2001 INFINITI QX4 Review

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Bengt Halvorson Bengt Halvorson Deputy Editor
June 4, 2001
You review the '02 Infiniti QX4 

With today’s new SUVs blurring the line between cars and trucks, there are many vehicles on the market that blend SUV appearances and general abilities with car-like road manners. Then there are also some traditional SUVs that are built on a truck platform and still emphasize that aspect. Infiniti’s QX4 is just that, a powerful, luxurious, comfortable sport-utility vehicle that drives well on the road, yet its truck roots are unmistakable. Infiniti’s choice to stay with a simple, capable truck chassis as the starting point for the QX4 makes it a good choice if you use your SUV as a truck.

Although the QX4’s relation to the Nissan Pathfinder is obvious, and the vehicles’ basic shape and design cues have gone mostly unaltered for several years now, the QX4 maintains a slightly cleaner, sleeker appearance than the Pathfinder. For 2001, the QX4 gained a number of minor exterior changes that further differentiate it from the Pathfinder, along with new standard xenon headlamps, a different grille and rear bumper, and revised body cladding. We found the optional three-spoke 17-inch alloy wheels included in our $600 Premium Package option to be very complimentary to the QX4’s appearance.

Gobs more power; a touchy gas pedal

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But the big news for 2001 is 70 more horsepower. Last year’s 170-hp, 3.3-liter V-6 has been replaced with a beefy 240-hp, 3.5-liter V-6. The QX4’s new engine, derived from the Nissan Maxima’s (and Infiniti I30’s) 3.0-liter V-6, uses a variable valve timing system that varies the effective intake manifold length and adjusts the timing to match. The new aluminum-block engine, which also incorporates various other internal tweaks, is 35 pounds lighter than the 3.3.

The difference on the road is quite profound. The 3.5-liter is more robust—and much smoother—than the old engine, which didn’t have enough gusto for expeditious passing maneuvers. There aren’t any flat spots, and plenty of torque is available just above idle—enough to smoke the tires in two-wheel-drive mode if you so desire such juvenile behavior. With 265 lb-ft of torque available at 3200 rpm, this V-6 feels more like a small V-8. It’s also a smooth engine but it’s not as isolated and vibration-free as the Maxima/I30 engine. From 3500 rpm up, the engine gains noise, and a slight bit of roughness, although the power builds along with it.

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A four-speed automatic is the only gearbox available on the QX4. For 2001, it’s been recalibrated and strengthened for the new engine’s greater torque, and a new electronic shift control system has been introduced to reduce gear hunting. Shifts were very smooth through most of our test period; however the gearbox sometimes felt confused in low-speed stop-and-go traffic, where shifts from first to second would sometimes be jerky and prolonged.

The QX4’s throttle is extremely sensitive just at tip-in. Although we didn’t take it off-roading, we imagine the touchy gas pedal would be less than ideal on precarious rutted tracks or boulder-hopping—admittedly, things that QX4 owners probably will never do, but might.

The goods for off-roading

On that subject, the QX4 does actually have a low range for its four-wheel-drive system, unlike many new car-based SUVs, giving the QX4 a sort of instant credibility to off-roaders. A dash-mounted rotary knob enables the driver to select two-wheel-drive, All-Mode 4WD, or low range. All-Mode 4WD is touted as a car-based system derived from the system used in Nissan’s home-market sports coupe, the Skyline GT-R. The clutch-pack system, equipped with various sensors, normally sends virtually all torque to the rear wheels, but if slip is detected it will route up to 50 percent of torque to the front wheels as needed. Two-wheel-drive-only QX4s are also available, probably the right choice for those who tow a lot and know they won’t be doing serious off-roading.

On some muddy surfaces, we verified that the four-wheel drive system’s torque transfer happens almost instantaneously, making it much better especially for slick road conditions. Although the All-Mode selection is intended to offer enhanced all-weather on-road performance, a repeated binding effect in tight corners caused us to run in 2WD. Enforcing the truck feeling, at times there’s also a surprising amount of driveline noise at  steady low speeds of 30 to 40 mph (with 2WD).

