By Eric Peters, Automotive Columnist Photo courtesy of CARICOS
Well, gas is cheap again.
Does it mean big SUVs (with big, thirsty V8s) will make a comeback? I doubt it. Even though the cost of fuel is down, the cost of everything else has gone up. I don’t buy the happy talk about the “recovery.” No one I know has “recovered.” Most of us are just trying to pay the bills.
But, I am happy in the way that John Adams was happy on that warm summer day July 4, 1826. As he lay dying, Adams’ last words were about his friend, the third president of the United States. “Thomas Jefferson survives,” Adams reportedly said. He was unaware that Jefferson had actually died a few hours earlier. Nonetheless. And likewise, as regards the QX80. I am glad it survives.
Though for how much longer is anyone’s guess.
WHAT IT IS
The QX80 (formerly Q56) is a full-size, ultra-luxury SUV. A real SUV — with a real 4WD system available. Not all-wheel-drive (as in almost all crossovers and the Cadillac Escalade, a direct cross-shop). A 4WD system with a two-speed transfer case and Low range gearing. The hardware you need if you’re planning to do more than cross a dry grass field occasionally.
Base price is $63,250 for the base RWD version. With 4WD (including tow/haul mode) the price climbs to $66,350.
Sort-of competitors include the less powerful/less audacious Lexus LX570 and the similarly sizable, aesthetically aggressive but more street-minded Cadillac Escalade.
The Porsche Cayenne and Range Rover Sport are also possible cross shops… if you can live without a third row.
WHAT’S NEW FOR 2015
This may be the last year for the Q in current form. That is, the final year for a heavy-duty Q based on a truck-type layout, with real-deal 4WD. Infiniti will either stick with the program for the next-gen Q (probably to appear in 2016) or they may geld it to sidestep the politically correct pressure to do away with “wasteful” V8s and heavy-duty 4WD systems that “people don’t need.”
While we’re in this holding pattern, the Q remains largely the same. The major changes for the new model year include a revised front clip (new grille and lower front fascia, with square/rectangular LED turn indicators in place of the former round units) and a $10,000 Limited Package that Infiniti says (and I believe them) renders the Q “the most premium SUV” they’ve ever offered. It includes “truffle brown” leather and ash wood trim inside, “dark chrome” 22 inch wheels outside and more bells and whistles than a busy train station. Among them: High Beam Assist, Predictive Forward Collision Warning, “full range” intelligent cruise control and a 15 speaker Bose surround sound audio rig.
Despite its massive size — and real-deal off-road capability — it handles not-oafishly on-road.
Still one of the quickest full-size SUVs you can buy.
A deal compared with the Lexus LX570 ($84k to start) and Escalade ($71,695 to start).
No seat belt buzzer.
Damn the sans culottes.
WHAT’S NOT SO GOOD
It might not cost as much to fill it, but hungry hippo appetite means you’ll be stopping often to fill it.
A front end inspired by the Guild Navigator from the movie, Dune?
Maneuvering this dreadnought in parking lots designed for Camrys and Corollas requires some skill — and patience.
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 still 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.
The less powerful (383 hp) Lexus LX570 does the zero to 60 run in about 7.5 seconds, in the same ballpark as the four-cylinder Camry.
The just-updated 2015 Cadillac Escalade (now armed with a 420 hp 6.2 liter V-8 sourced from the new Corvette) is quicker… but not hugely. It takes about 6.4 seconds (RWD versions) to reach 60. And keep in mind that the AWD version cannot hang with the 4WD Q when the pavement turns to mud.
Of course, 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 a truly horrendous 12 city and 17 highway, despite being a bit smaller than the Q … and much slower.
The Cadillac Escalade comes in at 15 city, 21 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 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.)
ON THE ROAD
Where’s the beef?
It’s there — in abundance (5,644 lbs. for the RWD version; 5,888 for the 4WD model). But — mostly — you don’t notice it.
This is perhaps the biggest difference, driving-wise, between the Q and other super-sized (three-row) sport-utilities. It not only accelerates more swiftly than most cars 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 system, which tamps down body roll during cornering by pumping up the suspension on the outside of the corner you’re entering. This mitigates the lateral forces that would otherwise quickly unsettle 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 pleasant — and confidence-inspiring — driving experience.
Speaking of which. The full range Intelligent Cruise Control system automatically adjusts your Q’s following speed (and distance) in relation to the ebb and flow of traffic around you and can be engaged at almost any road speed.
