Now in its fourth year of the current generation, the Infiniti QX80 is big, wide and round. Therefore, it rides among the grandiose group of seven-seat luxury SUVs with hefty towing capacities: Cadillac Escalade, Lincoln Navigator, Lexus LX 570, Mercedes-Benz GL-Class, Audi Q7, Volkswagen Touareg, and Range Rover.
For 2014, the biggest vehicle from Nissan's luxury division also has a revised model designation, in keeping with the company's new, numerically sequenced lineup. Little has changed beneath the badge, but what was previously the QX56 is now called the QX80. Needless to say, the 80 suffix denotes the largest model in the QX series, which also includes the QX50, QX60, and QX70. Among the few actual changes for 2014, a Backup Collision Intervention system has been added to the optional Technology Package.
The 2014 Infiniti QX80 comes with rear-wheel drive or all-wheel drive with a five-mode system. Each QX80 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 hefty 413 pound-feet of torque.
The 7-speed double-overdrive transmission enables good acceleration from the 5600-pound vehicle, and can deliver 17 mpg fuel mileage at easy freeway speed, though it's a lot less thrifty around town or at speeds over 70 mph. Even with that many gears, the transmission is a joy to behold: smooth, like it's not even there. The transmission has Adaptive Shift Control, matching a driver's style, and a manual shift mode that provides a sportscar-like downshift blip. Infiniti calls it Downshift Rev Matching. That's something you don't find on every giant SUV.
The all-wheel-drive QX80 has a five-mode dial on the center console: automatic, four-wheel-drive high, four-wheel-drive low, low lock, tow mode and snow mode. Automatic mode transfers engine torque between the front and rear axles, from 0 front/100 rear, all the way to 50/50.
If the QX80 were to be described in a word, it would have to be “big.” The QX80 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. Step-in height is greater than 22 inches, to either the front seat or the second row. Running boards can definitely help ease the entry process.
The 60/40 third-row seat folds flat, by pushing a power button located in the cargo space. Back in the third row, riders get good headroom and relatively good legroom, and the seats recline 20 degrees. There's a modest 16.6 cubic feet of cargo space with the third row up, close to 50 cubic feet with the third-row seat folded, growing to a whopping 95.1 cubic feet with both rows down.
The QX80's ride is firm but comfortable, with solid handling assisted by sophisticated electronics. In our test-drives, Infiniti's big SUV felt secure even on icy highways.
The burly V8 is a satisfying engine, producing 413 pound-feet 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 this three-ton SUV down the highway. The QX80 is EPA-estimated at 14/20 mpg City/Highway.
Standard features include an Around View Monitor with moving object detection, and Bose 13-speaker premium audio. An available Bose Cabin Surround sound system has digital 5.1 decoding and 15 speakers. The optional Theater Package has dual 7–inch color monitors, which allow different sources to play at the same time. When properly equipped, a QX80 can tow 8,500 pounds.
No doubt about it, the 2014 Infiniti QX80 is big. Bulbous, too, though its curves make this SUV look less massive than some boxier-profile rivals. In overall appearance, the QX80 is humped smoothly, at least at the hood and front fenders, although the headlights protrude sideways. In the rear, not so smooth, some would say ugly.
At the liftgate and taillights, the bulges and lines seem to splay out 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 is hidden behind a plate in the bumper.
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 on such vehicles, except for the door handles. That's nice for appearance, but not so pleasant in terms of vulnerability to parking-lot dings. The chrome outlines around the windows make the QX80 look even longer than it is, which is way long. More than 17 feet, to be specific.
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 particularly 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 test models have been equipped with the optional 22-inch nine-spoke alloy wheels, which look better in pictures than in 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, evidently bulging for style. The huge hood is like a hump, as are the front fenders. You really notice this from the driver's seat, and it's kind of nice. As a result, your SUV is not lost in the crowd, at least from your point of view. The coefficient of drag is 0.36, which is good for a truck. Infiniti says there's zero aerodynamic lift, thanks to front underbody and liftgate spoilers.
The Infiniti QX80 seats seven with second-row captain's chairs, or eight if a three-seat bench is installed in the second row. Take your pick, same price, although most models in showrooms will be seven-seaters. There's leather galore, including the wood/leather steering wheel; or premium leather with the Deluxe Touring Package.
The driver's seat is 10-way power-adjustable, and the passenger seat 8-way. Both provide two-way power lumbar support. Heated seats in front are standard; cooled seats are optional.
The second-row bench seat also is heated, but the captain's chairs aren't. Between the captain's chairs, a gigantic console contains two storage bins and two cupholders. Those seats offer a generous 41 inches of legroom, and flip forward for 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.
