Compared with sporting and agile cars such as the Infiniti G37 and FX50, the 2010 Infiniti QX56 is an odd throwback, a journey into yesteryear before the first hybrids strode the earth. Built on a truck frame, it rides like a railway car. The engine, big enough to pull the near 3 tons of the QX56 around, plus an extra 9,000 pounds towed from the rear bumper, burns gas at a visible rate. And the QX56 is big, so big that we wanted to put traffic cones around it every time we parked. The ride height is on par with public transportation.
The underlying vehicle is the same as the Nissan Armada, with typical badge engineering changes to the grille. Being an Infiniti, the interior gets a luxury treatment, with plenty of leather and wood insets. Infiniti also gives the QX56 its latest cabin tech package, a suite of gadgets we've liked in other Infiniti cars. But these gadgets don't make as smooth a transition into the QX56; iPod integration was lost somewhere along the way, and the cabin tech controller was placed in an awkward position.
The cavernous interior of the QX56 includes three rows of seating, although our review vehicle came with captain's chairs in the second row, allowing total seating for six. Luxury accessibility comes in the form of a power-operated rear gate, and power-folding third-row seats. With the second- and third-row seats down, a huge amount of space is available for furniture, bicycles, and probably Liechtenstein.
An SUV like the QX56 plus an engine big enough to move it around should equal lousy gas mileage, and it does. The QX56 only makes 12 mpg city and 18 mpg highway, according to the EPA. During our testing, we achieved 14.8 mpg for mixed freeway and city driving. The 28-gallon gas tank gives it some range, but filling it up will take some time.
During city driving with the QX56, we found it responded well to hypermiling pulse-and-glide techniques. Once up to speed, the QX56 coasted very well, its 5,705 pounds adding a lot to its inertia. A dedicated effort to pulse-and-glide the QX56 might get it better fuel economy, but we aren't particularly hopeful.
Although its 5.6-liter V-8 uses aluminum block construction and a double overhead cam, that engine is not as sophisticated as Infiniti's VQ series engines, like the V-6 the company puts in the G37, which uses direct injection and variable-valve timing for better efficiency. The QX56's V-8 cranks out 320 horsepower and 390 pound-feet of torque.
That high torque number means the QX56 accelerates promptly, and can handle towing heavy loads. In fact, we were impressed by the vehicles drivability, its power steering making it easy to turn the 20 inch wheels. Around the narrow and crowded streets of San Francisco, we had to be vigilant, as the vehicles size allowed little room for error. But the car is easy to control.
The automatic transmission has only five gears, contributing to the poor fuel economy. There is no manual mode for this transmission, but Infiniti includes four low ranges, useful for towing. Another aspect that helps its towing performance is the body on frame construction. But that type of construction also leads to the rough ride, where every pothole and bump is felt in the cabin. In an attempt to regain the luxury to which the Infiniti brand aspires, the shocks have some softness. Unfortunately, those shocks led to so much oscillation when driving at speed the car felt like it was riding over ocean swells.
When backing up, a rearview camera comes on, its view filling the car's LCD. This camera has simple, static overlay lines, giving an idea of the distance to objects, but as with many other aspects of the QX56, it falls behind other Infiniti vehicles in its sophistication. Given the size of this SUV, we would really have liked to see the kind of surround-camera system available on the Infiniti EX35.