For 2008, the QX56 gets several midcycle revisions: The front and rear fascias are new, though the designs aren't much changed. The grille is new, as are the fog lights. The roof rack is revised, and 20-inch wheels become standard in place of 18s. Inside, the instrument cluster is new and the 60/40 split third-row seat adds a power folding feature. Other newly standard features are Nissan's Intelligent Key keyless access and starting, XM real-time traffic for the navigation system, and a Burr-Brown audio system with a 9.3-gigabyte Music Box hard drive. The optional rear entertainment system also gets a larger, eight-inch screen.
The QX56 comes with the same powerful V8 it's always used. The engine has lots of power and torque, making the QX56 an excellent choice among full-size SUVs for towing a heavy trailer while hauling seven or eight passengers in luxurious comfort. It is rated to tow 8,900-9,000 pounds. 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.
Out on the highway, the QX56 is smooth and quiet, benefiting from a four-wheel independent suspension and a smooth five-speed automatic transmission. It feels responsive and sure-footed on winding roads. It comes with rear- or all-wheel-drive, and the latter makes it capable off road. The AWD system features a low range, and skid plates come standard. The QX56 also has 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. If you're looking for a large SUV to tow a trailer and haul people and cargo, the QX56 is worth a look. If you don't need the towing capacity, any of the newer crossover SUVs will get better fuel economy and offer a more agile, car-like ride.
Infiniti QX56 2WD ($52,250); AWD ($55,350)
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, rectangular headlights. Or the huge black intake vent embedded in the bumper above the grille. Infiniti says the front fascia and fog lights are changed for 2008, but they look very much the same as they always have. The grille is changed, with the same four-bar waterfall effect but now with numerous chrome nubs between the bars.
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 60-series tires on 20-inch wheels. For 2008, 20-inch wheels became standard, in place of 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-pillars 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 handles are placed awkwardly on the C-pillars. 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. Like the front, Infiniti says the rear fascia is reworked for 2008, but, again, it looks very much the same.
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. The second-row bucket seats are less plush, but are still adequately bolstered with adjustable inboard armrests, and they're heated. The shift knob is gloved and the steering wheel is wrapped in leather accented with wood inserts. The QX56 sits high, so the driver has a feeling of security and a clear view of traffic ahead.
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. Step-in height is a bit high, requiring a climb up to get into the big Infiniti. The second-row seats tilt forward with little effort for access to the third row, which is more bench-like with barely adequate bottom cushions. The third row is now power folding, making it very easy to lower and raise.
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 set in an aluminum frame housing large, adjustable airflow vents.
For 2008, this area is reworked and is better integrated into 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. Also integrated for 2008 is the Infiniti Controller, which consists of a round selector knob with four arrow buttons and a central enter button. Developed along the lines of BMW's iDrive, Mercedes' COMAND and Audi's MMI central control systems, the Infiniti Controller is fairly easy to use but it might scare away some people who fear technology. 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.
For 2008, the instruments have been improved. As before, they are of the floating luminescence type, but they have changed from simple orange faces on a black background to white numbers contained in blue circles on a black background. 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 is the inclusion of power rear quarter windows. The brake and accelerator pedals are power-adjustable. This is 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 includes placement of the adjustable pedals and heated outside mirrors. Separate dual-zone temperature settings are provided for the driver and front-seat passenger. Rear passengers have their own thermostat as well. The 265-watt stereo includes a subwoofer among its 12 speakers.
Storage is plentiful, w
Infiniti's full-size SUV handles quite well for such a big vehicle. There's noticeable body lean in corners, but it's not bad for a vehicle of this size. The steering feels precise, with good variable assist, but the QX56 is still a bear to handle in tight quarters. The combination of comfortable ride and decent 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 2008 Cadillac Escalade (7,700 pounds), right in line with the Lincoln Navigator (8,950), and less than the Toyota Sequoia (10,000).
Nissan's 5.6-liter, 32-valve, double overhead-cam V8 offers impressive output, rated in the QX56 at 320 horsepower at 5200 rpm and 393 pound-feet of torque at 3400 rpm. When it was first released in 2004, the QX56 was at the top of the power chart in the large SUV class. Since then, Cadillac and Toyota have topped it, though it is still ahead of the Navigator. 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 5,903 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. Not surprisingly, the QX56 is hard on gas. It is rated at only 12 mpg city and 17 mpg highway with all-wheel drive.
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 brakeforce 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's available all-wheel-drive 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. It's hard on gas, though, so you might want to consider any of the new crossover SUVs if towing capacity isn't important.
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent Tom Lankard reported from Northern California; with Mitch McCullough in Los Angeles and Kirk Bell in Chicago.