First drive: 2015 Infiniti QX80 in Oman
The Infiniti QX80 is the flagship of Nissan’s luxury arm. So it stands to reason that they’d use the Nissan Patrol as the basis for their full-size 4×4, just like Lexus and Cadillac have done so obviously with the LX570 and Escalade respectively, and not one peep of discontent can be heard out of their well-heeled buyers who’ve paid a premium for their glorified Land Cruisers and Tahoes. Infiniti had gone further than most by giving their big-boy 4×4 fairly unique sheetmetal when it debuted in mid-2010 in its current form. And for 2015, they’ve given it a facelift that attempts to stifle the heckling that the unique sheetmetal has taken over the years.
Mind you, not an inch of that sheetmetal has actually been changed compared to last year’s model. The external updates only include new LED-laden headlight clusters, a new mesh grille, reshaped bumpers and new 22-inch wheels, as far as we could see when we were flown by private jet to Oman for the media drive that started from the airport parking lot itself.
In an event that involved driving up to the fancy Alila Jabal Akhdar resort a whole two kilometres above sea level, driving down to a wadi via an unfinished highway, and driving on soft sand to reach a desert safari camp before boarding a helicopter back to the airport, the theme of the whole shebang was “first class, every day.” No wonder we had air hostesses following our convoy around.
Settling in for the long drive, the humongous three-row interior was as cushy as its always been, with padded leather in all the right places. The outgoing QX’s interior was identical to that of the Nissan Patrol, so in this facelift they’ve added extra stitches and wood colours to differentiate it, although they didn’t go far enough and left the hard-plastic glove-box cover and boot side-walls as is. It’s a great interior, with more space than anything else, but still not quite at the same material grade as, say, a Range Rover.
The tech features are world-class though, with features such as the around-view parking cameras, adaptive cruise control, multimedia touchscreen, vented front seats, powered third row and more. Available active-safety features for 2015 include advanced high-beam assist that automatically dips high beams to oncoming traffic, predictive forward collision warning that identifies risks that lie beyond the driver’s forward field of vision, front emergency braking, blind spot warning and intervention, lane departure warning and prevention systems, among others.
Still powered by the existing 400 hp direct-injection 5.6-litre V8, it’s a good motor, smooth and refined in combination with the 7-speed automatic, moving the QX80 with adequate oomph but never quite kicking you back into your seat.
Mechanically unchanged since 2011 when it was called the QX56, the all-wheel-drive QX80 comes with four-wheel-independent suspension and a unique “hydraulic body motion control” system instead of stabiliser bars, something that it shares with the Nissan Patrol. Unlike the top-rung Patrol though, the QX56 does not have height-adjustable suspension. Still, the fixed height is manageable enough to climb into with side-steps yet not too low to hinder offroad ability completely.
As we noted in our Infiniti QX56 review a few years ago, the trick suspension is noticeable in hard cornering and quick direction changes. The body starts to sway a bit and then that 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 powerful. However, the 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 in most cases, but thanks to the 22-inch alloys, it can be a bit jittery on some rough road surfaces like the ones we found around Oman. On the other hand, it takes tall sharp speed humps and wadi gravel with ease, squashing them without a second though. Wind hush and road noise are muted, enough for me to get some shut-eye while someone else was driving.
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 on the way to a desert safari camp, it managed the flat soft-sand terrain we traversed without having to deflate, simply by keeping the power on.
The Infiniti QX80 still feels exactly the same as the QX56, despite the name-change and the additional driving aids that are redundant if you’re safely cruising. But it continues to be what it has always been — an ultra-spacious family hauler with more luxurious digs than the Lexus LX570 and more offroad capability than pretenders like the Cadillac Escalade. And yet, even with its latest facial, we don’t see it stealing sales from its rivals or even the top-spec Nissan Patrol that costs just as much. If you can get past its looks, which we personally don’t mind too much, it’s a pretty good vehicle.
For prices and specs, visit the Infiniti buyer guide.
Photos by Mashfique Hussain Chowdhury and Infiniti Middle East.