In Japan and elsewhere, the vehicle underpinning the new Infiniti QX56 is known as the rugged Nissan Patrol. The Patrol is a very real SUV, which of course means the new Q is pretty tough.
And it's made in Japan, unlike the previous QX which came out of Nissan's Canton, Miss., truck plant.
The distinctions are important. The new QX is a far different vehicle from the old model. It's a tad smaller inside, for one thing. For another, the 5.6-litre V-8 isn't the same 5.6-litre used in Nissan Armada SUVs and Titan pickups.
This revamped Q is powered by an engine that has more in common with 5.6 in the Infiniti M sedan. Good move, Infiniti. A colossally big and up-market SUV like the Q should have a modern mill with direct injection, variable valve timing and other high-end technology.
What's odd here is that the 2011 Q is bigger outside than the 2010 version, yet smaller inside. So it's even trickier to park in an underground lot, yet there is less space for people and cargo. On the other hand, going with a better powerplant means the 2011 Q uses less fuel than before.
We are not talking about a fuel-sipper here, however - not in a body-on-frame truck weighing three tons. But I suppose every little bit of improved fuel economy counts. For the record, here are the numbers using premium fuel: 15.7 litres/100 km in the city, 10.3 highway.
And let's not overlook the power numbers. Going to a direct-injection V-8 with all the bells and whistles from last year's port-injected 5.6-litre means this: output jumps from 320 horsepower to a nice, round 400 hp and torque also rises from 393 to 413 lb-ft. Not that you'll ever take this rig to a drag strip, but 0-100 km/h happens in about seven seconds. That's faster than, say, a 6.2-litre-powered Cadillac Escalade.
The transmission helps here. A seven-speed automatic replaces the old five-speed autobox. Divvying up the power with more ratios improves performance, but also allows the monstrous Q to cruise along the highway with the engine turning over at well below 2,000 rpm. If you do go off-road, a low-range crawl ratio in first gear is ideal.
The story of the 2011 QX56 goes beyond a well-engineered powertrain upgrade, though. Remember, the Patrol/QX56 competes worldwide with the Toyota Land Cruiser. Here in North America, it's an SUV for the landed gentry and the country-club set. Elsewhere, the Patrol is aimed at sheiks in Saudi Arabia and that sort.
Thus, our QX has a rich cabin replete with leather and wood and all manner of fancy electronic gizmos and gadgets. Yes, giant SUVs like this are slowly morphing into little more than anachronisms, but politics and social issues aside, it really is quite easy to fall for an SUV with so much space, so much luxury and so much power. If you're in the Green Party it is, I suppose, immoral to admit this. But political correctness aside, the QX56 is appealing enough, as long as you're not trying to park it in tight spaces.
A big part of what going on here has to do with ride and handling. The QX56 has dual wishbones front and rear, and the rear end has both coil springs and supplemental air springs to level the truck when towing.
Moreover, something called the Hydraulic Body Motion Control system further manages the ride. HBMC amounts to a set of four shock absorbers that are cross-linked by a complex series of tubes. The system delivers far more comfortable and compliant road manners than anything this side of the Queen Mary rightly should - on four wheels, that is.
Nonetheless, all is not ideal. The steering feels a tad unsettled on-centre. That is, very little in the way of an input delivers quite a lot of steering correction. Overly sensitive is another way to put it. Drivers will likely find it takes some time to get a feel for this. On the other hand, the light-touch steering works very nicely around town, where slow-speed manoeuvres are commonplace.
On the creature comfort side of things, the storage cubbies in the cabin could be better. The map pockets are too shallow for big maps and the console lacks a range of useful spots for putting all the detritus of modern life - Blackberries, iPods and so on. Another gripe: the middle safety belt for the third row seat hangs from the ceiling.
That third row itself is a pretty tight squeeze for anyone over age 10. However, that's not the case for passengers in the first two rows; they have plenty of space. The seats themselves are hugely comfortable and the driver's throne adjusts in all the ways necessary to find a good driving position.
Finally, looks. Plenty of critics will be appalled at the sheer size of the QX, but if you can get beyond that, it's fair to say Infiniti has come up with a distinctive look. Sure, we're talking about a big box, but at least this one has sheet-metal with interesting angles and creases.
Infiniti won't sell millions of QXs, not even tens of thousands, really. But for what it is, this Infiniti is nicely done and certainly a big improvement over the old QX.
Driver’s Logbook: Super-sized SUV the anti-muscle car
2011 Infiniti QX56
Type: Full-size SUV
Price: $73,000 (plus $1,950 freight)
Engine: 5.6-litre V-8
Horsepower/torque: 400 hp/413 lb-ft
Transmission: Seven-speed automatic
Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 15.7 city/10.3 highway; premium gas
Alternatives: Cadillac Escalade, Land Rover Range Rover, Lincoln Navigator, Mercedes-Benz GL, Lexus GX 460