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Drives, Infiniti — April 26, 2012 at 4:03 pm

2012 Infiniti QX56 4WD: Drive Review

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Infiniti’s big, three-row SUV is capable and luxurious even in base trim. With option packages piled on, this test vehicle leaves drivers wanting for little.

Few vehicles offer drivers and passengers the range of capabilities of Infiniti’s QX56. Completely redesigned for 2011, the three-row SUV has a 400-horsepower V8, available four-wheel drive, a luxurious leather interior and a range of convenience features, from three-zone climate control to auto-sensing wipers. With a price tag starting price of $59,200, the base QX is capable of towing up to 8,500 pounds while pampering its passengers. The 4WD version, starting at $62,300, offers additional traction to tackle more slippery surfaces and conditions.

But the Liquid Platinum – that’s silver to me – 2012 QX56 4WD I recently tested was stacked with every possible option package, including the Theater package with rear-seat entertainment, a technology package with a range of driver assistance systems, and Infiniti’s Deluxe Touring package, which includes a superb, 15-speaker Bose audio system. That pushed the total price of this QX to just over $75,000, including a $990 destination charge.

That’s a pile of money. And the QX proved pricey to drive, too. The EPA estimates 14 mpg city and 20 mpg highway on premium fuel. On one mostly highway trip, I maxed out at 16 mpg. On my short, stop-and-go urban commute, the QX returned less than 10 mpg.

Of course, no one with any knowledge of automobiles or comprehension of Physics would look at the big QX and think it an inexpensive and economical ride. It has formidable power. It looks polished. It feels rich. It relaxes and entertains passengers inside its plush confines. Plus, the QX is well-priced compared with competitors like the Lexus LX570 or Mercedes-Benz GL550.

Clearing the price hurdle may be a challenge, but once past it, the QX’s many capabilities – and all the high-tech and luxurious features of the test car’s option packages – come into focus.

Its capabilities are largely a result of a sophisticated powertrain and truck-like body-on-frame construction. Its 5.6-liter V8 sends 400 horsepower and 413 lb-ft of torque through an exceptional 7-speed automatic transmission. The engine is not as silky-smooth as, for instance, a Lexus V8. But the hint of rawness  – just the right amount of sound and feel – is a good reminder of the power the QX keeps on tap. The transmission, which includes a manual shift mode with rev-matched downshifts, is shifts quickly and precisely. Power is routed to all four of the SUV’s massive, 22-inch wheels, part of the $2,300 wheel and tire package. An adaptive hydraulic system that comes with the Deluxe Touring package controls body motion, helping to make the QX surprisingly athletic, especially considering its nearly three-ton mass.

And agility isn’t its only trick. That robust powertrain can also handle some serious hauling. That means drivers can confidently and capably pull a boat or other trailer while enjoying the luxury of the QX. A self-leveling rear suspension keeps the QX composed, while the tow mode tweaks shift points for an easy pull.

Passengers on that trip home from the lake will love the QX, especially when equipped with the test vehicle’s Theater package. That optional equipment group includes a pair of 7-inch monitors fitted neatly to the backs of the front-seat headrests. The rear-seat entertainment also includes a pair of wireless headphones, so the driver can enjoy music over the crisp, clear Bose audio system – part of the Deluxe Touring package – while passenger’s enjoy a DVD. The test vehicle’s seven-passenger configuration eliminates a center seat on the second row in favor of a console and armrest with roomy storage. Relaxing in the second row – with dedicated climate control, entertainment and a heated, reclining seat – is tough to beat.

The front thrones are plenty accommodating too, though. The Deluxe Touring package adds an advanced climate control system, ventilated front seats and Mocha Burl wood trim. The Technology package, meanwhile, stacks just about every driver assistance system imaginable into the QX. That’s in addition to standard niceties like leather, a keyless entry system with push-button start, a 10-way adjustable driver’s seat with lumbar support, automatic xenon headlights, a hard drive navigation system, a 360-degree camera with Infiniti’s Around View, and front and rear sonar. The camera system and sonar make parking the big QX much less tricky.

Driver assistance systems include adaptive cruise control that’s fully operable in stop-and-go traffic. That meant stress-free rush hour driving at the end of the work day. Systems also warn the driver of blind spot hazards and lane departure, and are capable of intervening should the driver not react him- or herself. A collision warning and avoidance system is also included.

Further promoting safety are an array of airbags, including curtain airbags for all three rows, active front head restraints, brake assist, electronic brake force distribution, a tire pressure monitoring system and traction control. Neither the federal government nor the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety have rated the latest QX.

Interior and exterior styling is standout. It’s elegant without being staid, athletic without being too youthful. While the Lexus or the Benz may be better suited to an older crowd, the QX fits young and old alike. It’s equally at home wheeling up to a country club or parked outside a hip-hop club. Its exterior proportions are neatly executed to hide the SUV’s substantial size. The Tire & Wheel package’s larger rims enhance the illusion.

The look inside has equally broad appeal. The dash’s sweeping lines and wood trim wrap seamlessly into the door panels. Extensive use of chrome, plus brushed and turned metal elements on the center console, are reminiscent of the classic styling of decades past. Ergonomics are well sorted, too. Despite the vast expanses of the QX56′s interior, all of the primary controls were within this driver’s reach, and steering wheel-mounted buttons and switches allow easy inputs for the navigation and audio systems.

Aside from the economic drawbacks of a $75,000 SUV thirsty for premium fuel, gripes about the QX are few. The power third-row seats, which split 60/40 and fold to a not-quite-flat position, take too long to lower and raise. Plus, cargo space is surprisingly tight, even with the third row down. Aside from those quibbles, two equipment upgrades could improve the QX. First, that center storage compartment in the second row of the 7-passenger version could include a cooling feature like the one found on the Ford Flex. Second, the standard glass sunroof could be larger – panoramic even – especially since the monitors for the rear-seat entertainment are located in the front-seat headrests, not mounted to the ceiling.

Frankly, the Infiniti QX56 is too much vehicle for me, a city-dweller with limited space, a very occasional need for something bigger than a mid-size sedan, and an automotive writer’s budget. But I certainly recognize its capabilities and even tested the vehicle in hauling duty. Except for the abysmal fuel economy, it performed with excellence. And no one can deny its comfortable and luxurious space. Whether behind the wheel or relaxing as a passenger, this Infiniti pampers while handling its job in style.

Photography courtesy of Dave May. See the full gallery.