Ingrid Loeffler Palmer, Contributor
"I like it," my husband declared with certainty as he admired the shiny, sleek black sport-utility vehicle sitting in our apartment parking lot.
"I dont like it," he countered ten minutes later, with the same level of decisiveness, as we drove to dinner. My sister and her friends had the same flapjack reaction the next day as we tooled around Boulder, Colo. After speaking with other editors, there seemed to be a consensus.
Looking at the Infiniti QX4 is a bit like poring over travel brochures of Jamaica: what you see are photos of a beautiful, elegant paradise that seems to promise nothing but pleasure and fun. Then, once you arrive, you realize its not so great: hurricanes have squashed the beachside burre you were planning to stay in, mosquitoes are rampant and poor natives are harassing you for money on every village street corner. Or, in the case of the Infiniti, the engine doesnt deliver the power you were expecting.
On the outside, the QX4 looks every bit the luxury SUV it is marketed as: sleek, luxurious and hardy. Under the hood, however, it is identical to the Nissan Pathfindera rugged, good-looking truck that seems to have more umph than its luxurious twin because, without all the gadgets, it weighs about 200 pounds less. With a 3.3-liter V6 that makes 166 horsepower, the QX4s engine certainly isnt what youd call wimpy. Yet thats exactly how it feels when youve got the pedal to the floor, and thats how it will stay until 1999 or 2000, when both the QX4 and the Pathfinder will get a much-needed power boost.
In their glossies, the manufacturer describes the QX4 as having "all the luxury and versatility youd expect from Infiniti in a reasonably-priced luxury SUV." Well, the luxury part is right on, but for a sticker price just shy of $40,000, we also expect an engine powerful enough to catapult a car full of friends and gear up a steep mountain road. This engine cant even catapult my husband and I down the boulevard to dinner without a struggle. They claim the truck has a 5,000 lb. towing capacity, too. Yeah, right.
Despite the disappointing engine, the QX4 does offer all the other bells and whistles youd expect at this price point. Four-wheel antilock brakes, 16-inch alloy wheels, dual airbags, leather seats, integrated HomeLink transmitter, remote keyless entry, security system, All-Mode four-wheel drive and an automatic transmission come standard.
The niftiest piece of standard equipment is the All-Mode four-wheel drive system which allows you to concentrate on driving while the car analyzes the road. Switch into AUTO and the system instantly reads road conditions, automatically shifting between two- and four-wheel drive as road conditions change. Drivers can also select their own driving mode if they choose.
Styling is clean and sophisticated with flush-mounted fog lamps, halogen headlights and a wet-look finish, but the running boards are rendered useless since theyre only about a quarter of an inch lower than the actual floor of the truck and even I, at 52", could climb inside with no problem. Inside, the QX4 styling is as flawlessly put together as the outside. Leather seats are power adjustable, though the adjusters are set too far back, and the seats are comfortable for the long haul, unless youre 65" tall like one of our editors who couldnt finagle enough head or legroom.
While the QX4s climate and audio control panels have more buttons than a double-breasted trench coat and almost as many gadgets as the Lincoln Town Car, the sport-utes instrument panel is refreshingly simple.
Infiniti didnt cut corners when it came to outfitting their first SUV with a premium stereo, either. The 150-watt six-speaker Bose audio system comes with in-dash CD player and cassette, surrounding occupants with fantastic sound quality. It was frustrating at first trying to figure out how to use the CD player, though; I actually had to read the manual to learn how to skip to the next song. Plus, the CDs skipped twice in as many days while driving on smooth pavement. We thought the stereo should have been placed above the climate control panel and were disappointed that the Infiniti didnt offer dual climate controls.
After pulling back the interior sunroof flap one day, we detected an unusually putrid smell emanating from above, but never could place it. The cruise control on/off switch was hard to reach and we thought the wood-toned plastic trim on the console, dash and doors was a bit chintzy considering the price of the vehicle.
The car-like emergency parking brake is a nice touch, but it uses up center console space that could have been saved for much-needed junk cubbies. There was nowhere to stash my trinkets like Chapstick or sunglasses except in the lift-up storage bin, which was already brimming with CDs, or in one of the two front-seat cupholders.
Front and rear visibility is excellent thanks to a fairly low cowl and large side mirrors. Side sight lines for changing lanes were interrupted, however, by the four huge, solid gray headrests on our test car, although the rear headrests were nice for backseat passengers. Three medium-sized adults fit comfortably in the backseat for cruising to breakfast, but for a long ride, forget it. The middle passenger said she needed a handle above her head to keep from bouncing into her seatmates over road bumps. Brian, another backseat rider, said the curved "oh sh" handles were positioned perfectly and were a must. Our tallest editor, however, thought the handles were too skinny; his fingers could have circled them twice.
The QX4 turned out to be pretty fun to drive, once you got past the slow-pickup problem. Steering was tight, the suspension was abnormally smooth for a truck and the tires gripped the roads as well as any SUV on the market. With the sunroof open and the stereo cranked, cruising in the Infiniti QX4 was pure bliss.
Still, our list of complaints was longer than the wingspan of an albatross. Which is really too bad, because the vehicle certainly looked good.
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