By Peter Bleakney; photos by Peter Bleakney and Chris Chase, CanadianDriver.com
My kids couldn’t decide whether our 2011 Infiniti QX56 tester was a beluga or a hippo.
This is no slight against Infiniti’s all-new super-size-me $73,000 SUV that, despite my prejudice against such things, impressed the heck out of me. It’s more a comment on how Infiniti’s organically flowing design signature and low-slung xenon headlights bestow upon this seven- (or eight-) seat behemoth the countenance of a large and lovable aquatic mammal. A definite improvement over the outgoing and ungainly 2010 model of which this 2011 is marginally lower, wider and longer, and carries the same price tag.
While the new QX is still a traditional body-on-frame SUV, with a maximum tow rating of 8,500 lbs, there is nothing truck-like in the way it glides down the road, coddling its occupants in a cocoon of quiet luxury. It rides on standard 20-inch alloys and features a self-levelling fully independent rear suspension. There is also nothing truck-like in its surprising dynamic abilities. More on that later.
The QX’s 32-valve 5.6L V8 gets upgraded with direct injection and churns out 400 hp (up 80 horses) with 413 lb.-ft. of torque available at 4,000 rpm. A slick-shifting seven-speed manumatic transmission replaces the old five-speed unit. The full-time 4WD system has selectable snow and tow modes.
This is an exceptionally smooth and quiet powertrain, and does a commendable job of hauling around all three tonnes of the QX56 with little fuss. Infiniti claims a ten per cent improvement in fuel consumption over the outgoing model, although you shouldn’t expect any miracles here. Official figures are 15.7 L/100 km city and 10.3 L/100 km highway. My real world numbers were 17.5 in the city and 12.7 on an extended highway run. Premium fuel is recommended.
While running boards on most SUVs are mere affectations, they are a necessity here. You sit way up in this vehicle, looking down on Honda Pilots and Buick Enclaves. It positively dwarfed our Volvo V70.
Outward visibility is very good, and the QX features a reasonably tight turning circle which helps with manoeuvrability – as do the standard rear view camera, front and rear park assist, and around view monitor that gives a bird’s eye view of the vehicle at parking speeds. The cabin is exquisitely crafted – no apologies to Audi needed here. Every surface feels rich, the wood and metal trim is beautifully detailed, and intriguing design details like the way the sculpted dash top flows into the door panels show Infiniti is on its game here. The heated and cooled front seats (ten-way driver, eight-way passenger power adjustment) fall into the comfy but not particularly supportive category. Standard features include DVD entertainment system, Bluetooth, heated steering wheel with power tilt and telescope, dual-zone climate control, powered lift gate, navigation and Bose 13-speaker audio.
The 2011 QX56 can be configured for seven or eight passengers. This tester had the twin “airline” style second-row heated captain’s chairs that my kids thoroughly enjoyed on our journey into cottage country north of Toronto. The rear-seat entertainment system with seven-inch screens in the back of the front headrests (they automatically adjust to ambient light conditions) kept them occupied while my wife and I listened to satellite radio up front. The third-row seats, which can be powered up and down from either the front cabin or just inside the hatch, are best suited for children.
With this third row folded, the load floor is not flat. When looking at the available cargo capacity it’s not impressive for a vehicle that casts such a huge shadow. Such is the price you pay for body-on-frame, elevated ride height and all-wheel drive. If you’re looking for max interior volume, the minivan is still king.
I’m guessing that anyone looking at the QX56 will likely spring for the $8,000 Technology Package that adds another layer of visual, dynamic, safety and luxury kit. Twenty-two-inch forged alloys replace the 20-inchers, and on this XXL rig, they are proportionally correct. Additional safety features include blind spot warning, collision warning, lane departure warning and prevention, adaptive cruise control, adaptive auto-levelling headlights, and front pre-crash seatbelts.
On the luxury front we see a leather and wood-grained steering wheel and an advanced climate control system that automatically senses bad outside air and instantly switches the HVAC to recirculation, wherein the “plasmacluster” air-filtration scrubs the air squeaky clean. Seems to work, as we passed over a freshly-flattened skunk and didn’t smell a thing. Usually that pong lingers in the cabin for several kilometres.
The most intriguing addition here is the hydraulic body motion control system that keeps the QX incredibly flat while cornering, and there is no penalty in ride quality. The terms wallow and list do not apply here – in complete contrast to one of the QX’s major competitors, the body-on-frame super-lux Lexus LX570. It’s a fairly simple principle and requires no pumps or advanced electronics. Hydraulic lines link pistons on opposite sides of the suspension, acting in the same manner as a tradition anti-roll bar but with greater effectiveness, more control and less friction. Audi uses a similar arrangement on some high-end products, and illustrating that there isn’t a whole lot new under the sun, my first car, a 1968 Austin Mini 1000, had a very similar system which BMC called Hydrolastic Suspension.
While the populist mindset has the full-sized V8-powered SUV painted as vehicular taboo, there will always be a few buyers for which these are a perfect fit. Infiniti expects the Canadian market to account for around 200 vehicles. Indeed, if you are in the market for a luxurious full-sizer to haul your horses or yacht, the QX delivers the goods with the well-oiled precision and craftsmanship of a fine watch – a really big watch.
Pricing: 2011 Infiniti QX56
Base price: $73,000
Options: $8,000 (Technology Package of 22-inch alloy wheels with performance tires, lane departure prevention, lane departure warning, blind spot warning, intelligent cruise control, distance control assist, front pre-crash seatbelts, forward collision warning, adaptive front lighting system, auto-levelling headlights, variable power-assist steering, advanced climate control system, and leather and woodgrain steering wheel)
A/C tax: $100
Price as tested: $83,050
Crash test results