Infiniti QX80 shoots for top in size, features

June 26, 2020 by
Filed under: Weekly test drives, Autos 

Squared off “formal” rear on QX80 — the more people and pastry to fit inside.

By John Gilbert
With travel severely limited during the Covid-19 pandemic, there still are some gems available. One popped up while road-testing the 2020 Infiniti QX80 — yes, the big one — for a week in Duluth, Minnesota. Word made the national news that Vikre Distillery in Duluth had changed over its operation to make hand sanitizer, and it was giving away the stuff free as a public service gesture to anyone who stopped by with a modest sized vessel at their shop, located in the shadow of the famous Aerial Bridge.

My wife, Joan, is more of a neat and tidy type than I am. She’s one of those who, on the rare occasion when I attempt cleaning something thoroughly, she will immediately complain how grungy it is. So she was enthused to accompany me downtown, driving through what seemed like a ghost-town via all the vacant roadways. She does share my feelings about SUVs and trucks that are too big — far too large for the person, couple, or small family that universally seems to be driving them, and as we drove, I pondered how big the QX80 really was.

It steers and handles well enough, for a large vehicle, and those 22-inch Bridgestone tires on stylish alloy wheels could probably crush a compact car if one got in its path. The big V8 and the enormity of the QX80 were well-matched, but I couldn’t help thinking of the various smaller Infiniti SUVs that are among my favorites in the whole industry. Compared to those, the QX80 seems too tall, too hefty, too big, and like a huge block to house all it has.

If y ou make a large SUV, might as well flaunt the largeness!

I parked and walked around the rear of the QX80 with my 16-ounce jug in hand, past a couple of men talking to each other on the sidewalk. Being a non-drinker, it was my first time inside the Vikre shop, and I was greeted by a friendly staff person who filled my jug out of the spigot and sent me off, out of the one-customer-at-a-time restriction.

I walked back up the sidewalk, past the two fellows still talking there, and one of them said: “Hey, great-looking vehicle you’ve got there. Very impressive!”

“Thanks,” I said, explaining that I was just test-driving it, before I climbed in the driver’s door.

Now, regardless of its size, the QX80 was a dazzling metallic red that almost seemed to flow off its high stack of sheetmetal, and maybe the color inspired this fellow’s comment, but he meant the vehicle itself, its shape and size, for being impressive. It made me realize, suddenly, that it takes all kinds to make up our car-buying society, and what might seem too big for some is just right for others. I must admit, I appreciated the contours of the QX80 much more for the rest of the week.

Over the years, I’ve watched the vast herd of sport-utility vehicles rise from only a couple to everybody’s-got-one status, so I try to judge each one within the perspective of its own size, suppressing my original belief that if you need a big truck for hauling stuff, then get a big one, but don’t get anything bigger than you need, because to drive an enormous SUV around for status, when you might need a lot of storage room twice a year, is a waste.

Among the 50 or so SUVs on the market right now, every manufacturer started out pretty big but then expanded downward after the competition discovered crossing over to car-based platforms that allowed continuous downsizing, suddenly attracting smaller families while also increasing performance and agility without heft.

Plush leather and flawless fit and finish makes the interior live up to QX80’s image.

Nissan is a big player in the SUV world, both on its own and under its upscale Infiniti line. Most recently, Nissan’s compact Rogue has taken charge of all Nissan sales, leading the way ahead of some impressive sedans, such as the Altima, Maxima, Sentra and Versa. Nissan also has its sturdy Pathfinder midsize SUV, it also went after the large end of the spectrum about a decade ago with the Armada, a stout competitor for everybody else’s big-body flagships.

When it comes to Infiniti, Nissan graced its luxury line with a fleet of sleek, swift, high-tech SUVs, some with high-performing turbocharged 4-cylinder engines, and most benefitting by actual transmissions instead of the sometimes annoying continuously variable transmissions found in most Nissans. Up at the top end of the Infiniti herd is the QX80 — the king of all it surveys in Infiniti-land, which is a lot, particularly if you happen to be standing atop its roof. The QX80 is, in a word, huge, at 210 inches long, 80 inches wide, and 76 inches high.

