In this world of inexplicable alphanumeric names, let's dissect the Infiniti QX56. The Q is meant to convey the luxurious appointments of Infiniti's Q45 flagship sedan. The X is shorthand for 'SUV' in automotive lingo. The 56 denotes the 5.6 liter V8 engine, which uses its 315 horsepower and 390 lb.-ft. of torque to move this 5,360-pound cruiser along swiftly.
The market for giant SUVs has been growing as baby boomer families find their go-anywhere, take-anyone choices of transit. Yes, the price of petrol did skyrocket and has now come back closer to earth, but there is still appeal in these major rigs. What Infiniti has done is take the comfortable, carlike ride that customers enjoy in the brand's upscale sedans and place it under an offroadable rig that seats up to 8 people.
Infiniti was lucky in having its sister division's recent Armada to work with. Anyone who pays attention to car design can tell that from the outside, it's the ends, especially the front, that distinguishes them. The Infiniti receives chrome on its 18-inch rims, door handles, mirrors, and grille to indicate luxury. The nose looks to me like an old greyhound bus-blunt and canine-but the overall style of the vehicle is thoroughly modern in the way all Nissan and Infiniti products are today. These cars look carved, not inflated, with the right amount of smooth space punctuated by an edge and an angle here and there. The window line is not straight along like a BART train-it curves sinuously, with the rear window pillar leaning back rakishly, almost like a late 1950s Rambler station wagon.
With a package as towering and massive on the outside, inside, the passengers can really stretch out. The QX56 has a long 123.2 inch wheelbase, like a 1960s Cadillac, but with the wheels close to the ends, the entire vehicle is 206.9 inches long-garageable and maneuverable. With three rows of seats, a big happy family has plenty of acreage to inhabit. The center row comes with two captain's chairs and a removable center console, but it can also be had as a bench, which permits an eight-person group. The second and third row fold down easily to a nearly flat cargo bay that holds more than 60 cubic feet of cargo. My son and I hauled a basketball hoop in an enormous box with no problem at all. The power liftgate rises with the touch of a button on the remote key fob.
My tester was a 2005 model in Silver Indulgence, one of seven posh colors available, including Tuscan Pearl and Liquid Onyx. The 2006 models are virtually identical.
Infiniti has chosen to offer this luxury SUV in one fully-equipped model only. Your only decisions are between rear-wheel drive or all-wheel-drive, and the captain's chairs or bench seat in the middle row. All QX56s come standard with power windows, mirrors and locks. You also get leather seating, thick 16-oz. carpeting, and genuine wood trim and aluminum accents. The front seats give the driver 10 adjustments and the passenger eight. Both the front and middle row seats are heated.
A navigation system is standard, too, with a bright, easy-to-see seven-inch screen. Interestingly, the system won't let you program a destination while the car is in motion-a feature presumably designed by Infiniti's legal team. The Bose audio pumps great sound out of 10 strategically located speakers. It really does feel like a luxury car in there.
Besides the safety of a full set of airbags for everybody, the QX56 comes with a rearview color camera connected to the navigation system. When you place the car in reverse, you can see where you're going, and a Rear Proximity Sensor will beep if you approach an object (or person). With a ride this big, any view assistance is welcome.
Options are few-a power sunroof, mobile entertainment system, satellite radio, or Intelligent Cruise Control. The latter electronically adjusts the cruise control based on a distance you select-handy on long freeway cruises.
My test unit, with rear-wheel drive and painted splash guards and the center bench seat as the only options ($200), came to $48,630. The all-wheel-drive model costs $3,000 more.
You may find yourself enjoying a long highway ramble, except for when you pull into the gas station to fill the 28-gallon tank. The fuel ratings are 13 City, 19 Highway-I averaged 13.6 mpg in my travels. At that rate, you'll get about 380 miles per tankful. But the feeling on the road is sublime. Noise is nearly nonexistent; the independent rear suspension with an auto-leveling keeps everything on an even keel regardless of load or terrain.
If you don't need a vehicle this big, don't worry about it. But if you do, Infiniti offers a great solution to your family's driving needs.