The QX56 comes with one of the most powerful V8s in the class. It's an excellent choice among full-size SUVs for towing a heavy trailer while hauling seven passengers in luxurious comfort. And it offers serious off-road capability, an area where Nissan has a lot of experience. The QX56 is based on the full-size Nissan Titan pickup and Armada SUV.
The Infiniti QX56 offers seating for seven or eight and is rated to tow 8,900-9,000 pounds. Nissan's 5.6-liter 32-valve engine generates more torque than the V8s in the 2006 Cadillac Escalade and Lincoln Navigator. The Lexus LX470 and Toyota Sequoia can't compete with the Infiniti's towing capability.
Out on the highway, the QX56 is smooth and quiet, benefiting from a four-wheel independent suspension and a smooth five-speed automatic. It feels responsive and sure-footed on winding roads. Yet it's capable off road; its four-wheel drive-system features a low range, and skid plates are available. It comes standard with latest in electronic stability control, traction control and ABS technology, all of which can help you maintain control in emergency handling situations, and the available all-wheel-drive system further improves handling stability in slippery conditions.
The QX56 is as luxurious as the best of them. Its opulent cabin is lathered in leather and stuffed with technology. It comes standard with a navigation system, an optional feature on many vehicles.
The QX56 gets more standard equipment for 2006, including power folding outside mirrors, a 60/40 split third row seat, a sound system with MP3 capability, and a Bluetooth hands-free phone system.
Infiniti QX56 2WD ($49,950); AWD ($52,550)
The frontal view may not be its most flattering angle, but it does embody massiveness. Perhaps it's the waterfall grille visually surrounded by large expanses of metal. Or the high headlights. Or the huge black intake vent embedded in the bumper above the grille.
The side view broadcasts a similar message. On most vehicles, the popular practice among stylists is to wrap ever thinner tires around ever bigger wheels, with an eye to communicating sportiness. However, in this class, where mass and perceived hauling capability is the measure, tires that look like they belong on a truck are preferred, at least in our view. The QX56 delivers on this with 70-series tires on 18-inch wheels.
Squared off, clearly defined, barrel-like fender blisters add heft to the quarter panels. The arched roof over the passenger compartment pushes the D-pillar rearward, shrinking and reshaping the rear quarter windows in conflict with the somewhat organic outline of the front and rear door windows. Nissan's signature rear door handle is placed awkwardly on the C-pillar. The running boards seem more cosmetic than functional, but manage to pull bodywork down below the midline of the wheels, again adding to the impression of mass. As with the Nissan Armada, it looks almost like a cartoon caricature from the rear three-quarter view. The Armada makes up for this with an attractive front end.
From the rear, the QX56 succeeds in presenting a strong stance. Big tires widely spaced beneath a body that starts out broad at the lower reaches and then gradually tapers in toward the top suggests solidity and road-hugging stability. The QX56 comes with LED taillights and brake lights that light up quicker and brighter than traditional bulbs.
Leather is used just as expansively throughout the cabin. The leather-trimmed front seats are almost plush, nicely bolstered with adjustable inboard armrests, and heated. Second-row bucket seats are less plush, but still adequately bolstered with adjustable inboard armrests, and heated. The shift knob is gloved and the steering wheel is wrapped in leather accented with wood inserts.
Grab handles on the inside of the A-pillars and above the rear side doors offer assistance to shorter and less agile passengers getting in and out. Second-row seats tilt forward with little effort for access to the third row, which is more bench-like with barely adequate bottom cushions. Step-in height is comfortable, imparting a feeling of climbing up into the Infiniti.
The dashboard is uncluttered, with broad expanses of pleasantly textured surfaces. There's no seam for the passenger SRS airbag, no Infiniti logo or label, elegant by their absence. The hood over the instrument cluster is topped with a satin finish, minimizing glare. In other words, nothing looks cheap; in fact, quite the contrary. Buttons and knobs return the expected quality tactile feel.
The center stack, with the stereo, climate and navigation system controls, is inset in a metallic-looking frame housing large, adjustable airflow vents. Unfortunately, these center vents cannot be closed, always allowing some air to flow any time the climate control system is running; same for the vents at the ends of the dash. Inset in the top is the navigation system display, which also reports vital data about audio and climate control settings; watch for dust and other detritus to collect in the front of the opening. Unfortunately, the clock, an Infiniti-signature analog unit and a classic visual, is tucked away down at the bottom of the center stack, almost out of sight and therefore almost out of mind.
Instruments are of the floating luminescence type and they're very pretty. However, the always-lighted gauges can lead even an attentive driver into thinking the exterior lights are on when they are not. This is a good argument for leaving the headlights in automatic mode. The ignition key slot is in the dash, where we like for it to be. Real-looking, light-colored wood covers the center console.
