On the Road: We had the chance to grab a 2008 Infiniti QX56 out of Salt Lake City, Utah, to do some test driving in the mountains near Park City. The beauty of Park City is that it's about 35 miles from downtown Salt Lake, with much of the highway in good shape as it climbs several thousand feet in elevation. Our drive really started after we got our luggage into the QX's rear storage area. Normally this would be an easy affair, but we had two teenage girls with us (each apparently with half her wardrobe along), so I was sweating whether or not we had enough room behind the second row to store all the luggage. I'm thankful to say, the pushbutton third-row seats folds flat into the floor to provide 57 cubic feet of cargo space, which turns out was just enough. The girls each had her own captain's chair with heated seats, and they quickly plugged in their iPod to the auxiliary outlet to play the latest Jack Johnson, Maroon 5, and Nickelback songs.
Behind the wheel, the power of the 5.6L Endurance V-8 still impresses me. It feels every pound-foot of its 393 torque number. The transmission is flexible and responsive enough, but the strong engine is probably better served with another gear or two. Still, it runs through the gears quickly and smoothly when you put your foot in it, and that came in handy as we climbed into the Rocky Mountains, eventually getting to the 6800-foot level when entering the heart of Park City. Some of our drive time was in one of several springtime snowstorms we encountered, which caused us no problems: The QX's easy-to-use (an easy dial on the dash) four-wheel-drive system allows the driver to control when to be in two-wheel drive, all-wheel drive, four-wheel-drive lock, or four-wheel-drive low range. Likewise, the Xenon headlights and powerful foglights helped guide us through the dense snowfall. We're not so hot for the new grille, but it does look like it'll let more cooling air through than the previous version's did.
Overall (admittedly most of our driving was done in two-wheel drive), we average 15.8 mpg, which includes getting up the hill to Park City and back down to the SLC airport--almost an 80-mile round trip. And because the local police force had extra patrol cars on duty (I think I saw a dozen vehicles with out-of-state plates pulled over), we kept our around-town speeds to posted limits at all times. Of course, the nice thing about that is we almost got better fuel economy around town than we did on the highway. Additionally, parking a vehicle of this size in some of the tighter parking spaces around town proved fairly simple, given the movable guiding lines on the backup screen that help point you in the right (albeit backward) direction.
Our only beef with the full-size SUV came on certain segments of the highway drive where the road got a bit choppy from the constant freezing and thawing. The front end seems to translate a good deal of vibration up the steering column to the steering wheel. The rearend (with its coil sprung, independent suspension) didn't seem to like choppy roads, either. During hard cornering and when the road gets choppy, the back end does become a bit unsettled, producing shudder before it composes itself. Neither situation caused us much problem, but kept us on our toes. We suspect the rear auto-leveling system was having trouble with the extreme cold as our rear end sagged for much of our trip, which could also explain why the back end felt funny on choppy corners.
Among our favorite details in the QX were the electronic tailgate and 60/40 split third-row seat, the latter of which allowed us extra seating while still giving us space (with one side folded down) for boots, snowboards, skis, and duffle bags. We also liked the easy-to-understand nav system and various information screens. Of interest, especially when trying to get the best fuel economy possible, is the tire-pressure-monitoring system. However, after noticing a warning light on the dash, we did discover the pressures for each tire are randomly listed, meaning, that the first two pressures listed are not necessarily the front two tires. Infiniti tells us with the sensors in each wheel, as the tires get rotated, their locations could change but the pressures will still be recorded. This makes sense but does require anyone trying to put air in the low tire to have to check all the tires anyway to find the low reading. A small thing, but still interesting.
The QX56 is big, powerful, and relatively easy to maneuver through tight streets, unplowed parking lots, and past hillclimbing slow movers; it's got enough luxury to make you feel special, while including just about every interior and performance convenience you could want. If you're looking in this segment, the QX56 has the goods at one of the lowest price points around. There certainly is value here.