The Infiniti QX56, now in its third year of this generation, is big, wide, and round. It rides among the seven-seat luxury SUVs with big towing capacities: Cadillac Escalade, Lincoln Navigator, Lexus LX 570, Mercedes-Benz GL-Class, Audi Q7, Volkswagen Toureg, and Range Rover.
Infiniti QX comes with rear-wheel drive or all-wheel drive with a five-mode system. The QX56 uses a powerful 5.6-liter, 32-valve, double overhead-cam V8 engine with direct fuel injection and variable valve timing and lift, making 400 horsepower and a big 413 foot-pounds of torque. The 7-speed double overdrive transmission enables good acceleration for the 5600-pound vehicle, and delivers 17 mpg fuel mileage at easy freeway speed, considerably less around town or over 70 mph. The transmission has adaptive shifting, matching a driver's style, and a manual mode that provides a sports car's downshift blip, something you don't find on every giant SUV.
The all-wheel-drive QX56 has a five-mode dial on the center console with automatic, four-wheel-drive high, four-wheel-drive low, low lock, tow mode and snow mode. The auto mode moves engine torque between the front and rear axles, from 0 front/100 rear to 50/50.
If the QX56 were to be described in a word, it would be big. The QX56 seats seven with second-row captain's chairs, or eight with a three-seat bench in the second row. Between the captain's chairs there's a gigantic console with two storage bins and two cupholders.
The 60/40 third row seat folds flat, with a power button located in the cargo space. Back in the third row there's good headroom and relatively good legroom, and the seats recline 20 degrees. There's 16.6 cubic feet of space with the third row up, an outer-space-like 95.1 cubic feet with both rows down.
The QX56 ride is firm but comfortable, with solid handling assisted by sophisticated electronics. It felt secure on icy highways.
The growling V8 is a satisfying engine, with 413 foot-pounds of torque at 4000 rpm. At lower rpm there's strong torque too. But it takes a lot of premium fuel for the engine to push the three-ton SUV down the highway. The QX56 is EPA-rated at 14/20 mpg City/Highway. The 7-speed transmission was a joy, smooth, like it wasn't even there. It has Adaptive Shift Control (ASC) and manual shift mode with Downshift Rev Matching.
If the Infiniti QX56 were to be described in a word, it would be big. And bulbous; humped smoothly, at least at the hood and front fenders, although the headlights bulge sideways. In the rear, not so smooth. There, that one word might be ugly (we would be gentler, and say not particularly attractive, but that's three words). At the liftgate and taillights, the bulges and lines go everywhere, with two big slabs of chrome slapped on. The back end is cleaned up a bit by the rear bumper being integrated, and the tow hitch receiver being hidden behind a plate in the bumper.
The running boards are body-colored, as are splashguards built into the wheel arches. There's no chrome on the body sides like there used to be, except for the door handles, that's nice. The chrome outline around the window makes the QX56 look longer than it is, which is way long, more than 17 feet; however the C-pillar is triangular, turning the chromed window outline forward at the cargo area, so that makes it look like a smaller SUV, and not sleek. That chrome line matches the chrome line of the portholes on the front fenders, which are a nice touch, especially since the left porthole is functional, sucking in air for the engine.
Our QX was equipped with the optional 22-inch nine-spoke alloy wheels, which look better in pictures than real life. Standard wheels are 20-inch, and we'd prefer them. The massive grille is unmistakably Nissan/Infiniti, and the headlamps are stylishly angled up and away, bulging for style we guess. The big hood is like a hump, as are the front fenders. You really notice this from the driver's seat. All the time, and it's kind of nice. Your SUV is not lost in the crowd, at least from your point of view. The coefficient of drag is 0.36, good for a truck, and Infiniti says there is zero aerodynamic lift, thanks also to a front underbody spoiler and liftgate spoiler.
The Infiniti QX56 seats seven with second-row captain's chairs, or eight with a three-seat bench in the second row. Take your pick, same price, although most models in showrooms will be seven-seaters. There's leather galore, including the steering wheel, or premium leather with the Deluxe Touring Package.
The driver's seat is 10-way power adjustable and passenger seat eight-way; both have two-way power lumbar support. Heated seats in front is standard, cooled is optional.
