Long list of features, prodigious V8 power, well-sorted handling for its size.
Cramped third-row seats, moderate ride harshness, not well-suited for off-roading, questionable exterior styling.
Nearly everything about the 2011 Infiniti QX56 is new, but the reaction to its styling conjures up the same old winces as the previous generation did. And that's too bad, since underneath the bloated exterior resides a luxurious cabin, competent drivetrain and an abundance of technological wizardry.
Compared to the outgoing QX56, the 2011 model is about an inch wider and longer, but loses 3 inches in height. It now makes 400 horsepower (a jump of 80 hp), features a seven-speed automatic transmission (two more gears than before) and is built on the global Nissan Patrol platform, which is 26 percent stiffer than the old Titan-based chassis. While all of these improvements are welcome, one unfortunate byproduct is a smaller third-row seat, which is suitable for smaller passengers only.
On the plus side, the improvements to the 2011 Infiniti QX56 outweigh the smaller rear quarters. New additions include a new automatic four-wheel-drive system, hill-start assist, a Snow mode for slippery terrain and, despite the increased power output, the QX gains a few miles per gallon. The new QX also corners flatter than before thanks to an optional Hydraulic Body Control System in place of traditional roll bars.
As good as the new QX56 is, its future remains bleak, as luxury SUV sales have plummeted industrywide by more than 60 percent since their peak in 2006. For those who still find a need for a large, luxurious SUV, the 2011 Infiniti QX56 represents a solid choice if you can get past its looks. Other vehicles to consider include the Cadillac Escalade, the all-terrain-capable Land Rover LR4 and Lexus LX 570 and the stately Mercedes-Benz GL550 -- all of which seem to elicit fewer negative responses to their styling.
The 2011 Infiniti QX56 is powered by a 5.6-liter V8 that produces 400 hp and 413 pound-feet of torque. A seven-speed automatic with manual shift control is the only transmission offered, but buyers may choose between rear-wheel drive and the Infiniti All-Mode 4WD system found on our test vehicle, which features three modes: automatic, 4-Hi and 4-Lo.
In the automatic setting, All-Mode continually adjusts power between the front and rear wheels depending on driving conditions, with up to 100 percent sent rearward and up to 50 percent sent to the front. The 4WD settings lock power distribution at 50:50. Even though the QX56 features low-range gearing, the lack of a locking rear differential limits the big Infiniti to only mild off-roading duties.
As such, the 2011 Infiniti QX56 is more at home shuttling passengers or perhaps performing moderate towing duties. Towing capacity tops out at 8,500 pounds when properly equipped and is bolstered by a tow-haul transmission mode. This setting revises shift patterns to optimize pulling power and increase control of the trailer while descending steep grades. An automatic rear-leveling suspension also keeps the QX level when trailering by inflating appropriate suspension air bladders.
When the QX isn't burdened by towing duties, it maintains a flat cornering stance thanks to the new Hydraulic Body Motion Control System. This optional feature noticeably reduces body lean in curves by transferring hydraulic fluid to the shock absorbers on the outside of turns, reducing suspension travel. This fully automatic system gives the QX56 a confidence-inspiring feel behind the wheel.
Confidence is also prevalent in terms of engine and transmission performance. The beefy V8 ably powers the QX56 to 60 mph from a standstill in about 7 seconds (by Infiniti's estimate). Given this, getting up to highway speeds is a breeze, aided by quick and smooth upshifts. We were also pleased to discover that downshifts were rev-matched for equally smooth operation. As with any large luxury SUV, performance comes at the expense of fuel economy. The 2011 QX56 is rated at an EPA-estimated 14 mpg city/20 mpg highway.
On the whole, our 2011 Infiniti QX56 delivered a quiet and comfortable ride in the city and on the highway. Road and wind noise are blissfully absent, but pavement imperfections are felt a bit more harshly than expected.
Passengers in the first and second rows will find the accommodations quite roomy, with plenty of headroom and space to stretch their legs. Third-row occupants, on the other hand, will likely find space at a premium. A power reclining seat makes the rearmost quarters a bit more bearable for taller folk, but only smaller adults will find any sort of comfort back there.
As with any high-profile vehicle like the QX56, the elevated ride height provides a commanding view of the road ahead. Elsewhere, visibility produces mixed results. The view rearward is decent for a car of this size and is aided by Infiniti's Around View Monitor that displays a top-down view of the vehicle's surroundings. Unfortunately, this nifty system does nothing to improve the exterior mirrors' narrow field of view. An optional blind spot warning system alleviates some of the lane-change guesswork, but we'd much rather have wider mirrors.
Our well-equipped QX also featured Infiniti's Intelligent Cruise Control that utilizes a laser sensor to adjust the vehicle's following distance to the car in front of it. Normally, we find these systems quite pleasant on the highway, but the QX's is far too aggressive. When traffic clears in front, rather than accelerating gracefully, the Infiniti downshifts and applies far too much throttle for our tastes. Mercifully, deceleration is much less abrupt.
We were more impressed by the quality of switchgear throughout the cabin, and the functions they served. Knobs and buttons have a positive and upmarket feel. The 13-speaker Bose audio system delivers crisp tones and plentiful bass, while providing iPod controls that are as good as any on the market. Other perks include a dash-mounted button that automatically folds the second-row seats to allow access to the third row. The power-folding third-row seats are also a welcome addition, though we did feel it took them too long to complete their transformations.
With the third-row seats in place, luggage capacity is a reasonable 19.3 cubic feet, which is more than in the competing Cadillac or Lexus. With both the second and third rows folded flat, the interior cargo volume expands to 112 cubes, which is also more than what's offered by its competitors. Additionally, the QX's boxy shape helps to accommodate larger and bulkier items. Throughout the cabin, storage for smaller items is plentiful, with an abundance of large bins, pockets and cupholders.
In terms of styling, we think the 2011 Infiniti QX56 is an improvement over the previous-generation QX, which drew general revulsion to its overblown proportions and boxy shape. That said, we still think the new QX's style is an acquired taste. The rounded edges give the body a bulbous, overinflated appearance and the massive grille further accentuates the heavy-handed approach. We also found the fender-mounted vents to have a glued-on aftermarket appearance, even though one of them actually serves as an engine air intake.
Fortunately, the interior of the QX56 is much less polarizing. The various shapes and panels blend together to create a luxurious and upscale cabin, worthy of the rather exorbitant price tag. Nearly every surface is soft to the touch, covered in supple leather and well-grained plastics. Rich wood veneers cover most other surfaces for a pleasant old-world feel. All elements are finely crafted with tight fitments, with squeaks and rattles being virtually nonexistent.
If you can get past the 2011 Infiniti QX56's exterior styling, that is already a huge step. Shuttling numerous passengers in comfort is the QX's forte, and its ability in this regard is comparable to any other large luxury SUV. For the few buyers who require off-road capabilities, though, we would steer them toward the Lexus LX 570 or one of the Land Rovers. For towing, the QX56 ranks highest among the competition.
Edmunds attended a manufacturer-sponsored event, to which selected members of the press were invited, to facilitate this report.