’s intervention is a gentle tug, the Blind Spot system is more of a shove back in your lane. I can hear HAL now: I’m sorry, Dave. I’m afraid I can’t do that.
Most luxury brands offer radar cruise control as an option, but Infinit’s packs a socialist twist: an accelerator pedal that fights back. The radar cruise control with “Intelligent Brake Assist” will brake for you [even to a complete stop] in many situations. The easiest way to describe the behavior is this: you are following a car on a surface street, the car begins to slow for a red light, if the QX56 sees that you are closing on the car in front of you it will begin pushing the accelerator pedal up at you to indicate your need to act, if you lift off the accelerator and you are close enough to the car in front, the QX will automatically apply the brakes taking you all the way to a complete stop. Once stopped the car will hold the brakes for a few seconds, then beep indicating your need to touch the brake pedal and then release it’s death grip on your stoppers. I will leave the debate over this making QX drivers depend too much on technology to our readers.
The QX56 shares its 8-inch navigation/infotainment system with the rest of the Infiniti lineup and as such provides excellent Bluetooth and iPod/iPhone integration. While the software has not been significantly improved since the former QX, it is fairly competitive with the Lexus and Cadillac systems. With an intuitive interface that combines physical buttons on the dash and steering wheel as well as a touch screen, navigating through your music device or the nav system is easy and can be done primarily via the steering wheel. While the Infiniti system allows voice control of the navigation system and Bluetooth phone dialing, it unfortunately still lacks voice command of your Apple music device ala Ford’s SYNC or Kia’s UVO. The large screen is also used by Infiniti’s “Around Monitor” system which takes images from four different cameras around the car and digitally manipulates the image to give you a bird’s eye view of your surroundings. While this feature is nifty in a mid-size luxury sedan, it’s a matter of wheel-life-or-death on large SUVs and thankfully it is standard on all QX models.
So how much does one of these babies set you back? Logically, full-size SUVs have full-size price tags and the QX56 is no exception. The 2012 Infiniti QX56 starts at $58,700 for the rear wheel drive QX and $61,800 for the four-wheel drive model. Aside from the all-wheel motivation, the $3,100 also buys the driver a windshield de-icer and a 260lb increase in curb weight. Strangely enough the 4WD system does not come standard with a reduction in fuel economy with 2WD and 4WD models scoring the same in the EPA tests (your mileage may vary of course). Our tester was a fully-loaded AWD model retailing for $75,140. Our options list included: the $2,950 “Theater Package” with dual 7-inch headrest monitors for the second row, wireless headphones, second row power-folding heated seats and a built-in 120V AC inverter; the $4,100 “Deluxe Touring Package” with heated and cooled front seats, semi-aniline leather, dynamic body roll control, climate control with air quality management, a Plasmacluster air purifier and burl wood trim; and the $3,000 “Technology Package” which includes all the safety nannies we covered earlier. While $75K sounds steep, the QX56 is actually a “bargain” in the luxo-hauler class. Similarly equipped, the Mercedes GL550 will set you back $89,818, the Cadillac Escalade Platinum $82,035 and the Lexus X570 will ding you $89,356. It should be noted that despite the Cadillac of price tags, the Escalade lacks many of the advanced active safety features of the QX.
As much as I might like to think of myself as a mild-greenie, I have always had a strangely large place in my heart for large vehicles. You know you like ’em big too. However politically incorrect it may be to drive a large SUV, and keeping the fact that few people really “need” a full-size SUV, the QX56 is a solid entry in this niche and 2011 sales bear this out with the QX outselling the Lexus LX570 fourfold. Indeed the QX outsells all but the Escalade, and for good reason, with a fresh new look, upscale interior and more electronic doodads than the competition for a lower price point, the QX56 should be at the top of your super-sized list.
0-30: 2.161 seconds
0-60: 5.61 seconds
1/4 Mile: 14.27 seconds @ 97 MPH
Infiniti provided the vehicle, insurance and one tank of gas for this review.