By Eric Peters, Automotive Columnist
I’ve got five bikes, an old muscle car — and lots of guns. Some people will sneerily say I don’t need these things. They’re the same people who get all upset and control-freaky about large (and loaded) SUVs like the Infiniti QX80.
It’s too big. It uses too much gas. It’s ostentatious…
It’s none of their damned business.
We all have a fondness for something or other that’s objectively in excess of what we need. It might be food. It might be fun. It might be old muscle cars — or guns.
Since when did some other person’s notion of our needs become the standard for acceptable?
So long as you’re paying the bills — and not hurting anyone else along the way — whatever floats your boat.
Unfortunately, the Q — like guns, like fun — is on the endangered species list. Because Americans — too many Americans — no longer believe that other people’s fun — other people’s freedom — is none of their got-damned business.
Dear Leader Obama, for instance, probably sealed the death warrant of machines like the Q when he signed into law the federal edict that will require all vehicles — including trucks and SUVs — to average 35.5 MPG two model years from now. He believes you don’t need a big SUV, you see. Though of course he will continue to enjoy being driven around in them.
A Prius or SmartCar is not in his future.
The government’s fuel economy fatwa will double just a few years later to more than 50 MPG — average. If the Q and others like it still exist by then, they will be incredibly expensive, courtesy of all the special, punitive “gas guzzler” taxes that will be spitefully piled on.
All because your fellow Americans seem to agree with Dear Leader that no one needs a machine like this. Just wait till they decide no one really needs more than 800 square feet of living space… or more than one vehicle…
End of rant — commence review.
WHAT IT IS
The QX80 (formerly Q56) is a super-sized, ultra-luxury SUV. 400 hp V-8. Seventeen feet long. Eight-passengers in three rows of seats. Six thousand-plus pounds at the curb.
It’s a big fish.
Base price is $61,350 for the base RWD version. With driver-selectable 4WD (including Low range gearing and tow/haul mode) the price climbs to $64,450.
Sort-of competitors include the more demure — and physically smaller — Lexus LX570 and the similarly sizable and also aesthetically aggressive but more street-minded (because AWD, without Low range gearing) Cadillac Escalade.
The Porsche Cayenne and Range Rover Sport are comparably athletic — but they’re five-seaters only.
WHAT’S NEW FOR 2014
The major change for 2014 is the name.
Personally, I liked Q56 better. Because it made more sense. The QX prefix formerly indicated a 4×4 SUV — and 56, of course, referenced the 5.6 liter V-8 that’s standard equipment in this heavy-hitter. Now it’s “QX80” — even though the engine is not 8.0 liters (it’s the same 5.6 V-8 as before).
The “80 ” is just a way to indicate biggest — and mostest (that is, top-of-the-line).
Despite its massive size — and real-deal off-road capability — it handles not-oafishly on-road.
Mid-sixxes to 60 — a full second quicker than the $15k more (to start) Lexus LX570.
Real 4WD with Low range and a two-speed transfer case. Goes where the AWD-only Caddy can’t.
No seat belt buzzer.
Damn the sans culottes.
WHAT’S NOT SO GOOD
A front end inspired by the Guild Navigator from the movie, Dune?
Maneuvering this dreadnought in parking lots designed for Camrys is no walk in the park.
Tepid seat heaters.
UNDER THE HOOD
Every Q comes standard with a 5.6 liter, 400 hp V-8 teamed up with a seven speed automatic that features rev-matching downshifts (as in the Nissan 370Z sports car).The LX570 and Escalade only come with six-speed automatics — and no rev-matching downshifts.
You can go RWD — or 4WD.
Real 4WD — with a two-speed transfer case and Low range gearing, controlled by a rotary knob on the center console. The transmission also has Snow and Tow modes, controlled by buttons adjacent to the rotary knob controller for the 4WD.
The RWD version can get to 60 in about 6.7 seconds or so; the heavier 4WD version still makes the cut under 7.
This is a fierce run for a beast this big — and this heavy. It’s also quicker than the less powerful (383 hp) Lexus LX570 — which does the zero to 60 run in about 7.5 seconds.
The Q is also speedier than the slightly more powerful (403 hp) Caddy Escalade, which also needs about 7.5 seconds to reach 60.
Naturally, this energetic performance entails energetic fuel consumption: 14 city, 20 highway. Which actually is not bad — at least, relative to competitors. The LX570, for example, rates 12 city and 17 highway, despite being smaller — and slower.
The Cadillac Escalade comes in at 14 city, 18 highway.
Interestingly, the EPA figures are the same for both the RWD and the 4WD Q. Usually — typically — the 4WD version of a truck or SUV is considerably thirstier.
In this case, it’s not.
Max tow capability is 8,500 lbs. — a bit more than the Caddy (8,300 lbs.) and a lot more than the LX570 (7,000 lbs.)
The Q expects premium fuel — but you can use the cheaper stuff without hurting anything.
ON THE ROAD
Where’s the beef?
It’s there — in abundance — but mostly, you don’t notice it.
This is the most obvious difference, driving-wise, between the Q and other super-sized (three-row) sport-utilities. It not only accelerates more swiftly than most cars (with the rev-matching downshifts of the seven-speed automatic adding to the ambiance of athleticism) it also takes curves at higher-than-legal speeds without making you feel reckless and stupid for doing it.
You can lean pretty hard on the Q and not put yourself at risk of toppling it over.
