First Test: 2011 Infiniti QX56
Is Better Always Better?
The 2011 Infiniti QX56 is better than the first-generation QX56 in many ways, so much so that it begins to flirt with the concept of diminishing returns. At what point does better stop being better?
The power output is better. The 2011 QX56 produces 400 horsepower and 413 pound-feet of torque from its 5.6-liter engine, 80 more horsepower and 20 more pound-feet than its predecessor, with equal displacement. As a result, performance is unsurprisingly better. Routed to all four wheels through a seven-speed automatic gearbox, all that power is good for a zero-to-60 sprint of just 6.1 seconds, and a standing quarter-mile in 14.8 seconds at 93.9 mph, again besting the last model. Not bad for a vehicle that weighs 5850 pounds. That's also better than its predecessor, which was 100 pounds heavier.
Efficiency is better too, with the EPA estimating the QX56 will return 14 mpg city and 20 mpg highway, 2 mpg better in town than the last model. Unladed, the QX56 will stop from 60 mph in a respectable 130 feet, 5 feet shorter than before. Towing capacity, though, has mysteriously shrunk by 500 pounds to 8500 pounds, likely owing to the car's new platform, which it shares with the Nissan Patrol elsewhere in the world.
In fact, in terms of objective performance testing, the only aspect in which the new QX56 failed to eclipse to old model was on the skid pad. Despite a fancy hydraulic fluid system that replaces the typical anti-roll bars as part of the Deluxe Touring Package, the new model could manage only 0.71 average g around the skid pad, falling just short of the old model's 0.74 average g. To Infiniti's credit, the body roll was well-controlled, even if it didn't translate to actual grip numbers.
There's no denying that in terms of raw numbers, the new QX56 is an improvement, but to what end? At its core, the QX56 is still a rather plebian SUV dressed in the king's clothes. But where the Nissan Patrol has earned a reputation as a rugged off-roader, the QX56 is best known as a status symbol, and that shows no signs of changing.
A long weekend with the QX56 didn't help. Once you get past the sheer size of the thing, you start to wonder how it could only be 1.4 inches longer, 2.9 inches taller, and 0.4 inches wider than the last one. It towers over most anything else on the road and is just about guaranteed to make your Mercedes ML-driving neighbor feel inadequate. You quickly grow to appreciate Infiniti's superb Around View 360-degree parking cameras. If the sun-blocking size didn't get everyone's attention, the odd, bulgy styling, dollar store side grilles, and gargantuan 22-inch wheels finish the job. Seriously. 22 inches, stock.
And to what end? Not aerodynamics, though there's only so much you can do with a very large box. The EPA's claims to the contrary, 800 miles of open freeway netted just 16 mpg on average with the adaptive cruise control set at 70 mph. Given its girth, it would be excusable if not for a pair of instruments that won't let you forget how fast you're burning through your tank. In just 15 miles, the needle on the gas gauge is starting to move off the full mark. By 25 miles, it's completely off.
If this isn't enough to give your wallet a coronary, the calculated range feature will push it over the edge. Estimating anywhere from 360 to 410 miles on a full tank, the computer's eternal optimism starts to come off as mockery. After burning through a quarter of a tank, the range has only dropped an unrealistic 15 miles. It catches up with reality somewhere around the 3/8s mark, and our best observed range was just 330 miles running it into the red.
When you're not suffering from range anxiety, you'll notice that QX56 isn't a bad place to spend time. It's cavernous inside and is loaded with every feature you can think of, from a wireless rear-seat DVD system to heated seats in the first two rows to power-folding third-row seats to second-row seats you can fold and tumble from the front seat with the push of a button. Infiniti's new navigation and infotainment system features a much-improved user interface, though some menus such as the Bluetooth system are hard to find. Overall though, the new dash and center stack are a clean design and pretty user-friendly.
Despite all its luxury, the QX56 won't let you forget it's a massive SUV at heart. If the fuel burn doesn't do it, you'll remember the moment you try to put something in the back on the impractically high load floor. Or you'll remember when the transmission downshifts just like the one in your old truck, or when you get sick of the steering wheel's bus-like 3.5 turns lock-to-lock.
You may even remember when your hand lands on the giant silver knob that controls the driver-selectable four-wheel drive modes, which is the same time you'll remember you've never used it. Not just because the Bridgestone Dueler tires on those double-deuces look only slightly more useful off-road than drag radials, but because, well, you'd hate to get your $60,000-plus luxury SUV all scratched up. Maybe you'll remember to throw it on just for fun next time you go to the lake house. It's a pity, because the capability is there in the rare instance it should actually be called upon.
Never mind all that. The QX56 will look fantastic parked in front of that multi-million dollar house in the exclusive neighborhood. It'll do a fine job of transporting the kiddies to soccer practice in more comfort than all but the most recent presidential limos, and reminding your neighbor who's got the biggest ego. All for just $60,750 out the door after destination charges. Wait, you wanted all the fancy bits too, right? Make that $70,000-plus, and skip that third martini at lunch for the next few weeks.
|2011 Infiniti QX56 4WD|
|Price as tested||$73,095 (est)|
|Vehicle layout||Front-engine, 4WD, 7-pass, 4-door SUV|
|Engines||5.6L/400-hp/413-lb-ft DOHC 32-valve V-8|
|Curb weight||5850 lb (mfr)|
|Length x width x height||208.3 x 79.9 x 75.8 in|
|0-60 mph||6.1 sec|
|Quarter-mile||14.8 sec @ 94 mph|
|Braking 60-0||130 ft|
|Lateral accel||0.71 g (avg)|
|MT figure eight||28.4 sec @ 0.58 g (avg)|
|EPA city/hwy fuel econ||14/20 mpg|
|Observed fuel econ||16 mpg|
|CO2 emissions||1.20 lb/mile (est)|
|On sale in the U.S.||July 2010|