THE biggest member of the Infiniti family staves off a mid-life crisis with a little cosmetic surgery – but unfortunately the under-the-skin changes aren’t as profound as those on the outside.
WHAT IS IT?
A mid-life facelift for Infiniti’s hulking QX80 luxury SUV.
WHY ARE WE TESTING IT?
There isn’t just a new face and bum on the Infiniti QX80, but a range of more subtle under-the-skin changes. Is it now good enough to steal market share from Lexus – or even challenge the Europeans?
THE WHEELS VERDICT
Infiniti’s QX80 facelift is the most extensive one it’s ever applied, and does a remarkable job of turning the ugly duckling that was its Nissan Patrol-based luxury SUV into something at least approximating a swan. That’s the good news.
The bad news is that the antiquated interior, poor range and slabby seats that cost the pre-update model points haven’t seen similar levels of attention. Which is a shame, because they hold what is otherwise a value-rich, spacious and mechanically talented offroader back from achieving its full potential, both on the road and in the showroom.
PLUS: Powerful and sonorous V8 engine, value for money, interior space, quiet cabin, off-road nous
MINUS: Fussy suspension over small stuff, fuel consumption, dated interior, flat seats
THE WHEELS REVIEW
WE’RE a shallow bunch, but the unfortunate reality is that appearance matters in the world of selling cars. Ergo, it’s not too hard to see why the Infiniti QX80 has had a tough time in the Australian market since its arrival in 2015.
While some 83 QX80s found buyers last year – the model’s best year of sales thus far – its chief rival, the Lexus LX 570, almost quadrupled that number. That’s got to hurt, especially as the $110K QX80 was, objectively speaking, a better value buy than the $142K LX 570
But salvation is at hand in the form of the updated QX80, which has not so much received a facelift, but is the recipient of a complete face transplant. The front end is unrecognisable, but in the best possible way. The low-set headlamps and Beluga forehead that marred the outgoing model has been banished in favour of bolder all-LED headlamps that sit virtually a foot higher, along with a reshaped grille that looks prouder and more confident.
The bonnet line has been raised 20mm and the bonnet stamping is all new – as are the quarter panels, which are now adorned with functional heat-extracting side vents. The bumper plastics are new as well, and while the size of the cooling apertures are the same, the jawline is more pronounced and handsome. Infiniti hopes the update will deliver push sales numbers into triple-digits for the first time, and on looks alone it’s obvious that the QX80 now has much broader appeal.
Side steps are longer too, the 22-inch wheels sport a new design and the QX80’s sizable rump gets revised bumper plastics as well. The tailgate skin is also fresh, as are the tail lamps, with the latter now linked together by a chrome bar that directs even more attention to the QX80’s monstrous width.
But elsewhere, the changes are more modest. Infiniti has done only minor work to the QX80’s interior, citing the higher cost of tweaking in-car hardware as the main reason why the dash and doorcard furniture appears nearly identical to the outgoing model. Instead, quilted leather upholstery, more contrast stitching and upsized rear entertainment screens are the most noticeable alterations. A shame, as dated cabin styling and an antiquated infotainment package were two things that held the pre-update QX80 back.
The 5.6-litre VK56 V8 engine remains unchanged, but that’s mostly a good thing. With a muscular 298kW and 560Nm it’s got ample power and torque to motivate its 2783kg mass without raising a sweat, taking drive to all four wheels through a well-calibrated seven-speed automatic. It’s happiest spinning at low rpm, and the engine/driveline combo’s relaxed nature and long gearing are ideal for traversing long stretches of highway.
Floor the accelerator, and the engine’s V8 note delivers plenty of aural appeal, too. Don’t do it too often though – natural aspiration, big displacement and a mammoth kerb weight translate into a hefty thirst – Infiniti claims a combined average of 14.5L/100km.
We burned more than 16.0L/100km during the updated QX80’s local media launch, but that wasn’t unexpected given the route incorporated a detour through parkland to showcase the QX80’s off-road chops. Infiniti doesn’t want us to forget that although the exterior might have a fancier sheath, underneath it all lays the capable 4x4 hardware of the Nissan Patrol. With a proper dual-range transfer case, multiple drive modes (for rock-hopping, sand driving, dirt and road), plus a locking rear differential, the QX80 promises to take its passengers further than the average luxo-barge three-row SUV.
Indeed, it easily shrugged off the steep climbs and descents of the off-road forest route, with plenty of traction on dirt and rocks. Considering its size and weight, wielding the QX80 down a steep rutted trail is simply effortless
Out on the blacktop, Infiniti says the updated QX80 should be quieter and more comfortable than before. The former is certainly true. Extra sound-absorbing material has been applied around the cabin – mainly to the firewall – and there’s a surprising lack of wind noise for a car with such a massive frontal area.
Ride comfort is also generally good, though there’s some sensitivity to high-frequency corrugations that interrupts the serenity. A bigger threat to long-distance comfort are the flat seats, which lack the appropriate contouring to deliver good support both for the back or under the thighs.
The third row folds away electrically and is reasonably easy to access when the centre row is flipped forward, and is large enough to accommodate adults for shorter journeys. Even when travelling seven-up the QX80 boasts a huge 470L cargo space behind the third row, which swells to 1405 litres with the rearmost seats stowed.
Passengers in the middle row will at least be distracted from their unsupportive seat cushions by the rear entertainment screens, which now measure eight inches across rather than the old model’s seven and feature a higher resolution, a new HDMI auxiliary input, and can operate independently of each other while sending sound to wireless headsets. Not bad, but in an age where smartphone mirroring, all-electronic dash displays, high-definition graphics and slick touchscreens are fast becoming the norm, the QX80’s infotainment package still seems a step or two behind the leaders.
It’s still a fine choice for highway touring, and with a 3500kg braked tow capacity and that meaty V8 it’ll deal with caravan duty easily – provided you’re comfortable with the fuel bill. Range is another issue, with the QX80’s 100-litre fuel tank only giving 690km of range if you manage to hit Infiniti’s claimed fuel figures. The absence of a diesel definitely counts against it for long-distance use – especially now the Lexus LX has an oil-burning option in the LX 450d.
And that, combined with an interior fit-out that still feels a bit old, plus sub-par cabin comfort, is the QX80’s crucial undoing. The exterior tweaks and suspension revisions are definitely welcome, but there’s not much there for the regional drivers and long-distance touring crowd that you’d think would otherwise flock to a massive luxury offroader that costs a very reasonable $110,900.
Model: Infiniti QX80 S Premium
Engine: 5552cc 8cyl, dohc, 32v
Max power: 298kW @ 5800rpm
Max torque: 560Nm @ 4000rpm
Transmission: 7-speed automatic
Kerb weight: 2783kg
Fuel economy: 14.5 L/100km
On sale: Now