2004 INFINITI QX56 Review

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John Pearley Huffman John Pearley Huffman Editor
May 10, 2004
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2004 Infiniti QX56

2004 Infiniti QX56

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There’s something about Infiniti’s new QX56 that seems unseemly. It’s not that it’s bigger than every other SUV (it isn’t — though it’s mighty big) but that it has apparently been designed to celebrate its own gigantism so brazenly. This is the SUV as hussy. It’s the sport-ute equivalent of a hefty woman in a tube top, vinyl miniskirt, thigh-high boots and too much makeup.

As the chorus that has arisen against big SUVs has grown louder and unreasonable, this is a machine sure to only antagonize them. 

More than an Armada?

If Infiniti is trying to hide the fact that the QX56 is based on the Nissan Armada, it’s not making too great an effort. The Armada’s distinctive arched greenhouse, circle-and-bar (Nissan logo) front door handle shapes, trailing edge rear door handles, and all the sheetmetal from the A-pillars back is common to the two trucks. The big change comes up front where the QX56’s massive nose features a front grille large enough to barbecue a whole hog upon and is covered in enough shiny faux-chrome to reflect virtually all solar radiation that makes it to this planet back out into deep space. We say virtually all: we mean quite a lot.

Considering how lightly Cadillac has disguised the Chevrolet Tahoe to turn it into the Escalade and the modest façade tweaks that transform Ford’s Expedition into Lincoln’s Navigator, it’s apparent that this market doesn’t demand more redecoration than what Infiniti has provided with the QX56. But only the truly deluded can look at the QX56 and not see the Armada within it.

2004 INFINITI QX56

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The QX56’s chassis, all-independent double-wishbone suspension, and the 5.6-liter, DOHC, 32-valve, V-8 all carry over from the Armada (the engine, five-speed automatic transmission, and front suspension are also common to the Nissan Titan pickup) and if it were possible to drive the two back-to-back while blindfolded there wouldn’t much noticeable difference in their dynamic behavior. There’s no apparent reason for the QX56’s V-8 to be rated at 315 horsepower, 10 more than it is in the Armada, but there you go. However there is 70 extra pounds of sound deadening crammed into the QX56’s nooks and crannies. Add that to quiet P245/70R18 tires on appropriate wheels and the QX56 is noticeably — if not significantly — quieter than its Armada brother.

2004 Infiniti QX56

2004 Infiniti QX56

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Put foul poles at either end of the dash and it could be mistaken for the outfield wall and grandstands at San Francisco’s Pac Bell Park. The dash’s shapes are mostly shared with the Armada, but the materials used seem more lustrous and the trim is definitely more elegant with wood accents from blond trees and plastic elements that do a decent imitation of aluminum. The center stack is anchored by an elegant analog clock and topped by a screen for the navigation system with a bunch of buttons in between, while the main instrumentation is electro-luminescent and easy to read. If there’s one ergonomic hiccup worth mentioning it’s the positioning of the window controls on a flat panel atop the door panel parallel with the floor — there’s really no way to see what switch your finger is on without shifting forward in the driver’s seat and peering straight down upon them.

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Both the center and rearward seats fold down to produce a flat-floored cavern so big it lacks only stalagmites for geological interest and a park ranger to guide hourly tours. The front seats themselves are wide, flat, and comfortable and whether it’s a three-wide bench or two captain’s chairs in the second row there’s plenty of room there. The third-row seat rises three inches above the second seat for visibility and additional legroom, but it’s best left for the young, nimble, and/or canine to scramble back there.

Front, side, and head-curtain airbags are standard. But your feet? Well, they are on their own.

Since virtually everything else is standard, the big choice for a QX56 buyer comes down to choosing between rear- and all-wheel drive. It’s strictly a choice of convenience since there’s little difference in how the two perform on-road. But that likely won’t stop a lot of buyers who really don’t need all-wheel drive from paying the extra freight for it.

Infiniti calls its all-wheel-drive system “All-Mode” which varies torque distribution between all of it going to the rear wheels and a 50/50 front-to-rear split depending on whether sensors detect slippage. Further ensuring that the QX56 stays on its four wheels, Infiniti includes a stability program it calls “Vehicle Dynamic Control” (VDC) and “Electronic Brakeforce Distribution” (EBD) that controls the pressure applied to the ABS-controlled four-wheel disc brakes.

Looks, drives, is big

At 206.9 inches long overall, the QX56 is a full eight-inches longer than a Cadillac Escalade and just shy of an inch longer than a Lincoln Navigator. And its 123.2-inch wheelbase is 7.2 and 3.4 inches lengthier than those two respectively. So that it also has a vast 41-foot turning circle should be surprise. The long wheelbase also contributes to the Infiniti’s well-mannered ride.

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The rack-and-pinion steering feels light and only slightly connected to the front tires. The QX56 doesn’t so much turn through a corner as it does bank through it like a yacht. Short of a tsunami, not much is going to move the QX56 off its determined course. Visibility is generally good, but the optional “Smart Vision Package” that includes a rear view video camera in the tailgate which displays in the navigation system’s screen when the vehicle is in reverse, does add a degree of confidence that you’re not running over toddlers’ toys when backing up.

Unlike other vehicles equipped with electronic brake force distribution schemes, the QX56’s brakes are instantly responsive and nicely progressive. There’s some nosedive if you slam on the binders, but for a vehicle carrying 5631 pounds of mass (in all-wheel-drive form) it stops with dignity and composure.

As in the Armada and Titan, the 5.6-liter V-8 is a sweet companion. It’s smooth and only slightly challenged by the QX56’s bulk, while delivering reasonable fuel economy by this class of vehicle’s low, low, low standards. The accompanying five-speed automatic shifts almost imperceptibly.

Frankly there are more economical means of transporting seven or eight passengers that are just as comfortable and luxurious as the QX56. In fact, unless there’s regular towing on a buyer’s driving schedule (the QX56 can lug an 8900-pound trailer), this whole class of SUVs is tough to defend in the face of $2.40 per gallon fuel. Like the Escalade and Navigator, there’s something about the QX56 that is very 1999.

Of course if you’re going to drive something perceived by many as anti-social, you might as well do it unashamedly. And there’s not an ounce in self-doubt in this Mississippi-built Infiniti’s structure. Such self-confidence starts at $47,400 in two-wheel-drive form and $50,400 with all-wheel drive.

2004 Infiniti

QX56 All-Wheel Drive
Base price: $50,400
Engine: 5.6-liter 32-valve V-8, 315 hp/390 lb-ft
Transmission: Five-speed automatic; two- or four-wheel-drive
Length by width by height: 206.9 x 78.8 x 77.8 (4x2) or 78.7 (4x4) inches (width to molding is 79.5 in)
Wheelbase: 123.2 in
Curb weight: 5631 lb (4x4)
Fuel economy (EPA city/hwy): 13/18 mpg (4x4)
Safety equipment: Dual front airbags, side airbags for front seat, three-row head curtain, auto-dim rear mirror, seatbelt pre-tensioners, anti-lock brakes with Brake Assist and Electronic Brake Force Distribution
Major standard equipment: DVD-navigation system with seven-inch screen, 10-speaker Bose audio with six-CD changer, dual-zone digital climate control with rear AC power doors and windows, cruise control, keyless entry, security system with vehicle immobilizer, tire-pressure warning system, 18-inch wheels
Warranty: Four years/60,000 miles (basic), six years/70,000 miles (powertrain); lifetime (anti-corrosion)

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