1. Home
  2. First drive: 2018 Infiniti QX80 [Review]

First drive: 2018 Infiniti QX80 [Review]

by Drew Johnson

The Infiniti QX80 gets a smattering of improvements for 2018.

When the Infiniti brand launched back in 1989, it was strictly a car company. In fact, it would be eight-years before Infiniti launched its first utility vehicle model, the QX4.

But Infiniti has made up significant ground in the utility category in recent years, and now the company offers more SUVs and crossovers (4) than sedans and coupes (3). Tops among those utility vehicles is the full-size, body-on-frame QX80, which Infiniti is treating to an update for the 2018 model year.

What's old is new
Before we dive into the meat of our review, let's pause for a quick history lesson. The 2018 QX80 traces its roots back to the Nissan Titan-based Infiniti QX56 that launched in 2004. As with its modern counterpart, the QX56 was a V8-powered, full-size SUV designed to take on vehicles like the Cadillac Escalade in the burgeoning luxury SUV segment. The QX56 quickly proved to be a solid seller for Infiniti, with more than 1,000 units finding new homes each month.

Although The Great Recession took a significant bite out of QX56 sales, Infiniti came out with an all-new model in 2010. The 2010 QX56 featured fresh styling, a more luxurious interior, an updated drivetrain and a new platform derived from the Nissan Patrol. The SUV's name was changed from QX56 to QX80 for the 2014 model year, but otherwise Infiniti has done little to improve the QX80 over the last seven-years. Enter the 2018 Infiniti QX80.

Charting the changes
Despite its advancing age, the 2018 QX80 represents more of a mid-cycle refresh rather than an all-new model. Still, there are some important improvements worth noting.

Chief among those changes is exterior styling. Since its inception the QX56/QX80 hasn't been what you'd call a pretty vehicle, but the changes to the 2018 model easily make this the best-looking Infiniti flagship SUV to date.

The front of the QX80 was given a few extra inches of sheetmetal and Infiniti designers did away with the SUV's downward-sloping hood. In its place is a more upright grille that features Infiniti's latest 'double-arch' design. Headlights were moved closer to the SUV's hood line and resigned to look more modern. The QX80's entire front end is more vertical than before, giving it the presences of a true luxury SUV rather than that of a beluga whale.

The rear of the QX80 has been reworked to include new-look LED taillights, a chrome accent strip that runs the width of the vehicle and a re-shaped lower bumper. Compared to the changes at the front, the alterations to the rear aren't as success; we see more minivan styling than big, burly SUV cues.

The interior of the 2018 QX80 hasn't been given as much attention as the SUV's exterior. The overall layout is identical to last year's model, with a handful of exceptions.

On the tech front, the 2018 QX80 receives a " smart" review mirror that can act as a conventional mirror or switch to a camera view, an updated 8-inch center touchscreen display running the latest version of the Infiniti InTouch infotainment system, a new rear-seat entertainment system with headrest-mounted 8-inch screens and additional USB ports to keep rear-seat passengers charged up and happy. The new QX80 also offers advanced safety technologies that we'll get to in a bit.

Design-wise the 2018 QX80 receives a new shift lever, quilted leather and a newly optional saddle brown upholstery color. Infiniti has also made the QX80's leather more durable by applying a coating that resists soil and stains.

The 2018 QX80 continues to be powered by a 5.6L V8 that develops 400 horsepower and 413 lb-ft of torque. A seven-speed automatic transmission is tasked with shifting duties. The QX80 ships standard with rear-wheel drive, but all-wheel drive can be specified for an additional charge. Infiniti estimates 55 percent of buyers will go for the all-wheel drive option.

Fuel economy ratings are unimpressive at 14/20/16mpg city/highway/combined for rear-wheel drive models and 13/19/15mpg for all-wheel drive models. Infiniti says it didn't make an effort to improve the QX80's efficiency because customers aren't clamoring for it.

Owners were complaining, however, about the QX80's rough ride, so Infiniti fiddled with the SUV's suspension system for 2018. Dampers are now 30 percent softer for a more comfortable ride and a Hydraulic Body Control system keeps the big SUV from leaning over too much in corners. There's also a self-leveling rear suspension to ensure the QX80 remains flat even when hauling a heavy load.

Drive time
Even after spending just a few minutes behind the wheel, it's plainly obvious that the 2018 QX80 has a far better ride than its predecessor. The softer dampers have all but eliminated the small jolts and jiggles that would upset the cabin of the old QX80. Larger road imperfections can unmask the QX80's body-on-frame roots, but for the most part the 2018 QX80 is a supremely comfortable cruising machine.

