2011 Infiniti QX56 Expert Review:Autoblog
Ask any braniac elementary school student what happened to the dinosaurs, and they'll tell you they turned into birds. While the mechanics are a bit more complicated than a momma T-Rex hatching a brood of yellow finches, modern science would seem to agree with the concept. When we were in school, the common perception was that those massive lizards parted ways with terra firma courtesy of a jumbo-sized meteor smack. Our Earth Science books called it a mass extinction, and they accompanied the definition with helpful illustrations that depicted contemplative Brontosaurus and Triceratops herds looking off into the distance as a chunk of orange sky plummeted toward the horizon.
So you can't really blame us for thinking that the SUV would follow a similar natural path. When fuel prices shot up, many rejoiced at the thought of global body-on-frame extinction. This was the event some had been patiently waiting for since the high-riding people movers first supplanted the minivan as the family cruiser of choice. And while we've certainly seen weaker species succumb to the heat of pressure from more efficient breeds, the strong continue to soldier on, slowly adapting to a world grown hostile to anything big and thirsty. If you believe Infiniti, that's exactly what the 2011 QX56 has done – evolved.
Photos by Zach Bowman / Copyright ©2009 Weblogs, Inc.
Ask Infiniti why they bothered to build a third generation QX at all, and they'll politely tell you that the average buyer is one of the youngest and most affluent luxury vehicle consumers out there. The average guy or gal with a QX56 fob in their pocket is 45 years old – a full seven years younger than the national average for all luxury owners – and the luxury arm from Nissan says that its SUV is a sort of brand gateway drug that will have buyers returning to showrooms for years to come.
Instead of abandoning the dwindling large SUV segment altogether, the company has given its flagship QX56 a whole new set of bones. The truck is now based on the globe-crushing Nissan Patrol instead of the Nissan Armada platform, and as such, the dimensions have stayed fairly uniform every which way but up. The new generation bears a nearly identical track compared to the 2010 model, though the truck is three inches shorter thanks to a revised roof rack system. Even so, headroom remains unimpeded.
This isn't a segment that embraces shrinkage, so it's safe to assume that jaws won't drop when consumers discover that this big-boy SUV retains the same waist size. What is surprising is that Infiniti has let the truck's styling evolve into something that fits alongside its G and M siblings. The hard lines of the Armada DNA have been replaced with a calmer aesthetic thanks to a host of gentle curves and arches. Up front, the old blingtastic grille has been swept into a familial "double arch" design that's more cohesive with the rest of the vehicle. The QX56 still holds onto its low-mounted headlights from the last generation, though they've morphed into a much sleeker, form-fitting shape. In photos, the SUV may resemble everyone's favorite white whale, but the look is surprisingly cohesive in the flesh.
From the side, your eye is immediately drawn to those fender vents. The pieces are one part wince, one part engineered awesome, but all Pep Boys. At least the driver's side inlet is actually functional and operates as the intake point for the engine, but the passenger-side chrome is there simply for symmetry's sake. We're not quite sure what we would have preferred to show up in their place, but the vents look like an afterthought borrowed from the Buick parts bin.
If you believe Infiniti, the interior in the QX56 was inspired by the inside of an executive jet. We'd love to be able say whether or not that's a fair comparison, but honestly, we've never gotten within whiffing distance of a private aircraft's leather chairs. We can say that should you ever find yourself fortunate enough to be skimming the skies in a multimillion-dollar airliner, we hope the cabin is as nice as what you find in the new Infiniti bruiser. The front seats are a kind of infinitely-adjustable guilty pleasure. Even at this price point, manufacturers like Cadillac have no problem supplying you with leather-dipped versions of the same thrones found in lesser trucks, but the buckets in the Infiniti are as comfortable as can be.
Infiniti has all but banished hard plastics from the cabin in favor of plenty of leather and other soft touch goodies. The center stack is trimmed in the same plush hide as the seats, complete with excellent stitching. A smoked burlwood of some exotic origin fills the spaces between the vehicle controls, and a handful of chrome accents crop up in all the right places. You won't find any design-shockers on the dash, but everything is easy to access and the controls don't require a computer science degree to navigate.
One of the most useful features onboard is the company's Around View Monitor, a bit of tech that's been popping up in Infiniti models for the past couple of years. The system uses a total of five cameras to help you figure out exactly where the QX56 is in relation to objects around it. If it sounds like a useless piece of kit, we suggest hopping on down to your closest Infiniti dealership for a demonstration. It makes short work of parking lots, detritus-laden garages and towing a trailer in tight spaces.