The rear bench seat is also heated, but the captain's chairs aren't. Between the captain's chairs there's a gigantic console with two storage bins and two cupholders. They offer a generous 41 inches of legroom, and flip forward to access to the third row. It's an easy lever to pull, for anyone climbing in; still, a remote release button on the center stack and key fob is optional, allowing the driver to release it remotely.
There are a total of six grab handles, needed because it's such a tall climb into the front and rear, but there are none for the passengers climbing back to the third row. The captain's chairs don't lock when they're manually flipped, so they might wobble when the third-row passenger uses them for support climbing in.
Back in the third row there's good headroom and relatively good legroom, and the seats recline 20 degrees. There are three seatbelts, but we can't imagine. For 2013, Infiniti added perforation and stitching to the third row leather, to match the first and second rows, with the Deluxe Touring Package.
The 60/40 third row seat folds flat, with a power button located in the cargo space. There's 16.6 cubic feet of space with the third row up, an outer-space-like 95.1 cubic feet with both rows down. The space is as big as a queen bed. We mean it. We actually did carry a disassembled queen-sized bed and mattress back there; the mattress had to be bent just a bit to get it in, but then it fell pretty much flat. We had room for a short palm tree on the rear floor.
From the driver's seat, we liked the way-high seating position, and the clean gauges with luminescent white lighting. Clean graphics make instruments easy to read. Between the big tach and speedo there's a window with a small amount of digital information, though not enough: temperature, odometer and transmission gear. Far less expensive cars offer travel and fuel mileage here.
The QX56 travel and fuel information is on the 8-inch touch-screen at the top of the center stack. You have to reach way over there and select the info from the menu, a distraction that compromises safety while driving. Worse, the Back button on the touch-screen menu, which you use a lot because of all the trial and error, is located at the top right of the screen, the biggest stretch of all. We don't like it.
Another thing we don't like is that the radio can't be tuned while the car is moving. Seventy-eight thousand dollars for a car that makes you pull over and stop every time you want to change the radio station. Well, it could be tuned between satellite radio categories, and preset stations, but not to selected new stations. The Direct Tune button is blacked out on the radio while the car is moving. There might be a sly way around it, but it won't be easy and it should be.
We liked the voice in the navigation voice guidance, it sounded clear and intelligent. But on the screen itself, some things were too small to read, for example the speed limit sign, whose icon is about the size of a postage stamp. Also the numbers for miles to destination, and other things. Our passenger, a 14-year-old super geek named Zeke, took one look at the navigation display and the way its functions were accessed, and pronounced it outdated.
We didn't like the display for the rearview camera either. Infiniti brags about its 360-degree feature, but all we know is that even though we were paying close attention, we still backed (gently) into a pole one drizzly night, because the view didn't show the pole very well and the warning beep came too late. Our $3,000 Technology Package gave us MOD (Moving Object Detection), so maybe if the pole had been moving the camera would have seen it sooner.
Speaking of beeps, the car warned us of something, every time we parked and took the key out, and we have no idea why. Maybe it was telling us we were parking and taking the key out.
You might tell us to go read the manual. We tried. We always do. We've found that the more expensive the car, the thicker the manual; the thicker the manual, the more confused it is. It did tell us that there are nine cupholders and four bottle holders in the door pockets.
The dashboard is shaped like a huge arc, leaving no flat tray up there, but it looks okay. Our interior was two-tone leather, brown and wheat, and so was the dash, with Mocha Burl trim as part of our Deluxe Touring Package. The center console is a big wide well, only one compartment, because it slides forward a few inches for an ergonomic armrest. The classic Infiniti analog clock is harder to read than a digital.
Our $3100 Theater Package gave us two 7-inch color monitors and wireless headphones with remote control for DVD watching in the front headrests, and the $4650 Deluxe Touring Package provided the 15-speaker Bose Cabin Surround sound system. Back seat passengers can watch movies while front seat passengers can listen to music.
The QX56 has solid handling, with electronic assistance all over the place. We'll remember the night we drove into a winter storm warning and through Oregon's icy Columbia River Gorge, hauling that queen bed in the back, like a thief in the night. The QX56 made us feel confident and secure. At least once, the VDC saved us by correcting a slide. It was ahead of us, like it's supposed to be. With winter tires it might not have happened in the first place. The standard 20-inch all-season tires, slightly narrower, might be better on ice and snow than our optional 22-inchers, which cost $2450 on their nine-spoke alloy wheels.
