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Car reviews - Infiniti - QX80 - Range

Our Opinion

We like
Sweet-spinning V8 engine, towing ability, highly competent off-road, decently comfortable yet controlled suspension, hushed road noise, loaded equipment
Room for improvement
Wallowy handling, awfully vague steering, inefficient engine and packaging, flat front and middle seating, cramped third-row seating, chintzy cabin, dated connectivity

Gallery

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Infiniti logo29 Mar 2018

Overview

THE climb is tough, the path rocky and obstacles need to be navigated around with expert precision or else attempts at finding traction and progress will be thwarted. We could be talking about off-roading in the facelifted QX80, but also the picture ahead for Infiniti in Australia.

Just six years into its local debut, Infiniti sales last year went backwards from an already miniscule base. Original dealers have shuttered, and by the car-maker’s own admission it needs a restart here. To make the track ahead trickier, the premium vehicle market is down this year. Obstacles, indeed.

On the upside, last year the QX80 grew its volume by over one-third despite being a seven-year-old model. The upper-large SUV segment is small, so in some ways Infiniti is shielded from the myriad competition it faces in other classes. And a decently different mid-life facelift is claimed to be able to boost sales by almost another one-third again this year – all things going well.

So, can a facelifted Infiniti QX80 now provide clear enough reasons to swerve around the usual roads leading to European and fellow Japanese rivals?

Drive impressions

It would be all too easy to call the Infiniti QX80 too large, too heavy and too thirsty, an SUV for the petrol-loving US and oil-drilling Middle East markets.

But in this new-age world of the coupe SUV, surely an upper-large model that seats seven, tows 3500kg, can venture off-road and has not one option on its sheet deserves more than that. Or at least more than a similarly sized two-tonne model with racetrack tyres and zero rear headroom.

Best reserve such cheap pot-shots for those pretentious, newfangled entrants to the market, to be sure.

Just as a $100K-plus sportscar must be fast and dynamic on-road, this $110,900 plus on-road costs QX80 should be all leather and luxury, space and suppleness.

In the flesh, the revised styling arguably looks better than before, with angular headlights and sharper creases front and rear both blending more harmoniously with the soft body shape and reducing the 1990s blobbiness of before.

Inside there is more high-quality quilted leather than before, and – having spent 90 minutes as a passenger on the middle bench at the national media launch in northern Victoria – plenty of space behind the front seats.

Centre-bench passengers will enjoy separate climate controls with roof vents, twin high-resolution screens on the back of the front headrests, and myriad USB and HDMI ports.

Moreover, while the driver enjoys the smooth sweetness and distant raunchiness of one of the most gorgeous engines around – a 5.6-litre naturally aspirated V8 petrol – those behind will love the almost complete absence of wind noise and road roar.

Electrically fold the third-row of seats into the floor, and there is an enormous 1405 litres of cargo space – almost three times a Mazda CX-5’s. Even with the twin rear seats in use, a 470L boot remains – or about the same as that medium SUV.

Performance is strong in a straight line, the suspension does a decent job of remaining more tightly controlled than the – more expensive and far sloppier – Toyota LandCruiser Sahara does, and yet even on 22-inch tyres the ride quality remains reasonably level, if not completely cushy.

Certainly it becomes clear that this QX80 gets all the basics right. It is big on the outside, and inside, it is heavy but reasonably quick, and it can go off-road but also pamper occupants inside.

What this facelifted Infiniti does fail to address, however, is its predecessor’s almost complete lack of polish that is expected from a premium model, especially anything wearing a six-figure pricetag.

The cabin is big, but the front seats are awfully flat and hardly plush, and that same description applies to the second row as well. They all simply feel like basic seats with quilted leather on them.

And the packaging of the third-row, in particular, is poor. Even this 178cm-tall tester almost brushing the rooflining back there, while the seat is positioned virtually on the floor, forcing a bent leg and knee position.

Ultimately, this is sub-$50K medium SUV packaging in a vehicle of twice the price and, at 5340mm long, one that also stretches a half-metre further than models in that class.

Back up front and the plastics quality, switchgear and touchscreen resolution are all derived from previous-decade Nissans. There is navigation, but no voice control for it, while a digital radio and Apple CarPlay/Android Auto smartphone connectivity are missing.

There is not even a digital speedometer or head-up display, and the trip computer display is a simple black-and-white unit.

While the V8 petrol is a gem, the elephant in the QX80’s shadow has long been excessive fuel consumption. It is not only the fault of the engine, but also inefficient mass.

At 2783kg, this SUV is almost 500kg heavier than a more intelligently packaged Land Rover Discovery 5 – and although Infiniti lists the average Lexus LX570 as its closest rival, the new Brit is a best-in-class.

Even gentle cruising saw 15.0 litres per 100 kilometres on the trip computer, which is just above the 14.5L/100km combined-cycle claim. Add some off-roading as we did, and the 100L tank drained a quarter in 75km for a sub-400km range.

Towing, or urban usage, would be tough on any wallet.

The Disco 5 also delivers substantially superior ride quality than this QX80, which has a nice baseline but it can either become soggy or restless at either extremity.

The steering, meanwhile, is terribly spongey on the centre position and it acts as a complete disconnect from the front wheels, which only further emphasises the perception of nervous, top-heavy handling. In actual fact, though, the Infiniti strikes a reasonably decent dynamic balance considering its size and heft.

The revised suspension also does not raise like the air suspension of the Land Rover does. Where this Japanese model has 246mm of ground clearance, a 24.2-degree approach angle, 23.6-degree ramp-over angle and 24.5-degree departure angle, that British rival boasts 283mm, 34-, 27.5- and 30-degrees respectively.

And a Disco 5 HSE Luxury with an efficient diesel V6, classier cabin, roomier third-row, 3500kg towing and standard panoramic sunroof, television and ventilated seats, asks $114,061.

Frankly, a comparison test between them would be cruel to the model being tested here.

Thankfully in isolation this Infiniti does well off road, with an excellent hill-descent control, locking centre differential, low-range gearing and chubby tyres.

But the other identically-sized elephant lingering behind is the $21K-cheaper Nissan Patrol Ti-L on which this QX80 is based. With the same engine, mirrored packaging, a near-identical interior, and only a little less luxury, it makes the QX80 feel like a mainstream upper-large SUV that is attempting to be premium.

Both Nissan and Infiniti can climb steep and rocky paths equally as well, then, but in a ruthlessly competitive Australian marketplace the latter is certain to find less purchase.

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