The QX56 is an eight-passenger craft thanks, in part, to a second row comprised of two buckets and a console instead of the standard bench. Infiniti managed to stretch the second-row leg room to a hefty 41 inches, besting its closest competitor, the Mercedes-Benz GL450, by a full inch and a half. Even with Kareem Abdul Jabar in the pilot's seat, there's plenty of room in the second row for the long-legged. For 2011, the SUV also boasts a slick new power folding seat on the passenger side. Push a button and the unit collapses to make ingress and egress a snap for passengers in the third row.
Speaking of the way-back seats, Infiniti has worked in a new power mechanism that can fold the third row flat to make room for additional cargo. The unit isn't exactly lightening quick, but it beats the pants off of fiddling with tethers, levers and locks. The third row also comes equipped with a power reclining feature that goes a long way toward making the seats more habitable for well-fed adults. We still wouldn't want to spend more than an hour back there, but the space should be more than enough for kids up to tween age.
All in all, the interior is well executed no matter where you're sitting. Though, we aren't entirely without gripe. We would've enjoyed more user-friendly steering wheel controls, as the cruise is operated by no less than five buttons and toggles, and the slew of switchgear is somewhat overwhelming as you're driving along at speed. Likewise, Infiniti has chosen to nestle the adjustments for the side-view mirrors near the driver's left knee instead of on the door panel. We found ourselves rocking back and forth like Dustin Hoffman in Rainman as we tried to find a visibility sweet-spot.
Get past the side-view mirror woes and into traffic, and it quickly becomes clear just how much work went into bringing the third-generation QX56 to life. By moving to the truck to the Nissan Patrol platform, the company managed to slim the curb weight by a healthy 161 pounds. Couple that to a 5.6-liter, direct-injection V8 with 400 horsepower and 413 pound-feet of torque, and the new SUV has no problem getting out of its own way.
Infiniti says that other than the displacement, the engine shares nothing with the lump in the 2010 QX. Despite the additional 80 horsepower and 20 lb-ft, the new powerplant serves up 14 percent better fuel economy, according to the EPA. That means drivers can expect close to 14 mpg city and 20 mpg highway – not entirely impressive, but you then again, you can't tow 8,500 pounds with a Toyota Prius.
Those fuel-economy numbers are partially due to the fact that Infiniti threw an extra three gears into the QX transmission, resulting in an all-new seven-speed unit that keeps the big V8 breathing easy at highway speeds. The 2011 model also boasts a revised four-wheel drive system. Under normal driving conditions, all of the engine's power is directed toward the rear wheels, though up to 50 percent of the grunt can be ushered to the front as necessary. The driver can still lock the system in a 50/50 split via a four-high button, and four-low will still pull you through the really nasty stuff should you ever venture off of your pea-gravel driveway.
Abandoning the Armada platform in favor of Patrol guts had another benefit for Infiniti engineers: stiffness. The company boasts that the new high-rider has less body roll than most luxury sedans thanks in part to a 26 percent increase in torsional rigidity in both the body and frame. Less flex is good, even if you never plan on shuffling the big QX56 through a slalom. Those buyers willing to lay down the extra $5,800 for the Deluxe Touring Package will also enjoy what Infiniti calls the Hydraulic Body Motion Control System – essentially two fluid reservoirs front and rear that send liquid from one side to another to reduce roll and vibration. Trust us when we say it makes a huge difference on how the SUV behaves on the road.
The numbers all talk a pretty good talk, and for the most part, their sum means that the QX56 drives more like a big sedan than a lumbering brute. Power from that reworked V8 is more than ample, and when you give the truck the spurs, it responds with capable speed and a flurry of seamless shifts. Thanks in part to its lower overall height, stability feels greatly improved over the old Armada-based QX, and you find yourself carrying more speed through tight corners than should be possible. We would have liked to have seen more communicative steering in a vehicle of this size, though – the steering wheel offers next to no feedback and was overly sensitive, resulting in lane wandering of the worst variety. Likewise, the brakes, while plenty powerful, are controlled by a less-than-confidence-inspiring pedal. We don't expect racecar characteristics here, but a little firmness never hurts.
For our money, if the luxury SUV genus is to survive for our posterity, it might as well look like the QX56. For 2011, the truck's engineers have managed to give the creation the camouflage it needs to survive in a world dominated by new breeds of crossover, all while keeping the base price identical to the 2010 model – the new Q starts at $56,700 for the two-wheel drive model. It's more comfortable, more controllable, more efficient and more powerful than its ancestors. There may come a day when the QX mutates from the body-on-frame beast we have come to know and love into a more svelte unibody design, but we hope we aren't around to see it.
Photos by Zach Bowman / Copyright ©2009 Weblogs, Inc.
New Car Test Drive
Redesigned with new frame, new engine, fresh styling.
The Infiniti QX56 has been completely redesigned for 2011. Lower and wider than the outgoing truck, it's swoopier and far more eye-appealing than the previous QX SUV. The 2011 Infiniti QX56 comes in rear-wheel-drive and all-wheel-drive versions, with a five-mode all-wheel-drive system controlled by a wheel on the console.
