Infiniti QX56 — Success in a limited market

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

Aggressively pushing automotive green in the form of electric, hybrid and natural gas is a good thing. But no matter how badly we want to see progressively better fuel economy, there will always be the need for big, brawny truck-like vehicles that can tow heavy things and carry massive payloads. And real fuel efficiency is not synonymous with truck-based vehicles capable of doing the hard work of life. 
There’s just no way your Nissan Sentra can tow the boat or horse trailer or carry seven or eight passengers and luggage. For those who partake in these weekend-type pursuits and desire comfort and luxury in their ride, Infiniti has given them a viable alternative to the Cadillac Escalade, Lexus LX 570, Mercedes GL, Land Rover Range Rover, and the half dozen other not-so-eco friendly luxury workhorses.
We were a bit surprised when we heard a few years ago that Infiniti had elected to spend considerable resources on a QX update considering the limited market. We can report that the Japanese automaker spent its resources wisely, completely revitalizing the QX and creating one of the most appealing large luxury SUVs on the market.
Infiniti QX sales figures for 2011 show that those buying vehicles in the segment are enamored with the Infiniti. Trailing only the Cadillac Escalade and the Mercedes GL nearly 13,500 QX56s were sold for the year, accounting for about 17-percent of the market segment.
The second generation QX has indeed stepped away from Nissan’s shadow and no longer can the QX be called a rebadged Nissan. It has been reincarnated as a true luxury vehicle with a myriad of standard features and a host of optional equipment to tempt the buyer.
The first generation QX, introduced in 2004, was based on the Nissan Armada truck. Nissan continues to build the Armada in low numbers on the aging Titan pickup truck platform.
Thankfully, the new QX has truly entered the luxury realm that is not part of the Armada’s persona. Look no further than the living area for ample evidence that the QX is more than qualified to inhabit the rarified air of Mercedes, Cadillac, Lexus and Land Rover. The luxuriously stitched leather upholstery, soft-touch surfaces, rich wood trim and the attention to detail that escapes some manufacturers are all in evidence — and pleasing to the senses with every visit to the cabin.
Accommodations are roomy with ample stretch out room in the first two rows, and more than adequate head room. The seats are comfortable for long-distance travel, and finding a just-right driving position is no problem with the eight-way power seat and power tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel. We did feel that the accelerator and the brake pedal where a bit close together, and took some getting used to. Of course climbing in can be a chore even with the running board, especially with the 22-inch wheel package.
There are plenty of pockets, bins and cupholders to make storing stuff fairly easy and keeping drinks at hand for those preferably not driving.
The rear-most seats, as is the case with most SUVs of this size, offer tight quarters for adults, but are very livable for younger folks. Infiniti has come up with an optional feature that makes gaining access to the third row easier. It’s a remote second-row seat folding control that allows the driver or front passenger to remotely fold the second-row seats without leaving their seat. It’s an irreplaceable convenience for mom picking the kids up from school.
The QX, which measures 208 inches in length, has an ample 19.3 cubic feet of storage behind the third-row seats. This can be expanded to a competitive 112 cubic feet with all seats folded. By comparison, the Escalade has 108.9 cubic feet, the Lexus LX 570 has 83 cubic feet and the Lincoln Navigator has 103.3 cubic feet.
A supple ride and a quiet interior put an explanation point on the luxury-feeling interior. The QX56 has a pleasing knack of successfully soaking up road imperfections and smoothing out rough railroad tracks.
We found the optional Hydraulic Body Motion Control particularly effective in controlling the ride. We discovered on winding and dipping rural Kentucky horse country roads and again in the mountains of Southern California that the active suspension truly helps the big SUV smooth out the ride while keeping the truck flat during hard cornering. Its effectiveness was vividly pointed out when we drove the same route with the standard suspension.
The downside to the active suspension is that it is expensive; part of a $4,100 package that includes a nice Bose 5.1 surround sound system and leather seats. Making matters worse is that the suspension requires 22-inch wheels. While they look really hot, the big boys are a $2,300 stand-alone option.
The QX is a big truck — weighing in at nearly three tons — and it takes massive horsepower to move the beast in acceptable manner. Tasked with this duty is a revised 5.6-liter V-8 engine generating 400 horsepower and 413 pound-feet of torque, mated to a seven-speed automatic. That’s an 80 horsepower increase over the 5.6-liter in the previous generation QX.
The engine is a good match for the vehicle with the ability to propel it from 0 to 60 in the low six-second range. When used for weekend chores — and charging away from a stoplight is of secondary importance — the QX has 8,500 pounds of towing capacity. And while it may be too big to play in Moab’s off-road hell it has a sure-footed four-wheel drive system with a computer controlled transfer case and it plays well in snow.
The new engine, Infiniti says, boosts a 14 percent increase in fuel economy over the first generation QX, but that’s relative. The QX remains a 21st Century gas hog by any measurement with an EPA rating of 14 mpg city and 20 mpg highway, using premium gas.
The Infiniti can be outfitted with a myriad of optional safety and convenience equipment. You might even argue that the QX can be over-equipped. All the usual safety features are standard including a large number of airbags, traction and stability control and antilock brakes. Optional features are mind-boggling and include lane departure warning, lane departure prevention, forward collision warning, distance control assist, intelligent brake assist, and blind spot warning. 
We like blind sport warning and adaptive cruise control. Unfortunately to get the things we like we would be required to purchase the entire Technology package for $3,000. It would make us think hard about simply abandoning our favorite features.
The QX56 carries a base price of $59,600. Our four-wheel drive test vehicle came with a healthy dose of options and had a sticker price of $75,340.
While we don’t mean to harp on price, this vehicle is obviously not for the majority of 99-percenters, buyers need to know before pointing themselves to the Infiniti showroom. Bottom line, the QX is indeed a very attractive vehicle for those in the market for big, burly transportation and for those who can pay the freight.
Base price: $59,600; as driven, $75,340
Engine: 5.6-liter V-8
Horsepower: 400 @ 5,800 rpm
Torque: 413 pound-feet @ 4,000 rpm
Drive: four-wheel
Transmission: 7-speed automatic
Seating: 2/3/3
Wheelbase: 121.1 inches
Length: 208.3 inches
Curb weight: 5,850 pounds
Turning circle: 41 feet
Luggage capacity: 19.3 cubic feet
Cargo capacity: 112 cubic feet
Towing capacity: 8,500 pounds
Fuel capacity: 26 gallons (premium)
EPA rating: 20 mpg highway, 14 mpg city
0-60: 6.5 seconds (Car and Driver)
Also consider: Cadillac Escalade, Lexus LX 570, Mercedes GL550
The Good:
• Powerful V-8 engine
• Excellent handling for its big size
• Well executed interior
• Tows up to 8,500 pounds
The Bad:
• Exterior styling can be a turn off
The Ugly:
• Desirable options can add 15 grand to base price