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Fuel economy is not impressive, but decent for a truck-based SUV of this size (15 city and 19 highway, according to the EPA). Expect on the high side of that figure, if our 1000-mile test drive was any indication. We averaged a pretty consistent 18 mpg in a mix of driving, with a peak tank average of 19 achieved at modest highway speeds with the cruise control. That’s a couple mpg better than what we remember getting with the old 3.3-liter engine that had 70 less horsepower.

Ride and handling good, but not carlike

On a twisty or bumpy road, the QX4’s truck roots show. While cornering on rough pavement, the front independent suspension usually keeps its composure but the rear end hops and the body sways in response. On Interstate expansion strips with no load the ride was pitchy, but with two passengers and some gear, the ride became considerably smoother and well damped. With coil springs and a multi-link setup for the rear suspension, the QX4 definitely has a better ride than leaf-sprung trucks like the Nissan Xterra, but its ride and handling is not up to the standards of other new-generation midsize luxury SUVs like the Acura MDX. Because the QX4 is relatively short and squat for an SUV, it doesn’t have that tipsy feeling on the road that many other taller SUVs have, and low-speed handling is actually quite good.

The QX4 has excellent brakes and stability while stopping. A G-sensor system and load sensor help optimize the performance of the anti-lock brake system for any situation.

The QX4’s plush leather seats were comfortable, but this tall driver struggled to find a comfortable seating position with the standard 8-way power driver’s seat. Another inch or two of rearward seat travel might have been nice. We found that, even when adjusted for height, the headrests seem too far back when the seats are adjusted properly. That might have something to do with the QX4’s standard active head restraint system, designed to reduce whiplash-related injuries, built into the seats. Front seat side airbags are also standard. The driving position is rather low and pleasant for an SUV, and smaller people will appreciate the easy entry and exit.

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The interior is well designed—simple and not too cluttered. An elegant-looking analog clock acts as the centerpiece of the dash, surrounded by, perhaps, a bit more plastic than one might expect from a luxury model. The “wood-tone” trim is actually quite attractive, though, and the optional wood-tone and leather steering wheel acts as a luxurious centerpiece. The instrument panel features attractive electro-fluorescent gauge illumination that’s on day or night. We’re told that for 2002 the QX4’s instrument panel will gain an even more vivid display theme, a la Q45.

Sights and sounds

The standard 150-watt Bose sound system with cassette and an in-dash six-disc CD sounds great and makes good use of the cabin. Also in the A/V department, if you like to keep the kids occupied, a videocassette player system with a 6.4-inch screen that folds down from the ceiling is optional ($1600), and if you need directions, a Birdview in-dash navigation system, which offers a scrolling aerial view instead of just a flat-map view, is also optional ($2000).

To the bottom line, the QX4 is basically a Nissan Pathfinder with some cosmetic touch-ups, a big helping of luxury equipment, and the Infiniti nameplate, for about $5000 extra. If you’re looking at the Pathfinder already, it would be wise to consider the QX4, as outfitting the Nissan with all the options could easily come to more than the base price for a QX4, and the Infiniti name likely means an upscale dealership experience and higher resale value down the line.

If you tow trailers or do hauling on a regular basis, then the QX4’s truck chassis makes it the right vehicle. The QX4 has a rear-wheel-drive-only mode good for towing, and a 5000-lb tow rating. It’s an excellent solution for those who still use their SUV for light-truck duties, such as towing or hauling heavy loads, especially now that it offers more power.

But if you’re simply choosing an SUV for the commute, shuttling kids to the soccer game, and for the occasional trek down a rutted dirt road, you may find that a number of slightly more road-savvy SUVs, such as the Acura MD-X, the Lexus RX300, or the Mercedes-Benz ML320, better fits your needs.

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2001 Infiniti QX4 4WD
Price:
$35,550 base, $37,625 as tested
Engine: 3.5-liter V-6, 240 hp
Transmission: Four-speed automatic
Wheelbase: 106.3 in
Length: 183.1 in
Width: 72.4 in
Height: 70.7 in
Curb Weight: 4352 lb
EPA (city/hwy): 15/19 mpg
Safety equipment: Dual front airbags, dual front side airbags, front seat active head restraints, four-wheel anti-lock brakes
Major standard features: Automatic climate control, xenon headlamps, power front seats, heated mirrors, cruise control, Bose 150-watt sound system with six-disc changer
Warranty: Four years/60,000 miles
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