Six grab handles are available, and needed, because it's such a tall climb into the front and rear; but there are none for 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 when climbing aboard.
Back in the third row there's good headroom and relatively good legroom, and the seats recline 20 degrees. Three seatbelts are provided, but we can't imagine all of them in use. With the Deluxe Touring Package, seats in all three rows feature perforated leather, with stitching.
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; a massive 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. Sure, 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, too.
From the driver's seat, we liked the way-high seating position, and the large, clear gauges with luminescent white lighting. Clean graphics make instruments easy to read. Between the big tachometer and speedometer there's a window with a small amount of digital information, though not enough: just temperature, odometer and transmission gear. Far less expensive cars offer travel data and fuel mileage in this space.
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'll probably use often 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, to be exact, it could be tuned between satellite radio categories, and preset stations, but not to select new stations. The Direct Tune button is blacked out on the radio while the car is moving, presumably to reduce distraction.
We liked the voice in the navigation guidance, which 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 details. One passenger, a 14-year-old super geek, 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 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. We also got four quick beeps periodically while underway.
You might tell us to go read the manual. We tried. We always do. We've found that the more expensive the car, and 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. Instructions typically have to be studied carefully, and perhaps reread several times.
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. So was the dashboard, 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 as an ergonomic armrest. The classic Infiniti analog clock is harder to read than a digital.
Our $3,100 Theater Package gave us two 7-inch color monitors and wireless headphones with remote control for DVD watching in the front headrests, and the $4,650 Deluxe Touring Package provides the 15-speaker Bose Cabin Surround sound system. Back-seat passengers can watch movies while front passengers are listening to music.
Whether it's called QX56 or QX80, this massive SUV delivers 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 QX56/80 made us feel confident and secure. At least once, the Vehicle Dynamic Control saved us by correcting a slide. 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 $2,450 on their nine-spoke alloy wheels.
We kept 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 light, largely muted roar of the V8 are recognizably Nissan. We remember that feel from the Titan pickup truck. It's a satisfying engine, delivering 413 pound-feet of torque at 4000 rpm.
Infiniti makes ample use of modern engine technology. 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. VVEL also offers improved emissions and fuel efficiency by reducing intake resistance. The direct-injection system provides better wide-open throttle performance and improved fuel economy/emissions, by improving combustion stability and offering more precise injection control.
The powerful engine smoothly drives the whopping weight of the QX80, reaching three tons with only a driver aboard. But when it does, you can't help thinking how much energy (spelled g-a-s) it takes. Premium gas, at that. The QX80 is EPA-estimated at 14/20 mpg City/Highway. In an earlier QX56 version, 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've driven this mighty luxury SUV for hours in a Kentucky rainstorm, 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, as tested on snowy streets in Washington.
Our test-drive of the 2014 Infiniti QX80 took place in more temperate (and dry) midwestern weather. Performance in city/suburban driving echoed previous experience, including a comfortable yet neatly controlled ride, effortless acceleration, and overall pleasant demeanor. Engine sound fades away while cruising, while gear changes from the 7-speed automatic transmission are often imperceptible and never bothersome.
Handling prowess belies the QX80's size and character, but it's marred by limited maneuverability. Struggling to contort this SUV into and out of a slim parking slot in a tightly laid-out lot can make a person forget the QX80's more favorable attributes. So can the sight of a gas pump rolling up the gallons. In urban/suburban driving, our QX80 failed to reach the EPA's city estimate, scoring closer to 12 mpg than the stated 14 mpg. Spacious and capable it is, but you pay a breathtaking price for the QX80, both in initial cost and on fill 'er up days.
Electronic systems that take over stopping and steering the car are available. The Intelligent Braking System (in the Technology Package) uses sonar ranging to stop the QX80 without the driver's input as it approaches a stopped vehicle. Distance Control Assist prompts the driver to release the throttle and applies the brakes in slowing traffic.
The $3,100 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/QX80. The car might fight the driver, keeping him or her from doing what's wanted.
The QX80 has a rigid frame with thick side rails, and independent suspension. With the Deluxe Touring Package ($4,650), 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, in effect.
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 QX80 isn't exactly a driver's car. Wide, flat seats probably make more sense, with many front-seat occupants (spelled parents) often turning to the rear.
Infiniti says that in the wind tunnel, the QX80 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 QX80 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 information functions and tight-space maneuverability. Optional packages drive the price up, and we don't think they're all worth it.
Sam Moses filed this NewCarTestDrive.com report after his test drive of the 2013 QX56 in the Portland area. James M. Flammang reported on a 2014 QX80, driven in the Chicago area.