The Infiniti QX56 has been completely redesigned for 2011. Lower and wider than the outgoing truck, it's swoopier and far more eye-appealing than the previous QX SUV. The 2011 Infiniti QX56 comes in rear-wheel-drive and all-wheel-drive versions, with a five-mode all-wheel-drive system controlled by a wheel on the console.
The Infiniti QX56 competes with the Cadillac Escalade, Lincoln Navigator, Lexus LX 570, Mercedes-Benz GL-Class, Audi Q7, and Range Rover. Some would say that all of these full-size sport-utility vehicles are outdated concepts because of their size, weight and fuel economy, but Infiniti believes the segment, which has shrunk to a third of its former self, is important. Infiniti says there are still families who need seven or eight seats and 8500-pound towing capability, and we agree.
For 2011, QX56 has a completely new look, with a lot of the oddball design touches taken out. The rear of the roof no longer dips down at the third seat, a boon to third-row headroom. The rear side door handles are now on the same plane as the front door handles. The squared-off fenders have been rounded off, and the pillars are now blacked out instead of painted, to give the QX56 a more unified look from end to end. The front and rear bumpers are more fully integrated into the design, the tow hitch receiver is hidden behind the rear bumper, and the chrome strips on the bodyside are gone. And, yes, those are portholes in the front fenders, the right side decorative, the left side functional for engine air intake. The entire nose of the QX56 is far more rounded, and helps create a drag coefficient of 0.37, quite good for such a barn-sized truck.
The frame underneath is new, with new fully independent suspension calibrations, premium shock absorbers, automatic rear load-leveling, and an optional feature that no other truck in the class offers. It's a closed hydraulic circuit that connects all four suspension units and moves hydraulic pressure from front to back and side to side as the truck moves, keeping the body from leaning over in corners. In effect, the system replaces conventional sway bars. The body itself has thicker sills, a new steel tailgate ring, is some 26 percent stiffer, and uses a new generation of body mounts for quietness. The new body generates zero front and zero rear lift in the wind tunnel.
A 5.6-liter, 32-valve, double overhead-cam V8 engine, now fitted with direct fuel injection and variable valve timing and lift, produces 400 horsepower and 413 foot-pounds of torque, figures very close to the power and torque of the high-performance M56 sedan, and some 25 percent more power than the previous engine, with a 14-percent improvement in fuel economy.
The QX56 powertrain for 2011 features a new 7-speed double overdrive transmission to provide first-gear acceleration for the 5600-pound truck and its cargo or trailer, and good highway fuel economy at the same time. The 7-speed automatic transmission has adaptive shifting to match each driver's driving style, with manual shift override, including a sporty throttle-blip provided on manual downshifts.
Four-wheel-drive versions of the QX56 will have a selector switch on the console offering automatic, four-wheel-drive high, four-wheel-drive low, low lock, tow mode and snow mode. The auto mode moves engine torque back and forth between front and rear axles up to 100 percent rear, but no higher than 50 percent front.
The QX56 wheelbase has been shortened 2.1 inches to 121.1 inches for sharper handling, and the front and rear tracks are wider. Body width has increased by 1.1 inches, the length by 1.4-inches and the overall height lowered by a huge amount, 3.2 inches. With all the body, chassis and interior changes, the new QX56 is about the same weight as the old truck.
Like every modern luxury SUV, the 2011 QX56 line carries plenty of electronic technology onboard to make driving safer and more enjoyable. An industry first on this SUV is the use of a tire pressure inflation indicator system. When the driver is adding air to a tire at a service station, from an aftermarket compressor or an air tank, the system honks the horn and flashes the hazard flashers when correct tire inflation pressure is reached, thus eliminating the fill-and-check, fill-and-check ritual with a tire pressure gauge.
The 2011 Infiniti QX56 exterior design is a clean-sheet-of-paper redesign, far cleaner than any previous QX56 body, with a more rounded and unified appearance and fewer things that look added on, like squared-off fender flares and chrome strips. The entire nose has been rounded off and each element integrated into a unified whole that looks better and works better in the wind tunnel and on the showroom floor. The dipped rear roof section has been abandoned in favor of a flat roof, the pillars have been blacked out, and the door handles chromed and lined up. Twenty-inch wheels and tires fill the wheel wells, and 22-inchers are optional.
The 2011 Infiniti QX56 has been completely redesigned inside, including the extra-thick seats, instrument panel, center stack and console, to be more user-friendly and to look and feel more upscale and luxurious. It seems like the entire cockpit has been built around the 8-inch central screen display, and the center console cascades down from it in beautiful, organized fashion. The electroluminescent gauges are softly lit, easy to read, and housed in a swoopy escutcheon very much like the one in the new Infiniti M sedan, a piece that adds to the driving pleasure.
A unique feature of the QX56 interior is the remote-controlled second-row flip-fold seats, operated from the key fob, a feature that lets families load from back to front with a minimum of hassle with the seats. The third-row seats also power-fold forward to increase the cargo area, and the third-row seats also recline up to 20 degrees. Another unique feature is the trademarked Around View monitoring system with front and rear sonar, a system that enables the driver to see all the way around the vehicle before moving off, to make sure that there are no people or objects in jeopardy, and that there is room to maneuver.
Someone at Infiniti believes that quiet equals luxury, because measures have been taken to make the QX56 very quiet inside once underway. The huge rear seats boast the longest legroom measurement in the class at 41 inches, and can be had with optional heaters.
Our test QX56 was the all-wheel-drive version equipped with the Theater Package, the Deluxe Touring package, and the Technology Package, so it was at the very top end of the sticker price range.
The Infiniti QX56, referred to by its makers as being like a private jet, is more like a hotel room on wheels than a truck. You can control the lighting, set the thermostats front and rear, move the furniture around, and choose your entertainment.
Fit, finish, tolerances and materials are at the top of the class. The first and second row bucket seats are some of the thickest, most comfortable we've ever tried. It's quiet, plush, luxurious, and very, very complete in terms of its equipment, and it is very easy to drive down the road. The fun here is not in cutting corners and carving canyons but rather in the vast array of electronic entertainment and information available to its family users.
Underway, the QX56 responds to its 5.6-liter V8 engine. Full-throttle acceleration with two aboard and no cargo is solid if not spectacular, as this engine is tuned for low-end torque, load-hauling and trailer-towing, not high-rpm wailing. It sounds powerful, and it is, but this truck weighs almost 5900 pounds at the curb.
The power steering ratio and regressive assist are just about right for a long, tall, heavy vehicle like this one, and the brakes are powerful and progressive even when soaking wet (we drove nearly the entire day in a raging thunderstorm). The Intelligent Braking System uses sonar ranging to stop the QX56 all by itself as it approaches another stopped vehicle, which is a bit disconcerting at first, but once you get used to it, it's a nice thing to have in stop-and-go traffic, and it's part of the Technology Package.
The ride is supremely cushy and quiet, but the body's movements over the suspension are well controlled and there is very little body roll or wallow, even in fast corners, owing to the hydraulic body motion control system.
The Infiniti QX56 is the newest arrival in the small club of luxury SUVs starting in the $50,000 price bracket, and ours finished at over $70,000. Very expensive by most standards, but it comes absolutely loaded and does everything well except sip gasoline. It looks better, drives better and feels better in every way than the QX56 it replaces, starting at the same price as the previous model, but with more standard equipment and more really useful technology.
Jim McCraw filed this report to NewCarTestDrive.com from Louisville, Kentucky.