– Unique front-end styling
– Cabin space and features
– Very good engine
– Unique front-end styling
– Seriously big
– Wheels limit offroad ability
The world’s focus is shifting towards new-fangled “green” cars that can be plugged into a wall socket, charge overnight, and putter around for a few hours before dying like your mobile phone. It seems increasingly likely that the days of the full-size 4×4 are numbered. Body-on-frame SUVs are dying in droves, giving way to unspectacular crossovers. And yet, Nissan has done the opposite, launching the world’s newest full-size SUV, under not one, but two brand names. The Infiniti QX56, previously the spawn of the Nissan Armada, is now based on the new Nissan Patrol in its 2011 iteration.
We had the 2011 Infiniti QX56 for two months. We always thought it looked interesting from Day One, although it seems to polarise opinions – some think it looks awesome while others diss it. We’d have it this way rather than go completely unnoticed. What’s remarkable is the way it is designed to look smaller than it is. Of course, step up next to one and it soon becomes apparent that this is easily larger than anything else in its class. Larger than the Lexus LX570, GMC Yukon and Mercedes-Benz GL-Class in every dimension, the only thing longer than the QX56 is the extended-wheelbase Cadillac Escalade ESV.
That outer size translates to a cabin as big as a villa, where you can literally watch movies on three different TV screens or sleep in the comfort of a climate-controlled a/c. Space up front is immense, with big sofa seats and a wide central console big enough for the six-bottle cooler box. Rear legroom is also immense, with room to stretch out in any direction. Of course, the second row only holds two passengers with a storage console in the middle, but a three-seater bench is optional. Even the third row is decently spacious, with regular-sized people easily fitting back there for long trips, but taller folks will have issues, as the second-row seats don’t slide front and back. Access to the last row is also easy thanks to flip-front second-row seats at the pull of a lever or the press of a button.
Cargo volume with all rows in use isn’t a lot, but still good enough to hold a week’s groceries or a day’s picnic supply. For more room, the third row electrically folds down flat, but it takes a good while and the button needs to be held down all the way. The second-row seats also fold down to create ridiculously-generous cargo volume. And all passengers get a good number of cup-holders spread about, as well as various covered storage cubbies.
Anyone who’s checked out a top-spec Nissan Patrol will recognize the interior as being pretty much identical. Of course, that isn’t a bad thing. Large swaths of the dash and doors are covered in stitched beige leatherette, dark wood and soft-touch materials. The only noticeable hard-plastic areas are on the dash below hip-level. In our tester, the seats were beige leather, and the plush floor-mats were beige too, all adding to an airy ambience.
Tech features include a touchscreen computer with lots of clearly-marked shortcut buttons for navigation, Bluetooth phone, decent CD/MP3 stereo, strong three-zone a/c and the four parking cameras. Power-adjustable memory front seats and steering wheel, sunroof, intelligent keyless entry with starter button, turning HID headlights, fog lamps, USB port with image-viewing capability, dual rear DVD screens, power tailgate, front and side-curtain airbags, cooled front seats and an unlimited number of overhead a/c vents, all round out the extensive gadgetry.
The newly-updated 5.6-litre V8 engine is as remarkable as the gadgetry. With “VVEL” variable-valve timing technology and a manually-shiftable 7-speed automatic gearbox, it is a refined ultra-smooth motor, good for 400 hp at 5800 rpm and 560 Nm of torque at 4000 rpm. Our initial February test garnered a 0-100 kph time of 8 seconds and a fuel consumption figure of 19.3 litres/100 km, both acceptable but none too impressive for this 2759-kg behemoth. But then when we switched to “Super” RON98 petrol, we cut that down to 7.6 seconds and 15.9 litres/100 km, much more commendable.
The all-wheel-drive QX56 comes with a fancy suspension system, four-wheel-independent, and a “hydraulic body motion control” system that replaces the stabiliser bars. Unlike some of its rivals, the QX56 does not have height-adjustable suspension. Still, the fixed height is practical, easy to climb into with side-steps yet not too low to hinder offroad ability. The trick suspension is noticeable in hard cornering and quick direction changes. The body starts to sway, just like in a basic Land Cruiser or Tahoe, and then gets quelled after a second or so. Body roll is never allowed to be prominent, yet it can occasionally still feel mildly lumpy when suddenly diving into a curve. The ABS-assisted disc brakes are also mightily powerful. However, the 275/50 tyres start squealing rather early, safely understeering to remind you that this is not a car, let alone a sports car. The power steering is very light and the pedals are mushy, all designed for casual cruising.
Ride quality is good enough, but thanks to the 22-inch alloys, it can be a bit jittery on some rough road surfaces. On the other hand, it takes tall sharp speed humps with ease, squashing them without a second though. Wind hush and road noise are muted, so in combination with the adaptive distance-maintaining cruise control and lane departure warnings, it is literally possible to drive cross-country with your eyes closed. There is also a system to nudge you back into lane if you keep sleeping, but we couldn’t get it to work, not that we ever needed it. And parking is made infinitely easier by all-round cameras offering a virtual “overhead” view, although its size can still make it a minor chore in tight spaces.
As for offroading, all the required gear is there, including a selector for 4-high and 4-low. It doesn’t get the Patrol’s adjustable shocks and terrain-select system, but those are redundant gimmicks anyway. What it does need is a set of smaller wheels with higher-profile tyres. We didn’t do much beyond gravel hills and flat sand because we were afraid of damaging those pricey alloys. If you really want to take this truck for serious offroading, it is easy to slap on some Nissan wheels and be on your way.
The 2011 Infiniti QX56 is utterly modern, yet also a dinosaur in more ways than one. But it is a friendly dinosaur, one that rewards you with power, efficiency and capability that few are able to match nowadays.