Review: 2012 Infiniti QX56 4WD
By Kevin Miller
In previous writing here on Autosavant, I’ve gone on record with the fact that I’m not really a truck person. I like vehicles that feel maneuverable, go fast efficiently, and have just the right amount of space for my family and the things I want to take with me. Last year our family finally had to upsize from my Volvo V70, and the Ford Flex we chose seemed like a huge vehicle, though its dynamics that are more car-like than truck-like.
When the 2012 Infiniti QX56 was delivered to my driveway, I was interested in comparing it to the Autosavant long-term Ford Flex. Both are three-row SUVs, and the Flex was a huge step up in size from the Volvo V70 it replaced. Still, the Flex is dwarfed by the QX in every dimension.
The 2012 QX56 is the third-generation of QX SUVs from Infiniti; the first (a QX4) was a essentially a rebadged and dressed-up Nissan Pathfinder. The second-generation, named QX56, was essentially a rebadged and dressed-up Nissan Armada, based on the Nissan’s full size Titan truck. This third-generation QX is actually based on Nissan’s rugged Patrol, a storied nameplate in its fourth decade of production worldwide, despite the fact that it has never been sold in North America. The Patrol is known in other parts of the world as a rugged, go-anywhere SUV. The QX56 with sturdy body-on-frame construction, is still a dressed-up truck, lined in rich leather, packed with safety technology, yet ultimately assembled from Nissan’s mainline parts bin. It is essentially Nissan’s answer to Toyota’s Land Cruiser (or Lexus LX460), with big 22” wheels and a more bulbous front end than the Patrol, grafted on in an attempt to help it fit in at the Infiniti showroom.
The QX56 is priced to compete with luxury SUVs like Cadillac Escalade and Lincoln Navigator, and equipped that way too. Still, not far from that semi-aniline Leather interior and ventilated seats are the same start button, lock/window door switches, and key fob used in sub-$20k Nissan cars like Cube and Altima . That being said, the QX still has a much more modern and stylish cabin than the Escalade and is also light years ahead of the Navigator in design and switchgear.
Entering the high cabin of the QX56 is made easier by standard running boards. Once inside, the seats are upholstered in semi-aniline leather. I actually had to look it up; that means it’s leather that is “super fancy.” Front seats are electrically adjustable (with integrated driver’s side memory for seats/mirrors/steering wheel), as well as being heated and cooled. The seats are comfortable and wide, though the flat bottom cushion could be a bit longer. Front seat belts with electric retractors (as I last experienced in the BMW Alpina B7) snug up when when the SUV’s safety nannies think a collision is imminent (the fact that I experienced this twice during my week in the QX means that the system errs too far on the side of caution). A moonroof is present over the front seats; it is a standard-sized unit, and no panoramic roof is available, which is a surprising omission in this price range.
Instruments are easily legible electroluminescent units, with large tachometer and speedometer, and smaller gauges for temperature, fuel, and charge; the background is decorated with artistic swirly designs. A monochromatic LCD display similar to the one in the Nissan Leaf nestles between the speedo and tach (rather than a color TFT screen), and all of the instruments are easily viewed inside the circumference of the power-adjustable, heated steering wheel. The edges of the instrument panel and center column are covered in stitched leather (or a very good imitation); there is virtually no hard plastic to be found. The console itself features a very tasteful burled wood veneer with matching grain on the lidded cupholder and iPod bins; the same type of wood is also used at the top of the dash and doors.
The infotainment screen has uses a dash-mounted control knob as well as touchscreen input, and most functions can be performed using either input method. The system includes navigation, audio, climate, and setup information, as well as satellite-provided weather and traffic information. The system was straightforward to use, pairing my iPhone was a snap, and the voice recognition system worked very well, allowing destination addresses to be spoken for input while underway (albeit one attribute at a time, as opposed to speaking the whole address as Ford’s Sync system facilitates). The one thing I couldn’t figure out how to do by any combination of voice, touchscreen or controller was to search for a POI in an area that wasn’t my current location and wasn’t near a navigation destination. I knew I wanted to drive to “Snoqualmie Falls” but was unable to figure out how to browse all POIs to find it. Once I got there (having looked up an address on my iPhone), the system searched “nearby” and found Snoqualmie Falls without a problem.
