2013 INFINITI QX56 Review

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Marty Padgett Marty Padgett Editorial Director
August 4, 2012

If a need still exists for full-size luxury SUVs, it'll be fulfilled by civilized utes like the Infiniti QX56.

The Infiniti QX56 is a confusingly good vehicle on many fronts. It's better than any past Infiniti ute ever was, and it's the superior of some of the big, pricey off-roaders that outsell it by a factor of thousands. At the same time, it's also built in Japan--not the U.S. of A., not even England--and it's a gas-guzzler, with not even a diesel in sight. This, from the company pioneering the first mass-market electric car, ever.

Quandaries aside, the QX56 looks the part of an SUV--a slightly retro-tinged one, with a flavor of the Japanese SUVs of the 1980s. Think Montero and Trooper--and Nissan Patrol, on which the QX is based--and you'll see the kinship in the QX's thinner profile, the lighter side glass, the higher ground clearance. A lot of the bulk of the last, American-made QX56 is gone, but some of the awkwardness remains, most of it up front, at the tall forehead and the cheesy fender vents that seem desperately in need of a body-color paint job. Inside? It's a tasteful blend of metallic trim and burled wood, gracefully split up by leather and logically arranged controls and strong, masculine lines.

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.

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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.

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'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.

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.

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.

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2013 INFINITI QX56

Styling

The interior's richly finished as a modern luxury car should be, but the QX56 reads classic Japanese SUV from the outside.

Today's Infiniti QX56 is more appealing, we think, to luxury-car buyers than the one that preceded it. With some interesting callbacks to sport-ute history, and a richly detailed interior, it has a few passages where its good taste lapses.

We detect some vintage charm in the QX's silhouette, especially from the side, where its height and glass areas bring back the days of the Troopers and Monteros of the 1980s. The QX is a version of today's Nissan Patrol, another member of that trio (the only surviving one, in fact), and the faintly retro looks owes plenty to those roots. Most of the proportions hit the right notes: the ride height gives the QX the perfect SUV stance, and the D-pillar angles in such a way as to link it to the rest of the company's vehicles, as do the raised panels on the tailgate and the subtly swelled fenders.

It's the front end and fenders where the details go off the reservation. Massive headlights and a huge grille pull eyeballs right to the QX's nose instantly, and the ute offers up a lot of sheetmetal before it drops down into the chrome grille, giving it a tall forehead and a surprised look. The vents look inexpensive, though one of them actually functions to bring cool air under the hood. These flaws get muted by darker paint colors--maybe they'd body-color the vents if you asked nicely?

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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2013 INFINITI QX56

Performance

There's a pervasive luxury feel in the QX56's ride and road manners, and especially its torquey V-8.

Infiniti is charged with showing off the finest technology and finishes that Nissan can muster. That extends to performance as well--and when the Infiniti QX56 switched platforms and country of origin, Nissan took the opportunity to upgrade the sport-ute's powertrain and handling, adding refinement where it sorely needed it.

The full-size SUV rumbles to life as soon as its pushbutton starter is pressed. The current powerplant shares the same 5.6 liters of V-8 displacement as the old American-made version--only here, the NASCAR-tinged exhaust rumble's been swapped out for a lush, muscular engine note that's altogether more powerful and more suitable for a luxury vehicle. In its current trim, the QX56 makes a prodigious 400 horsepower and 413 pound-feet of torque, and makes the most of it by coupling it to a seven-speed automatic with almost imperceptible shifts. It's a strong, silent type of powertrain that pushes the QX56 to 60 mph in about seven seconds, according to Infiniti's estimates.

While the transmission has more gears and the engine less friction, fuel economy hasn't gone up all that much. It's EPA-rated at 14/20 mpg--better than before, okay for full-size SUVs, not so stellar in the grander scheme of things, even among luxury utes.

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.  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.

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.

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2013 INFINITI QX56

Comfort & Quality

Adults go in the front, kids in the way-back--that way, everyone's happy in the QX56.

Lower, a little bit shorter, and noticeably more refined than the Nissan Armada-based ute that came before it, this second-generation Infiniti QX56 has a distinctive interior that still seats seven passengers, with a slightly rearranged sense of priorities.

