2004 Infiniti QX56 Expert Review:New Car Test Drive
New Car Test Drive
All-new full-size luxury SUV is quiet, powerful and spacious.
The 2004 Infiniti QX56 is an all-new, from frame rails to roof rack, full-size SUV that's as big and as luxurious as the Lincoln Navigator or Cadillac Escalade. It is by far the biggest vehicle Nissan's Infiniti luxury division has ever sold. The Infiniti QX56 has nothing in common with the much smaller Pathfinder-class Infiniti QX4, which is expected to be discontinued.
The QX56 is the most powerful, quietest, most luxurious, most spacious, most completely featured and stylish vehicle in its class. It's also the most utilitarian, boasting the most cargo and towing capacity.
Want more? How about also being the most competitively priced? And at least as fuel efficient?
If all this sounds too good to be true, for once, it isn't.
Infiniti offers one model of its new full-size SUV. You need only choose between two-wheel drive and four-wheel drive. The engine is a 315-horsepower 5.6-liter V8, and the transmission is a five-speed automatic. The Infiniti QX56 is expected to retail for $50,500 when it goes on sale early this year (2004).
It's telling to note there are but four factory options: a middle split bench seat in place of the standard two captain's chairs (no charge), a DVD-based entertainment system, a power sunroof and a Smart Vision package comprising a rearview video monitor and adaptive cruise control. Everything else usually expected in a luxury vehicle is standard, plus a few items that appear if at all as options on other car makers' entries in the field.
Leather-trimmed upholstery is standard. Xenon HID headlights are standard along with LED tail lights and brake lights, which light up quicker and brighter, the hope being this will more quickly grab the attention of following drivers. Two more pluses on the list of standard features are the power liftgate and backup warning system.
Standard wheels are 18-inch chromium aluminum alloy, with 20-inch wheels optional. Skid plates protecting the transfer case, oil pan and fuel tank on the four-wheel-drive edition are yet another plus for the few who will actually dare to venture off the paved way. The four-wheel-drive system features low range. The QX56 comes with a full-size spare tire.
Safety features include the latest generation front airbags that deploy at different rates depending on crash severity and occupant seatbelt use and front-seat side airbags. Also standard are full-cabin side curtain airbags.
The QX56 may be the best tool this side of an 18-wheeler for clearing slower traffic out of the left lane. Spying one in a rearview mirror closing rapidly will inspire most drivers to err on the side of survival and get out of the way.
It's not any one aspect but the combination. Perhaps if the grille weren't visually surrounded by expanses of metal. Or if the headlights were taller. Or if the breather vent embedded in the bumper were smaller. Perhaps. Perhaps. But as assembled, the QX56's front end embodies massiveness.
The side view broadcasts a similar message. Here, for once, and for this message, the more tire the better. Where the popular practice among stylists is to wrap ever thinner tires around ever bigger wheels, with an eye to communicating sportiness, in this class, where mass and perceived hauling capability is the measure, tires that look like they belong on a truck are preferred. And the QX56 delivers.
Squared off, clearly defined, barrel-like fender blisters add heft to the quarter panels. The arched roof over the passenger compartment puzzles, especially as it pushes the D-pillar (bearing the Infiniti trademark, if somewhat awkwardly angled, door handle) rearward, shrinking and reshaping the rear quarter windows in conflict with the somewhat organic outline of the front and rear door windows. The running boards are more cosmetic than functional, but manage to pull bodywork down below the midline of the wheels, again adding to the impression of mass.
There's enough of a trace of stamped-in relief in the liftgate to confirm lineage with the predecessor QX4, but the focus in the QX56's rearview is more on stance than was the case in that smaller, lighter-looking SUV. And here, too, the QX56 succeeds. Substantial tires (there they are again), widely spaced, beneath a body that starts out broad at the lower reaches and then gradually tapers in towards the top speaks to solidity, to roadhugging stability.
