Stable gas prices have given new life to full-size luxury SUVs, the top tier of traditional, truck-based SUVs that let well-off families haul people and cargo in style, as well as tow their other big toys. For 2018, Infiniti has kept what's been attractive about its QX80 since a 2011 update and given the aging SUV some needed upgrades.
The QX80 is still big and brash, befitting its place in the automotive food chain. The updated look, though, is less polarizing, and the previous version's ride and noise issues have been tamed, making for a smoother and quieter SUV. The technology is improved, too, though not as much as was needed. Meanwhile, Infiniti didn't tinker with what has worked for the QX80: competitive power and handling versus other extra-extra-large luxury SUVs, along with a relatively value price.
More Upright, Less Distinctive
The imposing new front end is more upright and squared off — and much less eccentric — than the rounded sculpting of the 2017 model and its distinctive low headlights and high grille. The 2018 gets a much more "open wide" version of the Infiniti grille, plus new headlights with LED eyebrows that sit higher and stretch around the corners. Infiniti says everything forward of the windshield is new. The rear changes are less dramatic, but the 2018 does get thinner LED taillights and chrome trim. Familiar from the outgoing model are the slab sides, horizontal roofline and signature crescent-shaped rear pillar — a look shared with its cousins, the Nissan Armada and Nissan Patrol, which is sold globally. The changes are subtle, but they make for a more upscale presence.
Muscle With a Price
Infiniti kept the burly 5.6-liter V-8 that puts out 400 horsepower and 413 pounds-feet of torque. Mated to a seven-speed automatic, it goes about its business competently and unobtrusively, with plenty of power to move the nearly three-ton SUV. Infiniti says it goes from zero-to-60 mph in 7.5 seconds, and I found it feels even stronger when already underway, with confident passing and on-ramp acceleration. It does it all with a satisfying growl from the big V-8.
You have to pay to play, though. The EPA rating is on the lower side of this fuel-gulping class: 14/20/16 mpg city/highway/combined with rear-wheel drive, 13/19/15 mpg with all-wheel drive. Compare to a sample of the competition here.
Rear-wheel drive is standard, but more than half of QX80 buyers choose the optional rear-biased all-wheel drive. The full-time system operates automatically, with a computer shifting power to the wheels with more traction. The Infiniti's four-wheel-drive system is aided by brake-based traction control. The system also offers locked-in high and low settings that split torque 50/50 between the front and rear axles for specific conditions — 4-High for light conditions, 4-Low for tougher situations. We weren't able to test the latter, but I suspect most buyers won't be climbing rocks, either.
To my ear, the improvements result in a noticeably quieter, less fatiguing cabin and add to the SUV's luxury feel.
Suspension tweaks for 2018 have greatly improved the ride over the outgoing model. The shocks were retuned, and Infiniti worked to provide more sidewall compliance from the tires — even those fitted to the optional 22-inch wheels. The resulting ride is still a little firmer than some big SUVs, but it feels confident. You'll be aware of road imperfections and expansion joints, but they aren't jarring as they were in the past. The ride in my test vehicle was further enhanced by the optional Hydraulic Body Motion Control suspension (included in a $5,700 diverse Deluxe Technology Package that also includes nicer leather, advanced climate control and a video rearview mirror). It proved effective in controlling lean-in in corners, as well as motion under hard braking or acceleration. The QX80 never felt top-heavy, at least for this type of SUV.
While the ride is firm, the QX80's handling continues to be above the norm for such a big SUV. Not a few of its competitors are floaty and boaty; by contrast, the QX80 drives smaller than it is. The steering is too light at speed, requiring little correction, but is generally responsive. The brakes have a firm, linear response, but they could pull the big truck down with more authority.
Towing and hauling capabilities are selling points for full-size, truck-based SUVs over crossovers with comparable luxury and people space. The QX80 can tow up to 8,500 pounds and has an auto-leveling rear suspension to keep things even when you load up the 95.1 cubic feet of maximum cargo space behind the front row. If you need all three rows for seating, there's still a useful 16.6 cubic feet of space behind the back row. The QX80 comes in just one size; there is no stretched version like the Cadillac Escalade ESV or Lincoln Navigator L, which add more cargo space behind the seating area.
A Quiet Upgrade in Luxury
The QX80's interior has changed less than its exterior, but there is a slightly more modern look for the dashboard. There are also design and materials upgrades, including high-quality leather (semi-aniline is optional) and real wood trim in the first two rows, an additional available color scheme and very nice execution of the quilt stitching that's trendy in luxury vehicles. Good news for families is that, for 2018, the leather upholstery has a stain-resistant coating that also resists dye transfer, such as from denim jeans.
The QX80 has standard second-row captain's chairs and seating for seven; with an optional split-folding bench seat for the second row, it can seat eight. With the captain's chairs, the second row gets its own center console with a big covered bin, cupholders and a second, lower cubby to stash gear. The console is handy, though it takes up that between-the-seats space that provides an alternative avenue to the third row.
The front seats are big, supportive and comfortable for a long day of driving, as are the second-row buckets. The driving position is high and commanding; you'll need the standard (and wider for 2018) running boards and grab handles to get up there gracefully.
