Ask someone to name a $70,000 luxury SUV and many will suggest the Cadillac Escalade. While the Cadillac has been the most ostentatious entry in the premium full-size class for years, the Infiniti QX56 is a surprisingly good entry, we found out over the course of 30,000 miles in a long-term test.

Take, for example, the Infiniti QX56, a sport/utility that has become one of the brand's top-selling items, behind the G sedan and coupe cars, but ahead of far more affordable entries like the EX and FX SUVs, not to mention the M sedan. After 30,000 miles of road trips, stop-and-go traffic, and parking lots seemingly made for vehicles half the QX56's size, it's clear: Those who actually cross-shop the Cadillac with the Infiniti will have a tough decision to make.

"Our QX has to be one of the most maneuverable full-size SUVs around," commented associate online editor Nate Martinez. "It truly drives like a midsize SUV. The steering is very light (an odd feeling for such a hefty machine), yet it's highly responsive, and makes for a surprisingly fun drive."

At the heart of our 4WD 2011 Infiniti QX56 is a direct-injection 5.6-liter V-8 producing 400 horses that gives up nothing compared with the Caddy's 6.2. After selecting a Nissan Versa worth of options, our $71,850 QX56 was very well-equipped, with power-folding third-row seats, second-row seats that fold at the touch of a button, a rear-seat entertainment system, huge 22-inch forged-alloy wheels, and HID headlights that turn into corners. We're not forgetting about Infiniti's full arsenal of electronic aids that attempt to keep the Nissan Patrol-based SUV out of trouble. The Infiniti left the factory with blind-spot monitoring, forward-collision warning, and lane-departure warning systems. On a vehicle as large and powerful as the QX56, the tech proved helpful, while those who don't like the nannies can always turn them off.

One electronic aid that was almost universally appreciated was the Around View monitor with front and rear sonar sensors. Thanks to cameras underneath each rearview mirror, in the front grille, and near the rear license-plate area, the QX56 was fully covered. In an SUV as long and wide as this Infiniti, the tech no doubt helped prevent a number of low-speed encounters with parking lot columns everywhere--just ask associate online editor Benson Kong.

"Although I wouldn't call the QX56 nimble, it continues to captivate me with the amount of grace it displays in tight quarters. I recently found myself in a parking structure that should be restricted to small cars. The concrete labyrinth has all sorts of narrow bends and constricted barriers that told me I wasn't in an ideal place for full-size SUVs. Thanks to the easy steering and considerable visibility (hurray for Around View Monitor and big-box body with giant windows), our long-termer was able to glide down several stories while dodging opposing traffic," Kong noted. "Usually, there's a sense of oafishness that accompanies a 79.9-inch-wide vehicle, but the QX56 ain't bad at all."

The same assessment applies to styling. The Infiniti has softer curves than a Cadillac Escalade but more presence than a Mercedes-Benz GL-Class. While two staffers who initially dismissed the Infiniti's exterior design eventually came to like it, no one supported the QX56's execution of side vents. Or the SUV's driving range. Without an increased range--through a larger fuel tank, better V-8 mileage, or another powertrain option--the QX56 will never reach the volume levels of the Mercedes and Cadillac.

Owning the QX56 was a mostly trouble-free experience. Aside from a driver's auto-up window repair and two recalls covered at the same service visit, there were no surprises. The real surprise will be the realization of former Escalade owners that the Infiniti QX56 is pretty damn good.


From the Logbook

"On the way home, it rained cats and dogs, and the QX's impressive lane-departure-warning system allowed me to navigate the freeway even when the low evening light and wet pavement obscured the lane lines. My eyes couldn't see the stripes, but the Infiniti's lens could. Brilliant."
Brian Vance

"I continue to be amazed at how easily and comfortably this 6000-pound compilation of metal, plastic, and other materials moves about the road. I've really grown to like the effortless-yet-accurate steering as well."
Kirill Ougarov

"When the Big One hits L.A., this is the car I want to be in, as long as someone else is buying the premium gas. It's so powerful. With the seats folded down, there's room to sleep comfortably in the back of it, and there are two DVD screens for entertainment, plus nine cupholders and four bottle holders."
Emiliana Sandoval

Our Vehicle
Base Price $60,750
Options Deluxe Touring Package ($5800: 22-in forged wheels, Hydraulic Body Motion Control, heated/cooled front & heated 2nd-row seats), Technology Package ($2850: Adaptive cruise, blind-spot & lane-departure warning, front Pre-Crash Seat Belts, Adaptive Front Lighting), Theatre Package ($2450: Dual 7-in rear-seat entertainment)
Price as tested $71,850
Total mileage 30,045 mi
Avg fuel economy 15.3 mpg
Problem areas None
Maintenance cost $686
Normal-wear cost $0
3-year residual value* $37,520
Recalls Stability-control system reprogram, A/V system reprogram
*Automotive Lease Guide data
2011 Infiniti QX56
POWERTRAIN/CHASSIS
Drivetrain layout Front-engine, 4WD
Engine type 90-deg V-8, alum block/heads
Valvetrain DOHC, 4 valves/cyl
Displacement 338.8 cu in/5552 cc
Compression ratio 10.8:1
Power (SAE net) 400 hp @ 5800 rpm
Torque (SAE net) 416 lb-ft @ 4000 rpm
Redline 6000 rpm
Weight to power 14.9 lb/hp
Transmission 7-speed automatic
Axle/final-drive ratios 2.94:1/2.28:1
Suspension, front; rear Control arms, coil springs, adj anti-roll; multilink, coil springs, adj anti-roll
Steering ratio 19.7:1
Turns lock-to-lock 3.5
Brakes, f;r 13.8-in vented disc; 13.8-in vented disc, ABS
Wheels 8.0 x 22-in, forged aluminum
Tires 275/50R22 111H M+S Bridgestone Dueler H/T 684II
DIMENSIONS
Wheelbase 121.1 in
Track, f/r 67.5/67.9 in
Length x width x height 208.3 x 79.9 x 75.2 in
Ground clearance 9.2 in
Apprch/depart angle 20.9/22.3 in
Turning circle 41.6 ft
Curb weight 5971 lb
Weight dist, f/r 52/48%
Towing capacity 8500 lb
Seating capacity 7
Headroom, f/m/r 39.9/40.0/36.8 in
Legroom, f/m/r 39.6/41.0/28.8 in
Shoulder room, f/r 63.8/63.5/60.5 in
Cargo volume 16.6 cu ft
TEST DATA
Acceleration to mph
0-30 2.1 sec
0-40 3.3
0-50 4.5
0-60 6.1
0-70 8.2
0-80 10.6
0-90 13.3
0-100 17.1
Passing, 45-65 mph 3.3
Quarter mile 14.7 sec @ 94.4 mph
Braking, 60-0 mph 122 ft
Lateral acceleration 0.74 g (avg)
MT figure eight 28.6 sec @ 0.57 g (avg)
Top-gear revs @ 60 mph 1500 rpm
CONSUMER INFO
Stability/traction control Yes/yes
Airbags Dual front, front side, f/m/r curtain
Basic warranty 4 yrs/60,000 miles
Powertrain warranty 6 yrs/70,000 miles
Roadside assistance 4 yrs/unlimited
Fuel capacity 26.0 gal
EPA city/hwy econ 14/20 mpg
Energy cons, city/hwy 241/169 kW-hrs/100 mi
CO2 emissions 1.20 lb/mi
Recommended fuel Unleaded premium
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