It looks much better on the street than in photographs. For 2011, the new, controversially styled Infiniti QX56 replaces the U.S.-built, Nissan Titan/Armada-based sport/utility flagship with one based on the Nissan Patrol and built in Japan. Despite maintaining the old model's engine displacement, the '11 QX's 5.6-liter V-8 is all new, shared with the M56 and therefore more efficient and more powerful. The new platform, though, is old school -- body-on-frame.
Infiniti believes the full-size luxury SUV market has stabilized and will maintain about 105,000 units through the first half of the decade (it peaked at 291k in 2006). The market leader remains the Cadillac Escalade, though Infiniti has made inroads in recent months with its outgoing '10 QX56, thanks in part to better lease availability and incentives as it tries to sell out the old model. If not for that, the trend has been decidedly downward, from 12,288 sold in 2007, the last "normal" sales year, to just 6,440 in '09. Of course, '09 was an awful year for the auto market. Still, the trend has been toward trimmer, lower, unibody crossovers with V-6 engines, leaving volume for little more than the aforementioned Escalade and perhaps the iconic Chevrolet Suburban. The QX sells in volumes closer to the Toyota Land Cruiser and Lexus LX 570, which may be all parent company Nissan needs to justify a high-profit margin model offering incremental sales.
The distinctive sheetmetal should do it, for Infiniti. Until now, the QX and competitors like the Lincoln Navigator and Escalade have relied on over-chromed grilles and a slather of leather applied to boxy, prosaic models like the Armada, Ford Expedition and Suburban/Tahoe. From the driver's point of view, the new QX56's hood seems lifted right off the polarizingly zaftig FX models. The QX carries the Infiniti family's (including G and M sedans) design cues, and FX-like rear hatch lid and taillamps. The body side's curves present a nice departure from the SUV-box paradigm. Infiniti says the three-port vent on the driver's side front quarter-panel is a real, working, cold-air intake for the engine.
Infiniti also expects the segment's steady sales to go to large, well-off families, or at least well-off families with large, heavy trailers, rather than the image-conscious childless buyers who were going for the "bling." That word may be a decade old, but it still has some life in the QX56, with its standard 20-inch wheels. You get 22s with the $5800 Deluxe Touring Package, which also comes with the new Hydraulic Body Motion Control system. This throws out the anti-roll bars for the double-wishbone front- and rear-suspension for a dual-pipe cross-linked system that uses hydraulic fluid to counteract body roll. The system is pretty effective. Body roll is, indeed, minimal, especially for such a large, comfortable SUV. And it keeps head toss down, as proven by short back-to-back drives of the new QX against an Escalade.
The big, torquey V-8 is significantly quieter and more refined than the Caddy's. Like the Escalade, and most of its competition, power is only enough to overcome the heft of the vehicle. You always feel like you're battling a lot of inertia off the line, with that power really kicking in about the 40-80 mph range. Based on the FX50's 5.0-liter engine, the 5.6 in the M56 makes 420 horsepower; in the QX56, it's rated 400 horsepower (up 80 horses from the old 5.6) and torque is the same 413 pound-feet as the M56, although it reaches maximum torque 400 rpm lower than in the sedan. Coupled to a new seven-speed automatic with rev-matching downshifts, the QX56 is rated 14-mpg city, 20-mpg highway, a 2-mpg city improvement, whether you order rear-wheel-drive or the rear-biased, automatic 4WD system.
The QX56 has lost 2.1-inches of wheelbase while gaining 1.4-inches in overall length, mostly due to a bumper cover that hides the standard, built-in trailer hitch. Along with the subdued engine noise, the cabin lets in minimal wind noise. Designers paid a lot of attention to aerodynamics, and even worked to shape the sideview mirrors to keep wind noise down.
The 4WD version, which traditionally accounts for just 55- to 60-percent of QX56 sales, has lost 161 pounds. It's still 5850 pounds, and it would be more if Infiniti had gone for a panoramic sunroof like most other luxury SUVs.
