Like a four-wheel-drive executive jet... only not nearly as sleek.
Defying all odds - a recession, rising fuel prices a general move toward crossovers - Infiniti has done rather well with its second-generation full-size SUV.
On the face of things, the QX56 (which has been rechristened QX80 for 2014) seems diametrically opposed to what shoppers are looking to buy these days, especially considering it was introduced at the height of the recession.
But solid demand for the QX56 has shown that there's clearly a market for big, luxurious SUVs. And, after spending time in this thoroughly modern luxo-ute, we can see why.
What is it?
Sold overseas as the Nissan Patrol, the QX56 is a body-on-frame SUV designed to haul lots of passengers, their cargo and even a trailer in luxurious comfort. At over 208 inches from head to toe and tipping the scales at about 5,900 lbs., it's longer and plumper than the Nissan Armada-based QX56 it replaced.
Confusingly, Nissan has kept the old Armada around for buyers in North America.
Arriving on the market for the 2011 model year, the QX56 has remained mostly unchanged. Under its bulbous hood is a 5.6-liter V8 that cranks out a solid 400 horsepower and 413 lb-ft. of torque. Power goes to either the rear wheels or, on our four-wheel-drive tester, each corner. Notably, the QX56's all-wheel-drive system also includes a low range for off road use or for lugging heavy boats out of a body of water.
All QX56s are well-equipped, but our tester was lavished with every available option to the point where its list price was within spitting range of $80,000. Notable tech included a hydraulic body motion control system to reduce lean in corners, a full complement of radar safety and convenience features and upsized 22-inch alloy wheels.
What's it up against?
What's it look like?
We're hard pressed to call the QX56 attractive - it's distinctive, certainly.
Bulgy and rounded from every corner, the QX56 doesn't really hide its girth well even when swathed in "slimming" black paint like our test car. And that's a real problem considering it's already larger than any of its competitors listed above.
Its front fascia juts out like a swollen lip, while the rear end seems unnecessarily fussy. That said, while we're not usually fans of oversized wheels, the QX56 actually looks better to our eyes with the optional 22s fitted to our tester. That's something we never thought we'd say.
And on the inside?
Those grand dimensions pay off in terms of interior space. Even by big SUV standards, the QX56 is positively palatial. And we don't just mean that because it's roomy.
Infiniti drivers will recognize the QX56's vertical dashboard and simple infotainment system. Hardly overloaded with switches, the setup nonetheless provides convenient access to functions other automakers seem intent on forgetting - for example, there are six traditional preset buttons for the audio system and every climate control function can be accessed from a switch rather than a menu or two. That might sound old school, but in a world of increasingly complicated and distracting car dashboards, it's a win by our count.
The QX56 appeals inside for more than just its space and controls. Premium materials like gradient tinted wood trim and, as part of our tester's $4,650 Deluxe Touring Package, semi-aniline leather seats give it a thoroughly upmarket feel. Only a relatively low-tech instrument cluster and the occasional piece of Nissan-sourced switchgear let it down.
But does it go?
Consider this one a case of numbers. Yes, 400 horsepower is a lot of power. But 5,900 lbs. is also a lot of mass. If it's not clear to you by now that the QX56 is a hefty vehicle, consider this: It weighs as much as two Nissan Cubes conveniently stacked on top of one another.
As a result, the QX56 is peppy but not overwhelmingly quick. Its seven-speed automatic gearbox does an admirable job of keeping the engine within its power band, but at the expense of fuel economy. Despite EPA ratings of 14/20 mpg (16 mpg combined), we saw as low as 12 mpg in the city and never higher than 18 mpg on the highway.
Despite the dismal fuel economy, the QX56 proved to be a phenomenal road trip cruiser. Silent at interstate speeds, its fully independent suspension soaked up even the most rutted terrain we encountered.
Our tester's Technology Package added a full complement of radar-based safety and convenience aids - a blind spot monitor, a lane departure warning system (that even intervened to tug the QX56 back into place if we wandered into another lane) and a radar cruise control system capable of bringing the big 'ute to a halt if it detected an impending low-speed impact.
When the road turned twisty, the QX56 was remarkably composed thanks to our tester's Hydraulic Body Control system, which uses cross-linked shock absorbers to counteract body lean. Cornering isn't Porsche 911-flat, but it is a significantly lower drama affair than we've come to expect from big SUVs.
Around town, the QX56's proportions don't make it the easiest vehicle to park, but Infiniti's innovative around view camera system provides a birds-eye view through the center display. Combine that with a new-for-2013 moving object detection system that alerts drivers to, say, a biker pedaling in their direction, and the QX56 proved easier to lug around town than we expected.
We didn't hook up a trailer to our tester, but prior experience with QX56s have shown them to be excellent haulers up their 8,500 lbs. rating.
Leftlane's bottom line
Don't judge a book by its cover. The Infiniti QX56's appeal lies in the refined way it goes about its business.
Like an executive jet for the road, this big luxury SUV is extraordinarily comfortable. We just wish it had a bit more of a Gulfstream look to it.
2013 Infiniti QX56 4WD base price, $63,750. As tested, $78,140.
Theater Package, $3,100; Technology Package, $3,000; Deluxe Touring Package, $4,650; Cargo mat, $200; 22-inch wheels, $2,450; Destination, $990.
Photos by Andrew Ganz.