Expert Reviews

Test Drive: 2015 Infiniti QX80

AutoTrader SCORE
This score is awarded by our team of expert reviewers after extensive testing of the car

When you see this rough beast slouching out of the mist towards you, you’re not sure, exactly, what you’re looking at.

Is it an aftermarket grille conversion? A sign of the apocalypse? Is it a grey-market import from China? You know, one of those cars clearly styled after a western brand, but changed – just that much – to avoid a lawsuit?

The QX80’s mug is nothing if not, erm, distinctive.

Then, as the big blue behemoth comes towards you, you realize that it can’t possibly be a Chinese import because even they couldn’t come up with something as radical looking as the 2015 Infiniti QX80.

Indeed, with its steroid-infused Infiniti-spec grille (four tightly tapering corners, all framing a blacked out convex grille) Cro-Magnon Man forehead hoodline (although, one that’s slightly less prehistoric than that found on the previous-gen QX56), Buick-style side portholes, downward-slanting headlights and curved foglights, the QX80’s mug is nothing if not, erm, distinctive.

Of course, I’ve heard many an argument from friends and from colleagues that it’s distinctive to a fault; some say it’s a bit too much, some say it’s flat-out ugly and others wonder why it was ever designed to look like that in the first place. Indeed, of all the vehicles that I think of when it comes to a comparison, the Mitsuoka Orochi – look it up – immediately comes to mind; that was a car designed with a Japanese aesthetic in mind, to be sold only in the Japanese market. It’s fantastically weird-looking and makes the QX look tame by comparison; as long as it’s parked right beside it. Which, of course, would be a rare occurrence in Canada, so there’s the rub: what works in the Japanese domestic market doesn’t necessarily translate well over here.

At least our tester’s Hermosa Blue paint, strange name notwithstanding (it means “beautiful” in Spanish, so it’s strange to have that attached to this vehicle), kind of hides some of the awkward contours. It’s one of seven available colours, whose names include Majestic White and Asgard Grey (I guess the designers are keen to either show their penchant for Marvel Comics, or that that the big, hulking QX80 has the power of Thor’s hammer).

You know what, though? I’m just not so offended by the styling. Think about it; in this day in age, when so many cars look so similar due to ever stricter crash-test requirements and the need to shape front-ends so they’ll be both strong and able to better slice through the air ahead, it’s nice to see something unique; I’m not sure how Infiniti gets away with it. It’s a funny thing, though; so many of the QX80’s detractors we spoke of earlier – and we’re talking about colleagues of mine who have been in this industry a long, long time – kind of see their arguments run out of steam once the conversation advances past the styling.

Yes, I get it: this is the luxury SUV segment, and looks count for buyers. Having said that, there’s a lot more that also counts and a lot more the QX80 offers. 

Let’s start with the interior. As is both Infiniti and parent company Nissan’s wont, it’s a well-fastened affair replete with quality materials, nice lighting and a set of intuitive controls that don’t require much more than a cursory glance to identify. The leather/wood steering wheel and some of the wood trim found elsewhere in the cabin does seem a little old school, however. It’s a little at-odds with both the exterior styling (which may be a good thing, depending on your perspective) and the rounded, flared surfaces found throughout the interior. I wonder how it would look with some nice aluminum accents instead? Pretty good, I'll bet.

The seats are an absolute highlight; no, they aren’t of the “Zero-Gravity” variety found on some Nissans, but they’re incredibly comfortable, cushy, supportive and can be heated and cooled, a standard feature. The second row seats, meanwhile, are heated.

The third row seats aren’t, but darned if this isn’t one of the best non-minivan applications of third-row seating that I’ve seen. The middle row flips forwards easily, allowing, well, easy access to the third row. The seats themselves meanwhile, are nearly as cushioned as the first two rows; that’s not something that can be said for much of the QX’s competition. These are seats that are meant to be used, and the fact that there remains 470L of cargo space when they’re up serves as yet another indication of the QX’s third-row worthiness.

If you want to forego the second-row captain’s chairs found on our tester, then a bench seat is available at the same price, providing seating for eight as opposed to seven.

From the interior comfort an access, we move to the tech on offer.

Considering the QX80’s girth, you’d think that Infiniti/Nissan’s AroundView monitoring system is an absolute must, but you’d only be half right. The QX80 is surprisingly easy to maneuver through tight spaces. I found it even easier to park than the QX60 but those strange lines do make it a little tough to know where the thing begins and ends. That’s where AroundView comes in; I’m especially a fan of the top-down camera angle that really lets you place the car within centimetres of your intended resting place. You’ll want to be aware of the QX80’s 1,925 mm overall height when entering parking garages, however.

