New Car Reviews

First Drive: 2011 Infiniti QX56

Believe it or not, people are still buying full-size luxury SUVs, even in this age of increased “green” concerns and our dismal economy. Although full-size luxury SUV sales peaked at nearly 300,000 units in 2006, the market has settled into a 100,000-unit rhythm in the United States, which Infiniti expects to continue for the life cycle of its all-new, second-generation QX56 that goes on sale in July 2010.

Infiniti has never been a big player in this category, but the outgoing, first-generation QX56 provided Nissan’s luxury division with steady sales right up to the end of its run. Infiniti, naturally, expects the new QX56 to continue that success, especially since its buyers represent the highest demographic group of all Infiniti models. In other words, these people can afford a $70K luxury SUV, and they can afford to fuel it. “The bling-bling buyers have left the segment,” asserts Ben Poore, VP of Infiniti Americas. “Who’s left are families who want and need the QX’s utility. They have three or four kids, they’re pulling boats.” And a not-insignificant number of them are paying cash, he tells us. Recession? What recession?

The QX56’s major competitors in the full-size luxury SUV market include the Cadillac Escalade, the Mercedes-Benz GL450, and the Lexus LX570. Unlike the outgoing Infiniti QX56, which was built on the same platform as the Nissan Armada and the Nissan Titan pickup, the new 2011 Infiniti QX56 is based on the Nissan Patrol that is sold in the Middle East and other markets, but not the USA. Like the Escalade and the LX570, the Infiniti is a traditional body-on-frame SUV, whereas the Mercedes GL is built on a unibody platform.

Not a “Bling Truck”
In a clear slam at the Cadillac Escalade, Poore says of his QX56, “We are not a bling truck. Our styling [intent] was to be more like a Lear jet. When you step inside, it will take your breath away. If our dealers are a good gauge, and often they are, this is very good for us. A dealer recently told me, ‘this is a game changer.’ “

The front styling of the Infiniti QX56 is certainly bold, if not beautiful, and it’s recognizable as a modern Infiniti product. Infiniti stylists point out its double-arch grille, its wave-like hood, and its LED taillights as being specific brand characteristics. The swoopy shapes we’ve come to expect from modern Infiniti vehicles continue on the bodysides and inside the cabin.

Speaking of which, the Lear jet analogy isn’t completely a stretch. The 2011 Infiniti QX56 interior is awash in the sort of creamy, soft-touch, carefully wrapped leather and precisely molded plastics and glossy wood trim that you might indeed find inside an executive jet. It’s nice. People will feel good when they climb aboard, even if they don’t lose their breath.

Everything inside the Infiniti cabin is writ large: the seats, the consoles, the door handles, the center stack of instruments, the knobs and buttons and switches: nothing here is diminutive, as you might imagine, but all these disparate elements are brought together into a surprisingly cohesive whole. Get into the cabin of a Cadillac Escalade after driving the new QX56, and its shapes, its forms, its surfaces, and its textures will suffer by comparison.

Room for the Whole Family!
The 2011 Infiniti QX56 is equipped as standard with three rows of seats, including two second-row captains chairs flanking a huge center console. A second-row bench that increases seating capacity to eight is a no-cost option. The comically big second-row console accommodates the headsets to the optional DVD entertainment system as well as a Wii console, as Infiniti points out, because goodness knows that the children of QX56 owners can’t leave home without that. The console is so big, in fact, that an ill-behaved child of a QX56 owner could be stuffed into it, not that we recommend that usage. There aren’t any seatbelts in there, after all.

Seriously, though, there’s plenty of room in here, even though the 2011 QX56 is marginally shorter and narrower than its predecessor. The first-row and second-row captain’s chairs are high and mighty thrones, and the third row’s three positions, if not capacious, are sufficient for three pre-teens. Even when you’re full-up with seven or eight passengers, there’s 16.6 cubic feet of space for cargo behind the third-row seat.

Same powertrain as the M56 sport sedan
The one and only powertrain is the same brand-new, 5.6-liter V-8 that recently debuted in the M56 luxury sport sedan, mated to a seven-speed automatic transmission (the outgoing QX has a five-speed). For the QX56, it sends 400 hp and 413 lb-ft of torque to the rear wheels. With the optional all-wheel-drive system, up to 50 percent of torque can go to the front wheels if the dash setting is set to “auto.” Set it to “4 high” and the torque will be locked into a 50:50 split. There’s also a low range for, in theory, off-roading, but it’s more likely to be used when you’re pulling your boat trailer up a ramp.

