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Maybe it's a narrow demographic, but the 2012 Infiniti QX56 has it nailed. It's for buyers who need seats for eight and can tell high-spec off-road hardware at a glance--but can also appreciate the fine turn of a Nakashima table.
The QX56 is Infiniti's big SUV, but it's not the same vehicle as the one that used to be built in Mississippi. It's now a version of a home-market Nissan Patrol, and it looks it, particularly from the side, where there's a quintessential Japanese-ute charm. It's tall, and looks a little more narrow than it did in its last edition, while the upkick at its rear end and the swells around its fenders at least try to relate to Infiniti's smaller SUVs, the EX and FX. On the downside, the front end is very tall, and the fender vents look out of place, though one of them actually pipes cooler air into the engine bay. The QX's interior is artful, with burled wood and metallic trim applied to a gracefully styled dash with some decidedly masculine lines.
Under the hood, there's just one drivetrain configuration with the QX56. It starts with a 5.6-liter V-8 that produces 400 horsepower and 413 pound-feet of torque, funneled through a seven-speed automatic that blips the throttle to smooth out downshifts, just as the gearbox on the G37 sports coupe does. Infiniti promises a 0-60 mph time of about seven seconds, and gas mileage, while still low, is a big improvement on the last QX, at 14/20 mpg. The QX's independent suspension does a fine job of controlling its ride quality, even up to the 22-inch wheels that are available on the most expensive versions. 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. It's slightly different in feel, but to our wallets, not distinctly more comfortable, and not worth the thousands of extra dollars. The QX's steering feel is light--maybe too much so for our tastes--but its 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.
The QX is noticeably shorter than in the past, by about 3 inches. It's still quite spacious, with big front chairs that don't lack for room in any direction except where knees meet the center console. Ventilated front seats are an option. In the second row, where the leather seats can be heated, there's plenty of room for two adults, though three would be possible for short trips. Second-row bucket seats are available, and we prefer them. The QX's third-row bench is for small children only. Behind it, there's enough space for moderate shopping duty, but the third-row seat can be powered down to expand cargo space to 95 cubic feet. A lower liftover height and a power tailgate make loading and unloading easier than before, too.The QX56 isn't quite the tech orgy you’ll find inside a Lincoln MKT or a Jeep Grand Cherokee Limited, but Infiniti's big SUV does come standard with the usual power features; navigation with a hard drive for maps and 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. At a base price under $60,000, its chief competition lies in the GL-Class and Navigator, while the much more pricey Range Rover and Escalade are thousands more--and they don't include the sublime Infiniti ownership experience.