Other standard tech that helps make the drive that much more comfortable are a power tilt/telescope steering wheel, tri-zone automatic climate control, heated steering wheel, remote engine start and power liftgate and moonroof. In addition to their heated seats, second-row passengers get a DVD entertainment system and wireless headphones as standard, while the whole cabin gets the benefit of the fantastic 15-speaker Bose audio system with XM satellite radio. An eight-inch touch-screen display is your portal to all of this, as well as the standard navigation system with real-time traffic monitoring.

It’s an easily operable system, although the graphics are looking a little long in the tooth and the screen is hard to reach, especially for long-legged drivers that have to push their seat back, thus moving further away from the screen. The cost for all this? $73,650 before taxes, a darn sight lower than what you’re paying for a base Cadillac Escalade, Lincoln Navigator, Lexus LX 570 or Mercedes-Benz GL-Class.

This is a loaded luxo-SUV even before you consider the options our tester had as part of the $8,150 tech package. That adds back-up collision warning and intervention, lane departure and blind spot warning and prevention, adaptive front lighting with auto-levelling headlights and distance control assist. Even the exterior styling gets a boost (and lord knows many believe it needs all the help it can get), with the addition of 22-inch wheels.

With the exception of a few accessories (including a $400 tent that attaches to your open hatch), that’s really it when it comes to options. Talk about making things easier on the buyer.

One particularly interesting feature provided by the tech package is the hydraulic body-motion control system, another part of the QX80 shared with the rough n’ tumble Nissan Patrol on which it’s based. As we mentioned before, the QX80 is very tall (and heavy), which means you should experience more body roll due to a higher centre of gravity. However: thanks to cylinders installed in the shock absorbers that help either stiffen or soften the suspension, the QX is able to stay flatter through turns; even bumps are reduced. It’s impressive, and leads to a fantastically luxurious feel. Both the front and rear get a double-wishbone suspension set-up; no trucky leaf springs here.

In keeping with the Patrol mentality, however, you can choose from numerous 4WD settings, including 4H, 4L, Snow and Tow modes. As sparkly as it looks inside, the QX can handle itself off-off the beaten track, too; know that the Nissan Patrol is robust enough to be used by the UN and various emergency services in some of the toughest climes the world has to offer.

If there was a complaint I have, it’s that I wish stuff like lane departure and blind spot were standard; this is a massive vehicle, and it would make much more sense for the DVD system or even sat radio to be part of the tech package, as opposed to any driver aids that might help “shrink” the QX80, even a little bit.

So it handles. It’s well-appointed inside. It’s got tech up the wazoo, even at base. It’s spacious. Are the haters going quietly into the night, yet?

Power from the 5.6L V8 comes in at 400 hp and 413 lb-ft of torque enough to get the 2.5-tonne QX80 up and running with very little drama or noise. This is one quiet rig, whose occupants don’t have to put up with the drone emitted by the exhaust in, say, the V6-powered QX70. There’s a hint of that if you’re really digging into the throttle, but it only sticks around for a short time, enough to let you know that you’re making some serious forward progression.

Otherwise, with peak torque coming at 4,000 rpm, peak power at 5,800 and a standard seven-speed automatic (that will learn your driving style and change its attitude accordingly), rest assured that power is always on tap for high speed passing. Towing capacity, meanwhile, is rated at 3,856 kg.

Of course, any towing you do will have a negative impact on your fuel economy, and the QX80 already isn’t one of the leanest sippers; we saw 17.1 L/100 km during our combined testing. You’ll likely get better fuel economy from a Navigator, Escalade and especially a diesel-powered Mercedes GL 350. At least it takes regular fuel. Which dipped below $50/barrel recently…

There is just so, so much to like about the QX80 that you can’t help but feel it’s one of the great missed opportunities we’re seeing on the current automotive landscape, all because of its awkward styling. Get past that (or try to celebrate it for being different, up to you), and you’ll find yourself at the helm of one of the most capable, luxurious, well-equipped and powerful luxury SUVs out there. For me, it’s a slam-dunk proposition. For those concerned about the styling, well, you can’t see your grille from behind the wheel, can you?

4 years/100,000 km; 6 years/110,000 km powertrain; 7 years/unlimited distance corrosion perforation; 4 years/100,000 km 24-hour roadside assistance

Cadillac Escalade
Land Rover Range Rover
Lexus LX570
Lincoln Navigator

Model Tested 2015 Infiniti QX80
Base Price $73,650
A/C Tax $100
Destination Fee $1,995
Price as Tested $84,280
Optional Equipment
Tech Package – $8,150, Hermosa Blue 3-coat paint – $385