Photos: Nissan/Infiniti. Click images to enlarge
by Richard Russell
From humble beginnings, Infiniti has grown to the stage where a serious sport utility vehicle was required in order to play in the luxury leagues. The QX56 fits into Infiniti’s lineup like a sumo wrestler at a gym meet. Amidst a sea of sleek, designer cars this hulking, luxury SUV announces to one and all – quite clearly – that Infiniti (nee Nissan) – is now building trucks. Not compact trucks – BIG TRUCKS!
Infiniti has the stylish FX35 and FX45 pseudo SUV siblings but there’s little stylish about this massive box until you get inside.
The first product to roll off the new American assembly line was the Titan pickup, followed by the Pathfinder Armada SUV and most recently, the upscale Infiniti QX56 which shares all the basic mechanicals of the Armada, but comes with all the accoutrements expected in the luxury SUV stratosphere.
This is indeed a full-sized, heavy-duty SUV. It weighs just shy of 6,000 pounds – three tons – and rides on a wheelbase spanning 10 feet. It has ample seating for seven people and a whopping big V8 engine. It presents a clear alternative to the likes of Excursion and Suburban with a combination of American bulk and muscle and Japanese engineering and detail.
Just as the sheer size of this brute tells you the Japanese have arrived in this segment, the engine personifies the approach. At 5.6 litres, it is not only larger than the standard V8s from Dodge (4.7 litres), Ford (4.6 litres) and GM (4.8 litres). It has 315 horsepower compared to 235 from Dodge, 236 from Ford and 285 from GM. It also has technology with dual overhead camshafts and comes coupled to a five-speed automatic transmission and an electronically-controlled, full-time four-wheel drive system.
The Infiniti has the credentials to play in the big leagues – size, body-on-frame construction and a honking great V8. But it goes a lot deeper than that. With a clean sheet design, the engineers were able to endow this luxury liner with a full array of “bling”, much of which the others don’t offer. Things like a rear-vision TV camera, radar-based cruise control and in-dash navigation.
A tiny camera all-but-hidden above the rear license plate takes the worry out of being close. Activated when you shift into reverse, it projects a bright, clear, full-color picture on the navigation screen in the center of the instrument panel. You can see where you are going, anything in the way and with the aid of lines super-imposed on the screen, where the wheels are going. And if this isn’t enough to guide you, proximity sensors in the rear bumper will sound off as you get close to objects.
The radar-based cruise control will automatically maintain a pre-set following distance from the vehicle in front, adjusting throttle and even applying the brakes to do so. It is strange to feel the vehicle constantly changing speed if the driver in front is so inclined. It is also interesting to pose with your foot hovering over the brake as the vehicle in front slows from full highway speed to speed to an near crawl preparatory to turning off the road – and the big Infiniti maintains that same distance during the entire process, braking accordingly and then accelerating back to the pre-set speed as soon as the coast is clear.
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The navigation system is worthless in this neck of the woods (Nova Scotia) as no mapping is available. All you get is a big screen filled with a grid and arrow. Not even the province or region shows on the screen.
There are issues with these systems, as with any emerging technology. There is a danger of relying on the camera instead of looking where you are going, it is not very effective in hard rain and will likely be blocked by snow or ice. The cruise could similarly promote bad habits and reacts violently on multi-lane roads when adjacent vehicles pass close to your lane or cut in front of you. The navigation – if used where mapping is available -can be distracting. But the fact is Infiniti is bringing this technology to you now – and the others are not.
While it shares much of its mechanicals with the Nissan Armada, the Infiniti has been treated to an extensive dose of sound deadening and it works. The big brute is all but silent on the road with little road noise making its way through to the interior and only a small amount of wind noise from the base of the A-pillars and mirrors. The fact so little wind noise intrudes is more amazing when you realize what a tremendous hole this thing must punch in the air.
All that bulk and weight means the great eight has to work hard. It’s up to the task with great gobs of low-end torque for launching and passing. But this effortless performance comes at a cost – gas mileage is nothing short of abysmal! We averaged 20 litres per 100 kilometres in the city and 16 on the highway. For the metrically challenged, that’s not good (14/17.5 mpg). Towing or winter driving will not be a pretty picture. But then if you spent this much on a huge SUV, fuel economy was likely not very high on your priority list.
But luxury and towing likely were. The QX56 has sheer presence with a full measure of chrome – on the grill, huge 18-inch wheels and big mirrors. The front is dominated by the big grill flanked by large multi-lens head and fog lights including Xenon gas headlights. Step up and into the QX56 – and UP is the operative word – and you are greeted by the full luxury treatment, with lots of leather, wood and satin-finish trim. All the power assists are there as well as a 10-speaker premium sound system, dual-zone climate control, navigation system and a rear-seat DVD entertainment system – all in the hefty no-options $73,800 price.
Thanks to the body-on-frame design, beefy engine, tow-haul transmission mode, self-levelling rear suspension and full-time four-wheel-drive with low range, this Q-Ship is capable of towing your favourite toys with ease – up to 8,800 pounds of them.
The ride and handling story is that it does both comfortably. The ride is supple as you’d expect from anything this heavy-riding on such a long wheelbase. It doesn’t absorb bumps, as much as attempt to squash them flat. It handles like a big heavy truck. The massive tires do an admirable job of coping with all this weight and height, but they have their limits and only a fool would attempt to treat this as a sports car. Driven in a reasonable manner, it exhibits a fair degree or poise and occupants are not aware of how quickly you can dispatch great distances.
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The seats in the front and middle rows are large, wide and offer copious amounts of head leg and shoulder room. The driver gets a commanding seating position and can adjust both pedals and steering wheel electrically to his or her personal comfort level. The front passenger seat back folds flat for added work space and there are three 12-volt outlets in the centre console to power all your office equipment.
Thanks to the lengthy wheelbase, second row occupants can sit comfortably with their feet down where they belong and a proper angel between legs and torso. They also benefit from tremendous headroom. The third row seat will accommodate two, but don’t offer it to friends, larger people or those with somewhat restricted mobility. There is ample space behind the third row for a reasonable amount of luggage or groceries easily accessed thanks to a handy power lift gate. If more is needed, you can fold the second and third seats – and the front passenger seat back – flat, to create a virtual cavern.
When it comes to very large luxury SUVs with serious towing and all-season capabilities, Infiniti is definitely in the game.
Technical Data: 2004 Infiniti QX56
|Price as tested||$75,295|
|Type||4-door, 7 or 8 passenger, full-size SUV|
|Layout||longitudinal front engine/all-wheel-drive|
|Engine||5.6 litre V8, DOHC, 32 valves|
|Horsepower||315 @ 4900 rpm|
|Torque||390 @ 3600 rpm|
|Towing capacity||3991 kg (8800 lb.)|
|Curb weight||2554 kg (5631 lb.)|
|Wheelbase||3129 mm (123.2 in.)|
|Length||5255 mm (206.9 in.)|
|Width||2001 mm (78.8 in.)|
|Height||1999 mm (78.7 in.)|
|Trunk space||565 litres (20.0 cu. ft.) (seats up)|
|2750 litres (97.1 cu. ft.) (seats down)|
|Fuel consumption||City: 18.0 l/100 km (16 mpg) (Imperial gallons)|
|Hwy: 12.0 l/100 km (25 mpg) (Imperial gallons)|
|Warranty||4 yrs/100,000 km|
|Powertrain warranty||6 yrs/100,000 km|