By David Undercoffler, Los Angeles Times
August 19, 2010
The good, the bad and the ugly. It's cliche, it's trite — and it's exactly how to describe Infiniti's 2011 QX56.
The "good" includes this full-size luxury SUV's interior, its drivetrain and its (relative) maneuverability. The "bad" describes its gas mileage, its aversion to getting dirty and some practical elements of the vehicle's design. And the "ugly' describes ... well, look at it.
In short, the QX looks weird. Which is unfortunate because if you're in the market for this type of vehicle, and you can get past the styling, it has a lot to offer.
This QX is a rebadged version of the newest Nissan Patrol, a relentlessly capable body-on-frame SUV offered elsewhere in the world. The Patrol's career arc is similar to Toyota's Land Cruiser: It started as a humble off-roader decades ago, and over time has shed its proletarian roots for more luxurious trappings while maintaining its rugged prowess.
The good aspects of the QX are the ones Infiniti didn't change from the donor Nissan.
We'll start inside first, since that's where it's easiest to enjoy the QX. Infiniti has hit its stride when it comes to its interiors, and the QX is no exception. Everywhere you look, you'll find high-grade leathers (semi-aniline if you spring for the $5,800 Deluxe Touring Package), wood trim and chrome accents mixed together tastefully. The navigation, audio system and HVAC controls cultivate the need for a fair number of buttons and switches, but they're laid out logically.
This makes it easier to access the impressive navigation system and Bose stereo, each with a laundry list of features you'd expect on a $72,000 (as tested) SUV. Not content with merely sounding nice, the system also includes a 9.3-gigabyte hard drive and iPod integration. The touch-screen navigation system can also be controlled via the steering wheel and features XM traffic and weather info and a Zagat Survey restaurant guide.
Seats are thickly bolstered and comfortable, as one might expect from a vehicle bearing the likeness and dimensions of a humpback whale. Head- and legroom for front and middle-row passengers are generous. Access to the rear seats is surprisingly easy because the middle seats flip and fold quickly out of the way. Space is tight back there, though, so leave that third row to the kids.
Seven-passenger seating is standard, with large captain's chairs in the middle row flanking a wide armrest. A 60/40 folding bench seat is available if you need to seat eight. Power-folding rear seats are also standard.
Another key item in the "good" column is the powertrain. At the heart of the QX is its 5.6-liter V-8, paired to a seven-speed automatic transmission. The engine is smooth, robust and hints of a sports car as you accelerate. It puts out 400 horsepower and 413 pound-feet of torque, up from 320 horsepower and 393 pound-feet of torque in the previous QX.
This increase in power brings it even with competitors such as the Cadillac Escalade and the Lexus LX 570. It also makes it a veritable drag-racer. Despite a curb weight of some 6,000 pounds for this four-wheel-drive model, Motor Trend magazine clocked the QX going zero to 60 in 6.1 seconds (Infiniti doesn't release official acceleration times). This gives you an idea of the amount of power the QX has available for towing or for accelerating on freeway onramps. A rear-wheel-drive model is also available.
Despite its girth, piloting the QX is no chore. Speed-sensitive steering is standard and it has a very light feel to it, so much so that it takes a few trips to get accustomed to it. Parking is a breeze thanks to the standard Around View Monitor. This system uses cameras in the grill, each of the side-view mirrors and the lift gate to project onto the navigation screen in the center console a virtual bird's-eye view of the QX and its surroundings. Very cool and very useful.
The "bad" list for the QX starts with the gas mileage. Three tons and 400 horsepower do not an efficient vehicle make. The QX is rated at 14 miles per gallon in the city and 20 mpg on the highway, but after 600 miles of mostly highway driving, I averaged 13.6 mpg. This means your Prius-driving neighbor will stare eco-daggers into your back when you pull this beast into the driveway.
The 2011 QX has also lost some of the capabilities of its predecessor. Towing capacity is down to 8,500 pounds from 9,000; ground clearance is lower too. Various off-road aids found on the Patrol, including hill descent control and all-wheel-drive modes "Pavement," "Sand" and "Rock," are not available on the QX.
Twenty-inch wheels are standard, and the touring package adds titanic 22-inch, nine-spoke wheels. They're possibly the only attractive aspect of the QX's exterior. They also contribute to a commanding road presence. There are few other vehicles, full-size trucks included, that seat its passengers higher than the QX. The downside to this is the rear bumper sits very high, making it difficult for the vertically challenged to load and access the trunk. The standard power lift gate makes things easier, though the glass doesn't open independently, so any time you want something from the back, you have to wait for the power door.
And then there are the looks of the QX.
It looks like someone left it out in the sun too long and it began to melt. It looks like a pregnant rhinoceros. It just looks weird.
Apparently Infiniti was too wed to the idea of instilling the QX with the design language of the rest of its line. This is admirable with most vehicles, but applying it to a 6,000-pound full-size SUV is risky. Clearly. It's unduly bulbous, inflated and rotund. Perhaps the worst element is the tacky side vents on the front quarter panels. They look as if they were designed by "The Situation" from "Jersey Shore."
There's plenty of good, some bad and a whole mess of ugly. But the latter is subjective. And if full-size SUV customers don't care about the looks or think I need my eyes checked, there's really a lot to like.
Just watch out for those eco-daggers.