If the exterior of the Infiniti QX56 is a totem to mass, the interior says, roomy. In almost every measure by the tape, the QX bests the Cadillac Escalade and Lincoln Navigator, its most direct competition. The Infiniti beats the Cadillac and Lincoln by more than three inches in second-row legroom, and in most measurements it beats them by at least an inch. Only the Cadillac consistently betters the Infiniti in occupant space, and then generally by fractions of inch. Expansive window glass adds to the feeling of spaciousness in the QX56, even when it's not there. Be forewarned, though, that the optional sunroof reduces front seat headroom by more than an inch (as it does in most vehicles).
All seats are trimmed in leather; the shift knob is so gloved and the steering wheel is wrapped in leather accented by wood rim-inserts. Front seats are almost plush, nicely bolstered with adjustable inboard armrests, and heated. Second-row bucket seats are less plush, but still adequately bolstered with adjustable inboard armrests, and heated.
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. Second-row seats tilt forward with little effort for access to the third row, which is more bench-like with barely adequate bottom cushions. Step-in height is comfortable, imparting a feeling of climbing up into the Infiniti.
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. 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 tactile feel.
The center stack, holding the stereo, climate and navigation system control heads, is inset in a metallic looking frame housing large, adjustable airflow vents. Unfortunately, these center vents cannot be closed, always allowing some air to flow any time the climate control system is running; same for the vents at the ends of the dash. Inset in the top is the navigation system LCD 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. The clock, an Infiniti-signature analog unit, is tucked away down at the bottom of the center stack, almost out of sight and therefore almost out of mind. Too bad, as it's a classic visual.
Instruments are of the floating luminescence type, which militates for leaving headlights in automatic mode as the always-lighted gauges can lead even an attentive driver into thinking the lights are on when they are not. The ignition key slot is in the dash, where it by right ought 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 are power rear quarter windows. The brake and accelerator pedals are power-adjustable, and their placement is included in the memories for driver's seat and heated outside mirrors settings. Each front seat occupant may choose an individual temperature setting, and rear seat passengers have their own rheostat. The 265-watt stereo includes a subwoofer among its 10 speakers.
There's plentiful storage, with fixed map pockets in the doors, front and rear. The back of the driver's seat boasts a hinged magazine holder. Eight cup holders let everybody sip a latte on the way to the concert. A modest amount of hidden storage space resides beneath the cargo floor behind the rear seat. Ordering the entertainment system parks a DVD player in the front center console, slashing that space by about one-third.
Collapsing the rear and middle seats and folding the front passenger seat back down actually makes enough room for an eight-foot step ladder when the time comes to finish tha.
From the driver's seat, the Infiniti QX56 doesn't feel as large as it is. Without a regular check in the rearview mirror, a driver might forget just how much there is back there. No, it's clearly not a car, but neither does it drive like the big body-on-frame truck that it is.
There's a modicum of body lean in corners. Understeer, where the QX wants to go straight when the driver wants it to turn, is the default dynamic when a corner is entered at too high a rate of speed. But until understeer arrives, steering feels precise, with good variable assist.
Acceleration, given the almost 3 tons of vehicle, passengers and cargo, is less than sparkling, but at least it's accompanied by appropriate, big-V8 exhaust sounds.
Braking is solid and linear, with good, manageable pedal feel. The antilock brake system (ABS) is barely felt when called upon, and knowing electronic brake-force distribution (EBD) and Brake Assist are standing by is comforting. Only when the Q is seriously pushed or the road conditions turn slushy does the electronic stability control system intervene, and then with little excitement or imbalance.
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.
No opportunity presented itself to explore the QX's four-wheel drive, with ultra-low ranges for 1st, 2nd and Reverse gears. But previous experience with four-wheel-drive Nissans invites the assumption it will handily subdue any terrain short of Rubicon-level grades, rocks and boulders.
The 2004 Infiniti QX56 is and does everything Nissan wants the new full-size SUV from its luxury division to be and to do. It raises the bar in dimensions and styling, outside and inside, and in power and drivetrain. None in its price class touch its off-road capability.
Driven the way and where a vehicle this size is intended to be driven, it's surprisingly and refreshingly responsive and surefooted.
In sum, the QX56 comes out of the gate as a contender the competition had best be prepared to deal with.
Infiniti QX56 2WD; 4WD.
Options As Tested
DVD entertainment system; two-way power sunroof; Smart Vision rearview monitor and adaptive cruise control.
Infiniti QX56 4WD.
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