Fit for an up-and-coming rapper, and big enough to haul his whole entourage, the QX56 has undeniable presence–‘bling’ personified. Maybe it’s that super-sized, snub-nosed grille, or the omnipresent chrome garnish, starting with the six-inch Infiniti badge, shining everywhere–this sled’s street cred is unmistakable. Still, popular culture being at best an unreliable indication of quality, the question of “is it good?” remains. The 2006 Infiniti QX56 clearly has character, but is it competent? And thus we embarked on a week’s sojourn with the full-size SUV, sizing up its suitability by the standards of everyday living, as opposed to its image.
Initially, the inevitable first impression of this Infiniti involves its immensity. At over 17 feet long and 6.5 feet tall, the QX56 dwarfs even the Yukon Denali in outward dimensions. And at a behemoth 5,700 lbs, it’s burdened with more ballast, too. Curiously, its creators have made no effort to conceal its corpulence, though; conversely the QX56 seems to be styled in such a way as to accentuate its size. Note how the arched roof, low-mounted headlamps and humped hood highlight the overall heft and height of the design.
Mitigating the overall mass, of course, is the magnitude of the QX56’s interior room. Official EPA figures put the total volume at 188 cubic feet; standard seating for seven can be supplanted by a back-row bench that bolsters the number to 8. Forward seating is as spacious as you’d expect–over 40 inches of head- and leg-room in rows 1 and 2–but we didn’t anticipate an anterior able to accommodate adults (35″ of head-room and 32″ for legs in the 3rd row ). Equally capacious, the cargo hold can stow over 61′ of stuff with the seats folded, or 21′ if the stern is occupied. Most all of those measurements top the Yukon/Suburban twins’ totals, especially in the 3rd row, although the Infiniti is trounced by GM’s stretched XL long-wheelbase editions (which are 15″ longer).
We shudder to think of the many cows that gave their lives to slather the QX56’s interior in leather, although such supple hides surely offset the bovine sacrifice. We thank the Infiniti interior designers too for trimming the cockpit in beautiful blonde wood and bits of billet aluminum. Improved as the home-country’s competition now is, the quality materials Infiniti equipped the QX56 with easily eclipse the opposition. Appreciated also are the abundant storage alcoves and astute ergonomics engineered into the interior. Clever cubbyholes in the dash and overhead, plus channels alongside the center console, are ideal for collecting the typical in-car trivialities. Ample compartments under the armrests in the first two rows are scaled to accept laptops, and 4 12-volt outlets provide the power. 12 cupholders ensure nobody goes thirsty.
Also fitted to the QX56 is one of our favorite features–and one we find all too rarely–height-adjustable headlights. A simple switch allows drivers to lower the super-bright Xenon HID beams for city cruising, and raise them in darker, more deserted settings.
A DVD player for the kiddies in back is one of the few optional accessories, as is radar-based Adaptive Cruise Control, satellite radio (either Sirius or XM), and a sunroof.
Otherwise, the roster of standard equipment adorning the Infiniti QX56 is impressive. Most prominent is the navigation system, which suffers from an outmoded point-and-click interface–with too-tiny controls–instead of the more modern touch-screen. To its credit, it’s integrated with a rear-view camera that automatically engages in Reverse, which makes parallel parking easier and presumably prevents you from flattening your neighbor’s cat.
Power-folding rearview mirrors are another great gadget included with our Infiniti that we wonder why we don’t see more often. Ever-present electric motors save the effort of opening and closing the liftgate, too; that plus power-adjustable pedals make the QX56 short-people friendly.
Oddly, the Infiniti QX56 is missing some of the minutiae endemic to most modern luxury vehicles. Keyless entry, for instance, is de rigueur, but the Infiniti’s separate fob/transmitter and key lag far behind the prevailing trend–where everything’s in one piece, which never need leave your pocket or purse. Rear passengers can choose their own settings, but dual-zone climate controls are absent up front. Cooled seats are also unavailable, as are heated chairs in the 2nd and 3rd row. Despite the steering wheel-mounted buttons for audio and cruise controls, the dashboard itself seems somehow antiquated, with its outdated orange illumination and analog clock. Even the rear windows don’t warrant automatic up/down ability. At least the stereo system is state-of-the-art; audio quality from the Bose amplifier and 10 speakers is absolutely superb, and the 6-disc deck accepts mp3s.
We didn’t expect much from the QX56, in a driving-enjoyment kind of a way, although we’ve been a fan of Nissan’s 5.6-liter V8 that is the beating heart of the Titan, too, as well as this Infiniti and its Pathfinder Armada sibling. It was a pleasant surprise, then, to find the 315-horse, 390 lb.-ft. motor remains a potent performer in this application. As it turns out, this luxo-barge only gives up about 600 lbs. to the Titan, and the added avoirdupois doesn’t asphyxiate the all-aluminum engine as much as we anticipated. We clocked the QX56 at 7.4 seconds to 60 mph, which whips other full-size SUVs (excepting the new Denali and Escalade, when equipped with the 403-hp 6.2-liter).
Even saddled with the four-wheel-drive system, the QX56 feels as fast as a freight train, although not exactly in a quick, nippy way. Engine response is somewhat reluctant, and despite the displayed redline of 6200 rpm, it won’t rev past 5800.
Road manners are also refreshingly refined in the Infiniti. It leans and rolls, of course, although less than similar-sized SUVs with equally unwieldy centers of gravity. The four-wheel double-wishbone independent suspension setup, plus stabilizer bars front and rear, merit most of the credit for the QX56’s composure; rack-and-pinion steering, with a responsive 19:1 ratio, earns the rest. It all adds up to a level of poise unexpected in this segment. Push it, and you can outmaneuver not only most other SUVs, but many cars as well. A word of caution: coarse roads can shake the QX56’s confidence; cornering becomes chancy on crooked tarmac.
We didn’t dare endanger our tester in any seriously dangerous off-roading, but from our days driving the Titan in the backwoods, we can deduce that the QX56 would display confident dignity and deportment in the dirt as well. We can report that the Infiniti’s $3,000 4WD system is sturdy, yet simple to operate, with a single switch to select rear-wheel-drive, automatic 4WD, or dedicated 4WD in high or low ranges. A good compromise between sidewall stiffness and suppleness; 18″ rims and 265/70 rubber split the difference between ride, handling, and off-road-ability. Skid plates are fitted to every 4WD QX56, taking lumps for the oil pan, fuel tank, and transfer case.
Braking performance is passable, considering the portly proportions, at about 140 feet 60-0 mph. Each hoof is shod with vented discs; an alphabet soup of acronyms–ABS, EBD, and BA (Brake Assist)–augments stopping ability, with a little VDC (Vehicle Dynamic Control) tossed in for good measure. We’d still want a whole lot of room, were we utilizing the QX56’s 9,000 lb. rated tow capacity. At least we’d be assured of a level ride, thanks to the standard air suspension.
Brobdingnagian though this beast may be, SUVs of this breed are a valid vehicular choice for certain consumers. Economy be damned–we averaged under 14 mpg–if your routine requires 8-passenger room and regular off-road runs, the Infiniti QX56 is a smart selection. At least that dismal mileage is offset somewhat by a fair purchase price–the $49,800 MSRP is a solid value.