The past few years haven’t been easy for large luxury sport utility vehicles. Between the downturn in real estate, the overall recession, and increasing environmental awareness of mainstream America, buying an expensive and thirsty vehicle has become a bit passé.
Nevertheless, there is still a market for SUVs that can carry and tow while pampering their drivers and passengers in luxury and the latest technology. Though not the huge profit centers they used to be, they do still seem to be an important part of the portfolio of some luxury brands.
With that, Infiniti has updated its full-size premium offering, the QX56. It looks quite different from the outgoing version, largely due to being built on a different platform. While the 2010 and earlier QX was a twin to the Nissan Armada, the 2011 shares its underpinnings with a vehicle called the Nissan Patrol, which is sold worldwide but not in the U.S.
The overall size hasn’t changed, with the exception of height, which gives the QX a lower stance. It’s still big and imposing, especially when it was parked in my driveway beside my wife’s Mini Cooper. (And eliciting wise cracks from my next door neighbors Don and David, individually, about how massive it seems.)
Okay, so it’s large. But it actually needs to be if it’s to carry up to eight people and tow up to 8500 pounds. Yes, some people buy these just because they like the size and have no intention of either carrying lots of people or pulling a trailer, but probably not as many as there were a few years ago.
Infiniti knows that there are buyers out there who need or want an SUV like this, and rather than just let Lexus, Cadillac and Lincoln get all the sales (and profits), they want to maintain their own entry into the class. That’s why there’s an all-new QX56.
The QX does a good job of wearing Infiniti’s latest styling cues, especially considering that most everything else in the brand’s lineup is much more svelte. To apply the design touches to something so large and square probably wasn’t easy.
You’ll know right away that you’re in an Infiniti as soon as you climb into the interior, as here too it resembles the company’s other models. To play in this arena, an SUV has to have yards of leather, plush carpet and all the other little touches that define luxury. The list of standard and optional equipment is staggering. Suffice to say, if there’s something available on a high-end vehicle today, you can get it on the QX56.
Infiniti has made a point in recent years of offering safety technology, and the QX has all the latest. Among them is Lane Departure Warning, which will sound an alert if you start to drift toward the dashed line on either side of you without signaling. If that doesn’t work, Lane Departure Prevention will actually assist you back to a straight path. (These are both part of the optional Technology Package.)
There’s also Infiniti’s slick Around View Monitor, which comes standard and can really help in tight parking spaces. Cameras at the front, rear and sides combine to show a 360 degree view of the vehicle. When moving forward, you’re also given a wide-angle view of what’s in front of you. Considering the QX56’s girth and the size of many parking spots these days, this feature is pretty handy.
Under the hood is a large V8 engine producing 400 horsepower, and doing it with a degree of efficiently. Variable valve timing and direct fuel injection try to make the consumption of premium unleaded as low as possible, as does the 7-speed automatic transmission. This is still no gas-sipper, but considering its size and heft, its ratings of 14 mpg city and 20 highway for either two wheel or four wheel drive versions are at least respectable. Infiniti says those figures equate to an 18% improvement over the 2010 model.
Though I felt a little guilty driving solo in such a large vehicle, I was recently swaddled in its comfort during a late afternoon trip to the northwest part of the San Fernando Valley while that big heat wave was upon us. Though it was in triple-digits outside, I was plenty cool thanks to the three-zone climate control and optional air conditioned seats. The big QX also rode quite commendably, partly in thanks to the optional Hydraulic Body Motion Control system which is part of the (gulp) $5800 Deluxe Touring Package. And I was nicely entertained by the Bose audio system with speakers everywhere.
As you may have guessed, this isn’t a low-priced ride. Base sticker for the 2WD version is $56,700, and the 4WD starts at $59,800. The final tab for my 4WD test vehicle with every option package was $72,475 including destination charge.
Yes, it’s big. And yes, it can seem wasteful. But a few years ago I chatted briefly with a woman who owned a big luxury SUV and she summed it up this way. “I also have a Prius, but I can’t tow my horse trailer with it.” Well said.
I’ll see you down the road.
Dave Kunz is the automotive reporter at KABC-TV Channel 7. He can also be heard on “The Car Show” Saturdays at 9 a.m. on KPFK, 90.7 FM. You can reach Dave at TVCarz @ pacbell.net.