Part of the reason for this is Infiniti’s Hydraulic Body Motion Control — an option the Q I tested had (it’s part of the $4,100 Deluxe Touring Package, which is also includes a 22 inch wheel/tire package). It tamps down body roll during cornering by pumping up the suspension on the outside of the corner you’re entering, to compensate for the lateral forces on all that high-riding bulk.
The system works — and more, it works with subtlety.
In other SUVs, handling deficits are dealt with reactively — via the sudden (and sometimes, alarming) intervention of the stability/traction control system. You feel — and hear — the system pumping the brakes, the throttle being dialed back. The little yellow TCS light flashes frantically in the gauge cluster.
In the Q, you just drive on.
You have to be really pouring the coals to it for the stability control to step in.
This makes for a more pleasant — and confidence-inspiring — driving experience.
The 22 inch wheels and short sidewall performance tires (also available as a stand-alone option for $2,300) surely help the handling but surprisingly, don’t kill the ride quality. This is most definitely not par for the course. I have driven many new vehicles with 20-plus-inch wheels and almost all of them ride like leaf-sprung, solid-axle Willys Jeeps.
But not the Q.
The 22 inch tires do have some downsides, though. I checked around online and found that the standard 20 inch tires (OE replacement) cost in the neighborhood of $220 each. The 22 inch tires surely cost more — and because they’re performance-minded (compound as well as short sidewall) probably won’t last very long before they need to be replaced. I’d be surprised if they last for more than about two years and about 25,000 miles.
Another thing to bear in mind is these meats are not the hot ticket for off-road duty. It’s a compromise to be aware of if you need your Q to deal with other-than-paved situations. Good tires matter as much as a good 4×4 system. Or more accurately stated, a good 4×4 system is only as good as the tires it’s working through.
AT THE CURB
Looks are, as the saying goes, in the eye of the beholder. To me, the Q is a bit on the bulbous and melty-looking side . . . on the outside. That massive prow. Some incongruous styling affectations, such as the side vents on the front fenders. I guess they felt they needed to do something to break up all those acres of metal. When you look over the undulating hood from the driver’s seat, you can almost visualize a blow hole . . .
But the main thing — the desirable thing for a vehicle of this type — is the footprint, physical as well as psychological. Thus, size is accentuated — not toned down. Everything from the 22 inch wheels up seems deliberately intended to convey massiveness, without apology. You will be noticed, feared — and perhaps loathed, too.
Imagine being the driver of a not-so-SmartCar and finding yourself suddenly in the looming shadow of a Q. You’ll want to scuttle off to the side, like a dinghy in the wake of Titanic. Of course, that’s part of the politically incorrect fun of owning something like the Q: To be large — and in charge.
And the Q is very large.
About seventeen and a half feet (208.3 inches) stem to stern — which makes it about a foot longer than the Lexus LX570 (196.5 inches). Even the standard-bearing ship-of-the-line, the Cadillac Escalade, only tapes out at 202.5 inches (you can up the ante, size-wise, by selecting the extended wheelbase version of the Escalade. It measures 222.9 inches — longer than a ’70 Buick Electra 225!)
Still, it’s hard to get bigger. Which brings up an important point:
It’s a good idea to measure the length (and width and height) of your garage before you buy a vehicle like this.
All the vehicles in this general category have three rows of seats, but the Q can seat eight people — which is one more than than the usual seven. Access to the back seat area is made easier by such things as an available automatic second-row tilt/fold controlled by the driver via a pair of buttons on the front console. This is in addition to the automatic fold-stow for the third row, controlled by switches in the tailgate area.
Cargo capacity with all seats up is 16.6 cubes, slightly more than the Lexus LX (15.5 cubes) and dead heat with the regular wheelbase Caddy Escalade (16.9 cubic feet).
The interior is trimmed out elegantly. Highlights include etched mesh background gauges, the numerals backlit and hidden until you push the ignition button — at which point they come alive with an electro-phosphorescent glow. Every panel is soft-touch, accented by chrome here, wood inlays there.
You can order a rearseat entertainment system with individual LCD monitors built into the headrests, the nav system is voice-command and there’s a really neat perimeter/split-screen camera system that not only shows you what’s behind you but also what’s to the sides of you — all at the same time. The 15 speaker Bose stereo that comes with the Deluxe Touring Package is superb.
I am not a fan of the optional blind-spot/lane departure warning system. It would false trigger — with audible warning — just driving along without another car anywhere in sight. Road berms or trees too close to the road would do it — fooling the proximity sensors into believing another vehicle was in the blind spot. Luckily, it can be turned off. Unluckily, you have to turn it off every time you start the Q.
Just a minor annoyance.
Also: There’s a slightly audible dieseling sound coming from the direct-injected engine. They all do this, though — not just the Q, not just Infinitis. Anything with DI. But you can’t hear it with windows up and doors closed. It’s only noticeable when you’re standing outside the running vehicle. It’s a small annoyance worth putting up with. Because without DI, the Q’s gas mileage would probably be around 9 MPG — instead of mid-teens.
I love that the Q — like all Infinitis (and all Nissans) does not beep at you if you haven’t “buckled up for safety.”
Just a red light on the dash, that’s it.
Objectively, the main disadvantage to Q ownership is close-quarters maneuvering. Most parking spots (and parking lots) are designed for Camry-sized cars, which can make for a tight squeeze when you’re driving something that’s almost two feet longer than a Camry.
You’ll also be a target of opportunity for the affluence/fun/freedom haters out there. Expect to be cut-off by angry Prius drivers — and flipped the bird, too.
THE BOTTOM LINE
For genuine sportiness, real-deal capability — and room for eight — it’s hard to beat the Q.
Need be damned.