The new Moving Object Detection system, on the other hand, has at least one weak spot. During the week I test-drove a new Q, we were on the receiving end of an ice storm. I scraped off the windshield (and rear/side glass) before driving away, but got hit with a loud — and insistent — buzzer advising me there was something in the Q’s path. But it was just ice on the sensor (radar transmitter) built into the front end, which the system read as a physical object close by. Which was sort of true as ice is a physical thing. But I knew there was nothing to hit, and wanted to proceed. But could not — at least, not without being harassed by the well-meaning “safety” system. And unlike windshield and side-glass (which is glass) it’s not a good idea to scrape painted/plastic exterior body panels. Your choice is to risk scuffing your vehicle (and also possibly damaging the sensor) or endure the “safety” chime until the warmth of the running engine clears the ice. This is not likely to be a common problem as ice storms are fairly rare. But it’s possible that dust/mud might also false-positive trigger the system.
The Q comes standard with huge 20 inch wheels, with 22s optional (standard, if you opt for the Limited package). People like the big wheel look, so Infiniti is just rolling with the trend here. And there is a functional upside: sharp (for a huge SUV) steering response and a handling assist, due to the rigidity of those short, stiff sidewalls. The downside is lots of unsprung mass, which will wear the brakes sooner as well as suck the fuel faster.
Speaking of that.
Infiniti fits the Q with a big fuel cell: 26 gallons. It needs it. If you average about 12 MPG (as I did) you will drain that thing in just over 300 miles of driving. It is not hard to suck it dry in 250 miles. Trust me. While gas is cheap right now, fairly frequent pit stops can be a hassle. I wish Infiniti — and others — would add a second tank (as many trucks have) to extend the Q’s range. Wouldn’t it be nice to just push a button (to start the fuel flowing from your back-up tank) and keep on going for another 150 miles?
AT THE CURB
That Jimmy Durante nose.
It’s been nose-jobbed some for the new year — including rectangular side markers and LED lighting. But there’s no hiding it — which I suppose is entirely beside the point. A vehicle like the Q is meant to make a statement: I’m not ashamed I can afford to drive a big vehicle — whether I “need” it or not. Big SUVs are the lingering inheritors of the American car ethos, rapidly dissipating. Brash, large-living. You may not be able to buy a new convertible Eldorado or Electra 225 anymore.
But these will do.
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 yes, loathed, too.
Imagine being the driver of a Prius in the sun-blotted shadow of a Q. “I Heart Climate Change” stickers ought to come in the glovebox. Such impudence! Such audacity!
I salute you!
The Q stretches nearly 18 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 203.9 inches (though you can up the ante by selecting the extended wheelbase version of the Escalade, the ESV. It measures 224.3 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 as many as eight people — which is one more 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 the regular wheelbase Caddy Escalade (15.3 cubic feet).
The Q’s 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.
For the whole-hog experience, choose the Limited, which begins with a loaded QX80 all-wheel-drive with the Driver’s Assistance Package (Blind Spot detection, Back-up Collision Intervention, Intelligent Brake Assist/Predictive Forward Collision Warning) Theater (dual 7-inch LCD monitors for the second row)and Deluxe Technology (Hydraulic Body Motion Control) and adds a palette of unique to this trim exterior colors accentuated by the previously mentioned Truffle Brown leather interior with silver accent piping and real ash wood trim. Even the speaker covers are leather-wrapped.
You’ll be looking at somewhere south of $80k for this one — but it’s still less expensive than the base-trim Lexus LX570.
The Q, though refreshed, is not the latest thing. The basic vehicle is about five years old (last major redesign for the 2011 model year). But it carries its age well — and its relatively low entry price point vs. most rivals is no small consideration. The Q is about $20k less to start than the Lexus LX570 — which is also no spring chicken. The ’15 Cadillac Escalade is newer than both, but you’ll pay for that newness. It is about $7k more to start — or about three years’ worth of “free” gas (at current prices).
Thoughtful design touches include heater ducts under the front seats — which direct warm air at the second row passengers’ feet — and the easy-access of USB and power points (up ahead of the shifter). The seat heaters are not the hottest things going. But it’s a small thing in the grand scheme of things. The Q’s secondary controls, for instance, are functionally superior to the “haptic” finger-swipe/microwave oven flat panel system used in the Escalade, which may look uber hip in the showroom but — trust me — can be very aggravating to use with the vehicle in motion. Fine control is often impossible. No such problems in the Q.
A final point that argues in favor of the Q’s, uh, maturity: It has a track record. If there were major problems with the drivetrain or other such, you’d know — or could easily find out. Previous-year Qs seem to be good (reliable, problem-free) vehicles. So it’s a safe bet the ’15 is, too.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Your freedom to buy a big SUV is under assault on several fronts. Political correctness on the cultural front (damn them all to hell) and also from the government, which seems determined to kill them off via the end-run of jacked-up fuel efficiency mandatory minimums that vehicles such as this cannot meet without becoming very different kinds of vehicles.
You can do your part to jab a thumb in the eye of political correctness (and the government) by buying one of these, before you’re no longer allowed to.