The second row of seats in the QX56 I tested was a bench seat (40/60 split); captains chairs are also available. Second row seats have ample legroom and headroom, and are heated in the outboard positions. My knees did not touch the back of the front seats when I sat in the second row. The seats are admirably high off the floor, adding to comfort in that row. There is rear climate zone, which is controlled either from the dashboard’s climate screen or from a redundant control on the back of the console between the front seats. Because of the QX56’s height, the back door’s handle was too high off the ground for my three-year-old to reach it, so she couldn’t open her own door to get in the back. Still, once she was buckled in her car seat, she also couldn’t reach to kick the back of my seat.
The QX56 I tested was equipped with the Theater Package, which provides video screens mounted in the headrests of the front seats, with wireless headphones for each screen. Each screen can separately select video from USB, DVD (played in the dash), or component video/audio inputs in either the front or the rear seat. Unfortunately the selection for each screen must be made by an infrared remote control, pointed at the screen being controlled. That reality meant that my wife and I in the front seat couldn’t start a video for our kids while we were underway; we had to stop the car and have my wife get into the backseat, and work her way through a confusing menu structure on each screen to enable the video; that certainly isn’t a user-friendly feature for families with small kids (who are typically the target market for vehicles with rear-seat entertainment systems).
The third row in the QX56 has headrests for two occupants, though has seatbelts for three. The seat’s bottom cushion sits essentially on the floor of the car, making it suitable only for children or very small adults. The third row is accessible by folding the second row seats forward; that can be done electrically for either side using switches on the dashboard, or by manually releasing latches on either seatback which causes the second-row seat to fold the backrest forward, and then tips the folded seat forward to allow access. The third-row seats are split power fold/reclining (50/50 split), with controls both on the cupholder/armrest panel beside each seat, and on the right side of the cargo compartment. The switches must be continuously held for around 30 seconds to stow or erect the slow-moving seats, which is a minor inconvenience. As far as people-hauling goes, the third-row in the Autosavant long-term Ford Flex is much more comfortable (and easier to stow/fold) than the third row in the QX, though the QX does allow an additional passenger to squeeze into its penalty box seating.
The cargo area is fairly small with the third row seats in place but is quite generous with those seats stowed. There is a very shallow under-floor storage tray behind the third row; the spare tire is stored under the back of the vehicle (on a matching 22” alloy rim.) When the third and second row seats are folded, they form an even cargo area, though it isn’t level; instead, it slopes upward toward the front of the car.
On the road, the QX56 feels heavy. Despite the 400 HP from the 5.6 liter V8, the mass of the body-on-frame luxury land yacht is always noticeable when accelerating, decelerating, or turning. Power from the 5.6 liter V8 was fairly impressive; brakes stopped the QX every time though tended to trigger the antilock sooner than expected under hard braking. As with other large, heavy body-on-frame SUVs, the QX offers a comfortable, plush ride in a straight line, and is reluctant to change direction at speed, countering such steering efforts with understeer and plenty of body roll. The seven-speed automatic transmission shifted smoothly (it was usually almost unnoticeable), and delivered rev-matched downshifts when manually commanded to do so. I never needed to shift to 4HI or 4LO from the Automatic AWD mode; a switch on the center console would have allowed me to do so with very little effort.
The QX56’s massive size, in addition to its thick A-pillars and many seats make visibility only mediocre, and make maneuvering a challenge in tight locations. That is largely mitigated by the Around View Monitor system, which has cameras around the perimeter of the vehicle, rendering them in an overhead view on the navigation screen, depicting the SUV in its surroundings and showing obstacles and parking lines. The system facilitates properly parking the QX56 in parallel or standard parking spots. I was amazed at the system’s utility when parallel parking the big SUV in a small spot in front of a restaurant small-town restaurant. The bird’s eye view of the QX56 meant I could slot the mammoth SUV into the spot on the first try, without endless jockying back and forth.
