2011 Infiniti QX56 Review

While it could be the worst time to launch a full-sized luxury SUV, for Infiniti, it could be the best

2011 Infiniti QX56 Review
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With all the focus on small cars in the auto industry as of late, you might be surprised to learn that the truck and SUV segment is growing at a far more rapid pace. Sure it’s the result of a comparison with last year’s incredibly depressed sales numbers, but it’s also a return to normal.

FAST FACTS

1. Thanks to direct injection the QX56 makes 80-hp and 20 ft-lbs more for a total of 400-hp and 413 ft-lbs of torque.

2. A 7-speed transmission aids in acceleration and fuel economy with 4WD models jumping from 12/17-mpg (city/hwy) to 14/20-mpg.

3. 4WD models can be operated in three modes: Auto, 4H and 4L, for maximum grip regardless of terrain.

4. Cargo room behind the third row is 16.6 cu.-ft.

5. Pricing starts at $56,000 ($73,000 CDN).

For many folks, “normal” includes getting behind the wheel of something large and luxurious and you simply can’t get much larger or more luxurious than Infiniti’s new QX56.

BIG IS BEAUTIFUL

This is no crossover. Based on a truck platform the QX stretches 208-inches, is 79.9-inches wide and 75.8-inches tall. Put into perspective, when compared to an Escalade, it’s 6-inches longer and roughly an inch higher and wider. It’s unusual that at 6’1” I can’t see over a vehicle, and more unusual that I actually have to use the side steps to get into the thing.

Outside, it’s all bling with a massive chrome grille and muscular styling that’s still true to Infiniti’s design with plenty of swoopy curves. Also of note are the optional 22-inch forged wheels, the side gills lifted right off a commercial truck and the black A-pillars that extend the look of the windshield in the side windows. Without a doubt, this is the best looking full-sized luxury SUV on the planet. And that’s important.

Sure it’s a truck, but it’s also a luxury vehicle and that’s where this impressive new look plays such a crucial role. These vehicles are often bought for status reasons as much as for practicality, something that’s sure to help sales of the QX, while competitors roll out new models with such unimaginative redesigns that you can’t tell a new model from a six year old one.

UTILITY TESTED

In reviewing this truck, its capabilities were put to the test in an extreme way. No, this didn’t include traversing a mountain or towing 8,500 lbs of weight – even though it’ll do that too. Instead, I explored the passenger and cargo potential, the ride quality and the extensive high-tech features of the QX by packing my family (including a toddler and an infant) into what is essentially a glorified family hauler for the well-healed.

From the luxury appointments to the spacious cargo area and from the $2,450 Theater Package to the Land Departure Prevention system, every small feature comes in handy when you’re on a road trip.

Hopping into the QX you’re surrounded by pure premium materials. One could easily mistake this for a luxury sedan were it not for the extra wide seats and massive center console. There’s a significant resemblance to the new M sedan – a comparison that only says great things about the quality of the truck’s interior.

While excellently equipped in standard trim – even including pricey items like navigation and a backup camera with 8-inch screen, 13-speaker Bose audio system, as well as a keyless access system and Tri-Zone climate control - the test vehicle was loaded-up with all the options including the $5,800 Deluxe Touring Package that includes higher grade semi-aniline leather, heated and cooled front seats, heated second row seats (outboard), Mocha Burl trim and an advanced climate control system. Also included in that package is a hydraulic suspension setup and those stunning 22-inch rollers.

FULL-SIZED CAPABILITY

Space in the second row is abundant, with the sheer amount of legroom wasted on smaller passengers. Surprisingly the third row is adequate for full-sized adults, a rarity even in vehicles of this size. In total there’s room for 8, or 7 if you opt for the 2nd row captain’s chairs. In bench or chair form, the two outside seats can be flipped up individually via buttons on the dash for easy access to the third row. The only down side of this is that you still have to manually put them back. The third row also folds down electronically via buttons in the trunk, but the speed they move at is so slow it’s either laughable or enraging.

When down, they don’t fold all the way flat, which is disappointing at first, but you’ll quickly learn that’s somewhat irrelevant. With 16.6 cu.-ft. in the third row (slightly more than what you’ll find in a conventional mid-size sedan), with the second row folded it expands to a cavernous 49.6 cu.-ft. and a total of 95.1 cu.-ft. with the 2nd row folded – if you’re really into some heavy antiquing. Again, this is no crossover, and the cargo floor sits high-up, so be prepared for some lifting.

