Even though the QX56 has a boxy look overall, Infiniti has given it some interesting design cues. It features an arcing doorline that gives the rear door a sail-like shape, and the rear doors have vertical door handles. Parent-company Nissan uses that design on all its truck-based SUVs, including the Xterra and Armada, the latter of which shares its platform with the QX56. The liftgate features a blister-style design, and the large chrome grille has been slightly restyled for 2008 (see a side-by-side comparison with the 2007 model).
The availability of big wheels on full-size SUVs is fairly common, and Infiniti has made 20-inch chrome ones standard on the QX56. Even though 20 inches is large, they don't look excessively big on the substantial QX56, which is 17.25 feet long, about 6.5 feet wide and nearly 6.5 feet tall. You might want to measure your garage before buying one.
Ride & Handling
The QX56 is maneuverable for a full-size body-on-frame SUV. It can navigate parking lots with ease, and the optional front parking sensors make it simple to pull all the way into a parking space without having to worry about scuffing your bumper or crumpling another car.
Whether driving around town or on the highway, the QX56 offers precise steering that makes navigating busy urban roads second nature. There's a fair degree of weight to the steering wheel, which you notice when you're constantly turning it, like when going up or down a parking deck.
Ride quality and general stability are other pluses of the QX56; there's very little of the pitching, rolling and general wallowing that's associated with full-size SUVs. Even though you're aware of this SUV's substantial size when cornering, the four-wheel independent suspension manages to keep the QX56 from excessively leaning over. The suspension also does a nice job of preventing the body from bouncing up and down excessively on undulating roads.
What's less appealing about the QX56 is that its cabin is highly susceptible to shudder on rough roads; impacts from bumps can make it up through the suspension and shake the body structure. Rough roads also make the steering wheel shake, so you'll feel it in your hands, too. While this may lead to squeaks and rattles in the cabin down the road, the bigger issue is one of perception: Cabin shakes don't reinforce the idea of luxury.
That said, the cabin is fairly quiet when cruising on smooth highways, and even though it's bigger than a Cadillac Escalade on the outside, the QX56 feels more controllable from the driver's seat and is easier to drive overall. You don't have to worry as much about where the corners of this SUV are.
Going & Stopping
The QX56's drivetrain is another one of its pluses. The 5.6-liter V-8, which makes 320 horsepower and 393 pounds-feet of torque, provides assertive acceleration in city driving if you exercise the gas pedal, and it makes a nice roar when you do so. The V-8 teams with a smooth-shifting five-speed automatic transmission that's well-matched to the engine. The only situation where the engine starts to feel a little weak is when accelerating hard from 60 mph or so.
You pay for this V-8 power with gas mileage that's in the teens; rear-wheel-drive models get an EPA-estimated 12/18 mpg city/highway, while the four-wheel-drive QX56 is rated at 12/17 mpg. These estimates are, however, in line with what the competition achieves.
|Gas Mileage Compared (city/highway, mpg)|
|2009 Mercedes-Benz GL450||--||13/18|
|2008 Toyota Land Cruiser||--||13/18|
|2009 Cadillac Escalade||12/19||12/18|
|2008 Infiniti QX56||12/18||12/17|
|2008 Lincoln Navigator||12/18||--|
Brake-pedal feel, on the other hand, is disappointing. When trying to bring the QX56 to a halt, you have to keep pressing harder and harder to get the level of desired response from the brakes. This gives the impression that the brakes aren't up to the task of slowing the QX56 quickly (even though they are), which isn't a feeling you want to have when piloting a big SUV. This is the kind of thing an owner would get used to over time, but it's disconcerting nonetheless.
Cabin Styling & Comfort
The big change for 2008 is a restyled interior that increases the sense of luxury in the QX56, but it still doesn't match the Escalade's ambience. Part of the reason for this was my test car's interior color scheme, which was dominated by drab shades of gray trim highlighted by real wood and aluminum here and there. Wheat (tan) and Charcoal (black) interiors are also offered, and they might offer a more inviting experience. Even though the cabin materials are nice, like the standard leather upholstery, they're not exceptional, which you might expect them to be considering the QX56 starts at more than $50,000.
The standard second-row configuration features two captain's chairs with a center storage console between them. A three-person bench, which increases the QX56's seating capacity from seven to eight, is a no-charge option. There's plenty of legroom for tall riders here. The bucket seats are large and comfortable, and they recline with the lift of a lever near the back of the seat cushion. The captain's chairs don't slide forward or backward, though, which doesn't let you proportion available legroom between the second row, where there is a lot, and the third row, which doesn't have much. Folding the captain's chairs flat requires that you flip the seat cushion forward before folding down the backrest.
At 6-foot-1 I was able to squeeze myself into the third row, but when seated my head was touching the ceiling and my legs didn't have much room to move around. While it's better than what you'll get in the Escalade's third row, it can't match the Lincoln Navigator's, which is one of the best among full-size SUVs. The second-row captain's chairs flip forward to aid third-row entry and exit.
The QX56 does give you a lot of standard power features for your money. There are power-adjustable pedals, a power tilting steering wheel, power-folding side mirrors, a power liftgate and a new power third-row seat.
Cargo & Towing
The QX56 offers 61.2 cubic feet of cargo room when the third row is folded flat into the floor, which is more than similarly configured Navigators (54.5 cubic feet) and Escalades (60.3 cubic feet) offer. When the third row is in use, however, cargo volume dips to 20 cubic feet, which isn't a lot of space if all the seats are filled and you need to bring a few days' worth of luggage for everyone. The Escalade and Navigator don't fare any better, offering just 16.9 and 18.2 cubic feet, respectively. The QX56 rides fairly high off the ground, which means you have to clear a tall bumper when loading luggage.
One of the reasons for buying a full-size SUV like the QX56 is that it can tow a boat or camper and carry the family — all at the same time. The rear-wheel-drive QX56 offers a 9,000-pound towing capacity when properly equipped. Choosing a four-wheel-drive QX56 drops the rating to 8,900 pounds.
Standard features include all-disc antilock brakes, side-impact airbags for the front seats, side curtain airbags for all three rows of seats and an electronic stability system, which is an especially important safety feature in a large SUV.
In the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's frontal crash test, the QX56 received five stars for its protection of the driver and four for the front passenger.
QX56 in the Market
There's no question that demand for full-size SUVs has cooled in recent months as shoppers have become more concerned with fuel economy. However, even if the average price for a gallon of gas were to eclipse the all-time high of $4.11 that was reached this past summer, there would still be shoppers considering vehicles like the QX56. Why? Because they want the space, power and capability it affords that an efficient small car doesn't.
But will those shoppers look at the QX56? It's going to come down to what they value the most. If you're looking for the most luxury, an Escalade ranks higher, but if driving ease and maneuverability are more important, the QX56 is an appealing choice.
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