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First Drive: 2018 Infiniti QX80

More tech and a slight polish extend life of aging flagship cruiser

Todd LassawriterThe Manufacturerphotographer

CHARLESTON, South Carolina - Big three-row SUVs have become de facto flagships for certain luxury brands. Think Cadillac Escalade, of course, and the all-new Lincoln Navigator. Or, in our case today, the Infiniti QX80. While these brands have struggled to compete with their sedans against the flagship of flagships, the Mercedes-Benz S-Class, their body-on-frame SUVs offer much of the luxury of the S-Class, throw in high-level towing and some off-road capabilities, and return huge profit margins.

Infiniti unveiled a 2018 model-year facelift of its relatively low-volume, high-profit QX80 recently at the 2017 Dubai International Motor Show because the Middle East, along with Russia and the U.S., is one of this model's most important markets. In fact, Infiniti sells the QX80 in just 27 of the luxury brand's 50 markets, so 23 go without this flagship.

For 2018, Infiniti redesigned the QX80's sheetmetal from the A-pillar forward, featuring a taller, more prominent and more upright grille with a new LED headlamp and foglamp design. Sheemetal of the liftgate has been redesigned, as well as the taillamps and rear bumper finisher.

A new 20-inch wheel design is standard, and there are new 22-inch optional forged aluminum alloy wheels. When fitted with the 22s, the SUV rides on 275/50R-22 all-season tires with a slightly softer sidewall. According to product planning senior manager Anand Patel, this helps enhance was he calls a "comfort-focused suspension." The QX80 has relied on its Hydraulic Body Motion Control to mitigate the vehicle's relatively soft ride since the 2011 model year. The suspension's automatic leveling system also is standard, and the QX80 comes with either rear-wheel-drive or four-wheel-drive. As before, 4WD settings are automatic, 4-high and 4-low.

This all works well enough that the 2018 Infiniti QX80 doesn't feel like a body-on-frame vehicle with the usual sideways shake on rough and crumbled roads. Like the old model, the new one is the most comfortable competitor in the big luxury SUV segment, and was able to handle the gentle sweeping curves on the coastal roads near Charleston with good body control. The carryover 400-hp 5.6-liter provides the sort of acceleration you'd expect from a big V-8 powering a big and heavy SUV. Nice motorboat gurgle under full throttle.

Though it's far from the first luxury vehicle thus described, inspiration for the QX80, especially its updated cabin, was a luxury jet, Patel says. And yet, it's a ground-bound lux-jet that can withstand kids. The QX80 has the segment's lowest average-age buyer, Infiniti says, and more than 60 percent of them are married with children, highest in the segment.

There are three climate zones, a phone pocket ahead of the two cupholders in the front console, and those cupholders now feature a notch for the popular new, insulated metal coffee mugs and their handles. There's a new information/entertainment screen with high-resolution (though its 8-inch diagonal size is a bit small in this age of Tesla-wannabees) plus two additional USB ports, and wireless headphones for the rear entertainment system.

A new digital rearview mirror operates off the rear camera, so you can see what's behind you even if you have tall passengers in the third row, or luggage piled up to the headliner. It's adjustable for height and brightness, and like GM's digital rearview mirror, you can turn it off and use it as a regular mirror if you prefer.

The 2018 Infiniti QX80 is available with two grades of interior leather, including a semi-aniline upgrade and both with a stain-resistant coating. There's a new saddle-brown interior color, and it's very rich-looking, with French stitching, supple padding at all the touch points, and perhaps the most tasteful diamond-pattern seat inserts in the business. The seats remain comfortable even after a few hours (with breaks) of driving or riding; you don't sit too high on the cushion, nor do they envelop you.

Second row leg- and headroom is ample, and the seats flip-and-tumble easily for access to the third row, which is, well, the third row. It offers decent headroom, however, and even legroom isn't bad, at least for shorter rides.

The woodgrain-style plastic on the dash and center stack was less impressive. On the dash, it's a thin horizontal strip above the glovebox and airbag, though it's directly in the front passenger's line of site. There's also a rough seam around the sun visors, which might seem a nit-pick issue, though like the fake wood it seems especially out of place in an otherwise nicely finished interior.

Infiniti also has added new driver-assist automation features. There's a predictive forward-collision warning that can see two vehicles ahead, lane-departure warning and prevention, intelligent cruise control along the entire speed range with distance-control assist, forward emergency braking with pedestrian detection, blind spot warning, and back-up collision warning.

None of this is particularly state-of-the-art though. The lane-departure control is very gentle in keeping you between the lines, except for the beeping. This is no Nissan ProPilot Assist, which itself is no Cadillac SuperCruise. After all, the 2018 Infiniti QX80 is a mid-cycle update of the '11 Infiniti QX80, a refresh that will carry the model through the recent launch of the new Lincoln Navigator, and through the much-anticipated launch of the next-generation Cadillac Escalade, which is expected just ahead of an all-new Infiniti QX80 coming about the 2021 model year. Mid-cycle updates don't allow for the latest in automation and connectivity if the basic platform is seven years old.

With no changes to the powertrain, EPA fuel economy remains a thirsty 14/20 mpg city/highway for the RWD model, and 13/19 for the 4WD model. So long as gas remains cheap and available, that shouldn't be an issue for target customers. Young families will have to decide whether they want to forego some of the latest gadgetry in order to get what's probably the quietest, most comfortable luxury land jet in the segment.

2018 Infiniti QX80 Specifications

PRICE $68,845/$83,195 (base/as tested)
ENGINE 5.6L DOHC 32-valve V-8/400 hp @ 5,800 rpm, 413 lb-ft @ 4,000 rpm
TRANSMISSION 7-speed automatic
LAYOUT 4-door, 5-passenger, front-engine, RWD/4WD SUV
EPA MILEAGE 13/19 mpg (city/hwy)
L x W x H 208.9 x 79.9 x 75.8 in
WHEELBASE 121.1 in
WEIGHT 5,466-5,888 lb
0-60 MPH N/A