Folding the second row easily provides the space needed for a weekend getaway’s worth of luggage – which anyone with kids will understand means roughly the same quantity of cargo a couple would require for a year-long trip around the world.

A TRUCK WITH NUMEROUS CAR-LIKE DRIVING TRAITS

Driving the QX in town takes a bit of getting used to due to its enormous size, but anyone familiar with larger vehicles will have no trouble. And the addition of Infiniti’s complete Around View camera system as well as front and rear sonar sensing means even getting into tight spaces is doable.

Throttle response and braking are very car-like in their feel, reacting to inputs without hesitation. And what those pedals deliver is also very much like what you’d get in a luxury sedan with a powerful engine and big binders that scrub off speed far faster than you’d expect.

Retaining the 5.6-liter V8 from the previous generation QX, but with the addition of direct-injection, it now makes an impressive 400-hp and 413 ft-lbs of torque – up a total of 80-hp and 20 ft-lbs. As a result, even with a 5,850-lb curb weight (4WD model) there’s impressive acceleration with enough hustle to get you up to speed with sportscar like finesse. The addition of a new 7-speed automatic, (the same excellent unit used in several other Infiniti products), not only helps deliver that spirited acceleration but also aids in the fuel economy department with highway rating increasing from 17 to 20-mpg, while city mpgs increase from 12-mpg to 14.

Steering remains truckish with numerous turns of the wheel required to maneuver into tight spaces. Thanks to a lower ride height (almost 3-inches for 4WD models), the enormous (optional) 22-inch wheels and a high-tech suspension setup, it’s not the tippy ride you might expect from such a gargantuan beast. The QX not only features a fully independent suspension (a rarity in the full-sized truck world), but it now includes an optional hydraulic component to the shock absorbers with the fluid pumped side-to-side while cornering in order to stiffen the outside and deliver a flat ride. The benefit isn’t just the addition of increased vehicle control for the driver, but also a smother and more level ride for passengers.

On the curvy one-lane roads of cottage country the QX is more nimble than you’d expect, gripping the road while simultaneously delivering the feeling of gliding over it – the sort of vehicle trait that Mercedes is known for.

HIGH-TECH OPTIONS WILL KEEP YOU ON TRACK

Perfect for a road trip of this sort the QX test truck came fitted with an optional Technology Package ($2,850) that includes numerous safety and convenience features like the Lane Departure Warning system and Lane Departure Prevention system, the first of which alerts you (both audibly and visually) if you’re veering out of your lane, while the second kicks in if you ignore the alert, adding brakes on the opposite side of the car to pull you back into your lane. An Infiniti innovation, it works in most circumstances, but won’t protect against dramatic or prolonged turns. It will, however, give you the nudge you need to stay on track. Look for this technology to spread across the luxury segment and then beyond in the years to come.

Another high-tech item included in the Tech Package that’s sure to be offered more widely in future luxury cars is the Intelligent Cruise Control that works at full speed range. It’s great out on the open road to keep your distance from the car ahead and it’s even more useful for your everyday grind: doing all the work to keep you rolling in stop-and-go traffic.

Included as a feature of this system is Distance Control Assist that will notify you (again, both audibly and visually) if you’re closing in on a car too fast – and even tightening up the seatbelts if it detects a possible impact.

All these items will run up the cost of the QX, but at $56,700 to start it’s a reasonable asking price. 4WD models start at $59,800 ($73,000 CDN) and with all three option packs (as tested) the total comes to $70,900 ($81,000 CDN).

THE VERDICT

Over the past few years there couldn’t have been a worse time to launch a new SUV – let alone a full-sized luxury one. Now that might have changed as the market appears eager to accept big high-dollar SUVs that give a significant number of consumers what they really want. And that’s just what the QX does, fulfilling the needs of customers with plenty of space, capability as well as improved safety and fuel economy while adding more of what they want like power, luxury, high-tech features and a fabulous package.

While risky, Infiniti’s decision to push ahead with a seriously revamped second generation QX at the same time that other automakers are neglecting or have abandoned their products, could have great rewards. There’s a very real possibility that the QX56 could go from a niche player to the segment leader. It’s certainly got the goods to do so.

LOVE IT
  • Big and bold good looks
  • Power to spare
  • Excellent ride
  • Great high tech safety and convenience features
LEAVE IT
  • Steering still very truck-like
  • Fuel economy improved but could be better
  • Based on exterior size, could use more interior room

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