Infiniti wants you to know that they are not Nissan. Sure, Infiniti is the luxury division of Nissan, but with separate engineering, design and marketing departments, Infiniti is its own brand. And the new 2011 Infiniti QX56 is not a dressed-up Nissan Armada, either. The 2011 Infiniti QX56 will carry base prices from $56,700 to $59,800, a 4 year/60,000 mile basic warranty, a 6 year/70,000 mile powertrain warranty and EPA fuel economy estimates of 14 city/20 highway. Let's drive.
I was a big fan of the previous generation QX56, which sailed onto our shores in the 2004 model year. My chief concern about the old QX was that the Armada was so close to it in terms of engineering that the price difference between the models made it seem like extravagance to buy the Infiniti. Well, Infiniti has been on a roll lately, remaking its entire lineup into more cohesive family of vehicles. QX is the latest and last model to benefit from the new approach, which has been applied to the G, M and FX, as well as to the most recently-added model, the EX.
QX is now immediately recognizable as an Infiniti, even if it were possible to overlook the big chromed logos front and rear. The vehicle's proportions have been massaged, with the resulting lower and wider shape evoking a supersized EX. No longer angular and origami-like, QX is now organic, rounded and as sleek as a 208.3" long, 79.9" wide, 75.8" tall SUV with a 121.1" wheelbase can be. Which is surprisingly sleek, actually.
20" aluminum-alloy wheels are standard equipment, with 22" wheels available as an option. QX wears a bold chrome grille with accents, very much like FX's. Unique to QX are two fender-mounted engine vents (functional on the driver's side, cosmetic on the passenger's side). Rather than retaining the high-mounted rear door handles from the old QX and Armada (which I hated), the new QX wears its door handles at waist height, just like it should. Overall, the new QX is totally new, completely gorgeous, and much more glamorous than before.
In the Driver’s Seat
Infiniti has always had a good handle on luxury. I think it is the most Japanese of all luxury brands -- I mean that as a compliment. The attention to detail, harmony and beauty extends to every surface. I am always struck by the quality of the leather in Infiniti vehicles, and QX is no exception. Good leather with firm yet compliant cushioning graces the seats. Choose the seven-seat version of QX, and the second row captain's chairs are as comfortable as most front row seats in other brands (the eight-passenger QX substitutes a 60/40 split rear bench seat). Real wood trim graces the traditional surfaces, and precise cut and stitch material dresses the dash. Machined metal serves where lesser manufacturers might have used plastic. And the whole package provides an elegant framework for some very sophisticated technology.
I could take up all of my review space listing luxury and technology options for the QX, but I won't. Suffice it to say that a surprising array of standard and optional features are available for the vehicle. Infiniti's strategy is to load up the standard QX with a nice level of luxury, and then offer packages that up the ante. There's a Theater Package with dual 7-inch color monitors, a Deluxe Touring Package with 22" wheels, the Hydraulic Body Motion Control system (more on that later), heated second row seats and more. A Technology Package includes Intelligent Cruise Control (full-speed range), Lane Departure Prevention, Distance Control Assist, Forward Collision Warning, Blind Spot Warning and a ton of other sophisticated junk.
On the Road
Even though QX is lower and wider than before, it is still a big SUV. In rear-wheel drive trim, curb weight is 5,590 lbs. Equipped with four-wheel drive, QX tips the scales at 5,890 lbs -- almost three tons! It's amazing that the 5.6 liter V8 engine, which produces 400 hp and 413 lb-ft of torque, can produce decent performance, but it does. Credit the new seven-speed automatic transmission with manual shift mode for keeping the power pumping efficiently.
And credit four-wheel independent double-wishbone suspension with delivering a supple ride on the road. Stabilizer bars are standard front and rear, but are eliminated in vehicles equipped with the Hydraulic Body Motion Control system -- which is exactly what it sounds like. It's a low tech/high engineering solution to the issue of body roll. The system controls suspension travel by transferring fluid between hydraulic chambers in each shock absorbers, thus keeping the vehicle flat though turns. It's seamless, transparent and highly effective, delivering a very nimble, yet firm ride that makes QX feel much lighter on its feet.
QX is a genuine seven- or eight-passenger vehicle, with a very livable third row. When it comes time to haul gear along with people, a respectable 16.6 cubic feet of luggage space is available behind the third row. Flop down the third and second rows, and you can stuff 95.1 cubic feet of luxury goods in the QX.
I love big luxury SUVs, and I'm glad to see that Infiniti hasn't abandoned the class. According to Infiniti's projections, demand for big luxury SUVs will be with us for a while to come, so it's nice to get a fresh take. QX56 deserves to be considered with the best of them, and in many measures will come out on top.
If you're looking for a full-size luxury SUV, you will also want to look at the Lexus LX570 and its near-luxury twin, the Toyota Land Cruiser. GM's Cadillac Escalade and GMC Yukon Denali are both starting to look a little long in the tooth compared to the newer competition. Mercedes-Benz's GL-class and Acura's MDX bring a ton of technology to the table, but can't quite compete on seven-passenger comfort. Land Rover's56 new LR4 is one of my favorites, but I can't vouch for its long term reliability.
If you need a full-size SUV and you want luxury, QX is an excellent choice. Considering the size and capacity of the QX, 16 mpg city/20 mpg highway starts to look like amazing fuel economy. Seven passengers can travel as efficiently in one QX as four people can travel in a Toyota Yaris. Really, I did the math. At 20 mpg, a QX will use 5 gallons of gas to go 100 miles, so each passenger has used 0.714 gallons of gas. At 35 mpg, a Yaris will use 2.86 gallons of gas to go the same distance, so each passenger will use 0.715 gallons of gas. Ditch the Yaris, and take the QX on those family trips. Everyone will be much more comfortable at the end of the ride.