If it's "badge-engineered," is it a bad deal?
That's the question when it comes to vehicles such as the 2002 Infiniti QX4, a mid-size luxury SUV that's fundamentally a Nissan Pathfinder, albeit equipped with much more standard stuff, including Xenon high-intensity headlights, automatic climate control, nicer trim and a ritzier brand name.
Other automakers badge-engineer, too: the Cadillac Escalade SUV is basically a GMC Yukon Denali with a different grille and few tweaks here and there. Ford's Explorer does double duty in disguise as the more upscale but nearly identical Mercury Mountaineer. And so on. It's easier and cheaper for these automakers to add content to a pre-existing vehicle, then rebadge it as a "new model" than it is to actually design and build a truly new model.
But is it a good deal for you?
The answer depends on what you're looking for. Buy the '02 QX4, which runs $34,150 for the 2WD version to $35,550 for the loaded 4WD version, and you get all the bells and whistles included, plus the ability to select a few things you can't even order on the less prestigious, more blue-collar Pathfinder, such as Intelligent Cruise Control and a DVD (or VHS) entertainment system. You'll also get better treatment at the Infiniti dealer because you're a "luxury" buyer. And though the two SUVs are fundamentally identical in terms of their basic body shells, engines, and so on, the Infiniti version offers a substantially better warranty -- four years/60,000 miles -- than the benighted Nissan at just three years/36,000 miles. All of these advantages are yours for about $4000 more than the closest comparably equipped Pathfinder, the $31,499 LE 4x4.
The QX4 competes against other mid-size premium and near-luxury SUVs as the Ford Explorer Limited and Eddie Bauer, Jeep Grand Cherokee, Land Rover Freelander, Mitsubishi Montero Sport Limited, and the GMC Envoy. Of these, only the Freelander is significantly cheaper -- just $24,975 for the base S model to $31,575 for the better-equipped HSE -- and the only one that's as readily identifiable as a luxury/high-end model. However, the Freelander has a smaller 2.5-liter V-6 rated at just 175 hp, which is 65 less than the Infiniti's standard 3.5 V-6, and overall it’s a smaller, less well-appointed vehicle.
2002 INFINITI QX4
Though not as powerful as the class-leading 270-hp GMC Envoy or the muscular 265-hp Jeep Grand Cherokee 4.7-liter V-8, the QX4's 240-hp V-6 is close enough to keep it within respectable reach. It’s far stouter than the Montero Sport's 200-hp V-6, and dead even with the Explorer's 4.6-liter, 240-hp V-8.
Looking left and right, neither Acura nor Lexus currently offer an SUV that's comparable to the QX4. The Acura MDX is a "crossover" SUV lacking any pretense of off-road capability. Same thing with the Lexus RX300: like the MDX, it's closer to a minivan than a truck, and the Land Cruiser-based Lexus LX470 SUV is both much larger and massively more expensive than the QX4 at $60,000-plus.
The only import SUVs comparable to the QX4 in size/shape and basic configuration/capability are the Toyota 4Runner and Isuzu Rodeo -- but neither of these SUVs are luxury-branded, or offer the kinds of amenities available on the QX4.
Driving the QX4 is a pleasant experience all around. It has a much classier feel on the inside than the otherwise excellent GMC Envoy, which is afflicted with a weird dash design topped off by hokey fake wood inserts. It doesn't feel winded during passing attempts or ungainly in a turn as the Montero Sport sometimes does -- and comes off as more luxurious in appearance and curb appeal than most of its other competitors, with the possible exception of the Freelander. It's almost certainly a better long-haul bet in the reliability department than the ubiquitous Ford Explorer or Jeep Grand Cherokee, which have had their share of problems. It seems to outclass both those trucks, too, if the "valet test" is any indication.
Like the Pathfinder, the QX4 is amazingly nimble and easy to maneuver given its pickup truck origins and suspension, much more so than most of the larger SUVs, which often feel as "trucky" as the trucks they're typically based upon. The QX4's lithe proportions (it's not too wide, or too tall, or too heavy) also mean it could be taken off-road if you weren't worried about scratching the pearlescent finish. The optional All-Mode 4x4 system is among the best such systems available, with just a knob to turn to go from rear-drive to full-time four-wheel-drive, or automatic mode, which then lets the system's sophisticated array of wheel speed sensors determine how much power and in what "split" to send to either the front or rear axles to deliver the most grip in a given situation. A locking rear axle is available -- and recommended for the ultimate in wet/snow/mud traction.
2002 INFINITI QX4
The '02 QX4 is pretty much a carryover vehicle from last year, with mostly slight changes, such as an upgraded six-disc in-dash Bose audio system, and the aforesaid Intelligent Cruise Control system, constituting the obvious improvements. The Intelligent Cruise system, similar to that used on the just-launched Q45 luxury sedan, has the ability to adjust vehicle speed and following distances in relation to other cars and traffic situations. (Mercedes also offers a similar technology in its premium sedans, but whether it's a good idea to transfer so much responsibility for paying attention to the road to a computer is certainly debatable.)
Big-ticket options for 2002 now include a new GPS navigation system for $1600, and your choice of either a DVD-playing ($1600) or VCR/VHS-playing in-vehicle entertainment system. There's also an electric sunroof for another $1000. Seventeen-inch rims are available.
Buy it all and you will tickle $40,000 -- still not at all bad for such a handsomely equipped, attractive and laudably well-designed luxury SUV. Drivetrain-wise and otherwise, there's little to fault and a great deal to recommend. This is one nice SUV. It's not as profligate with fuel as the larger, heavier V-8 SUVs, nor as unwieldy as those big guns can sometimes be. And it seems more authentically luxurious than most of the SUVs in its size/price range, even if it shares so much of its basics with the less prestigious Pathfinder.
But the differences often make all the difference -- and in this case, it's a job well done.
2002 Infiniti QX4 SUV
Base price range: $34,150-$35,550
Engine: 3.5 liter V-6, 240 hp
Transmission: Four-speed automatic, two- or four-wheel drive
Wheelbase: 106.3 in
Length: 183.1 in
Width: 72.4 in
Height: 70.7 in
Curb Weight: 4074 lb (2WD); 4352 (4WD)
EPA (cty/hwy): 15/19 mpg (2WD); 15/18 (4WD)
Safety equipment: dual front and side airbags, anti-lock brakes
Major standard features: Leather seating surfaces and wood trim, eight-way power driver's seat, climate control, premium 150-watt audio system with six-disc in-dash CD-changer, Xenon high-intensity-discharge headlights, universal transmitter
Warranty: Four years/60,000 miles
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