For the 2014 model year, the former Infiniti QX56 gets a nomenclature upgrade and is now known as the QX80. Does that mean that it's now powered by an 8.0-liter V-8 engine? No, it's just part of the automaker's new, sometimes confusing product-naming scheme that has renamed all of its sedans with the prefix "Q" and all of its SUVs and crossovers with "QX." As this former and current QX is the largest vehicle in the automaker's lineup, it gets the biggest numeric suffix: 80.
The QX80 is a massive, massive vehicle -- certainly too massive to habitate comfortably on the narrow roads and crowded streets of San Francisco. Fortunately, Infiniti has packed the QX with a number of clever features to make it easier to live with such a giant, but every time I literally climbed into its driver's seat and settled in for a drive, I couldn't help thinking that there must be a better way to move six people than this.
Engine and performance
Under the QX80's hood is a naturally aspirated, 5.6-liter V8 engine that outputs 400 horsepower and 413 pound-feet of torque through its longitudinal crankshaft. Variable valve timing and direct-injection technology help the engine to perform this task as efficiently as can be expected and help to flatten out the torque curve for responsive on-throttle performance. It's not a bad engine and is well mated to the QX80's bulk.
Torque flows next through a single-option, seven-speed automatic gearbox on its way to the electronic transfer case of the AWD system. Drivers have the choice between 4H (high) and 4L (low) all-wheel drive gear ratios, but under most conditions, the system should be left in its Auto setting, which is best suited for on-road performance and continually adjusts torque distribution between the front and rear axles as necessary.
There are no custom terrain programs and the all-wheel-drive electronics are nowhere near as sophisticated or complex as you'll find in, for example, a Range Rover. I've got a feeling, though, that the QX80 only needs to be optimized for one terrain type anyway: tarmac.
There is a Snow mode that optimizes traction in slick and icy conditions and a hill start assistance feature that keeps the big SUV from rolling backwards after stopping on a steep incline by holding the brakes momentarily after you, the driver, release the pedal. The manual shift mode for the automatic transmission also features rev-matched, smooth downshifts, though without a Sport program or paddle shifters, you'll probably just want to leave the seven-speed in its base automatic mode.
Finally, the QX80 features a Towing mode and a Class IV tow hitch with wiring harness for a trailer -- all of which is hidden behind a cover in the rear bumper. When towing, a self-leveling rear suspension should keep the tail lifted even under load, though we were not able to test this claim. Infiniti wouldn't loan us a boat to go along with the QX80.
Though the biggest Infiniti that money can buy is not slow, it's certainly not quick, either. Now, 400 horsepower is nothing to thumb your nose at, but when you consider that the engine needs to motivate 5,878 pounds of luxury wherever it needs to go, you're looking at a power-to-weight ratio of about 14.695 pounds per pony, which is similar to that of a Toyota Venza. The vehicle gets out of its way well enough, but there's a reason that you won't hear a QX80 owner bragging about 0-to-60 times.
You'll also not hear any boasts of fuel economy. At a combined 16 mpg (14 city and 20 highway), the QX isn't embarrassingly thirsty, but I'd like to see Infiniti and Nissan offering a diesel option if they're going to continue to market a vehicle of this size -- if but for no other reason than to increase its cruising range.
Independent double-wishbone suspension components at all four corners give the big-ass SUV a planted feel and a buttery-smooth ride, which is likely exactly what prospective buyers are looking for, and the massiveness of the vehicle itself makes the chassis difficult to upset at lower speeds. Hydraulic body motion control (part of the $4,650 Deluxe Touring package) does its part to help keep the SUV flat when cornering and to control that boatlike bobbing that you typically get in these gigantic, softly sprung luxury land yachts.
Over bumps, the suspension tends to fill the cabin with a deep booming, you may not be able to feel the bumps, but you'll definitely hear them.
Cabin technology and options
However, if your QX80 is equipped with the aforementioned Deluxe Touring package, you'll be able to crank the volume of its 15-speaker Bose Audio system -- which includes not one, but two subwoofers -- to compensate. The audio quality is pretty good and, thanks to Bose's Centerpoint speaker, it sounds as though the important parts of the audio are staged ahead of the driver, while simultaneously filling the cabin with sound.
That Deluxe Touring package also adds Advanced Climate Control System, heated and cooled front seats, and boosts the quality of seating surface to semi-aniline leather (yeah, I had to Google that one, too) and the quality of the wood trim to Mocha Burl wood.
Even without the Deluxe package, you still get a 13-speaker Bose audio system and a full array of digital and analog audio sources. In the dashboard, you'll find a single-slot CD/DVD player that can process DVD-Audio discs (if you manage to find one). In the console, you'll find an analog AV input with RCA connections and a USB input for MP3 playback from portable storage devices and connectivity with iPhones and iPod devices. Bluetooth hands-free calling is also standard with A2DP stereo audio streaming when paired with compatible devices and, of course, you have terrestrial and satellite radio reception.
The also standard Infiniti HDD navigation with voice recognition hasn't changed much for this generation, but that's a good thing. I've always been a fan of this system, which gives the driver three ways to interact: touch-screen inputs, a control knob and extensive physical buttons, and voice command for hands-free calling and address input.
Additionally, drivers who pair a Bluetooth smartphone gain access to the Infiniti Connection concierge service, and SiriusXM subscribers (or those taking advantage of the free trial) gain NavTraffic and NavWeather updates.
Our example was also equipped with the optional Theater package, which in my opinion is sort of a $3,100 relic in the age of cheap tablets. For your money, this check box adds dual 7-inch monitors to the headrests in front of the second row that interface with the DVD player or an additional auxiliary AV input with RCA connectors. Users can listen to the audio independent of the source being played through the main infotainment system with the aid of wireless headphones and can interact with DVD menus with a wireless remote control.
The most useful feature of the Theater package is the remote tip-up for the second row seats, which flips the second-row bucket forward at the touch of a button to allow easier ingress and egress for third row passengers.