The refreshed 2018 Infiniti QX80 is part school bus, part luxury jet
The roads around Charleston don't twist or turn across dramatic mountain vistas – locals don't call this the "low country" for nothing. Instead, they criss-cross marshy estuaries on long, low bridges and run beneath canopies of live oak slung with Spanish moss. These aren't what you'd call great driving roads, but they are certainly beautiful – hemmed in by palmetto and pine forests, all of it deep, lush and slightly foreboding. Infiniti chose this sultry backdrop to launch the brand's newly refreshed QX80 SUV for good reason.
While some vehicles yearn for hairpin turns and narrow alpine roads, to quote blues legend Howlin' Wolf, this one was built for comfort, not for speed. At more than five metres long and weighing in at close to 2,700 kilograms, the QX80 is about as large as you can get in a passenger vehicle without venturing into church-van territory.
Few consumers wants to drive a van, of course. And, increasingly, auto makers don't want to sell them.
Instead, full-sized SUVs are now the vehicle of choice for hauling kids, pets and gear from home to school, or to soccer practice and the cottage. With available seating for seven and 3,800 kg of towing capacity, the QX80 is the ultimate un-van, an aggressively styled, statement-making solution to the problem of getting the family from A to B.
"It's about the size, the presence and luxuriousness of the vehicle," says Adam Paterson, managing director of Infiniti Canada, . These are also the things that draw buyers to the QX80's competitors, foremost of which are the Cadillac Escalade, Lincoln Navigator and Lexus LX 570. While the Lexus may have a more recognizable badge and the Escalade the distinction of being big-upped on a Ludacris track, Paterson and his team's goal is to draw buyers into their new behemoth with the brand's commitment to detail, inside and out.
Paterson points to the superior softness (and stain resistance) of the leather used on the quilted seats, doors and dashboard. The interior of the QX80 inspired by the cabins of luxury jets, lacks burled-wood tray tables and seats that fold into beds, but is indeed a comfortable place to spend a few hours in transit.
Pains were taken to make the cabin as quiet as possible, which for something with the aerodynamic profile of a parade float is no small feat. Soundproofing behind the dashboard keeps engine noise down, while dense carpets and soft surfaces around the cargo area help to deaden road noise and vibration at highway speeds.
While competing trucks in this segment offer comparable performance specs, the new Infiniti earns points for its class-exclusive hydraulic body-motion-control system, which automatically adjusts the suspension to significantly reduce body roll in corners. The difference is palpable on the few gentle curves we encounter in rural South Carolina. The QX80 never feels spry or sporting, but it does stay poised in turns, greatly mitigating the top-heaviness to which other large SUVs are prone.
Up front is a new smart rear-view mirror, which, thanks to a camera mounted inside the back window, provides a wide-angle view of everything coming up behind you. The eyes take a while to adjust to looking at a screen instead of a mirror, but the reward is a greatly increased field of vision– all the better to merge, change lanes and back out of the driveway safely.
he QX80 also features a backup-collision-intervention system that automatically applies the brakes if it senses an obstacle to your rear. In one of the few major downsides to the vehicle, this feature is only available (along with lane-departure prevention, forward emergency braking and blind-spot warning) as part of an added technology package and is not standard equipment.
In another technological shortfall, considering even a Chevy Cruze has onboard WiFi these days, the lack of it on a luxury vehicle priced in the area of $75,000 seems a shame, especially on long road trips with a bunch of social-media-addicted youngsters in the back.
What the QX80 does offer as consolation are standard independent rear video screens (complete with HDMI inputs) to keep the little ones docile, and rear-cabin USB charging ports to make sure their precious devices don't run out of juice mid-journey. Here, Infiniti clearly understands what its customers want. Whether cruising the South Carolina backwoods or Highway 401 in Ontario, the makers of the QX80 understand what every parent knows all too well: Comfortable passengers make for pleasant road trips.
- Base price: TBA
- Engine: 5.6-litre V-8
- Transmission/drive: Seven-speed automatic with manual shift mode/all-wheel
- Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 17.4 city, 12.2 highway
- Alternatives: Cadillac Escalade, Lincoln Navigator, Lexus LX 570
There's nothing subtle about this inflated SUV, but features like the arched grille and clamshell hood contribute to a sleek, streamlined silhouette. The cabin also shows attention to detail in its quilted-leather accents and overall fit and finish.
Spacious, comfortable and well appointed. While the all-new saddle-brown semi-aniline leather seats with new charcoal-burl trim make for a handsome combination, the lack of a panoramic moonroof may disappoint some buyers.
A big V-8 means plenty of power, even when loaded with passengers and gear. It also means relatively poor fuel economy.
The 2018 refresh sees an upgraded infotainment system with an improved screen, a remote-control smartphone app and a camera-enabled rear-view mirror, but lack of standard smart safety features and available onboard WiFi put it behind some competitors.
Big enough to seat eight people and their stuff, this SUV does exactly what it needs to for families on the go.
Despite the lack of standard smart safety features, it's a luxurious, powerful people mover and an enticing alternative to other large SUVs in this segment.
The writer was a guest of the auto maker. Content was not subject to approval.