For 2001, Infiniti's upscale sport utility vehicle gets what it needed all along: more power.Though fully laden with opulent features, the QX4 has struggled to pull its weight in the hot luxury SUV market. While its compact competitors received bigger, better V-6s or strong V-8s to boost power and prestige, QX4 soldiered on with the same 170-horsepower V-6 as its proletariat twin, Nissan Pathfinder. Now, a 3.5-liter, double-overhead-cam V-6 nestles under the hood, providing good torque and enough seamless power to lift QX4 into the upper ranks of the sport-utility pecking order. The engine is based on the widely praised 3-liter mill in Infiniti's midsize I30 sedan. As well as being strong, the 240-horsepower QX4 engine is remarkably smooth and quiet, especially for a truck engine. Acceleration is not exactly sparkling for this more-than-2-ton SUV, but the torque is right there with immediate throttle response. Pathfinder benefits from the same engine. On balance, gas mileage isn't good, and expensive premium is required. Handling and control are very good for this class of vehicle with excellent steering and brakes. The front aspect gets a facelift, more in keeping with the new look of Nissan's entire small truck line, and the composite side body cladding and fender flares give the QX4 a custom and substantial look. Huge alloy wheels and all-terrain tires round out the look. Structurally, the QX4 remains pretty much the same. Which is good. Still present is the stiff Monoframe platform, which combines a truck's body-on-frame construction with carlike unibody design. The new QX4 continues with the excellent all-wheel-drive system derived from the Nissan Skyline sport coupe, a high-end performance car that never made it to the United States. As well as giving sure-footed traction on bad or slippery terrain, including a low-range for the real rough stuff, the AWD provides refined handling in corners and on slick pavement. There's also a two-wheel-drive version of the QX4, which is $1,400 cheaper and nearly 300 pounds lighter. But enough about engines and frames and wheel flares. Let's get to the heart of the QX4, what its buyers are most concerned about: the luxury accommodations, including yards of soft leather and maple trim, a premium audio system, and other high-end features. Infiniti has always made beautiful cabins for its sedans, and that carries over to its sport utility vehicle. Anyone who thinks the QX4 is just a warmed-over Pathfinder needs to enjoy some quality seat time in the Infiniti. The interior has that wood-and-leather scent of a true luxury car plus some nice touches, such as the silver analog clock in the dashboard that has become a signature item for all Infinitis. Legroom is not great, front or back, which goes along with QX4's compact exterior dimensions. Otherwise, the cabin doesn't feel too cramped, although those favoring full-size Suburbans and Expeditions might find i t minuscule. With QX4's premium price, SUV shoppers might be tempted to go for one of the popular, full-size behemoths, such as Suburban or Expedition, which cost about the same or not much more. The base price for the QX4 does include most of the luxury goods. Options on our test SUV included a power sunroof at $950, heated seats at $600, and a premium interior trim package that included a leather and wood steering wheel at $600. Not included on the tester was the Global Positioning System unit, which works via a screen in the center of the dashboard. That costs $2,000, and I have yet to try one of these systems that do anything for me that a $4 map won't. OK, so maps don't talk. But that's about it. QX4 could be a step behind such luxury hybrids as the Lexus RX300, BMW X5 or the new Buick Rendezvous, which provide many of the abilities and amenities of an SUV while performing more like a car.
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