Driven: 2011 Infiniti QX56

If you thought Infiniti was going to abandon the full-size luxury SUV segment just because most people are segueing toward smaller, more fuel-efficient, less ostentatious crossovers, think again: the smell of money is in the air.

Ben Poore, vice president of Infiniti Americas, explains: "The bling-bling buyers have left the segment, leaving families." Rich families at that, he adds: "Our QX buyers are the wealthiest Infiniti customers: many pay cash, 55 percent of them have another luxury vehicle in their garage, and a lot of them tow boats and horse trailers. Our biggest market," he continues, "is Long Island, and Dallas and Houston are also growing." Which leads us to conclude that the Infiniti QX56 is the official vehicle of the Real Housewives of East Hampton, Preston Hollow, and River Oaks. But those gals still like their bling, don't they? Lucky for them, the new QX56 has plenty.

Let's start with the cabin, which is slightly narrower than the outgoing QX56's because the new QX is based on the Nissan Patrol (not sold here) rather than the Armada. This interior has an attention to design detail and material finish that rivals Lexus and even Land Rover. The steering wheel gets a rich helping of wood and hide, the front seats are deserving of the most discerning derrieres, and the center stack is framed by two stitched-leather goalposts. A center console between the heatable second-row buckets (a second-row bench that adds an eighth seat is a no-cost option) is big enough to hold all the detritus that Real Children must tote, and a new tri-zone climate-control system improves airflow for second- and third-row passengers-a nod to the Middle East, where the QX56 is popular. Infiniti's Around View Monitor, a series of cameras that project a 360-degree view of the immediate surroundings onto the dash, is crucial not only for Real Husbands to back up to boat trailers but also for Real Housewives to slip into tight parking spots when they're late for mani/pedi appointments.

Not that the QX56 should be a late arrival anywhere, since its 5.6-liter V-8-mated to a new seven-speed automatic-is now the modern unit from the 2011 M56 sedan rather than the old truck engine. With this direct-injected mill under its expansive hood, the 5850-pound QX56 (down 161 pounds) can definitely move. The tow rating is 8500 pounds, and EPA fuel economy now inches toward respectability, at 14 mpg city, 20 mpg highway, and 16 mpg combined. Executive summary: The responsive V-8, the rigid body-on-frame structure, and the well-insulated interior are impressive. Steering that's reasonably precise but devoid of feedback is less so.

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