The second-row buckets tip forward (power tilting is optional) for access to the third row, which is tighter than you'd expect given the QX80's size. You sit low with your knees high in the back row, though a power recline helps you get comfortable and headroom is ample for taller adults. The second-row seats don't slide to allow for more legroom compromise with the third row. While the QX80 is admirably consistent in quality of materials from the first row into the second, the third row gets hard plastic trim and no fancy quilting for the leather. There are no reading lights or power ports, either, though there is a 12-volt outlet behind the seat in the cargo area. The third row power folds to open up more cargo space.
One of the most significant improvements to the interior, however, is not about what you see but rather what you don't hear. Cars.com editors consistently faulted earlier models for a noisier and busier interior than many rivals; for 2018, Infiniti added more sound insulation behind the dashboard and in the cargo area, as well as beefed-up carpeting. To my ear, the improvements result in a noticeably quieter, less fatiguing cabin, adding to the luxury feel.
A nit to pick: The front seat heat/ventilation knobs offer no indication they're on save for a tiny light you can barely see during the day.
Tech Modernized, Not Quite Modern
The revised dashboard still looks somewhat old-school. It has a prominent central bulge — that's an Infiniti thing — and is busy with buttons and knobs for the controls and multimedia as well as the 8-inch touchscreen. The screen got needed higher resolution and better graphics, but it's still not close to the crispness and show-stopping graphic designs now appearing on big screens in the latest-generation German and American luxury SUVs. Menus are improved and more intuitive, however, and Infiniti offers you a choice of using the touchscreen or its old-school dashboard knob-and-button controller to navigate the system. I will admit those physical controls were handy for letting passengers use some functions, such as navigation entry, that are blocked on the touchscreen while the SUV is under way. And you'll still have a CD player handy in the QX80.
The QX80 does not offer a configurable digital instrument cluster like those now commonly available on high-end SUVs. The oldest-looking touch, though, is the monochrome driver information display between the gauges. Still, the large, easy-to-find buttons on the gauge hood proved easier to find and more intuitive to use than more complicated systems. On balance, for me, ease of use trumped a fancier look. But why should we have to choose?
Harder to live with over time would be the lack of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone integration, if only for their continuously updated maps. Smartphone integration is migrating down to some of the cheapest cars, and buyers are coming to expect it as they would Bluetooth pairing and power ports. The 2018 QX80 does have an enlarged "phablet-size" phone cubby in the front near a pair of USB ports, but it's shallow, and its hard plastic lets big phones jiggle. The lack of available wireless charging is a notable lapse for a luxury vehicle. A Bose system provides the audio.
The QX80's second row gets a pair of new 2.4-amp USB charging ports as well as a third USB media port (for five USB ports overall). There's also a 110-volt outlet with the available two-screen rear entertainment system. Upgraded for 2018, this system has added an HDMI port and higher-resolution 8-inch screens, up from 7 inches. They can now display separate content on each screen.
Safety Tech, Driver Aids Will Cost You
The QX80 has not been crash-tested by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety or federal regulators. Standard safety technology includes a 360-degree camera system with moving object detection, as well as front and rear parking sensors — all of which are a big help in docking this yacht.
The 2018 QX80 offers a full suite of other safety technology and driver aids, but unfortunately not as standard equipment. You have to — and should — check the box for the optional Driver Assistance Package ($2,900) to get them. But it's a full platter, including forward collision warning with automatic emergency braking and pedestrian detection. The package also has low-speed automatic braking in reverse. It's an excellent family feature to supplement the backup camera, and in testing, it stopped the big SUV effectively before I took out a pair of plastic trash cans not visible below the rear window.
Also in the Driver Assistance Package is adaptive cruise control, which works from 20 to 90 mph — unlike many modern systems that work to a full stop and then hold. Distance Control Assist, independent of cruise control, reacts to slowing traffic down to 1 mph with braking and resistance in the accelerator, but it won't hold the QX80 in place until the lead car takes off. It worked for me as both a safety and fatigue assist in heavy traffic. Additional features are blind spot warning and intervention, lane departure warning and lane keep assist.
Buyers may also want to opt for the newly available camera-based video rearview mirror, which we had in our test vehicle. The wide view helps compensate for the SUV's high beltline, big back pillars, head restraints or any cargo that may cut your view to the rear, either with the standard mirror or over your shoulder. The camera is high in the rear window, putting it out of the way and leaving space for the rear wiper to clear the glass, but it also leaves a blind spot directly behind the liftgate.
Priced to Sell
Starting prices are up $900 from 2017, but the improvements for 2018 are worth it. The 2018 QX80 starts at $65,745 (all prices include destination charges) for a rear-wheel-drive model and $68,845 for all-wheel drive. Fully optioned, the QX80 reaches up to $83,445.
The modest price increase lets the new QX80 keep one of its key appeals: It's a relative bargain among big luxury SUVs. A 2018 Lexus LX 570 with three rows and standard all-wheel drive, for example, starts at $91,575, and a rear-wheel-drive 2018 Cadillac Escalade starts at $75,990. Don't even ask about a Land Rover Range Rover. The Infiniti's newest-design rival, the 2018 Lincoln Navigator, starts at $73,250.
While it may be a price leader in the luxury crowd, a separate question is whether this flagship from Nissan's luxury brand merits its price premium over the related Nissan Armada full-size SUV — a premium that can reach as high as $18,000. Only you can decide whether the step up in luxury — and it's a step up that your neighbors will notice — plus expected luxury dealer pampering is worth the added expense. You can see a head-to-head comparison by Cars.com editors here.
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