The Infiniti QX56 competes with the Cadillac Escalade, Lincoln Navigator, Lexus LX 570, Mercedes-Benz GL-Class, Audi Q7, and Range Rover. Some would say that all of these full-size sport-utility vehicles are outdated concepts because of their size, weight and fuel economy, but Infiniti believes the segment, which has shrunk to a third of its former self, is important. Infiniti says there are still families who need seven or eight seats and 8500-pound towing capability, and we agree.
For 2011, QX56 has a completely new look, with a lot of the oddball design touches taken out. The rear of the roof no longer dips down at the third seat, a boon to third-row headroom. The rear side door handles are now on the same plane as the front door handles. The squared-off fenders have been rounded off, and the pillars are now blacked out instead of painted, to give the QX56 a more unified look from end to end. The front and rear bumpers are more fully integrated into the design, the tow hitch receiver is hidden behind the rear bumper, and the chrome strips on the bodyside are gone. And, yes, those are portholes in the front fenders, the right side decorative, the left side functional for engine air intake. The entire nose of the QX56 is far more rounded, and helps create a drag coefficient of 0.37, quite good for such a barn-sized truck.
The frame underneath is new, with new fully independent suspension calibrations, premium shock absorbers, automatic rear load-leveling, and an optional feature that no other truck in the class offers. It's a closed hydraulic circuit that connects all four suspension units and moves hydraulic pressure from front to back and side to side as the truck moves, keeping the body from leaning over in corners. In effect, the system replaces conventional sway bars. The body itself has thicker sills, a new steel tailgate ring, is some 26 percent stiffer, and uses a new generation of body mounts for quietness. The new body generates zero front and zero rear lift in the wind tunnel.
A 5.6-liter, 32-valve, double overhead-cam V8 engine, now fitted with direct fuel injection and variable valve timing and lift, produces 400 horsepower and 413 foot-pounds of torque, figures very close to the power and torque of the high-performance M56 sedan, and some 25 percent more power than the previous engine, with a 14-percent improvement in fuel economy.
The QX56 powertrain for 2011 features a new 7-speed double overdrive transmission to provide first-gear acceleration for the 5600-pound truck and its cargo or trailer, and good highway fuel economy at the same time. The 7-speed automatic transmission has adaptive shifting to match each driver's driving style, with manual shift override, including a sporty throttle-blip provided on manual downshifts.
Four-wheel-drive versions of the QX56 will have a selector switch on the console offering automatic, four-wheel-drive high, four-wheel-drive low, low lock, tow mode and snow mode. The auto mode moves engine torque back and forth between front and rear axles up to 100 percent rear, but no higher than 50 percent front.
The QX56 wheelbase has been shortened 2.1 inches to 121.1 inches for sharper handling, and the front and rear tracks are wider. Body width has increased by 1.1 inches, the length by 1.4-inches and the overall height lowered by a huge amount, 3.2 inches. With all the body, chassis and interior changes, the new QX56 is about the same weight as the old truck.
Like every modern luxury SUV, the 2011 QX56 line carries plenty of electronic technology onboard to make driving safer and more enjoyable. An industry first on this SUV is the use of a tire pressure inflation indicator system. When the driver is adding air to a tire at a service station, from an aftermarket compressor or an air tank, the system honks the horn and flashes the hazard flashers when correct tire inflation pressure is reached, thus eliminating the fill-and-check, fill-and-check ritual with a tire pressure gauge.
The 2011 Infiniti QX56 comes in two models, the rear-wheel-drive QX56 ($57,200) and the all-wheel-drive QX56 4WD ($60,300). (All New Car Test Drive prices are Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Prices, which do not include destination charge and may change at any time without notice.)
Standard features include leather seating and trim, 8-way power seats, dual-zone climate control, a multi-function steering wheel, power windows, mirrors, and locks, cruise control, and four 12-volt power points. The hard-drive navigation system comes standard and includes XM NavWeather, XM NavTraffic, the Zagat Survey restaurant guide, and voice activation for navigation, audio and vehicle systems check. It also comes with a Bose 13-speaker AM/FM/CD/DVD/MP3 sound system with XM satellite radio, Bluetooth streaming audio, AUX plug, and iPod compatibility. The standard seating configuration is two front bucket seats, two second-row bucket seats with a second console, and a three-place folding rear seat, but if the customer needs seating for eight, a folding second-row bench seat is available at no extra cost.
Four option packages are available: the first is the eight-seat, no-cost option. The Theater Package ($2450) buys twin 7-inch screens mounted on the front-seat headrests, two sets of wireless headphones, and a 120-volt power outlet to power up gaming consoles or other entertainment equipment.
