Thursday, September 13, 2007

2008 Infinti QX56 Review

Over the summer, I paid off my 2004 Honda Accord, and being an auto enthusiast, I was ready to trade in and trade up to something different. The Honda had been great for me, but I was very interested in the new 2007 Infiniti G35 sedan, so I requested a brochure from Infiniti's website.

Well, I decided to keep the Honda for the time being, and hopefully continue driving it for a few more years, and use the savings to buy a "fun" third car.

I hadn't given much thought, then, to Infiniti since then until I received a mailing from them offering me a test drive in the revised 2008 QX56 luxury sport utility vehicle. I'm always up for driving a new car (or truck), and especially when Infiniti offers me a $100 American Express gift card just for doing so. Today, over my lunch break, I drove to the Infiniti dealer and checked it out.

The sales staff was very courteous, and the salesman pulled around with a brand new black QX56 that just arrived off the truck overnight. It still had plastic wrap everywhere on the interior, but it really looked pretty good in black.

Exterior
The QX56 shares all of its body panels except for the front end with the more pedestrian Nissan Armada. I've never been a big fan of the QX56's style, especially the front end. The tops of the doors have an interesting arch, but the result is that they appear to have been designed for a different vehicle and shoehorned into the QX's profile. It's a HUGE truck, but seems to sit relatively low to the ground; it's almost as if it's too big for its wheels.

Interior
Infiniti has done a nice job packing its flagship SUV with all the techno goodies that luxury buyers expect: XM Satellite Radio, navigation with integrated NavTraffic, Bluetooth connectivity, intelligent key, power liftgate, power folding third row seats, and more. The center stack has been updated in the QX56 for 2008, and the changes are very welcome, as the old version was clearly one of the weakest points in the interior.

The smart key start is nice, but – same as with the 2008 Cadillac CTS, I always wish that vehicles with smart keys would then have the accompanying push button start instead of a “fake key” – in the spot where the key had been in earlier models, there is a plastic piece shaped almost like a key that must be twisted to start or stop the engine. Meanwhile, much lesser Nissan models that have clean-sheet interiors (such as the 2007 Altima) have true push button start.

Interior materials seem to be pretty good overall – the dash was mostly made of soft plastics and the door panels have stitched vinyl armrests and attractive real wood trim on all four of them. The leather on the seats was buttery soft and definitely a higher grade than Nissan products receive. Storage spaces abound - there is even a small shelf between the front seats and the center console. The third row folds flat into the floor, which is a nice feature the GM vehicles don't have, thanks to Infiniti's independent rear suspension. The QX that I drove did not have the optional DVD entertainment system, but did have an overhead console that stretched all the way to the third row. Although the extra storage is nice, it felt like extremely hollow, cheap plastic and was out of place in a $56,000 vehicle.

On the Road
The 5.6 liter, 320 horsepower engine has a nice purr at idle. Once dropped into gear, the cabin is relatively quiet. I haven’t driven a 2007 Escalade to compare the cabin noise levels between these two, but relative to our own 2005 Nissan Pathfinder, there is less wind noise and less engine noise. The engine does have a nice growl when it's given some throttle. I stomped on the gas pedal on an on-ramp, and it felt pretty good, but not quick. From a seat-of-the-pants perspective, it felt about the same as our smaller and lighter Pathfinder does with its 4.0 liter V6. The Pathfinder has less horsepower and torque, but also less weight to lug around.

The ride was comfortable and the truck felt relatively responsive, mostly thanks to the standard-for-2008 20 inch wheels. The steering had just the right amount of feedback for such a large vehicle, and didn't feel overboosted the way a 2007 Suburban LTZ does. I didn't do any panic stops, but the brakes felt fine.

Final Thoughts
During the ride, the salesman made some somewhat disparaging comments about the Escalade (most of which were incorrect):
- The body hasn't changed in 15 years (wrong - it was all new in early 2006)
- People are really flocking to the QX56 instead of the Escalade (the extended length Escalade ESV alone outsells the QX56 by 39% through August 31, and combining Escalade and Escalade ESV sales, the Cadillac has outsold the Infiniti by 175% through August 31.)

In looking at pricing of these two vehicles, the QX56 seems to be too expensive for what it is. True, the Escalade is a dressed-up Tahoe, just like the QX56 is a dressed-up Armada. But the Escalade has brand cachet, a more luxurious interior, and 83 more horsepower (403 versus 320 in the Infiniti), all for about $5,000 more (when comparing the Escalade ESV with the QX56). In the Infiniti's favor, the navigation system is more modern with a more attractive display, and the Cadillac lacks Bluetooth or a smart key.

If I was in the market for a $56,000 gas-guzzling SUV, I'd go with an Escalade. However, I'm not in that market, so I won't be going with either. Pricing out a revised 2008 V8 Pathfinder might be a different story, however!

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