Infiniti QX56 The Luxury SUV Rolls On

Gary S. Vasilash

Although luxury SUVs are sometimes thought of as being dinosaurs in this new environmentally conscious world, it seems no one has told the buyers of the Infiniti QX. So Nissan has built a new one.

This is the new 2011 Infiniti QX56. It is the second-generation vehicle. The first full-size QX 56 was a 2004 model year vehicle. A lot has changed between now and then. For example, the original vehicle was the first Infiniti to be assembled in North America, at the Nissan Canton, MS, assembly plant. That plant is being converted to produce commercial vehicles. The '11 QX is being built at the Nissan plant in Kyshu, Japan. The market for luxury utilities has changed significantly. Speaking to that issue, Ben Poore, vice president, Infiniti Business Unit, Nissan North America, says, "There's never been a collapse like this." That's right: collapse. Go back in time to 2001. Sales were on the order of 128,000 for all of the lux SUV marques. From that time there was a fairly consistent climb such that in 2006 the number hit 291,000, slid a bit in '07 to about 273,000, then accelerated in its downward trajectory—thanks, Poore points out, to the combined effects of the recession and increased gas prices—to some 106,000 units last year. He thinks that sales will be fairly steady going forward. And he's fairly comfortable that the QX is in a good position. For one thing, the sales in the first quarter of 2010 for the then-current generation QX were 3,075 compared with 1,183 for Q1 of '09, a 159.9% increase. Another important factor is that 55% of QX56 owners have another luxury vehicle in their garage, which is 3% higher than the luxury utility category as a whole and 14% better than the total luxury vehicle market. So the buyers are well-heeled and undoubtedly ready to buy something new. He also points out that unlike some others in the competitive set, the QX has been oriented toward the family market, not as a "bling vehicle," so it is less susceptible to the vagaries of fleeting fashion. What's more, they're making this all the more achievable because Infiniti is holding the MSRP for the '11 models the same as they were for the '10 models (2WD, which should account for about 40% of the mix, at $57,700; 4WD at $59,800).

Compared with the outgoing model, this is quite a different product. Whereas it once shared a platform with domestically available products (also built at the Canton plant), the Nissan Armada SUV and the Titan pickup, the '11 QX shares its platform only with the Nissan Patrol, which isn't available in the U.S.

The SUV is longer than its predecessor by 1.4 in., with an overall length of 208.3 in. However, as Sean McNamara, senior manager, Infiniti Product Planning, points out, this can be largely accounted for by a styling cue. If you look at the rear fascia of the vehicle, you don't see something that is evident in the '10 model, something that McNamara perceptively describes as appearing "agricultural": the standard tow hitch receiver. They've blended the fascia around it, helping contribute to the sophisticated styling.

The SUV is lower than its predecessor by 3.0 in., with a height of 75.8 in. According to McNamara, this was accomplished largely by having lower roof rails than those on the '10 model.

The SUV is lighter than its predecessor by 161 lb., with a total weight for the 4WD model coming in at 5,850 lb. This, McNamara explains, was achieved by a series of incremental subtractions of mass, ranging from seat structures to wheels.

The SUV is more powerful than its predecessor. Both have longitudinally mounted all-aluminum V8s. Both have the same displacement, 5.6 liters (which is where the "56" in the name comes from). Both have a DOHC 32-valve valve train. Both are recommended to run premium fuel. But then things get quite different. The new 5.6-liter V8 is shared with the new Infiniti M, albeit tuned differently for the SUV than for the car. The engine features Variable Valve Event & Lift (VVEL) and has a direct-injection fuel delivery system. VVEL combines hydraulically controlled variable valve timing and electronically controlled variable valve lift on the intake side. Whereas traditional systems control intake with the throttle valve, VVEL controls it directly. In addition to which, it reduces the intake resistance that occurs when the throttle valve opening is narrowed and output low, thereby improving emissions and fuel efficiency.

So, what does this mean? 400 hp @ 5,800 rpm for the '11, which is an 80-hp gain compared with the previous 5.6-liter engine. 413 lb-ft of torque @ 4,000 rpm, a 20 lb-ft gain. Yet there is also a 14% fuel economy improvement (and it should be noted that this is predicated on the engine alone, as the new QX uses a seven-speed automatic transmission with Adaptive Shift Control (ASC) and manual shift mode with downshift rev matching; the '10 model has a five-speed automatic). The new numbers are 14 mpg city, 20 mpg highway, and 16 mpg combined.

The vehicle is rear-drive. The 4WD system can provide a maximum of 50% of the power to the front wheels. When put in 4 High via a knob on the center console, torque split is locked at 50:50. It operates at up to 60 mph.

From the styling point of view, the sheet metal is significantly different, as it picks up on the design language of the cars that have preceded it, such as the G and the M. It is more supple and flowing and less major appliance. It has a coefficient of drag of 0.37. While it is lower, the standard wheels are 20 in., which accentuates the stance. McNamara says that considerable time was spent tuning the design in the wind tunnel, which led to such things as front and rear spoilers for zero lift and mirrors that are somewhat more horizontal than the norm to help reduce wind noise. And speaking of wind, there are air vents on the front quarters. This is not an additional piece of trim, at least not on the driver's side, where the vent actually directs air to the engine.

Inside, the vehicle that can ferry either seven or eight in comfort (eight with a second-row bench), has the wood and the leather and the metallic trim that are de rigueur in the luxury category (to say nothing of the nine cupholders and the four door-pocket bottle holders). The third row has 28.8 in. of legroom and a power recline function, so it is not the penalty box that is so characteristic of that space.

There is an array of available tech, from the "Around View" monitor, which pro-vides a 360° view of the vehicle on an 8-in. color screen to Distance Control Assist that uses sensors to maintain a distance between the vehicle ahead and adjusts the throttle and brakes to main-tain place to blind spot detection that functions at speeds of 20 mph and above.

And at the very base is a new frame that provides a 26% improvement in torsional rigidity. To assure quietness and ride comfort, the side sill shape has been modified and thickened; body mounting points have been revised. There is independent wishbone front and rear suspension. There is an available Hydraulic Body Motion Control System that reduces body lean and bounce by means of hydraulic cylinders that are located at each of the shock absorbers and then connected via cross piping and accumulators (the setup is front to front, rear to rear). When there is body roll, a transfer of fluid evens it out. The development of the platform involved the testing of 200 prototypes at Nissan's Motegi, Oppama, and Tochigi proving grounds, then it was on to testing in the Middle East (the Nissan Patrol is said to be the first vehicle that crossed the Australian Simpson Desert in 1962, so desert conditions are germane to the vehicle) under a variety of conditions, from sand and rocks to traffic jams. Said chief vehicle engineer Takashi Kukui, "By the time we came around to adding the new body and interior, we had virtually completed our reliability and durability testing and perfected all of the new technologies."

Plush, stylish, and capable.