The QX56 used to be built in Mississippi alongside the Armada, but now it's a version of a vehicle that hails from Japan. It's hard to tell the difference, in terms of interior space, though. The current QX is about three inches shorter overall than before, but the interior still sports luxurious front seats, plush chairs with power adjustments and plenty of space in all directions--except possibly at the knees, where bigger passengers might make contact with the QX's center console and its softly padded side. We're big fans of ventilated seats, and the QX56 offers them; they're excellent investments for drivers in the southern third of the U.S., where they relieve some of the burden put on the climate control.

Second-row seating is almost as ample, but three adults across won't be as comfortable in the standard configuration as they will if the owner opted for the no-charge bench seat. The buckets are nicer, though, and get a center console almost as useful as the deep bin between the front seats. The second-row seats also offer heating, and a new tip-forward setup is meant to make clambering into the third-row seat a little easier. In the end, that third-row seat just isn't useful for adults, but three children will be able to jump into it and find plenty of room for themselves and their backpacks.

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 the previous model, and the power tailgate relieves lightweights and shorties from having to jump and hang on for closure.

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2013 INFINITI QX56

Safety

Neither safety agency has crash-tested the QX56, but it's rife with the latest safety technology.

The Infiniti QX56 carries itself with the stance and the confidence of a safe vehicle, but while we're inclined to trust that assertion, we haven't had the chance to verify it as of yet.

We've given the QX a high safety score because of its advanced safety features, even though neither of the crash-test agencies has yet put the SUV through its paces. Neither the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) nor the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) has even scheduled a test for the big ute, likely because it's a low-volume, high-dollar vehicle.

Nonetheless, the Infiniti ute comes with more than the expected safety gear. Dual front, side, and curtain airbags are standard, as are stability control and anti-lock brakes; active headrests; and tire-pressure monitors.

Infiniti doesn't fit a rearview camera to the QX. Instead, it installs its Around View camera, a set of lenses that stitches together a set of exterior views for a 180-degree look at potential obstacles. This year, the Around View monitor adds cross-traffic alerts.

Infiniti offers some of the latest safety technology as options on the QX56 as well. Buyers can opt for adaptive cruise control with Distance Control Assist, which slows it down when the system detects obstacles ahead. 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. Think twice before you buy these, though--we think they create too much audible and haptic interference for 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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2013 INFINITI QX56

Features

High-end finishes, audio and infotainment systems pit the QX56 against the best of the top-dollar sport-utes.

It's a little less tech-frenzied than crossovers like the Jeep Grand Cherokee or the Ford Flex, but the Infiniti QX56 has its own vast array of electronica and infotainment hardware that befits a sport-ute of its size and price class.

Each QX has a raft of standard luxury and convenience features, including the requisite power locks, windows, and mirrors; sunroof; leather upholstery; AM/FM/CD/DVD player with satellite radio, Bluetooth with audio streaming, and USB connectivity; a moonroof; a navigation with a hard drive for map and music storage; and 20-inch wheels.

For the 2013 model year, it also adds standard auto-dimming side rearview mirrors, and cross-traffic alerts to its 360-degree exterior camera.

Option packages add on more upscale features, the kind you'll also find in the Escalade and Range Rover. A hydraulic suspension is available; so are ventilated front seats, and heated second-row seats; 22-inch wheels; and easy-folding second-row seats for access to the third row.

A Technology Package groups features like blind-spot monitors with adaptive headlights, and a three-zone automatic climate control system. There's also a Theater Package, which includes dual LCD displays for the back seat, alone with remote controls, wireless headphones, and auxiliary inputs for gaming systems. It gets a new remote control and a new user interface this year.

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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2013 INFINITI QX56

Fuel Economy

Fuel economy isn't wretched, but the QX56 could use a diesel option.

Official 2013 fuel-economy numbers haven't been published yet by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), but since it's carried over with no mechanical changes, we expect the Infiniti QX56 will maintain its low ratings.

Like other full-size sport-utility vehicles, the QX56 doesn't count gas mileage as a strong suit. It's pegged at 14 miles per gallon city, 20 miles per gallon by the agency, no matter which edition is specified--the rear-drive version or the one with four-wheel drive.

While those aren't stellar numbers, they are far better than Nissan's own Armada SUV and better than many other big luxury SUVs.

Infiniti has no plans for hybrid or diesel QX utes here in the U.S.

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January 29, 2015
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QX 56 is the best Premium SUV out there. It only has 1 down fall and that's the fuel economy.
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Styling 7.0
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Comfort & Quality 9.0
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Features 9.0
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