- Infiniti offers all-wheel drive on every vehicle in its lineup.
- New direct-coupling all-wheel-drive system delivers quicker engagement.
- Bolt on some snow tires and the QX60 turns into a three-row luxury rally SUV.
Driven: Infiniti's Lineup Loves to Play in the Snow
Skip the sledding and go sliding instead
It can be difficult to test the efficacy, let alone the limits of an all-wheel-drive system on anything but snow and ice. Only then can you begin to feel and better understand the way a particular system works meting out power to both axles and from one side to another. So when Infiniti managed to secure a snow-covered airfield and brought along nearly their entire lineup of all-wheel-drive vehicles for us to sample, we grabbed our heavy jacket, boots, beanie and jumped behind the wheel.
Infiniti's all- and four-wheel-drive systems, explained
Before we start, we should go over the types of all- and four-wheel-drive systems Infiniti offers. We'll start with the cars. The Q50 sedan and Q60 coupe offer a rear-wheel-drive-biased all-wheel-drive system. This means that most of the time, more power is sent to the rear wheels, with a maximum amount of 50% being available for the front wheels. This ensures the Q50 and Q60 maintain their rear-wheel-drive bias for sportier handling but the front wheels can be powered up for additional stability if need be.
The QX50, QX55 and QX60 SUVs are all front-wheel-drive-biased all-wheel-drive systems. All of these SUVs come standard with front-wheel drive and when equipped with all-wheel drive, this configuration sends most of the power to the front wheels, with up to 50% available for the rears — essentially the opposite of the Q50 and Q60 models. These crossovers tend to be more family-friendly and systems like these will err on the side of stability rather than be tuned for performance, like they are in the Q50 and Q60 models.
The QX80 offers the availability of a four-wheel-drive system. When in Auto mode the system can vary the amount of power sent between the front and rear axles, while 4WD High locks the power split 50/50 between the front and rear. The QX80 is also equipped with a low range for heavy off-roading and steep inclines and declines. The Auto mode is essentially set-and-forget for everyday driving, while the high range is ideal for snowy conditions.
Hardware and software
Anybody who's grown up, or currently lives, in a part of the country that sees significant amounts of snow every year knows that while all-wheel drive is helpful in the snow, snow tires are really where it's at. If the tires can't grip, then it doesn't matter how many driven wheels you have. For this event, Infiniti equipped all of its with Bridgestone Blizzaks. These are the go-to tire for many wintery climates and, after only a few minutes behind the wheel, it wasn't hard to see why. The amount of traction you have on snow, and the amount of confidence you get from these tires, almost makes us want to spend our winters in frigid, snow-covered conditions. Almost.
Even though we had a chance to sample all of the vehicles Infiniti brought, we spent most of the day behind the wheel of a QX60. This midsize three-row is Infiniti's newest vehicle and features the automaker's next-gen AWD setup, along with a four-wheel Active Brake Limited Slip system. The new all-wheel-drive system incorporates a unique direct-coupling mechanism, making the switch from FWD to AWD almost instantaneous. This pays dividends when starting out on a low-grip surface or when you find yourself on a split surface — two tires on dry pavement and two on snow or ice.
The Active Brake Limited Slip (ABLS) system serves as a bit of both stability and traction control by the way it manages wheelspin to wheels with low traction. In lieu of a mechanical limited-slip differential — something you're more likely to find in a performance-oriented vehicle — ABLS uses the QX60's brakes to quell wheelspin, ensuring more torque goes to the wheel with more traction.
Sideways all day
Starting off, we experienced the QX60 with all of its safety nannies switched on. Not only did this let us California types get to grips with what a proper set of snow tires is capable of, but it allowed us to experience the amount of intervention the QX60's stability and traction systems employ to keep you pointed as straight as possible. As speeds picked up, we switched off the stability systems (as much as the QX60 allows — they're still kind of hanging around) and leaned more and more on the ABLS to quell excessive wheelspin to get us through and out of corners. Before long, we were drifting the QX60 through a 70 mph slalom with confidence. Just be aware that too much hooning in the snow will cause the ABLS to work overtime and the brakes to stink. Pesky cause and effect.
The amount of tail-out nonsense we could coax out of the QX60 was impressive but the front bias of the AWD system was still apparent when we asked for a bit more rotation under power. That's not a knock against the QX60 since the understeer that's built into this SUV makes its limits predictable and safe. That handling balance was inherent in the similar systems in the QX50 and QX55 models as well. Even though the QX55 we also drove was smaller and bit more nimble than the QX60, we much preferred the torque of the QX60's 3.5-liter V6, as well as its nine-speed traditional automatic to the QX55's turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder and continuously variable automatic transmission.
In stark contrast, the Q50, which was in its potent Red Sport 400 guise at this event, was a total lunatic on the snowy surfaces. Its rear-biased AWD and ample power allowed us to get well and truly sideways on command. In contrast to the QX60, the Q50's angle of attack could be altered at any time just by thinking about the gas pedal. In fact, we enjoyed the Q50 far more on the snow than we did the last time we had one at our test track. Wild stuff.
The full-size QX80 was also a pleasant surprise. Set in 4WD High, the power split between the front and rear axles proved an ideal setting for snow and the occasional ice patch. The grunt from the 5.6-liter V8 and the QX80's long wheelbase meant it was dangerously close to graceful when pivoting around a cone and powering out of a turn. It's not common to see something so big move so well on snow.
The Infiniti lineup might not have been our first choice for snowy shenanigans but after a day romping around a winter playground with some legit snow tires, consider us convinced. If you've got a QX60, or any all-wheel-drive vehicle and some open space, throw on a set of winter tires and go out and have some fun. You'll become a better driver and might come away with a better appreciation of your vehicle.