A Deluxe Touring Package ($5800) features 22-inch alloy wheels and tires, the new Hydraulic Body Motion Control System, semi-aniline leather seats with heating and cooling in the front row, heating in the second row, an upgraded HVAC system (and headlamp washers on 4WD models).
The Technology Package ($2850) adds Blind Spot Warning, Intelligent Brake Assist with Forward Collision Warning, which will actively brake the car to prevent a collision, Intelligent Cruise Control, adaptive front lighting for cornering, pre-crash seat-belt tensioners, and Lane Departure Warning and Prevention. This latter system will actually steer the vehicle back onto its intended path if the driver lets it wander into the next lane and ignores the warning.
Safety equipment includes six airbags, front, side-impact and curtain, ABS brakes, traction control, yaw control. The optional all-wheel drive and the Technology Package further enhance safety as they can help the driver avoid an accident.
The 2011 Infiniti QX56 exterior design is a clean-sheet-of-paper redesign, far cleaner than any previous QX56 body, with a more rounded and unified appearance and fewer things that look added on, like squared-off fender flares and chrome strips. The entire nose has been rounded off and each element integrated into a unified whole that looks better and works better in the wind tunnel and on the showroom floor. The dipped rear roof section has been abandoned in favor of a flat roof, the pillars have been blacked out, and the door handles chromed and lined up. Twenty-inch wheels and tires fill the wheel wells, and 22-inchers are optional.
The 2011 Infiniti QX56 has been completely redesigned inside, including the extra-thick seats, instrument panel, center stack and console, to be more user-friendly and to look and feel more upscale and luxurious. It seems like the entire cockpit has been built around the 8-inch central screen display, and the center console cascades down from it in beautiful, organized fashion. The electroluminescent gauges are softly lit, easy to read, and housed in a swoopy escutcheon very much like the one in the new Infiniti M sedan, a piece that adds to the driving pleasure.
A unique feature of the QX56 interior is the remote-controlled second-row flip-fold seats, operated from the key fob, a feature that lets families load from back to front with a minimum of hassle with the seats. The third-row seats also power-fold forward to increase the cargo area, and the third-row seats also recline up to 20 degrees. Another unique feature is the trademarked Around View monitoring system with front and rear sonar, a system that enables the driver to see all the way around the vehicle before moving off, to make sure that there are no people or objects in jeopardy, and that there is room to maneuver.
Someone at Infiniti believes that quiet equals luxury, because measures have been taken to make the QX56 very quiet inside once underway. The huge rear seats boast the longest legroom measurement in the class at 41 inches, and can be had with optional heaters.
Our test QX56 was the all-wheel-drive version equipped with the Theater Package, the Deluxe Touring package, and the Technology Package, so it was at the very top end of the sticker price range.
The Infiniti QX56, referred to by its makers as being like a private jet, is more like a hotel room on wheels than a truck. You can control the lighting, set the thermostats front and rear, move the furniture around, and choose your entertainment.
Fit, finish, tolerances and materials are at the top of the class. The first and second row bucket seats are some of the thickest, most comfortable we've ever tried. It's quiet, plush, luxurious, and very, very complete in terms of its equipment, and it is very easy to drive down the road. The fun here is not in cutting corners and carving canyons but rather in the vast array of electronic entertainment and information available to its family users.
Underway, the QX56 responds to its 5.6-liter V8 engine. Full-throttle acceleration with two aboard and no cargo is solid if not spectacular, as this engine is tuned for low-end torque, load-hauling and trailer-towing, not high-rpm wailing. It sounds powerful, and it is, but this truck weighs almost 5900 pounds at the curb.
The power steering ratio and regressive assist are just about right for a long, tall, heavy vehicle like this one, and the brakes are powerful and progressive even when soaking wet (we drove nearly the entire day in a raging thunderstorm). The Intelligent Braking System uses sonar ranging to stop the QX56 all by itself as it approaches another stopped vehicle, which is a bit disconcerting at first, but once you get used to it, it's a nice thing to have in stop-and-go traffic, and it's part of the Technology Package.
The ride is supremely cushy and quiet, but the body's movements over the suspension are well controlled and there is very little body roll or wallow, even in fast corners, owing to the hydraulic body motion control system.
The Infiniti QX56 is the newest arrival in the small club of luxury SUVs starting in the $50,000 price bracket, and ours finished at over $70,000. Very expensive by most standards, but it comes absolutely loaded and does everything well except sip gasoline. It looks better, drives better and feels better in every way than the QX56 it replaces, starting at the same price as the previous model, but with more standard equipment and more really useful technology.
Jim McCraw filed this report to NewCarTestDrive.com from Louisville, Kentucky.
Infiniti QX56 ($57,200); QX56 4WD ($60,300).
Options As Tested
Theater package ($2450), Technology package ($2850), Deluxe Touring package ($5800).
Infiniti QX56 4WD ($60,300).
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