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Road Test - 2004 Infiniti QX56

A bold new player in the luxo SUV segment

You're looking at Infiniti's first fullsize luxury SUV, the QX56. Infiniti debuted the vehicle to a select group of journalists in Hana, Maui, there to get the lowdown on this new eight-passenger vehicle that will establish Infiniti as a full-line manufacturer of luxury SUVs.

If the QX56 looks vaguely familiar, it's because it shares the Nissan Pathfinder Armada platform. It is assembled along with the Armada at Nissan's Canton, Mississippi plant, marking the first time that an Infiniti vehicle has been assembled in the United States. If you were to venture a guess that it shares many things with the Armada, you'd be right, but even though it shares the Armada platform, it has undergone a number of upgrades that make it unique.

Clearly, the first thing you notice about the QX56 is its front aspect. It includes a QX56-specific large hood, barrel-shaped front fenders, new fascia with integrated halogen foglamps and a large Infiniti waterfall-style grille. These changes give the QX56 its unique look.

The QX56 is powered by Nissan's impressive 5.6L DOHC Endurance V-8 engine tweaked to produce 10 more horsepower (315 hp at 4,900 rpm vs. the Armada's 305 hp at 4,900 rpm) and 5 more lb-ft of torque (390 lb-ft of torque at 3,600 rpm vs. the Armada's 385 lb-ft of torque at 3,600 rpm). This engine is bolted to an upgraded five-speed electronically controlled automatic transmission (with tow/haul modes and gated floor shifter) that sends power to an electronically controlled transfer case that offers full-time, two-wheel drive, 4-high and 4-low modes.

The full-time AWD setting is designed to instantly distribute torque to all four wheels, and up to 50 percent can go to the front wheels. The QX56's Dana axles are sans limited-slip units, but the vehicle compensates by offering Brake Activated Limited-Slip Traction Control (which includes a deactivation switch). Like the Armada, the QX56 sports a fully boxed, high-strength steel frame, 28-gallon fuel tank, engine-speed-sensitive power-assisted rack-and-pinion steering, four-wheel disc brakes with ABS, Electronic Brake force Distribution and Brake Assist and double-wishbone front/independent double-wishbone rear suspensions. Upgrades to the QX56's suspension include a standard, auto-leveling (air leveling) rear suspension like the system found on the Armada LE, and it gets vehicle-specific shock absorbers and body mounts.

Infiniti engineers set out to create a luxury interior on a grand scale, so they adorned the QX56 with first- and second-row captain's chairs with integrated armrests, leather-appointed seating surfaces on all three rows of seating, thick carpeting, dark or blonde wood trim and wood-and-aluminum steering-wheel trim. The interior also features all of the appointments and gizmos one would expect on a luxury SUV, like 12 cupholders and bottle holders (some with the capability of holding up to 64-ounce bottles), four 12-volt power outlets, dual-zone electronically controlled climate control, rear air conditioning with dual controls, a memory system for pedals, outside mirrors and driver seat, DVD-based Infiniti Navigation System with 7.0-inch screen, full-length overhead console with lights for each passenger, Bose audio system with 10 speakers and adjustable brake and accelerator pedals. Also available is a DVD Family Entertainment System with two wireless headphones and remote control and a RearView Monitor that utilizes the navigation screen to display what's behind the vehicle when reverse gear is selected.

We had the opportunity to 'wheel the QX56 on paved roads, dirt roads and a rocky trail. On the infamous, twisty Hana Highway, it exhibited surprisingly agile handling, especially considering the vehicle's beefy size and weight. The willing 5.6L engine yanked us quickly out of the tight corners and even though it was clear the engine was working in the upper rpm, engine noise wasn't unpleasantly invasive in the cabin thanks to NVH upgrades.

Like the Armada, the QX56 has large A-pillars, and as with our experience with the Armada, we found them to be visually intrusive. On a rough dirt road connecting Hana to Makena, we were again impressed by the SUV's handling. Even on washboard-type surfaces, the rearend stayed planted through the tight corners and the steering felt smooth and confidence-inspiring.

Near Kaupo we found a two-track trail scattered with a few small rocks and gulleys. With the transfer case in 4-Low, we took a jaunt up the trail and found that while the Active Brake Limited Slip system does work well, it takes a bit of time to activate. We also had to institute a spotter because of the low-hanging running boards and the not-so-hot departure angle of 22.5 degrees. On the plus side, the 8 inches of wheel travel at each corner offered decent flex and helped keep the tires in contact with the trail. In comparison to other luxury SUVs, we'd rate its trail performance as average, but we'd rate its on-road performance as above average.

So the bottom line is this: Do we think that the new Infiniti QX56 is destined to be a player in the crowded luxury SUV segment when it debuts in the spring of 2004? To that we say, are there coconuts on Maui? We definitely think the QX56 brings a lot to the table, especially considering the fact that the QX56 will be offered at a base MSRP of $50,000, including destination and handling charges. That figure puts it on the low end of the pricing in the fullsize luxury SUV category.

Vehicle Model: 2004 Infiniti QX56

Base Price : $50,000
Price as Tested: N/A

Type : DOHC 32-valve V-8, aluminum block and heads
Displacement : 5.6 liters
Bore & Stroke : 98 x 92 mm
Compression Ratio : 9.8:1
Horsepower : 315 hp @ 4,900 rpm
Torque : 390 lb-ft @ 3,600 rpm
Recommended Fuel: 91 octane

Transmission : Five-speed automatic
Gear Ratios
1 : 3.827:1
2 : 2.368:1
3 : 1.520:1
4 : 1.000:1
Reverse: 2.613:1
Axle Ratio : 3.357:1
Transfer Case: Full-time all-wheel drive with selectable low range
Low Range Ratio: 2.596:1
Crawl Ratio: 33.35:1

Frame: Boxed steel

Front: Independent, double-wishbone
Rear: Independent, double-wishbone

Type: Power rack-and-pinion
Turning Radius (ft.): 41.0

Front: 12.6-in. vented disc
rear: 12.4-in. solid disc
ABS: Four-wheel

Wheels (in.): 18x8
Tires: 265/70R-18

Fuel Economy
EPA city/highway: 13/18
Actual Combined, city/highway/trail: N/A

Weight (lbs.): 5,631
Wheelbase (in.): 123.2
Overall Length (in.): 206.9
Overall Width (in.): 78.8
Height (in.): 78.7
Track, f/r (in.): 67.5/67.5
Minimum Ground Clearance (in.): 10.61
Approach/Departure angles (deg.): 29.4/22.5
GVWR (lbs.): 7,101
Payload (lbs.): 1,450
Maximum Towing Capacity (lbs.): 8,900
Seating Capacity: 8