Steering is nearly pinky-light. It's bit more vague than the Escalade's, and not one of the QX56's dynamic strong point. Brakes feel very powerful, and the Hydraulic Body Motion System also keeps squat and dive to a minimum. This system is all about relaxed control, the kind of driving that won't break out a sweat for the vehicle, its driver or passengers.
You'll run out of confidence in the ability of the Infiniti's tires to keep this monster attached to the pavement around a fast corner well below this new system's apparent ability to maintain balance and minimize roll. This exemplifies exactly what the '11 Infiniti QX56 is - a very good vehicle for something so large.
Is there a better SUV in this category? Perhaps not. Do you need or really want something this big? That's a good question.
If you tow up to 8500 pounds, either the rear-drive or the four-wheel-drive QX will handle it. If you have really tall kids, or kids old enough that they should have left home years ago, you'll appreciate the ample second-row legroom, which Infiniti claims is best in class. If your kids' kids are teenagers, they'll find sufficient space in the third row, especially with the seatback reclined (although there isn't room for much luggage behind that third seat).
Infiniti is using "luxury jet" imagery to describe the new QX's interior, which includes rich, supple semi-aniline leather and wood trim with an unusual treatment to make it appear darker around the edges of each panel. There are no fewer than 10 grab handles (including two for the third row), standard heated front seats and heated steering wheel (yay!) with optional heated second row and cooled front row (in a package), choice of second-row captains' chairs or 60/40 split bench back there, advanced tri-zone climate control with a filter that automatically recirculates airflow, and a clear, powerful 13-speaker Bose stereo with a 9.3-gigabyte Music Box hard drive and Bluetooth Streaming Audio. There's also a navigation system with real-time traffic and weather. A dual-screen multi-source playback DVD player with 7-inch color monitors is available to keep the, er, growing kids occupied in back. If the driver dynamics are no more entertaining than any other gigantica-utility, at least you won't get bored sitting around in this sport/utility.
With so much stuff standard, Infiniti groups the few options in packages. Base price holds the line from the '10 model, with the RWD version starting at $57,650 and the 4WD version at $60,750, both including destination. Our loaded Platinum Graphite 4WD sampler came with the $5800 Deluxe Touring Package, $2450 Theater Package and $2850 Tech Package, pushing the sticker to $71,850. Second-row bench or captain's chairs with center console is a no-cost option.
A kind of nifty tire pressure system uses the tire pressure monitor to flash the lights and beep the horn when you reach optimum pressure filling the tires at a filling station.
That $2850 Tech Package is of more dubious use, because it gives the driver more opportunity to be more passive about his driving. It includes blind spot detection, the really cool "Around View" camera system, Intelligent Brake Assist with Forward Collision Warning, radar cruise control and Nissan/Infiniti's lane-departure warning, which sets off an annoying beep when you cross a lane line without signaling. Problem is, the QX56 is so wide and big-shouldered that it's pretty easy to trigger the beeps on narrow lanes, such as on roads under construction. You can turn it off, though.
With $60-70k stickers, it's pretty easy for Infiniti to import the QX56. If demand wanes, the home-market factory can simply adjust Nissan Patrol production. The QX56 is a handsome, distinctive choice in its class, and Infiniti is very confident the segment's sales will remain healthy. We're not so sure of that, however - we've heard that kind of optimism before.
| 2011 Infiniti QX56 |
| Base Price || $57,650-$60,750 |
| Vehicle layout || Front-engine, RWD or 4WD, 6- or 7-pass, 4-door SUV |
| Engines || 5.6L/400-hp/413-lb-ft DOHC 32-valve V-8 |
| Transmission || 7-speed automatic |
| Curb weight || 5,850 lb (mfr, 4WD) |
| Wheelbase || 121.1 in |
| Length x width x height || 208.3 x 79.9 x 75.8 in |
| 0-60 mph || 8.5 sec (MT est) |
| EPA city/hwy fuel econ || 14/20 mpg |
| CO2 emissions || 1.20 lb/mile (est) |
| On sale in the U.S. || Late July 2010 |