The front windows have one-touch, auto-up/down power; a plus is that the rear door windows do, too. Another plus are power rear quarter windows. The brake and accelerator pedals are power-adjustable, especially useful for shorter drivers, allowing them to place themselves farther from the steering wheel where the airbag is housed. The memory for the driver's seat memory includes placement of the adjustable pedals and heated outside mirrors. Separate dual-zone temperature settings are provided for driver and front-seat passenger. Rear passengers have their own thermostat as well. The 265-watt stereo includes a subwoofer among its 10 speakers.
Storage is plentiful, with fixed map pockets in the front and rear doors. The back of the driver's seat boasts a hinged magazine holder. Eight cup holders are provided. A modest amount of hidden storage space resides beneath the cargo floor behind the rear seat. Ordering the entertainment system parks a DVD player in the front center console, slashing that space by about one-third.
Collapsing the rear and middle seats and folding the front passenger seat back down makes enough room for an eight-foot ladder. If the rear captain's chairs have been installed, however, a console between them obstruct
Infiniti's full-size SUV handles quite well for such a big vehicle. There's a modicum of body lean in corners. The steering feels precise, with good variable assist. The combination of comfortable ride and responsive handling comes from the four-wheel independent double-wishbone suspension with front and rear stabilizer bars. The independent rear suspension improves ride and handling on rough roads. It especially helps smooth the ride for those seated in the second and third rows.
An advanced rear auto-leveling air suspension (which comes standard) improves stability and ride comfort when towing or hauling cargo. The air suspension maintains a uniform ground clearance and departure angle by automatically adjusting the air pressure in the suspension's air bladders. The QX56 is rated to tow up to 9,000 pounds with 2WD or 8,900 pounds with all-wheel drive, more than the 2006 Cadillac Escalade (8,100 pounds) or Lincoln Navigator (8,600) or Toyota Sequoia (6,500).
Nissan's 5.6-liter, 32-valve, double overhead-cam V8 offers impressive output, rated in the QX56 at 315 horsepower at 4900 rpm and 390 pound-feet of torque at 3600 rpm. That easily trumps the Sequoia's 282 horsepower and 325 pound-feet of torque. The Lincoln Navigator, impressively revised for 2005, offers 300 horsepower and 365 pound-feet of torque. The 2006 Cadillac Escalade has a 6.0-liter overhead-valve V8 that boasts 345 horsepower at 5200 rpm and 380 pound-feet of torque at 4000 rpm, but note the higher rpm. (An all-new Escalade is being introduced for 2007.) Towing demands high torque at low rpm and that's where the Infiniti's power is concentrated.
Acceleration performance is strong, but less than sparkling. The most likely reason for this is weight: An Infiniti QX56 AWD tips the scales at 5,631 pounds. That's slightly heavier than the Cadillac but a little lighter than the Lincoln. Nissan's overhead-cam engine sounds good, though, producing the appropriate big-V8 exhaust tones when you mash the gas.
Braking is solid and linear, with good, manageable pedal feel. The QX56 features four-wheel disc brakes with ABS. The antilock brake system is barely felt when called upon and allows the driver to maintain steering control under hard braking. Electronic brake-force distribution (EBD) improves stability under braking, while Brake Assist helps the driver get maximum braking performance in an emergency stopping situation. The electronic stability control system intervenes when the QX is pushed beyond the limits of grip, driving too quickly into a slushy corner, for example, and corrects the imbalance with little excitement.
Perhaps Q stands for quiet. Very little tire and road noise invades the cabin, thanks mostly to abundant sound-deadening material. Some wind noise is unavoidable, given the roof rack complete with cross rails, but it's reasonably muted.
The QX56 is available with rear-wheel drive or all-wheel drive. The AWD system offers 2WD, 4HI and 4LO modes. A two-speed electronic transfer case allows the driver to select low ranges for 1st, 2nd and Reverse gears for seriously rugged terrain. The AWD system is designed to instantly distribute torque to all four wheels as road conditions warrant. Under normal driving conditions, the system operates in rear-wheel-drive mode for optimum fuel economy. But when conditions warrant, up to 50 percent of the power is transferred to the front wheels on demand, resulting in optimum traction. All AWD QX56s include heavy-duty skid plates for the oil pan, fuel tank and transfer case.
The Infiniti QX56 offers exceptionally good off-road capability and a strong towing capacity. Driven on freeways and backroads where a vehicle this size is most likely to be driven, it's surprisingly and refreshingly responsive and surefooted.
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent Tom Lankard reported from Northern California; with Mitch McCullough in Los Angeles.