Whenever I said anything good about the 2011 Infiniti QX56 to curious onlookers, their universal comeback was, "But it's so ugly."
The 2011 Infiniti QX56's luxurious interior, composed ride quality, and capability for the money make it a serious competitor among $60,000-plus SUVs … if you can accept its controversial styling.
From chassis to roof, the 2011 QX56 is significantly different from the 2010. For a comparison with the 2010, see here. Base 2011 models have rear-wheel drive, and the QX56 I tested had all-wheel drive and a bunch of other options that pushed the price just past $75,000; all versions have a 400-horsepower V-8 and seven-speed automatic transmission.
Nothing inside the QX gives the impression that underneath lies a trucklike chassis capable of towing 8,500 pounds. Rich materials fill the cabin, which is laid out with classiness befitting an Infiniti sedan. The steering wheel, dashboard and center console integrate burl wood trim that wouldn't look out of place if morphed into a living room coffee table.
Spending $70,000 is no guarantee of getting a luxurious-feeling SUV. The 2010 Audi Q7 we tested had off-putting plastic pieces and a cheap-looking steering wheel that made the SUV feel cheaper than its $76,000 price tag.
The QX has room for seven occupants with the standard captain's chairs, or eight with a Split Bench Seat Package for the second row, which is a no-cost option. The standard second-row captain's chairs feel nearly as comfortable as the driver's throne. Even after multiple trips in the second row, I never came to think of it as a demotion; it was more of a chauffeured experience.
What's inconvenient is getting in and out of the high-riding QX, which requires using the standard running boards. One of my shorter passengers had a tough time pulling herself into the passenger seat, literally having to pull herself in using the provided grab handle on the passenger-side A-pillar.
Except for the height obstacle, the three-passenger third row is one of the easiest to access in any SUV I've tested. With one effortless motion, the second row captain's chairs tumble forward and out of the way. Once seated, I had good headroom and legroom considering my 6-foot-tall, slender build — and the fact that it's a third-row space. It was considerably more comfortable than the Q7's tiny two-passenger third row.
Overall, the Q7 is very small on the inside for how big it is on the outside. Conversely, the QX56 feels just as big on the inside as its gargantuan exterior advertises, with 152 cubic feet of passenger volume; the Q7 has 133 cubic feet.
Many people have openly expressed disgust with the QX's looks. I wouldn't call it 100 percent ugly, but 60 percent ugly sounds about right. Its proportions don't help. To my eye, its beluga-whale hood bulge and low-positioned headlights don't mix well with its tall, squared-off roof. It's like a G37 sedan drove into a giant top hat and Infiniti said, yeah, let's run with that.
I drove two QXs before the styling started to grow on me, which was also after I had seen it on the road a few times. I still wouldn't call it handsome, like the Audi Q7, but the Q7's awesomely sleek exterior comes at the cost of interior room.
For a massive SUV, the QX56 is a surprising performer. The 5.6-liter V-8 makes 400 horsepower and 413 pounds-feet of torque. Combined with a seven-speed automatic transmission, the QX accelerates as briskly as a sport sedan of a decade ago. Our friends at "MotorWeek" tested the QX's zero to 60 mph acceleration at 6.3 seconds and its quarter-mile at 14.9 seconds. Those are entirely respectable numbers for a 5,800-pound SUV.
The QX56's EPA-estimated mileage is expectedly low, at 14/20 mpg city/highway with rear- or all-wheel drive, but that is an improvement over the 2010 QX's 12/18 mpg with rear-wheel drive and 12/17 mpg with all-wheel drive. I averaged around 15 mpg during testing that accumulated 1,000-plus miles traveling between Illinois and Michigan. These weren't only highway miles, as we also used the QX as a chase car to haul video equipment and crew.
Despite being built on truck architecture, the QX's ride isn't trucklike at all. It rides smoothly and confidently, even on the massive 22-inch wheels that are part of an optional Deluxe Package. I would even call the QX fun to drive, especially considering the redesigned Lexus GX 460 rolls into corners like a boat, nosedives during braking and squats on acceleration.
One option that may have helped the QX feel so composed was its Hydraulic Body Motion Control, also part of the Deluxe Package. The system's shock absorbers transfer fluid from one side's shock to the other during cornering to combat body roll.
For $2,850, the Technology Package makes the QX as idiot-proof as possible. Thanks to the features in that package, combined with Infiniti's standard Around View Monitor, which provides a top-down view of the SUV, I always knew what was happening around the QX. The tech package adds adaptive cruise control, a blind spot warning system, a lane departure warning system, brake assist and an adaptive front lighting system. In a vehicle this size, every assist helps.
Standard equipment includes heated seats, a heated steering wheel, burl wood highlights, front and rear climate controls, a moonroof, a Bose stereo and a navigation system.
Cargo & Towing
Despite a high load-in height and a protruding bumper you'll have to lift items over, the cargo opening isn't as bad as it could be. Other big luxury SUVs, like the Lexus LX 570 and some Land Rovers, use a clamshell-type cargo gate. That means there's a bottom segment that folds down like a tailgate, leaving an extra obstacle between you and the cargo floor. The QX uses a power liftgate that opens upward and closes with the touch of a button.
For the towing crowd, the QX's maximum towing capacity is 8,500 pounds with both front- and all-wheel drive. A class IV trailer hitch and seven-pin wiring harness come standard, and a bumper fill plate hides the hitch's opening when you're not towing. The Q7 can tow a maximum of 6,600 pounds, and the GX 460 can tow 6,500 pounds. The more-expensive Lexus LX 570 starts at $79,455 and is rated to tow 7,000 pounds.
As of this writing, the 2011 QX56 hasn't been crash-tested.
Standard safety features include front and side-impact airbags, side-curtain airbags for all three rows, an electronic stability system and active front head restraints. For a full list of safety features, see here. To see how well child-safety seats fit into the QX56, see here.
QX56 in the Market
The QX56's do-it-all appeal is enough to make me look past its styling. Its people- and cargo-carrying abilities, its degree of luxury and its towing capacity are impressive.
Despite the overly negative reactions I received about the QX56's appearance, Infiniti's highest-priced SUV outsold the automaker's less-expensive and more stylish EX and FX SUVs from March through May 2011. In fact, during that time period, the QX was outpaced only by the G series, which includes a sedan, coupe and convertible.
For those who find the inside of the QX56 appealing enough to settle for the exterior styling, try these techniques: park it in the back lot behind a tree, resist the over-the-shoulder glance while walking away and just walk backward when returning. It's that easy.