Chassis Highlighted by Hydraulic Body Motion Control System, Unique Tire Pressure Monitor
A new suspension technology called Hydraulic Body Motion Control System, part of the $5800 Deluxe Touring Package, seeks to maintain ride quality by using hydraulic fluid in the suspension dampers in place of traditional anti-roll bars. Each side of the vehicle has a fluid accumulator that sends fluid to the front and rear dampers. Each damper has upper and lower chambers. The upper chambers of the right-side dampers are linked to the lower chambers of the left-side chambers, and vice-versa. If the vehicle’s body leans onto the right-side dampers, fluid pressure is lowered in their lower chambers and raised in the upper chambers of the left-side dampers. This counteracting force resists the body’s tendency to lean and provokes less head toss among second-row and third-row passengers. In practice, we did find this to assist ride comfort when we sat in the second-row seat of a QX56 while it was being driven briskly on a hilly, twisting road.

A tire-pressure monitoring system, not surprisingly, is standard, but Infiniti takes this a step further by providing a way for QX56 owners to easily inflate either the standard 20-inch or the optional 22-inch tires to the correct pressure. Put an air hose onto the valve stem and start inflating. As the tire approaches the correct pressure, the turn signal indicator lights on the sideview mirrors blink. When the correct pressure is reached, the horn sounds once. If you overinflate the tires, the horn sounds three times quickly. The system works in reverse if the tire is overinflated; as you depress the valve stem to release excess air, the horn will sound when you have deflated the tires to the correct pressure.

Naturally, every conceivable safety device is standard, including air bags galore, stability control, lane departure warnings and corrections, and the like. Infiniti’s very trick Around View Monitor camera system, which compiles an overhead view of the car onto a subscreen next to the rearview screen, is standard, and one can imagine that once you use that to assist with hooking up a trailer to the standard tow hitch (now hidden behind a tasteful bumper panel), you’ll wonder how you ever lived without it.

Driving It
The Infiniti QX56 has a great powertrain. Off-the-line throttle response is satisfying, and freeway speeds are reached effortlessly. If you’re cruising along at 70 mph and want to pass someone, hammer the throttle and the seven-speed transmission crisply and quickly downshifts several gears while the tachometer needle races to the 8000-rpm redline. Before you know it, you’re at 95 mph. Braking performance seems adequate for the task of decelerating this three-ton beast, and the brake pedal has decent feel and feedback. Not so the steering, which feels artificial and a tad lifeless. It’s reasonably precise, though, so you don’t take long to figure out how to point the QX56 through corners with minimal steering correction. In a brief back-to-back drive between the new 2011 QX56 and the outgoing 2010 QX56, we gave the nod to the old model’s steering, which was slightly more communicative and natural feeling.

Ride comfort is impressive on the 2011 QX56, though, especially on smooth pavement. There’s only so much you can do to tamp down the dynamic forces of a vehicle this tall and with this center of gravity, but Infiniti does a pretty good job here: the QX56 doesn’t suffer from undue pitching and bobbing, at least when equipped with the Hydraulic Body Motion Control System.

At freeway speeds, there’s some wind noise coming over the roof rails (which are quite a bit more aerodynamic than on the last QX) and around the big sideview mirrors. The second-row seats aren’t noisy, but they’re not as hush-hush quiet as the back seat of a big luxury sedan, either. There’s simply no way around the fact that the big, boxy QX56 is redirecting a lot of air around itself when it’s on the move.

There’s plenty here to appeal to the Real Housewives and Husbands of the various upmarket ZIP Codes who will be driving these suburban haulers. (Long Island is far and away the QX56’s biggest single market, due to its affluence and, presumably, its large number of boats, horses, and other toys to be towed; the new QX has an 8500-lb tow rating.) Compared with the outgoing QX56, in this one, you have a vague perception of the narrower cabin. But, hey, a narrow, elegantly appointed fuselage just makes you feel like you’re in a Lear jet, right?

2011 Infiniti QX56 4WD

Base price: $59,800
Price as tested: $70,900

Engine: 5.6-liter DOHC 32-valve V-8
Horsepower: 400 hp @ 5800 rpm
Torque: 413 lb-ft @ 4000 rpm
Transmission: 7-speed automatic
Drive: Rear- or four-wheel

L x W x H: 208.3 x 79.9 x 75.8 in
Legroom F/M/R: 39.6/41.0/28.8 in
Headroom F/M/R: 39.9/40.0/36.8 in
Cargo capacity (behind third-row seats): 16.6 cu ft
Curb Weight (2wd/4wd): 5590/5850 lb
Angle of approach/departure: 20.9/22.3 degrees
Ramp angle: 20.5 degrees
Ground clearance: 9.2 in
Towing capacity: 8500 lb
EPA Rating (city/highway): 14/20 mpg

Buying Guide
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14 City / 20 Hwy

Cargo (Std/Max):

NA / 95.1 cu. ft.