The Infiniti QX56 is a fullsize, rear-wheel-drive, body-on-frame SUV in the classic domestic sense. Which it should be-it is made in Canton, Mississippi, and was designed for North American use. It is truck-based, with a large and powerful engine, and loaded with features and luxury appointments. Old-timers would say it almost has the feel of a fullsize Bronco, but very advanced, and much more precise. It is a truck for people who like their trucks big, strong and comfortable. It has presence on a grand scale, for use in wide-open spaces. Perhaps more than anything, it is intended to be an outstanding tow rig, to haul heavy loads, people and their gear across the open road.
The QX was all new for 2004, but at the time we did not get to compare one to everything else ... so we included it this year. We actually tested an '04 unit, because '05 pricing was not available at the time of our test. The differences for '05, however, are minor.
You can get the QX56 as a rear-wheel-drive truck if you like. Our test unit was four-wheel drive, which takes the GVWR up to 7,100 pounds, but reduces towing capacity by 100 pounds and fuel economy by 1 mpg on the highway.
There is a lot to like about the QX, and the engine is first on the list. It produces 315 hp at 4,900 rpm and 390 lb-ft of torque at just 3,600 rpm, and sounds great all the way up to the redline. With more torque on demand than everything else save the Touareg, the QX moves out easily at part throttle, maintains speed up steep mountain grades, and-in spite of a 5,600-pound curb weight and significant rolling resistance-has power in reserve.
The interior is set up for long-haul comfort. It's roomy, and the seats have 10-way adjustability. With practically no side bolstering, these seats are intended for straight and level flight, nothing sporty or swoopy. On the highway at rational speeds, the interior is notably quiet. The QX has the very long legs of an interstate cruiser. At 80 mph, the tach shows a cool 2,300 rpm.
The interior is cavernous, built to carry multiple passengers for hours at a time with comfort. There is seating for seven (eight with the optional second-row bench seat), eight cupholders, four power outlets and a DVD entertainment with overhead screen, set up so that a passenger can listen to a CD through headphones even as the driver listens to news on the radio. The sound system is a 10-speaker Bose unit that testers agreed "really rocks."
The suspension is a double-wishbone IFS in the front, and also independent in the rear. Steering is tight, rack-and-pinion with speed-sensitive variable assist. The turning circle, at 41 feet, is wider than the Pathfinder's but less than the H2, which is shorter and with a shorter wheelbase. The QX suspension does not offer the kind of handling that inspires really spirited driving, and in fact, several testers felt that the rear would feel more connected to the front if there was a load back there.
Like the H2, the QX goes off-road anywhere it will fit. It has three skidplates, almost 11 inches of ground clearance and a fullsize spare. The 4WD system engages unusually readily, enabling seamless on-the-fly transitions between paved and dirt roads. Traction is good. A respectable crawl ratio of 33:1 keeps things under control on downhills, and is enhanced by an effective electronic traction control system heading uphill. Certainly there are limits-slightly more wheelspin than some before the traction control system kicks in, and the running boards tend to compromise the excellent ground clearance. We also found that ride quality deteriorated more quickly on rough surfaces than some of the others in our fleet. It was harsher and noisier on washboard roads, and a good amount of vibration leaked through to the wheel on rough roads.
We didn't like the running boards, but they survived the entire test. Even so, the QX is just too big to be a trail machine. As the trail gets tighter, contact with brush becomes harder to avoid. Eventually, there is only one line to choose-just to fit on the trail. We experienced steering kickback on rocky surfaces, and even though it crawled well in low-range, technical off-highway driving in the QX was like trying to fly the Spruce Goose at the Reno Air Races. We didn't get far on the dunes.
We also have to say that the dash, though modern and attractive, is a mixed bag. The dials, knobs and shapes of things are really nicely designed, but many of the bright metallic pieces are plastic. They look like plastic, and they scuff like plastic.
Finally, it takes a lot of power to move something this big. The QX has all the power you need and more, but the trade-off is fuel economy. We averaged 13.51 mpg over our test period, with the worst tankful of 10.07 mpg after a day of four wheeling. To be fair, we'll say our best tankful, in which we covered 162 miles on the highway with air conditioning, came in at 18.08 mpg.
If this were called Tow Vehicle of the Year, the QX56 would have won, hands down. That's really what it's for. Use it to haul your dune buggy to the dunes, but don't plan on going out on the dunes. Tow your trail machine to the trail, but make the QX your base camp; inside, you could probably watch a movie and get some sleep at the end of the day. You can load up the kids and a weekend's worth of gear and head for the cabin, knowing you will get there rain, snow or high water. It's a heck of a cruiser, and a better four-wheeler than you might think. But it's not versatile enough to outscore the more sporting 4x4s in an off-road test.
* "Has a great power-to-weight ratio, never suffers when you climb uphill."
* "I'm sitting on top of the world driving this thing."
* "Definitely not at a loss for engine power just about anywhere."