2011 INFINITI QX56 Review

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Marty Padgett Marty Padgett Editorial Director
June 29, 2010

The trip back home’s done the Infiniti QX56 a world of good; savor the V-8 and the cabin essence, and buy it in black to subdue that wide, tall front end.

You could say the Infiniti QX56 has a nationality crisis. At first it was a Japanese citizen
with a Japanese passport, back when it was the QX and a clone of the Nissan Pathfinder. Then in 2005, Nissan built a factory in Mississippi, and pasted the QX56 nameplate on the plant’s new big bruiser of an SUV, adding some down-home Americana to its image.

That’s all over for 2011. The QX56 has been de-Dixied and is moving back to Japan, while Nissan figures out what to do with its slow-selling cousins, the Nissan Titan pickup and Armada SUV. The trip back home has been a good one, because now this sport-utility vehicle looks and feels more like an Infiniti than ever. Though it’s drawn from another Nissan vehicle (this time, the global-market Patrol), it asserts a brand-building look that’s much less big-box and far more distinctive than ever before.

It feels way more sophisticated this time around, if you can really use “way” in that sense. There’s a discernible Infiniti umami to be tasted here, a fifth sense missing entirely from the old QX. We’re smitten by the throbbing V-8 that the QX56 shares with the M56 sedan, as well as the plush leather-lined interior and the hardcore off-road hardware—even if we’re not quite as taken with the massive, unsportsmanlike front end, or the dainty steering feel.

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Since it sits at the low end of the luxury-ute range, we’re even willing to look at the 2011 QX56 base price of $56,700 for the two-wheel-drive model as a relative bargain. It’s $59,800 for the four-wheel drive model; both are barely a leap over the outgoing 2010s, despite having more horsepower and standard features. They’re also a good deal less pricey than most any Escalade or Mercedes-Benz GL-Class you might test-drive. You can loop one up over $70,000 with add-ons like the $2,850 Technology Package—but even then, you’re still thousands below the average Caddy, Benz, or even the full-boat Range Rover, while still missing the sublime Infiniti ownership/dealership experience.

If you’re fond of football-build brutes and know how much a Nakashima table goes for retail, you’ll adore the QX56. That’s not too narrow a demographic, is it?

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2011 INFINITI QX56

Styling

Bag the vents and the bigness, and the QX56 reminds us of the good old days of real SUVs. (We’re not giving back the rich interior, though.)

Study these photos of the new QX56—then swing by the 2010 QX56 page and tell us which one’s an Infiniti. Easy, right? The new ute’s so much more expressive—so much more typically Infiniti—it’s easy to overlook some real flaws in its styling.

From the side, there’s a quintessential Japanese-ute charm to the QX56. The ratio of glass to metal is right. It stands tall, and maybe a bit narrow. The backwards kick of its D-pillar implies some motion you’d never pick out of the graphics of the last-generation SUV. The subtle swells around the fenders make even more sense when you park next to the smaller Infiniti FX or Infiniti EX, even if they’re more fraternal than identical triplets. The tailgate? Interesting how the center bulges upward like the hoodline, isn’t it?

The headlights fit the outré Infiniti theme—but there’s no escaping that too-prominent front end and those sigh-inducing fender vents. The vents look straight out of a blister pack from an auto-parts chain, though one of them actually functions to bring cool air under the hood. Up front, let’s just say we’ve seen foreheads, and that’s a five-head. From the side, it’s plainly too tall to fit in with the sleekness you get from the rear quarters. Pick a darker color and it softens considerably—and by all means, view it in person before you judge it. In another hue, the QX56 has warmed on us plenty since it escaped the glaring lights and the unflattering silver paint it wore at the 2010 New York Auto Show.

Slide in and savor the QX’s cabin to seal the deal. This look and feel fits in perfectly with the grace and finesse of the M56 sedan. Finely finished wood burls and swirls around the analog clock, audio controls, and steering wheel on some versions; the hazelnut leather in our test vehicle matched it perfectly. Infiniti’s designers have balanced the shapes and textures on the dash in a subtly masculine way, from the hockey-stick angles of the dash center to the aluminum strip implanted into the shift lever like the stitching on a 22nd-century baseball. We’ve seen lots of clear, finely detailed gauges—and the ones on this Infiniti are some of our favorites. This cockpit’s as radiant as that in the Mercedes-Benz GL, more refined than the one in the Escalade—and closer than ever to the cabin in the excellent Range Rover.

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2011 INFINITI QX56

Performance

The 2011 QX56’s pervasive luxury feel extends to its powertrain and suspension, but we wish the steering would butch it up a little.

Infiniti ditches one truck platform for another, and trades up to a larger V-8 engine in this new edition of the QX56. Somehow, it finds better fuel economy and much friendlier road manners.

The V-8 you’ll find by flipping open the QX56’s hood is not the same as before. It’s still 5.6 liters of displacement, but that old thundery truck unit has been heaved in favor of the powerplant you’ll also find in the 2011 Infiniti M56 sedan. It’s all you’ll ever need in an SUV without AMG or M initials, with 400 horsepower on tap, 413 pound-feet of twist underfoot, and a willing cohort in the seven-speed automatic that will match downshifts for smoothness while also conspiring to shoot the QX to 60 mph in about 7 seconds. The automatic shifts more smoothly too, actually encouraging you to use the manual-shift mode, and the sounds emanating from the front end strike fewer harsh, raspy notes, if any.

If that’s not fast enough for an SUV, we’re all going to have to reconsider how much oil we use for other things like grocery bags, life-saving drugs, and home heating. The QX does manage a 14/20 mpg EPA fuel economy rating—nothing stellar or class-leading, but a 10-percent improvement from the old drivetrain.

