2013 Infiniti QX56 Expert Review:Autoblog
Promising, And Delivering, Bigness
Some things appear much smaller in pictures than they do in person. The Eiffel Tower, Space Shuttle orbiters and the statue of Abraham Lincoln in the National Mall come immediately to mind. The 2013 Infiniti QX56, however, isn't one of those things.
The Infiniti flagship sport utility looks massive in pictures, and it grows to simply colossal when you are standing next to it.
Even at an arm's distance, the QX56 has the physical presence of a Clydesdale horse – its styling cues project power and strength, says the automaker, and the designers apparently made no attempt to downplay the full-size SUV's massive V8 engine and cavernous eight-passenger cabin. There are other passenger vehicles on the road that are physically larger, but none visually cast their mass as well as Infiniti's traditional body-on-frame QX.
We recently spent a week with the heavyweight in an effort to determine whether three tons of substance is overkill or handy to have around. In a nutshell, does bigger always equate to better?
Infiniti launched its QX-Series SUV in 1996, sharing platforms with the Nissan Pathfinder, but the full-size (and arguably more mature) QX56 didn't make its appearance until 2004. That second-generation model was closely related to the Nissan Titan pickup, complete with its body-on-frame architecture and 5.6-liter V8 power. The current third-generation QX56, launched in 2011, abandoned its Titan underpinnings in favor of the Nissan's rugged Patrol platform. For those who found little to like with the first- and second-generation QX models, the current third-generation model is a whole different ballgame.
The QX56 is currently the automaker's most expensive SUV offering.
The QX56 is currently the automaker's most expensive SUV offering in the States (the IPL G Convertible is Infiniti's most expensive vehicle, by a mere $100). But instead of confusing consumers with a handful of models and a range of engines, like most other automakers in this segment, there is only one basic choice: 2WD or 4WD. The well-appointed two-wheel-drive model starts at $62,345 (pricing includes $995 destination and handling), while the four-wheel-drive model commands a $3,100 premium. With the exception of the driven wheels, both are appointed identically.
Our test car was a 4WD model with a base price of $65,445. Standard equipment included leather-clad power driver and passenger seats, Tuscan burl wood trim, tri-zone climate control, navigation and a full suite of other goodies. While the base model would satisfy 95 percent of us, our Smokey Quartz over Wheat QX56 was upgraded with the theater package ($3,100), Technology package ($3,000), Deluxe Touring package ($4,650), Tire and Wheel package ($2,450) and a cargo mat/first aid kit ($200). The bottom line on our seven-passenger SUV was $78,845.
The bottom line on our seven-passenger SUV was $78,845.
Under the hood of the QX56 is a 5.6-liter V8 (VQ56VD, in Nissan speak) rated at 400 horsepower and 413 pound-feet of torque. The all-aluminum engine is mated to a standard seven-speed automatic transmission. Our model featured Infiniti's All-Mode 4WD, with Auto, 4H and 4L modes – the system automatically sends up to 50 percent of the engine's torque to the front wheels when traction is limited. In addition to the three 4WD modes, the driver may also select Snow, Tow or Hill Start Assist mode if needed. When properly equipped, the QX56 will tow 8,500 pounds.
The suspension is independent, front and rear, with wishbone architecture. Twin-tube shock absorbers are standard, as is an automatic rear leveling system utilizing air bladders. The Deluxe Touring package adds the Hydraulic Body Motion Control system, which helps reduce body roll in corners with hydraulics that don't compromise the ride. The standard wheels are big 20-inch alloys, and they fill the wells nicely. However, our model was equipped with a set of massive 22-inch forged wheels with 275/50R22 all-season rubber at all four corners – these optional alloys are so big that the 13.78-inch brake rotors almost look small!
Infiniti's design team made the QX56's cabin nothing short of First Class plush.
Truth is, few owners will look under the hood or beneath the chassis. Realizing this from the outset, Infiniti's design team have made the QX56's cabin nothing short of First Class plush. And, thanks to its aforementioned size, there is generous head, shoulder and leg room for six adult passengers to spread out among the three rows (it technically seats seven, or eight with a second-row bench, but the sole occupant stuck in the middle seat in the back row won't be smiling). While some will take exception with the QX56's exterior, it's hard to complain about the high-grade leather, wood and soft touch surfaces that sugarcoat its interior.
Passengers will be pleased by the number of fixed grab points to assist entry, especially the handles on the B-pillar. And, the simplicity and ease of entering the third row seats – the second row seats tumble on command – makes them much more likely to be occupied on each outing.
The driving position is commanding, with the operator sitting behind a four-spoke wood-and-leather steering wheel and analog gauges. Large windows and big exterior mirrors provide a fair amount of outward visibility without craning, and anything that is missed is captured by Infiniti's Around View Monitor with front and rear sonar and Moving Object Detection (MOD) – now standard on all 2013 models.
The QX56 feels enormous from the driver's seat (that seems to be a recurring theme here). However, it didn't take but a few miles for us to become very comfortable with its size. By the end of our first afternoon, we were maneuvering in traffic with confidence and eagerly taking on even the most challenging parking situations.
Credit the 5.6-liter V8 and excellent gear ratios for its spirited attitude, but owners will pay for that enthusiasm at the pump.
