VERSAILLES, Ky. -- Stretching long and decorated with a stub-nosed prow that presents a broad chrome-ringed grille with streaky bi-functional xenon headlamp clusters on front corners plus curvaceous fender blisters bulging over massive alloy wheels, the new 2011 QX56 full-size sport utility vehicle from Infiniti looks dramatically different from other SUVs.
The flat roof floating over a wrap-around band of narrow windows conveys the image of a fortified bunker, while the lower body seems substantial with massive components that make the Q appear nearly indestructible.
It's taut and obviously athletic in a sculptural shape, but also smooth and sleek, even sensuous -- and clearly a departure from the usual right-angled school of SUV styling.
It's also massive in scale, by far the biggest set of wheels in the upscale line of Infiniti, which is developed through Nissan of Japan.
The SUV stretches more than 17 feet long and well over six feet wide, with the roofline rising some six feet off the ground.
Despite these king-size dimensions for the package and a huge V8 engine tucked into the firebox, the Q-wagon also comes with user-friendly mechanical hardware and an independent suspension so it's surprisingly spry and easy to maneuver.
Inside, the new Q carves out enough space for as many as eight passengers on the three tiers of seats with twin buckets in front, a second row with bench for three or two flip-forward luxury captain's chairs and a standard third-row 60/40-split bench for three that folds easily into the floor via power controls to expand the cargo bay.
Infiniti rolled out the first-generation QX56 from a Nissan manufacturing plant in Mississippi in 2004.
With the Q's second-generation design for 2011, production shifts to Kyushu, Japan.
The second-generation QX56 is completely new for exterior styling, interior appointments, boosted powertrain performance and a rigid new structure to improve the ride quality and reduce NVH (noise/vibration/harshness).
Compared to the first-generation version, the body of the second-generation Q measures about 1.4 inches longer and 1.1 inches wider with the vehicle height pared by 2.0 inches for the 2WD model and 2.9 inches on the 4WD model.
Structural improvements range from the new high-stiffness frame structure with wider side rails to reinforcing crossmembers and a rear body ring structure added around the tailgate.
The fully independent suspension employs a double-wishbone design front and rear. It includes a rear leveling system that automatically regulates air pressure in air bladders to maintain a consistent ground-clearance level.
Each 2011 QX56 rolls on 20-inch aluminum-alloy wheels capped by 275/60R20 all-season performance tires, with 22-inch aluminum-alloy wheels and 275/50R22 all-season performance tires available in a touring package.
Gear extends to side-impact air bags in the two front seats and curtain-style side air bags for all three tiers of seats, plus a proximity sensor system that warns about obstacles in the vehicle's path, and electronic vehicle controls such as ABS (anti-lock brake system), EBD (electronic brake force distribution) and Infiniti's VDC (vehicle dynamic control) with ABLS (active brake limited slip), even TPMS (tire pressure monitoring system).
The longitudinally-mounted plant, constructed with an aluminum block, displaces 5.6 liters and comes with dual-overhead cams, four valves in each cylinder, direct injection of fuel and the VVEL (Variable Valve Event & Lift) advanced valve control system.
Tied to the engine is an electronically-controlled automatic transmission with MSM (manual shift mode), ASC (adaptive shift control) and DRM (downshift rev matching).
When equipped with a tow rig, QX56 earns a trailer tow rating of 8500 pounds.
The 4WD equipment utilizes a sophisticated full-time automatic control system. It can instantly distribute the engine's torque between front or rear wheels, depending on pavement conditions and the potential of tires to slip, with as much as half the torque available at front wheels when the rear wheels slip.
A two-speed electronic transfer case enables the driver to switch between automatic all-wheel-drive (AWD), full-time 4WD in high range or 4WD in low range for crawling over uneven terrain off pavement, but the device runs in 2WD mode with all power sent to the rear wheels for normal driving on dry roads.
Every QX56 -- 2WD and 4WD -- also stocks HSA (hill start assist) equipment, which prevents the wagon from rolling backward when scaling a steep slope.
Infiniti casts the QX56 in only one uber-luxury trim but adds the choice of 2WD or 4WD traction.
Standard to all are soft leather-clad seats, triple-zone automatic temperature controls, Infiniti Intelligent Key with push-button ignition, Fine Vision electroluminescent gauges and a signature analog clock, a heated leather-wrapped steering wheel, 10-way power controls for the driver's seat and 8-way power on the front passenger's seat, power controls for windows and door locks and exterior mirrors, Bluetooth hands-free phone system, a Bose premium audio system with 13 speakers and AM/FM/CD/DVD/MP3, the Around View Monitor with a virtual view of the vehicle and a rear-view camera plus nine cupholders and four door-pocket bottle holders.
Options for QX56 include the Infiniti Hard Drive Navigation System with XM NavTraffic, Lane Departure Warning and Lane Departure Prevention systems, plus a Blind Spot Warning system with Intelligent Cruise Control.
A Technology Package adds Intelligent Brake Assist with Forward Collision Warning, Distance Control Assist, Front Pre-Crash Seat Belts, and Adaptive Front lighting System with auto-leveling headlights. The Theater Package installs dual 7-inch color monitors, wireless headphones and wireless remote control, and the Deluxe Touring Package brings luxurious semi-aniline leather seating surfaces and a new Hydraulic Body Motion Control system to reduce body lean.
List price for the 2011 QX56 amounts to $56,900 for 2WD or $3,100 more for 4WD.