How could any writer possibly be objective about the new Infiniti QX56 when the company encourages his significant other and kids to tag along to cottage country for a couple of nights at the upscale Taboo resort? Surely this can't possibly lead to the whole non-sanitized, unvarnished truth.
Within an hour of picking up the QX, it made my weak-stomached two-year-old throw up something fierce. Can we continue now?
"Use it like a real buyer would use it," was the reasoning from Infiniti folks for the family road trip. Going unsaid was that the regular routine of flying reviewers to a nice place and pairing us up with another enthusiast driver to thrash it around on back roads wouldn't flatter the portly full-size luxury SUV.
"Does this twisty road make me look fat?" the QX would ask. Yes, yes, it does …
Granted, no vehicle in this class would qualify as lean and lithe. This segment revels in oversize brashness, and this three-row, body-on-frame, eight-passenger behemoth delivers plenty of it. The shiny chrome grille at the front looks like it could double as a display wall of curved Samurai swords, while it's even harder to ignore the massive 22-inch wheels that drew whistles on this tester. This QX56 is one of the few vehicles in the world that can make 20-inch wheels appear a touch undersized.
Infiniti offers a new system that cuts down on body lean in corners - the main bugaboo of tall luxury SUVs with soft, comfort-oriented suspensions. It actually works well in limiting that nausea-inducing keeling over in corners when driven sedately, while those massive wheels and 275/50R/22 H-rated tires provide a cushy, bump-absorbing ride.
The main issue with the ride is that this high-tech system doesn't do anything to control body motions in a straight line, which are as jumpy as a finalist on a dancing reality show. Even gingerly touches on the gas produce a noticeable squat to the rear end, while all but the most gentle caress of the brake pedal will have the body trying to pitch you forward. This is especially noticeable in city traffic, the location of my little guy's eruption.
To be fair, his is not the most ironclad of constitutions, as now-wary family members will tell you, and he has occasionally done the same thing in regular, low-riding cars as well. But the constant body motions certainly didn't help.
Contributing to this pitching is the more powerful 5.6-litre V-8 engine, which boosts power to 400 hp and 413 lb-ft of torque. It can now tow up to 8,500 pounds, on par with some full-size pickups. Direct injection as well as the more advanced seven-speed automatic help achieve a 10 per cent decrease in fuel consumption compared to last year, although it's still in thirsty guzzler territory.
The shape of things to come
We averaged 17.3 litres/100 km in our week with it, well above its official city and highway fuel economy figures, perhaps more so than usual, since the majority of that time was with the car fully loaded with people and gear. Besides one trip into the city with all four of us but no gear, the rest of our time with it was mostly highway driving, first to Taboo, and then straight from there to a cottage for a long weekend, returning with seven people and all their weekend gear.
On departure day, the Infiniti QX56 was in its element. Open up the rear hatch remotely from the front door, and it's ready for loading up without placing your expensive luggage (or ours) on the ground. From there, it's easy to spot the handy buttons that power forward the third row of seats to make for a much larger cargo compartment, plus a better view out the rear for the driver.
Hopping in between the child seat and a booster in the second row, there is still plenty of room for a full-size adult, although that middle passenger won't benefit from the heated outboard seats or, surprisingly, any cup holder.
The standard rear-seat DVD entertainment system offers two screens built into the front head restraints, and although Infiniti says one can watch movies from two different sources at the same time back there, you unfortunately need a portable DVD player or laptop and the requisite cables to do this. Wireless headphones allow kids and parents to hear their own programming, even with kids sitting in the third row and craning their neck to see the screens.
As nice as the second row is, the front seats are still the first-class cabins of this ship, with much-appreciated cooled seats, which heat up as well, as does the classy, wood-lined steering wheel. Leather-lined armrests in between the front seats and on the doors allow for relaxing cruising with both hands on the steering wheel, while the standard navigation system and XM satellite radio add to the comfort on unfamiliar roads.
For such a large machine, wind and engine noise were impressively banished, save for a muted roar when passing. Even parking the beast was made simpler by the Around View monitor that takes the concept of a rear camera to the next level by showing objects all around the QX on the navi screen, although it would be even better in tight spots if it didn't instantly go away once you're out of reverse.
This tester's $8,000 Technology package also included a slew of advanced electronic safety systems. On top of the previous beeping lane departure warning system, it has added a lane departure prevention feature, which touches the brakes on one side to subtly tug you back into your lane, barring any other steering input. A blind spot warning system, intelligent cruise control, and adaptive headlights are also part of this pricey option group.
An audaciously large leviathan it may be, but it's eminently comfortable for driver and passengers alike, at least outside the city.
2011 Infiniti QX56
Type: Full-size, eight-passenger luxury SUV
Base price: $73,000; as tested $82,950
Engine: 5.6-litre direct injection V-8, DOHC
Transmission: Seven-speed automatic with manual mode
Horsepower/torque: 400 hp/ 413 lb-ft
Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 15.7 city/10.3 highway; premium recommended
Alternatives: Audi Q7, Cadillac Escalade, Lexus LX 570, Lincoln Navigator, Mercedes-Benz GL and R-Class
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