With the unrelenting news reports about the lingering recession, it would be easy to think that expensive, full-size luxury SUVs are becoming extinct. Although it’s true that some of the casual buyers who wandered into this segment during boom times have moved on to less pricey, more modest vehicles, there are still plenty of people with means who need a large vehicle to move their families and their trailers but don’t want to sacrifice comfort and all-weather capability while doing so. Infiniti, betting that this profitable segment won’t completely disappear, redesigned the QX56 for 2011 to meet the luxury and utility needs of these coveted customers.
We’re not sure if the Automobile Magazine staff is covetable, but it was an easy decision for us to test a four-wheel-drive Infiniti QX56 for twelve months: several of us have young children and related paraphernalia to vacation with, editor-in-chief Jean Jennings has a prize-winning Chesapeake Bay retriever to transport to dog shows, and trailers carrying race cars and campers need to be hitched up surprisingly often. Add our desire for the latest in technology and an opulent cabin, and the big Infiniti seemed like a perfect addition to our Four Seasons fleet.
Although the 2011 QX56 started at $60,750, our test vehicle rang in at $72,560 by the time we added the deluxe touring package ($5800), the technology package ($2850), the theater package ($2450), illuminated kick plates ($390), and roof-rail crossbars ($320). Although expensive, the deluxe touring package is worth the cost for Infiniti’s Hydraulic Body Motion Control system alone. The system gives the QX56 incredible composure through turns, especially considering the truck’s 6068-pound curb weight, and the massive twenty-two-inch wheels that are also included with the package didn’t negatively affect ride quality, which deputy editor Joe DeMatio described as “creamy but controlled.” On the other hand, the theater package didn’t get much use in this age of tablet computers and smartphones, and omitting it would have been an easy way to shave $2450 from our as-tested price.
When it came to the technology package, opinions were split. Many staff members used the lane-departure warning system to keep the 79.9-inch-wide vehicle on course, and DeMatio was the system’s biggest fan: “I’ll take any electronic assistance I can have, thank you very much, for the task of keeping this big beast in its lane.” However, the same system peeved copy editor Rusty Blackwell because “its incessant beeping sometimes strikes even on snow-covered, unlined gravel roads.” Our biggest complaint with the lane-departure warning system is that it could not be disabled without also taking the much more useful blind-spot warning system offline as well.
Another divisive aspect of the QX came in the form of its 400-hp, 5.6-liter V-8 engine. No one faulted the power delivery or performance of the V-8, whose instant-on character greatly enhances drivability, muscling the QX past smaller cars with a happy burble. But more than one staffer admitted to feeling somewhat guilt-ridden — especially if he or she was alone in the vehicle and not using it to tow anything — for driving a large SUV that requires premium gasoline and has fuel economy ratings of 14/20 mpg city/highway. (We averaged 15 mpg over the course of the year.) If those figures seem absurd, consider the Lexus LX570 at 12/18 mpg and the Mercedes-Benz GL550 at 12/17 mpg, whose respective towing capacities are 1500 and 1000 pounds less than the QX’s 8500-pound rating. Assistant editor David Zenlea also pointed out that an Audi Q7 is rated at 16/22 mpg, but “the Audi gives up at least 1900 pounds in towing capacity along with a good deal of interior space.” It should also be noted that the QX’s excessive thirst didn’t deter us from racking up 31,508 mostly trouble-free miles during its stay with us.
Of course when it was time to haul, the praise resumed. A variety of trailers were towed behind our QX during its twelve months with us, ranging from a 1000-pound open trailer to a twenty-four-foot enclosed race-car hauler. Infiniti’s standard Around View camera system made hitching up a cinch, even without the help of a spotter. When this writer purchased the race trailer, the QX56 was backed up, the trailer attached, and the supplemental air-bag suspension leveled out before the seller finished counting his cash.
Even our heaviest trailers barely tested the Infiniti’s maximum towing capacity, but if you tow frequently, adding an aftermarket trailer-brake controller would be a necessity since Infiniti doesn’t offer an integrated brake controller from the factory. Selecting tow mode on the seven-speed automatic transmission changes the shift mapping so the QX can hold gears longer during acceleration and downshift earlier when decelerating. There are many vehicles on sale that tow this well, but few are as comfortable and enjoyable when not being used as a draft horse.
Speaking of which, the QX drew almost nothing but praise for its behavior on those days when it wasn’t encumbered by a heavy load. Zenlea’s take was typical: “I find its fluid power delivery, accurate steering, and comfortable ride very relaxing after a long day at work. It feels quite balanced for a vehicle this size.” A few drivers, however, commented that the transmission sometimes shifted more abruptly, especially at low speeds, than we would expect in a luxury vehicle — even if it is a big SUV.