In addition to being dressed up with with luxurious wood and leather, the QX56 I tested was also enhanced with a bevy of safety equipment. The QX I tested had Blind Spot Warning and Lane Departure Warning, intelligent cruise control, Distance Control Assist (which can apply lessen throttle response, push up on the accellerator, and apply brakes automatically for the driver when approaching a vehicle), Lane Departure Prevention (which applies brakes on one side of the car to “pull” the car back into the lane), and Blind Spot Prevention (which applies brakes on one side of the car to prevent changing lanes into a vehicle in the blind spot). I was impressed with how each these systems worked. Interestingly, while the the warning systems can be turned on or off by a switch near the driver’s left knee, the Prevention (and DCA) systems must be enabled each time the vehicle is started, using a button on the steering wheel. While some of these system seem like overkill, when piloting a vehicle as big as the QX, many people will welcome the extra help, especially with lane keeping and blind-spot monitoring/intervention.
Whether purchased in RWD or AWD like the one tested, the QX56 has a 14/20 MPG EPA city/highway fuel economy rating. During my 200 miles in the vehicle, I managed either 12.1 MPG or 12.7 MPG, depending on which of the Nissan’s trip computers is used (the one in the in instrument cluster said 12.2, and the one on the navigation screen indicated 12.7). The QX56 recommends premium unleaded for maximum performance, though regular unleaded can be used.
The 2012 Infiniti QX46 4WD has a base price of $61,800. The Platinum Graphite Metallic one I tested was equipped with the $2950 Theater Package (Dual 7-inch color monitors; two wireless headphones; wireless remote control; auxiliary audio/video input jacks; 120 V power outlet; heated second row seats; remote tip-up second row seats); $3000 Technology Package (Intelligent Cruise Control, Blind Spot Warning, Blind Spot Intervention, Lane Departure Warning, Lane Departure Intervention, Distance Control Assist; Intelligent Brake Assist with Forward Collision Warning; Front pre-crash seatbelts; Adaptive Front Lighting); $4100 Deluxe Touring Package (Bose Cabin Surround system with 15 speakers; Hydraulic Body Motion Control system, climate-controlled front seats; semi-aniline leather seating, mocha burl trim; advanced climate control system, second row courtesy footwell lights, headlamp washers); $200 cargo mat/cargo net/first aid kit; $2300 Tire & Wheel Package (22-inch, nine-spoke forged aluminum alloy wheels with 275/50R22 All-season tires); and $990 Destination Charge, for a total MSRP of $75,340. TrueDelta.com’s pricing tool shows a comparably equipped Cadillac Escalade costing about $8300 more, and at that price the Cadillac doesn’t have any of the Infiniti’s collision avoidance/mitigation technology, nor does it have its competitors’ old-fashioned in-cabin technology.
While the $75k luxury SUV seems like an artifact from a bygone era of $3.00/gallon gasoline, visiting the showrooms of the QX56’s competitors (namely Cadillac Escalade and Lincoln Navigator) show that it is a much more modern artifact than either of those American competitors (think Cretacious versus Jurassic). The Infiniti’s bulbous styling may turn off some buyers, but by the same token the truck-like cabin layouts and generation(s)-old switchgear in the Escalade and Navigator will turn many would-be buyers on to the Infiniti. The reality is that some people actually need the towing capacity of a body-on-frame SUV and want the luxuries offered by this vehicle class. For those shoppers who want to avoid the “blinged-out” look of the Cadillac and the low-rent, decade-old switchgear of the Lincoln, as well as those who want the available advanced safety technology, the Infiniti QX56 is a valid choice that is both capable and comfortable.