We had the all-wheel-drive system set at Auto. Infiniti's All-Mode 4WD system has Auto, 4H and 4L modes. In Auto, up to 50 percent of the engine torque goes to the front wheels when needed for traction.
The torque and growl of the V8 is recognizably Nissan. We remember that feel from the Titan pickup truck. It's a satisfying engine, with 413 foot-pounds of torque at 4000 rpm. At lower rpm there's strong torque too.
The 5.6-liter 32-valve DOHC aluminum-alloy V8 features Infiniti's advanced VVEL (Variable Valve Event and Lift) technology and Direct Injection Gasoline (DIG) system. The VVEL system combines hydraulic-controlled variable valve timing and electronically controlled variable valve lift on the intake side to help improve performance and response. Throttle response is enhanced by directly controlling the intake valve, rather than using the traditional method of controlling intake with the throttle valve. The VVEL system also offers improved emissions and fuel efficiency (over non-variable valve designs) by reducing the intake resistance that occurs when the engine's throttle valve opening is narrowed and output is low.
The DIG direct-injection system provides better wide-open throttle performance and improved fuel economy and emissions performance (versus a non direct-injection system) by reducing engine knock, improving combustion stability and offering more precise injection control.
The powerful engine smoothly drives the whopping weight of the QX56, reaching three tons with driver. But when it does, you can't help thinking how much energy spelled g-a-s it takes. High-test gas. The QX56 is EPA rated at 14/20 mpg City/Highway; we got 17.1 mpg on the highway, most of it at a gentle 60 mph. Its greenhouse gas rating is an unimpressive 3 on a scale of 1 to 10, and its smog rating is a 5.
We have driven the QX56 for hours in a day-long rainstorm in Kentucky, so we know the brakes work when wet. The vented brake rotors are big, 13.8 inches. We like the feel of the pedal, and the solid anti-lock brakes, tested on snowy streets in Washington.
Electronic systems that take over stopping and steering the car are available. The Intelligent Braking System (Technology Package) uses sonar ranging to stop the QX56 without the driver's input as it approaches a stopped vehicle, and Distance Control Assist prompts the driver to release the throttle and applies the brakes in slowing traffic.
The QX56 also uses the brakes to take over the steering; the $3100 Technology Package also includes Lane Departure Prevention, which responds to potential unintended lane departure with a buzzer. If the driver doesn't obey the buzzer and steer back, the system applies the brakes on the opposite side of the alleged wander, forcing the car back. Here's the problem, in the fine print: the system turns potential into reality, which might be wrong. We've had it happen, although not in our QX56. The car fights the driver from doing what the driver knowingly with eyes-wide-open wants to do.
The 7-speed transmission was a joy, like it wasn't even there. Killer power and smooth transmission, our notes said. It's what you're always looking for. It has Adaptive Shift Control (ASC) and manual shift mode with Downshift Rev Matching (DRM).
The QX56 uses a rigid frame with thick side rails, and independent suspension. With the Deluxe Touring Package ($4650), ours had the Hydraulic Body Motion Control system. It's a closed hydraulic circuit that connects the shock absorbers and moves hydraulic pressure between them, to reduce body lean in corners. High-tech anti-sway bars.
The ride is firm but always comfortable. We would have liked the seats to grip more, or else be a bit softer; but after all, the QX56 is not exactly a driver's car. Wide flat seats probably make more sense, with many front-seat passengers (spelled parents) often turning to the rear.
Infiniti says that in the wind tunnel, the QX56 generates zero front and zero rear lift. Sounds great. The measurement is not something manufacturers include, and we wish we had the aerodynamic lift numbers from all the big SUVs, to compare.
The Infiniti QX56 has strengths and flaws, so we suggest careful comparison shopping in the luxury SUV category. Its strengths are powertrain, space and handling, while its flaws are mostly in touch-screen functions. Optional packages drive the price way up, and we don't think they're worth it.
Sam Moses filed this NewCarTestDrive.com report after his test drive of the QX56 in the Portland area.