Since the QX56 shares some of its rugged underpinnings with the military-grade Nissan Patrol, it’s no surprise the Infiniti has off-roading in its genetic makeup. That’s not to overlook its considerable on-road talent; the independent suspension does a fine job of muting road imperfections, whether it’s shod with the base 20-inch or the brash, sexy 22-inch wheels fitted on our test machine. There’s an automatic leveling setup on the rear end for towing duty (the QX will drag 8,500 pounds behind it), as well as available Hydraulic Body Motion Control, which uses a closed air-pressure loop to damp out body lean in tight corners. The real, though faint, difference between the suspensions didn’t get much more pronounced with larger wheels, so normally we’d advise skipping the Deluxe Touring Package and the hydraulic suspension—but since it’s added with the 22-inch wheels and other features, it’s between you and your wallet. Steering feel is too light for our tastes, but the QX’s brakes are big and powerful.

For traction, Infiniti upgrades the rear-drive QX56 to full-time four-wheel drive with a real low drive ratio. Torque is biased to the rear, but can be split 50:50 between the front and rear axles when wheels start slipping. It’s fairly simple and effective—more so with the QX’s standard hill-start-assist electronics.

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2011 INFINITI QX56

Comfort & Quality

It’s hard to find a duty the QX56 can’t handle—transporting the masses or pleasing the purists.

Longer, wider, and lower, the 2011 QX56 somehow seems less roomy than before—but it’s an optical trick. The older, taller QX wore its big-box dimensions in every line and in every awkward step up into its cabin, while this version swallows people and cargo just as easily.

The QX is noticeably shorter—by 3 inches, according to their rules—but it doesn’t affect the
leather-lined passenger spaces in meaningful ways. In front, big and plush power-operated chairs only seem a bit tight where your knees meet a softly padded center console. The doorsills seem just as high as before, the foot room is ample, and between the glovebox and the center console bins, you could smuggle plenty of anything across state lines (we drove the QX in Kentucky, so we chose Moon Pies). We love ventilated front seats, and you can have them here for a surcharge.

Even in the second row, adults should find themselves paired to fit, without paring themselves to fit. Three across is probably not going to happen, unless the driver ordered the available bench seat and the riders are medium-sized. Even so, we’d recommend the second-row buckets with their handsome, useful console if you’re toting parents more than tots—and you may as well opt for the second-row seat heating. Small is certainly the keyword in the way-back third-row seat, which will only fit three elementary-school types, but their complaints don’t really count.

Behind the third-row seat, there’s as much cargo room as you’d find in the trunk of a Ford Fusion. With the power-folding third-row seat down, Infiniti counts 95.1 cubic feet of storage space. Loading is simple enough, since the QX56 sits at least 2 inches lower than last year’s model, and the power tailgate relieves lightweights and shorties from having to jump and hang on for closure.

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2011 INFINITI QX56

Safety

No one’s crash-tested the QX56, but big SUVs are traditionally strong safety performers.

You’ll have to take our hunch for what it’s worth, but we’ve given the 2011 QX56 a score of 9 for safety, even before any crash tests have been performed. We’ll re-evaluate the numbers when test scores roll in.

To date, neither the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) nor the Insurance
Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) has tested the QX for front-, side-, and rollover impact protection.

That said, the QX56 is fitted with as much safety gear as possible. It starts with dual front, side, and curtain airbags; anti-lock brakes, stability and traction control; active headrests; and tire pressure monitors. There’s also a panoramic camera that sniffs out 180 degrees’ worth of parking-lot trouble on the big 7-inch LCD screen.

Above and beyond those usual systems, Infiniti offers adaptive cruise control with Distance Control Assist for intervention when obstacles are detected ahead of the car. A blind-spot warning system and a lane departure warning system are available, as is a lane-departure prevention system that gently nudges the QX back into a lane when sensors think you’re wandering off the mark. We're not fans of most of these; there's just too much audible and haptic interference for semi-skilled drivers.

Visibility gets a little dicey at the rear quarters, especially if you’re carrying a full complement of people, but the QX56’s big mirrors and drop-away fenders help in parking and cruising with confidence.

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2011 INFINITI QX56

Features

Missing only in-car satellite TV, the QX56 transports us in entertaining fashion—but we’ll pass on the high-tech driving nannies.

Champagne taste meets its match inside the QX56. It’s not quite the tech orgy you’ll find inside a Lincoln MKT or a Jeep Grand Cherokee Limited, but the QX56 does come standard with power everything; navigation with a hard drive that also stores music; DVD audio and satellite radio; 20-inch wheels; a moonroof; a power tailgate; Bluetooth with audio streaming; pushbutton start; USB connectivity for audio players; and leather trim.

Big spenders can indulge in the Deluxe Touring Package, which adds on the fancy hydraulic suspension; 22-inch wheels; ventilated front seated; heated second-row seats; tip-up second-row seats for easier third-row entry and exit; and “semi-aniline” leather, which means it’s treated less for a more natural look. Given the sweet style of the wheels and the pleasant dryness that the ventilated seats bring, we’d opt for this, even though the driving sensation of the upcharge suspension isn’t hugely changed.

Another add-on is a Theater Package, with twin headrest LCD screens and wireless headphones; remote controls; and auxiliary inputs for games and players. The Technology Package bundles all the safety add-ons plus xenon headlamps, adaptive headlights, power-folding side mirrors, and a three-zone automatic climate control system.

Lastly, you can opt to swap the second-row chairs for a three-seat bench at no cost. Savor the second-row seats and the huge console before deciding you’ll need the extra seat more.

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8.4
Overall
Expert Rating
Rating breakdown on a scale of 1 to 10?
Styling 7.0
Performance 8.0
Comfort & Quality 9.0
Safety 9.0
Features 9.0
Fuel Economy 6.0
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