Admiration, not outrage. Awe, instead of "Ahh, its too big." Those are the responses I got while piloting a 2011 Infiniti QX56.
In a time of downsizing, high gas prices, and email signatures asking you not to print, I expected to be treated as an environmental evil while driving this large, luxury SUV.
Instead, the Infiniti nameplate invited exemplary exultations. "Oooh, Infiniti, that must be nice." Yes, it was, despite a price tag that's as large as the vehicle's size and fuel economy that doesn't match its proportions.
For its second-generation makeover, the QX56 hasn't really gone to boot camp. Standing 6.3 feet high, 6.7 feet wide (about an inch more than the last model), and measuring 17.3 feet tip-to-tip, this landlocked Leviathan weighs nearly three tons. There's nothing small about it. Never has been.
Anytime an SUV is based upon a full-sized pickup, meant to haul lots of people and tow a boat, horse trailer, or camper without sacrificing comfort, something has to give. Usually, in the economies of scale, it will be gas mileage.
Infiniti worked to improve the Q's efficiency while adding more oomph. There's now a 7-speed automatic transmission (standard on either the 2WD or 4WD) and the 5.6-liter V-8 has its fuel directly injected and receives variable valve timing. The big motor now provides 400 horsepower (up from 320) with 413 lb.-ft. of torque to easily pull your Gulfstream, or your own Chris-Craft Sportsman up to Golden Pond.
Engine tweaks are important if you're going to fill the 26-gallon tank ($104 at $4 per gallon) and hope to surpass the 14 mpg city rating. You're delusional if you think you could actually get 20 mpg on the highway empty (5,850 pound curb weight) or pulling a load of any sort (up to 8,500 pounds). Infiniti estimates 16 mpg combined but in my experience I found the computer to stick closer to 14 mpg in more than 400 miles of mixed mileage.
If you change your own oil, good luck finding it without a small step stool or balancing on the bumper, contorting yourself like Cirque de Soleil, and reaching inside the humongous engine well. Thank God the hood is supported by piston-based supports.
Changes were made to the Q's exterior — neighbors called it the "Queen Mary" for its overall girth — but the front end is still a gaudy mish-mash of "hey, let's use it in our music video for street cred" outrageousness. The rest is stylish, swooped, and the backside is almost attractive.
If you've ever wondered what a five-star apartment on wheels rode like, this is it.
The QX56 is an eight-passenger go-anywhere luxury liner on wheels. Everything about it is big: step-in height (22 inches), the seven-inch do-it-all LCD screen, legroom, headroom, number of creature comforts, everything.
However the QX56 is more versatile that its size would indicate. It's rather easy to turn, and with Infiniti's Around View camera system, blind spots are virtually eradicated. Think of having a backup camera at every possible place you'd want it and it's there. It won't remove the need to make several k-turns to dock at the mall, but you won't back over a stroller, either.
The ride is comfy, compliant, and not overly compensated. The Q is shod with 20-inch wheels and offers 22s if you desire. While it's impossible to prevent anything this big from leaning in a corner or getting someone to yell "coming about," the Q is surprisingly stable. Technology in the form of Hydraulic Body Motion Control (what most of us need to prevent tossing our cookies on the Magic Tea Cups in amusement parks) along with double wishbone suspensions keep the Q level without levitating.
Although it's perhaps the best choice for a vehicle in a remake of "Big" with Tom Hanks, it's not as ponderous as perceptions present it to be.
The Q is so inclusive that it offers just five factory option packages — all packed with more goodies and enough acronyms to make the government proud than can be listed (Theater package, $2,450; Technology Package, $2,850; Deluxe Touring Package, $6,950; Tire/Wheel Package $2,300; Split-bench Package, no charge).
Accessories added at the port include roof rail crossbars ($325), stainless steel rear bumper ($260), moonroof wind deflector ($175), carpeted cargo mats, cargo net and a first aid kit ($200), illuminated kick plates ($395), and a vehicle impact alarm sensor ($140).
My favorite technology piece was the around view (also found on Nissan vehicles) but a close second was the Distance Control Assistant, which is a laser-guided variant of similar systems out today. Get too close and the car seems to stop itself — a weird sensation when it first occurs but one that's gratifying when you avoid unwanted collisions.
The price for all this luxury is also big. The two-wheel-drive model brings a $58,700 MSRP while the tested 4WD edition starts at $61,800, not counting the $950 delivery charge. The tester, which had the Technology Package, Theater Package, Deluxe Touring Package, backlit kickplates and roof rail crossbars, stickered at $72,560.
Infiniti notes that its QX56 has the amenities and refinements of a luxury jet with all the appointments. I question whether there's a need any longer for vehicles this size to haul a horse or take the tykes to tennis camp. When was the last time you saw a jet pulling a boat trailer, anyways?
2011 Infiniti QX56 4WD
Price, base/as tested (with destination): $62,790/ $72,560.
Fuel economy, EPA estimated: 14 city / 20 highway.
Fuel economy, Globe observed: 14.5 mpg
Drivetrain: 5.6-liter V-8, 7-speed automatic, all-wheel-drive
Body: 5-door, 8-passenger SUV.
Horsepower: 400 @ 5,800 rpm.
Torque: 413 lb.-ft. @ 4,000 rpm.
Overall length: 208.3 in.
Wheelbase: 121.1 in.
Height: 75.8 in.
Width: 79.9 in.
Curb weight: 5,850 pounds.
Ground Clearance: 9.2 in.
Towing capacity: 8,500 pounds
THE GOOD: Exterior styling, interior refinement and room, around view camera system
THE BAD: High rear lift height for cargo, options add up quickly. Not a true off-road vehicle. Not a green vehicle, but costs a lot of green.
THE BOTTOM LINE: The QX56 appeals to the well-heeled who need to haul trailers and boats in the comfort of a condo on wheels.
ALSO CONSIDER: Cadillac Escalade, Ford Expedition, GMC Yukon, Lexus LX 570, Lincoln Navigator, Nissan Armada, Toyota Land Cruiser.
About Boston Overdrive
|Clifford Atiyeh is an automotive writer and car enthusiast . He has spent his entire life driving cars he doesn't own.
In the garage: 1995 21-speed Iron Horse, 2002 Jeep Wrangler X (by association)
|Bill Griffith is a veteran Boston Globe reporter, having reviewed cars for more than 10 years and serving as assistant sports editor for 25 years. He was also the paper's sports media columnist.
In the garage: 2006 Subaru Baja
|John Paul is public affairs manager for AAA Southern New England, a certified mechanic, and a Globe columnist. He hosts a weekly radio show on WROL.
In the garage: Hyundai Sante Fe, Chrysler PT Cruiser convertible
|Craig Fitzgerald has been writing about cars, motorcycles, and the automotive industry since 1999. He is the former editor of Hemmings Sports & Exotic Car.
In the garage: 1968 Buick Riviera, 1996 Buick Roadmaster, 1974 Honda CB450
|Keith Griffin is president of the New England Motor Press Association and edits the used car section on About.com. He also writes for the Hartford Business Journal and various weekly newspapers in Connecticut.
In the garage: Mazda 5, Dodge Neon
|George Kennedy is a senior writer for WheelsTV in Acton, which produces video reviews for Yahoo, MSN, and other auto websites.
In the garage: Lifted 1999 Jeep Cherokee