That’s tall, folks. Taller than any owners and occupants, unless they are over 6-foot-3. That means climbing aboard is a chore, made easier by a variety of solid grip-handles located strategically at all four doors.

While driving the QX80, there are several impressive elements you can’t escape noticing. One is the power — it takes off with the roar and punch of a 5.6-liter V8, and, typically, this piece of machinery has dual overhead camshafts on either bank of cylinders, and those pistons play an impressive tune, remindful of the good-old days when we could drive pony cars, or Z-cars, and coax that racetrack-like roar out from under the hood.

Big enough for a family to live in, QX80 adorns Lake Superior’s North Shore.

The QX80, like Nissan’s Armada, of course, has benefitted by the corporate pickup truck venture. When they made the full-size Titan, the engineers wanted it to pull with the best of the competition, so it installed the big 5.6-liter V8 under the hood, helping it run away from competitors — except when it came to fuel economy. As an aside, while I’ve always been someone who pays close attention to fuel efficiency, I’ve always cut the Titan some slack because if a pickup buyer needs to haul or tow heavy things, paying a bit more for fuel probably is worth the tradeoff.

After a decade or so of refinement, that 5.6-liter V8 is better than ever, snarling and putting 400 horsepower down on the asphalt, with 413 foot-pounds of torque zipping you off from a standing start, with or without the maximum 8,500 pounds of towing trailing obediently.

QX80s come in various models, and the test-vehicle was the Limited All-Wheel Drive — top of the list. Equipped with everything Nissan could put on it from a performance, luxury, safety, comfort, and convenience standard, the QX80 Limited AWD lists for $93,795.

For that, you can shop all sorts of competitors, from the top Chevrolet Suburbans, Cadillac Escalades, Lincoln Navigators, to the best Lexus, BMW or Mercedes SUVs and not find yourself out of financial range. But $94,000 is a lot of money.

To reach that price segment, the QX80 has richly appointed leather seats for six, because it had the two captain’s chairs in the second row, while a three-across bench is available to boost capacity to seven. The wood and metal trimmed dash and doors house an impressive navigation screen that tells all about the safety items that you’ve activated, as well as the frequencies of the high-powered Bose audio system, with its 17 speakers.

In the rear, the buckets flip forward with the touch of a lever, to assist the ease to climb into the third-row bench seat. It’s not like your living room back there, but there is sufficient space to carry a couple adults on a trip. Sitting in the second row, you have large, 8-inch monitors imbedded into the front seat headrests, so you can independently watch your own thing or play your own game.

Quite the family hauler. Up front, the driver seat adjusts 12 ways, the passenger seat 10 ways. All the contemporary safety and security systems for handling and braking are in place, with lane departure warning and assist, blind spot alert, front sensors that detect anything in your path, including pedestrians, and rear backup warning with collision intervention. The QX80 also has hill-start assist to make sure you don’t roll backward on a sharp hill.

Such items as remote start and high-beam assist are nice features, certainly not out of place on the QX80. And the Apple Car Play and other connectivity alternatives have a WiFi hot spot of its own.

Sliding second-row bucket moves far enough to ease entry to 3rd row seats.

Luxury ride in 2nd-row bucket has separate video screen.

Smooth cruising on freeways is also standard, and the 7-speed automatic transmission is adaptable through a manual mode, while operating the all-mode all-wheel drive, which can be switched form automatic to 4WD High and 4WD Low. Mode control helps go from snow to towing settings, in case you want to pull your neighbor’s 8,500-pound rig out of a snowdrift.

Joan and I remain committed to lighter, more agile and smaller SUVs that can reach 30 miles per gallon — which would be double the 15 we registered on the hillsides of Duluth with the QX80. But we also can look past the beautiful paint job to appreciate the utility of the extra large Infiniti. Besides, we’ve gotten great use out of our dispenser of hand sanitizer, and every time I pump a dose of it, I can’t help thinking about that fellow on the sidewalk who truly appreciated the size, shape and color of the QX80. Even if it was a bit large to use as a conveyance for a small jug of sanitizer.

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