I did something terrible the other day. I drove to the hardware store and bought incandescent light bulbs. I stood there in the aisle for a few extra minutes, staring at the compact fluorescents mocking me in their "be green" packaging, thinking about the several burned out incandescent bulbs in my basement and wondering how long the new ones I held in my hand might last. Better grab another box, just to be sure – government mandate has incandescents being phased out starting in January. I kept from making eye contact with the cashier while I paid and slunk out to my car.
So I'm a hypocrite, a self-professed environmentalist who can't even do this one simple thing to save the planet. But I am just not interested in spending a weekend replacing all the dimmer switches throughout the lower level of my house, and compact fluorescents don't work in those fixtures.
Which brings us to the 2012 Infiniti QX56. From a certain perspective, this 16-mile-per-gallon, V8-powered, body-on-frame SUV is an incandescent light bulb – a holdover from last decade, before the enactment of necessarily draconian fuel economy standards. But as my esteemed colleague Zach Bowman wrote in his First Drive of the QX, "you can't tow 8,500 pounds with a Toyota Prius." Neither can you fit a driver and up to seven passengers into one, not even the new Prius V.
I'd like to point to the technological marvel that solves the fuel-efficient family tow rig conundrum, but the solutions available right now are limited. We'll get to those alternatives presently, but for now, let's agree that new technology has a way of only solving part of the problem. So in this case, if you want to tow big stuff and you've got a big enough brood that you need three rows of seats – and you're ready and willing to spend big cash – the QX is as good as it's going to get.
Based on the Nissan Patrol, a full-size SUV not sold in North America, the Japanese-built Infiniti QX56 was completely redesigned for 2011. Updates for 2012 were negligible, and basically amounted to shuffling some different options around to different packages. Our test vehicle was a four-wheel-drive model (with a standard locking center differential and low-range transfer case; a rear-wheel-drive version is also available) that carries a starting MSRP of $61,800. But in this case – loaded up with every available package – the sticker was $75,340, including the $990 destination charge. That makes the QX one seriously expensive machine and the priciest in the Infiniti lineup by a goodly amount. Of course, your sixty-to-seventy large buys a lot of vehicle.
Make no mistake, the QX is a big boy truck, the sort that makes you think twice about tossing the keyfob to your buddy who's never owned anything larger than a Honda Civic. While Infiniti's optional suite of safety equipment (Lane Departure Warning, Lane Departure Prevention, Blind Spot Warning, Blind Spot Intervention, Intelligent Cruise Control, Distance Control Assist, – breath – Intelligent Brake Assist and Forward Collision Warning) is neat stuff and will help insure he comes back in one piece, those $2,300 22-inch wheels are not going to look as pretty with curb rash. They do an excellent job of filling out the wheel wells, however, and they don't get in the way of the illusion the rest of the styling creates.
The QX rides on a 121-inch wheelbase, some five inches longer than the Cadillac Escalade. At over 208 inches in total length and nearly 80 inches wide, the QX is six inches longer and an inch wider than the Cadillac. Yet it just doesn't look it. Indeed, its curvy bodywork ties the monstrous QX to the rest of the Infiniti lineup, but the styling also makes the big 'ute seem smaller than it is, at least from a distance. Once you find yourself up close, however, you realize quickly that this is the sort of vehicle you climb up into – and if you have little kids, you give them a boost.
It's been a solid year and a half since I first laid eyes on the QX, and I'm still not finding anything interesting about the way it looks, nor have I warmed up to the gaudy portholes that adorn the front fenders. Aside from those misguided pieces of trim, the QX is about as discreet as a 5,850-pound vehicle can be – and entirely disappointing when parked next to an Escalade. Even if its Art and Science styling is long-in-the tooth, the Caddy has an undeniably arresting presence that I don't see in the QX.
Inside, however, there's no comparison. This is as first-rate an interior as you'll find on any vehicle, thanks to an optional semi-aniline leather that makes the Escalade feel like the Chevrolet Tahoe lurking underneath. Even the Mercedes-Benz GL-Class doesn't have as many soft-touch surfaces and stitched leather upholstery as the QX, which not only looks and feels nicer, but has a better layout to its dashboard and instrument panel.