Infiniti's Hydraulic Body Control system does an admiral job of keeping the QX80 upright, even when taking cloverleaf onramps at speed. The system works by pumping hydraulic fluid to the outside suspension, thereby keeping the body flat. But even Infiniti's hydraulic wizardry isn't enough to mask the QX80's tremendous mass; with a curb weight of around 6,000 pounds, there's just no hustling the QX80 around corners.

But despite a curb weight approaching that of the moon, the QX80 is actually a pretty snappy performer. Infiniti claims a 0-62 run of 7.5 seconds, but the big SUV feels faster when rolling with momentum, like when accelerating from 45mph to 65mph. The seven-speed auto works seamlessly in the background without issue.

Steering and brakes could be better, however. The QX80's steering has a vague feeling on center, meaning constant small corrections are needed to keep the SUV in a straight line. Brakes are rubbery and lack the kind of feel you'd want in a vehicle of this size.

Speaking of size, the QX80's nose is now 3.5-inches longer and nearly an inch higher, making the big SUV tricky to drive around dense urban centers as you can't always see what's just in front of you. The driver does at least sit up high in the QX80, which mitigates some of its front-end blind spots.

To reduce blind spots to the rear caused by tall loads in the cargo area, Infiniti has equipped the QX80 with the same kind of digital rearview mirror that you'll find in some modern Cadillacs. The system relies on a camera mounted high in the QX80's rear glass that's placed inside the vehicle and within the rear wiper's reach in order to keep the image quality as clear as possible. The camera view is activated by flipping a lever on the underside of the rearview mirror. The digital mirror is a helpful tool, but it isn't perfect. Because it's placed so high in the rear glass, it doesn't show objects within a few feet of the rear bumper. Luckily the QX80 is equipped with Infiniti's Backup Collision Intervention system so the SUV is capable of bringing itself to a stop if it detects an object you missed.

While we're on the subject of safety technology, the 2018 QX80 is available with a comprehensive list of safety equipment, including intelligent cruise control, lane departure warning and prevention, forward emergency braking and blind spot warning. Two unique pieces of tech worth pointing out are Infiniti's distance control assist and predictive forward collision warning. The former is essentially adaptive cruise control without having to turn on adaptive cruise control — when distant control is activated, the QX80 will automatic keep a set distance from the vehicle ahead. The system is handy in stop-and-go traffic as it'll brake the vehicle for you in low speed situations. The latter uses the QX80's front sensors to monitor what's going on two cars ahead. If the system detects a sudden stoppage, it can brake the vehicle before you even realize what's happening.

Comfort and convenience
When it comes to interior appointments, the QX80 is a mixed bag. Top-notch materials are juxtaposed with lacking or outdated features. For example, the QX80's front seats are beautifully upholstered in high-quality leather, but lack the range of power adjustments (the lumbar positioning is non-adjustable, for example) you'd expect in a vehicle that can cost more than $80,000.

Though updated for the new model year, the QX80's 8-inch central screen is outclassed by the larger screens used in most of today's flagship luxury vehicles. It's also handicapped by the fact it can't run Android Auto or Apple CarPlay. If you want a clue as to how old the infotainment hardware is in the QX80, look no further than the prominently-placed CD slot.

The QX80's gauge cluster is the same story. Whereas most of the industry has moved on to digital clusters, the QX80 still uses analog dials with a small LCD screen that looks like it was designed last decade (which it was). Controls are also less than ideal, with buttons scattered across the QX80's steering wheel and gauge hood.

But the QX80 does at least score high marks for overall comfort. Front seats are supple yet supportive, providing the kind of comfort you'd look for in a road trip machine. Second-row seats are just as good with plenty of head and legroom. The QX80's third-row isn't as spacious, but it still offers decent room for normal-sized adults.

As with most three-row vehicle, cargo space behind the QX80's way-back seats is modest at 16.6 cubic feet. That space expands to 49.6 cubic feet with the third-row folded. However, unlocking that extra room requires plenty of patients as the power-folding seats take their sweet time to stow and you have to keep your finger on the button the entire time. And it takes just as long to recall the seats to their upright position.

Although not cheap, the QX80 offers good value for the segment. Prices for two-wheel drive models start from $64,750, with all-wheel drive examples listing from $67,850. Infiniti says most QX80s are optioned up to around $75,000. Go crazy with the options and the QX80 can top out at about $87,000.

Leftlane's bottom line
Infiniti has made a better QX80 for 2018, but not necessarily a better flagship SUV.

Compared to its predecessor, the QX80 makes massive strides in ride comfort and quality. It also looks significantly better in terms of exterior styling. But the bones of the QX80 are simply getting old, and it's hard to hide that fact. Still, the QX80's nicely appointed interior and value pricing should continue to attract buyers to Infiniti showrooms.

Photos by Drew Johnson