As expected from a premium luxury vehicle, the engine is nearly silent at idle. Yet, despite its quiet demeanor and a curb weight of 5,855 pounds, the QX56 effortlessly jumps off the line when the accelerator is floored. Infiniti doesn't publish acceleration numbers, but various publications have recorded 0-60 times of just over 6.5 seconds – a time that puts this big Infiniti up towards the front of the pack compared to its peers. Credit the 5.6-liter V8 and excellent gear ratios for its spirited attitude, but owners will pay for that enthusiasm at the pump. The EPA fuel economy estimates are 14 mpg city, 20 mpg highway and 16 mpg combined. We saw dismally low numbers around town, but we did observe the aforementioned 20 miles per gallon during a long highway cruise when we allowed its radar-based full-speed range Intelligent Cruise Control to manage the throttle. Shame on our heavy feet.
The QX drives big (there's that word again), but it doesn't stumble when pushed hard. Its wide tire contact patches and flat cornering attitude makes it feel very stable, even zipping around circular highway onramps. In fact, we'd all but swear it could out-handle the much smaller Infiniti EX35 if pitted side-by-side, as its almost sporty undertone gave us plenty of confidence. Infiniti has tuned the steering to be light and numb – it's impossible to judge its curb weight based on steering effort – but it still tracks accurately. The brakes are also impressive, and stabbing them at speed doesn't seem to unsettle the SUV one bit – those electronic safety aids work hard to keep its tonnage in check.
We'd swear it would out-handle the much smaller Infiniti EX35 if pitted side-by-side.
Passengers really enjoy riding in the Infiniti. Throughout our week, there wasn't a single complaint about room, in any row, and everyone felt the ride was comfortable and quiet. The second-row console provided plenty of storage and the dual seven-inch color monitors on the back of the front head restraints were large enough to be seen by all. Several passengers praised the second-row heated seats, even though it was never really cold outside, and everyone liked the easy-to-operate third-zone climate control, with an automatic mode to maintain a preset temperature.
So, what didn't we like about the Infiniti QX56? Not much, actually.
A few of us felt the color of the interior was too light and in need of some contrast. While the off-white interior added to the airy feel, the wheat-colored floor mats, and even the seat bolsters, were easily soiled and stained. Black floor mats, and other dark contrasts (how about some dark contrasting stitching on the seats?) would really improve things. And your author has never been a big fans of Infiniti's infotainment interface.
Yet the only consistent complaint we found during our week was that the optional electronic nannies (included with the Deluxe Touring package) eventually got on everyone's nerves. Our tester was configured with Blind Spot Warning (BSW), Blind Spot Intervention (BSI), Land Departure Warning (LDW), Lane Departure Prevention (LDP) and Front Pre-Crash. Each is overly motherly, and some even wrestle with the control inputs. Thankfully, nearly all are easily overridden by the operator with a quick tap of a button.
For the most part, the big flagship seemed to do just about everything it promised quite well.
For the most part, the big flagship seemed to do just about everything it promised quite well.
Buyers in this segment expect a full-size SUV with room to carry a small army, luxury to keep them comfortable and plenty of infotainment to keep them content. The QX56 wraps all of those qualities into what is an arguably stylish package, plus it offers a slew of technological innovations that makes travel from point A to point B nearly mindless. If you've got the budget, and effortless travel while keeping your many passengers happy is your prime objective, Infiniti has your SUV.
New Car Test Drive
Luxury SUV strong on powertrain, handling, comfort and space.
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.
The 2013 Infiniti QX comes with rear-wheel drive ($60,750) or four-wheel drive ($63,850). Each uses a 5.6-liter V8 and 7-speed automatic transmission, with standard luxury and performance features including leather seats, hard drive voice-command navigation with weather, traffic, and restaurant guide, and 13-speaker Bose audio system with XM satellite radio, Bluetooth streaming audio and iPod compatibility. Also standard are 8-way power seats, dual-zone climate control, multi-function steering wheel, cruise control, and four 12-volt outlets. The standard seating configuration is two front bucket seats, two second-row bucket seats with a center console, and a three-place folding rear seat. Optional for the same price is a folding second-row bench seat that brings total seating to eight.
The Deluxe Touring Package ($4650) includes the Bose surround-sound system with 15 speakers, Hydraulic Body Motion Control system, climate-controlled front seats, semi-aniline leather seating surfaces, Mocha Burl trim, rear seat footwell lights, Advanced Climate Control System (ACCS), headlight washers and 22-inch wheels. The Theater Package ($3100) features dual 7-inch color monitors, two pairs of wireless headphones, wireless remote control, auxiliary inputs, 120V power outlet, heated rear seats, remote tip-up rear seats for easy third row access. The Split Bench Seat Package replaces the standard second row captain's chairs and center console with a 3-passenger bench seat with 60/40-split folding. The Tire and Wheel Package ($2450) offers 22x8-inch 9-spoke forged aluminum-alloy wheel and 275/50R22 all-season tires. The Technology Package ($3000) offers Intelligent Cruise Control, Intelligent Brake Assist (IBA) with Forward Collision Warning (FCW), Distance Control Assist (DCA), Lane Departure Warning (LDW) and Lane Departure Prevention (LDP), Blind Spot Warning (BSW) and Blind Spot Intervention® (BSI), Front Pre-Crash Seat Belts, and Adaptive Front lighting System (AFS) with auto-leveling headlights.
Safety equipment includes frontal airbags, front side airbags, airbag curtains, front seat active head restraints, second row LATCH system, Vehicle Dynamic Control (VDC) with traction control, tire pressure monitor, and ABS with Brake Assist.
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.
Infiniti QX56 ($60,750); QX56 4WD ($63,850).
Options As Tested
Theater package ($3100), Technology package ($3000), Deluxe Touring package ($4650), Tire and Wheel package ($2450), cargo mats, net and First Aid kit ($200).
Infiniti QX56 4WD ($63,750).
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