We all appreciated Infiniti’s sumptuous interior, which was best described by DeMatio as “a richly appointed efficiency apartment on wheels.” Senior editor Joe Lorio added, “Infiniti is officially the master of the padded-cell interior. One searches in vain for hard plastic. Impressive.” After about three seasons of hard use, our wheat-colored interior looked grimy and was lightly stained. Following a few hours of labor with a lot of 3M cleaning products, we were thrilled to see the seats return to their former light hues and impressed by the durability of all the interior surfaces.
Although seating seven passengers is possible in the QX, the vehicle is much more luxurious with only the first two rows of seats occupied. Then all four passengers are treated to heated captain’s chairs and more than ample legroom, and with the third-row seats folded, there’s an abundant 49.6 cubic feet of cargo capacity. Unfortunately, those power-folding third-row seats are “painfully slow to open and close.” Most staffers agreed that a simple manual solution would be more convenient than waiting thirty or so seconds for the seats to do their thing.
We weren’t quite as smitten with the QX56’s exterior styling as we were with the interior. Descriptions ranged from “garish” to “fish-meets-bulldog face,” but at least this new QX looks more distinguished than the last generation. As associate web editor Evan McCausland says, “No longer does the QX feel like Infiniti’s transparent attempt to badge-engineer its way into the luxury SUV segment.”
In the end, our complaints about the QX56’s third-row seats, fuel economy, and various electronic nanny systems are about as meaningful as a spoiled child crying because he suddenly wants a different toy. The truth is that the Infiniti QX56 is an excellent luxury SUV that perfectly fit our needs during its yearlong stay. We were able to move every trailer that needed moving and haul families of four in style, and we had the option to do both at the same time. It’s not a reach to say that the QX56 can take the place of both a luxury sedan and a dedicated utility vehicle without compromising either mission. After our year with the QX, it’s easy to see why affluent families aren’t leaving the luxury SUV segment: these big beasts are the automotive equivalent of having your cake and eating it, too.
Rating 4.5 stars out of 5
Body Style: 4-door SUV
Construction: Steel body-on-frame
Engine: 32-valve DOHC V-8
Displacement: 5.6 liters (339 cu in)
Power: 400 hp @ 5800 rpm
Torque: 413 lb-ft @ 4000 rpm
Transmission: 7-speed automatic
Steering: Electrically assisted
Lock-to-lock: 3.5 turns
Turning Circle: 41.6 ft
Suspension, Front: Control arms, coil springs
Suspension, Rear: Control arms, coil springs
Brakes F/R: Vented disc; ABS
Tires: Bridgestone Dueler H/T 684II
Tire Size: 275/50R22 111H
Headroom F/2R/3R: 39.9 / 40.0 / 36.8 in
Legroom F/2R/3R: 39.6 / 41.0 / 28.8 in
L x W x H: 208.3 x 79.9 x 75.8 in
Wheelbase: 121.1 in
Track F/R: 67.5 / 67.9 in
Cargo Capacity: 49.6 / 95.1 cu ft (3R seats down / with 2R & 3R seats down)
Weight: 5850 lb
Fuel Capacity: 26.0 gallons
Est. Fuel Range: 420 miles
Fuel Grade: 91 octane
4-yr/unlimited-mile roadside assistance
5484 mi: $44.41
10,416 mi: $88.17
14,429 mi: $240.74
18,398 mi: $51.90
22,196 mi: $140.36
29,732 mi: $908.46
6363 mi: Clear check-engine-light code after jump-starting vehicle due to low voltage
22,196 mi: Reprogram
ABS control unit
29,732 mi: Reprogram navigation software
10,254 mi: Purchase all-season floor mats from Infiniti dealer, $159.00
EPA city/hwy/combined 14/20/16 mpg
Observed 15 mpg
Cost per mile
(Fuel, service) $0.29
($1.00 including depreciation)
Base price $60,750
Price as tested $72,560v
Trade-in value $50,400*
ABS; traction and stability control; three-zone automatic climate control; cruise control; bixenon headlights; foglights; leather upholstery; second-row captain’s chairs; power windows, mirrors, locks, heated front seats, 60/40 third-row seats, sunroof, tailgate, and tilting/telescoping steering column; heated steering wheel; thirteen-speaker Bose CD/DVD/MP3/USB stereo with XM satellite radio, NavTraffic, and NavWeather; 9.3-gigabyte hard drive; Bluetooth; navigation system; keyless push-button ignition; Around View Monitor; rain-sensing windshield wipers; front, side, and three-row side curtain air bags
Deluxe touring package (twenty-two-inch wheels, Hydraulic Body Motion Control, climate-controlled front seats, heated second-row seats with remote tip-up actuation and footwell lighting, semianiline leather seating, mocha burl trim, advanced climate control, headlight washers), $5800; technology package (intelligent cruise control, blind-spot warning, lane-departure warning and prevention, brake assist with forward-collision warning, swiveling headlamps), $2850; theater package (dual seven-inch color monitors, two wireless headphone sets, wireless remote, auxiliary audio/video input jacks, 120-volt power outlet), $2450; illuminated kick plates, $390; roof-rail crossbars, $320
*Estimate based on information from intellichoice.com