By Lary Coppola
Completely redesigned in 2011, the 2012 Infiniti QX56 is lower, wider, and certainly more eye-catching than the previous version. And while reports of the death of the full-size SUV abound, the fact is, in spite of the segment now about a third of its former size, there are still people, businesses and families that absolutely require seven or eight passenger seats, and an 8,500-pound towing capability. The QX56 comes in rear-wheel-drive and all-wheel-drive versions, with a five-mode all-wheel-drive system controlled by a wheel on the console.
In a testament to the durability of the full-size SUV segment, the QX56’s main competitors are the Lexus LX 570, Mercedes-Benz GL-Class, Cadillac Escalade, Lincoln Navigator, Audi Q7, and Range Rover.
Model Lineup: The 2012 Infiniti QX56 comes in two models, the rear-wheel-drive QX56, and the all-wheel-drive QX56 4WD.
Standard on all models is leather seating and trim, 8-way power seats, dual-zone climate control, a multi-function steering wheel, power windows, mirrors, and locks, cruise control, and four 12-volt power points. A hard-drive navigation system is also standard and includes XM NavWeather, XM NavTraffic, the Zagat Survey restaurant guide, and voice activation for navigation, audio and vehicle systems check. It also comes with a Bose 13-speaker AM/FM/CD/DVD/MP3 sound system with XM satellite radio, Bluetooth streaming audio, AUX plug, and iPod compatibility.
The standard seating configuration is two front bucket seats, two second-row bucket seats with a second console, and a three-place folding rear seat, seating for eight, featuring a folding second-row bench seat is available at no extra cost.
Four option packages are available. The Theater Package features twin 7-inch screens mounted on the front-seat headrests, two sets of wireless headphones, and a 120-volt power outlet for gaming consoles, laptops, or other entertainment equipment.
Deluxe Touring Package adds 22-inch alloy wheels and tires, the new Hydraulic Body Motion Control System, semi-aniline leather seats with heating and cooling in the front row, heating in the second row, an upgraded HVAC system (and headlamp washers on 4WD models).
Technology Package features Blind Spot Warning, Intelligent Brake Assist with Forward Collision Warning, which will actively brake the car to prevent a collision, Intelligent Cruise Control, adaptive front lighting for cornering, pre-crash seat-belt tensioners, and Lane Departure Warning and Prevention.
Walkaround: The QX56 got a complete, clean-sheet makeover in 2011 starting with the exterior styling. The rear door handles are now on the same level as the front ones; the rear of the roof no longer dips, adding third-row headroom; the squared-off fenders and nose have been rounded, the pillars blacked out instead of painted; and both bumpers more fully integrated into the overall design. The tow hitch receiver is now hidden behind the rear bumper, and yes, those are Buick-style portholes in the front fenders. However, while the right side is decorative, the left is functional for engine air intake.
The wheelbase was shortened 2.1 inches to 121.1 inches for crisper handling, with wider front and rear tracks. Body width increased by 1.1 inches, length by 1.4-inches and overall height lowered by 3.2 inches.
Interior: The 2012 Infiniti QX56 boasts extra-thick, supremely comfortable seats, more user-friendly instrumentation, with a center stack and console that’s much more luxurious than previously. The entire cockpit is centered around the 8-inch central screen display that the center console flows down from in a very organized manner. The electroluminescent instrumentation is softly lit, easy to read, and looks very much like that in the new Infiniti M sedan.
Fit, finish, tolerances and materials are absolutely first class. The interior is quiet, plush, luxurious, and totally complete in terms of equipment, with a huge array of electronic entertainment and information options available for families.
One cool and very useful feature is the remote-controlled second-row flip-fold seats, operated from the key fob. This allows families to load from back to front with minimum seat hassle. The third-row seats also power-fold forward, increasing cargo space, and the third-row seats recline up to 20 degrees. At 41 inches, the huge rear seats boast the longest legroom in the class — with optional heaters available.
Another unique feature is Infiniti’s trademarked Around View monitoring system with front and rear sonar. This system allows the driver to see all the way around the vehicle before moving, and be certain there nothing is in the way, and there’s room to maneuver.
der The Hood: The QX56 is powered by Infiniti’s 5.6-liter, 32-valve, double overhead-cam V8 engine, that features direct fuel injection and variable valve timing and lift. It delivers 400 horses and 413 foot-pounds of torque — numbers very close to the power and torque of the high-performance M56 sedan — with 25 percent more power than the previous engine, and a 14-percent improvement in fuel economy.
The powerplant is married to a 7-speed double overdrive transmission that provides excellent first-gear acceleration for this 5,600-pound SUV — with good highway fuel economy at the same time. The automatic also boasts adaptive shifting to match each driver’s driving style, with a manual shift feature that includes a sporty throttle-blip on manual downshifts.
Four-wheel-drive versions of the QX56 have a selector switch on the console offering automatic, four-wheel-drive high, four-wheel-drive low, low lock, tow mode and snow mode. The auto mode moves engine torque back and forth between front and rear axles up to 100 percent rear, but no higher than 50 percent front.
Behind The Wheel: The QX56 has new fully independent suspension calibrations, premium shock absorbers, automatic rear load-leveling, and an optional feature that no other SUV in the segment offers — a closed hydraulic circuit that connects all four suspension units and moves hydraulic pressure from front to back and side to side as the vehicle moves. This keeps the body from leaning, even in fast corners, and in effect, replaces conventional sway bars.
Acceleration is solid, bordering on spectacular — especially for a vehicle this size and weight — because the 5.6-liter V8 is tuned for low-end torque, load-hauling and trailer-towing.
The power steering is just about right for a long, tall, heavy vehicle, and the brakes are powerful and progressive.
Whines: I didn’t get to take a road trip in the QX56.
Bottom Line: Although pricing starts in the $50’s, our test QX56 was the all-wheel-drive version equipped with the Theater, Deluxe Touring, and Technology Packages, so it hit the very top end of the price range — over $75,000. Infiniti marketeers refer to the QX56 as being akin to a private jet or hotel room on wheels. They’ve got that right since you can control the lighting, front and rear thermostats, move the furniture around, and choose your entertainment.
The Infiniti QX56 looks better, drives better and feels better in every way than the QX56 it replaces. Starting at the same previous price, it delivers more standard equipment and more really useful technology.