Honestly, there's not a luxury brand on earth that couldn't stand to eliminate a good 10 percent of the buttons and dials and other various interface controls in its vehicles across the board, but at least Infiniti has a pretty logical scheme, placing the climate control buttons and knobs low on the center stack, with the stereo in the middle and then the rest of its navigation and telematics interface at the top, just under the LCD screen where it belongs. Infiniti's approach to the dash is simple and intuitive and doesn't require cracking the instruction manual.
I wish I could say the same thing about the controls for the myriad of safety systems bundled together in the optional Technology Package, but that's just not the case. Infiniti has added a few extra buttons to control these features – and some rather cryptic icons that appear on the small display located between the tachometer and speedometer.
Given that the Intelligent Cruise Control and Lane Departure Warning and Prevention system use lasers and cameras to not only brake the car, but often do so in a fashion that steers the vehicle (by applying the brakes to just one side), it's best to understand exactly how this safety tech works so you can take best advantage of it or turn it off if it gets annoying. Since it's optional equipment, there's a good reason it feels tacked on with a few extra buttons, but it would be nice if all this were better integrated into the vehicle and controlled through the nav system interface. On the positive side, the Lane Departure system works well, intervening only when it should, without as many false alarms as I've experienced in other vehicles with similar systems.
As trick and cutting edge as these safety systems are, they're still just the wasabi on the sushi that is the QX powertrain. This 400-horsepower, 5.6-liter, direct-injected V8 is nothing short of great. Making 413 lb-ft of torque and mated to a seven-speed automatic transmission that seems to always know exactly which gear to be in, the QX's big aluminum V8 delivers acceleration seemingly beyond its admittedly well-endowed means. At full throttle the QX just plain hauls, emitting a nice bit of macho exhaust noise in the process – a stark contrast to the pervasive quiet that otherwise coddles its occupants.
The only thing that spoils the spoiling is a ride that can tend to the harsh side on the worst pavement, something to blame, at least initially, on those 22-inch wheels. With a nice smooth stretch of road, however, the big 275mm-wide tires merely provide extra grip, which surprisingly enough turns out to be an attribute you could actually exercise. The QX has a fairly buttoned up chassis, with an optional Hydraulic Body Motion Control system that keeps the big boat from listing in the turns. It does wonders for keeping the big truck riding flat, but it seems like cheating physics in this way contributes to the QX's dislike for the rough stuff. A little more body movement might be nice if that could help soak up some of the jarring you experience on washboard or deeply pot-holed roads. The QX's engine-speed sensitive steering tends to feel light and lacks a solid on-center feel, which isn't out of the ordinary for a big truck, but seems like something Infiniti could address. The QX is really not a bad handling vehicle, especially considering its size, but it doesn't hurt to ask for more.
Speaking of which, even the most demanding among us isn't going to find much else to, well, demand of a full size luxury SUV. With more legroom in both the second and third rows than the Escalade, and equivalent cargo volume, there's comfort in abundance. At the risk of having my tree-hugging rights entirely revoked, I'll say that spending a week behind the wheel of the QX was not unlike a resort vacation – you get used to being pampered real quick.
But there is that fuel economy issue I said we'd get back to. Now those who spend this kind of money on an SUV to tow a boat or a horse trailer or a race car are not the type to be overly concerned with fuel economy, as they are clearly not worrying about where their gas money is coming from. Nor will I notice the effect of continuing to use those incandescent light bulbs on my family budget. However, that doesn't mean there aren't other motivations – guilt, shame, an honest desire to reduce your carbon footprint, etc. While there's no silver bullet here, both GM and Mercedes-Benz offer versions of their big luxury trucks that trump the QX's 16 mpg combined EPA number. The Cadillac Escalade Hybrid offers 21 mpg, while the GL350 Bluetec diesel is rated at 19 mpg combined. The Cadillac can tow up to 5,600 pounds in four-wheel-drive spec (or 5,800 pounds for the rear-drive version) while the Mercedes tops out at 7,500 pounds, which while less than the QX's top tow rating of 8,500 pounds, is still enough to do some serious hauling.
So that's the alternative, the peek into the future. No doubt the full-size luxury SUV is going to further evolve, with technological advances that will make this iteration of the QX56 seem anachronistic. But that hasn't happened yet, and there's nothing else on the market so compelling that the QX's comfort, amenities and powertrain can be easily forgotten.