Luxury trappings with lots of horsepower.

by Tom Lankard

Base Price (MSRP) $34,150
As Tested (MSRP) $40,525

Infiniti's QX4 has finally become more than a gussied up Nissan Pathfinder. A new, more powerful engine absolutely transforms the QX4 for 2001. While the 2000 QX4 struggled to get up to freeway merge speed and demanded drivers plan way ahead on two-lane passing maneuvers, the robust 2001 makes on-ramps fun instead of stressful and two-lane roads playgrounds instead of torture chambers.

The 2001 QX4 also features aggressive new exterior styling, a plush new interior and an optional feature or two the competition doesn't yet offer.

In spite of all that, Infiniti didn't raise the price over the 2000 model.

Model Lineup

The 2001 Infiniti QX4 is available with either four-wheel drive or two-wheel drive. Previously, buyers had but one choice, a four-wheel drive. For 2001, a two-wheel-drive model is being added.

Base MSRP for the 2WD is $34,675, including a destination charge of $525. The 4WD, which Infiniti says will comprise 80 percent of QX4 sales, starts at an MSRP, including destination, of $36,075. The two models differ only in whether the engine drives just the rear wheels or all four wheels.

And the only option limited to one model is the $900 Sport Package offered on the 4WD (but to get this, buyers must also pop for the $600 Premium Package or for the $950 sunroof). The Sport Package comprises heated front and rear seats and a limited-slip rear differential, helpful in low-traction situations. The Premium Package replaces standard 16-inch wheels with 17-inch wheels and comes with a driver memory seat and a pseudo-fancy steering wheel covered in wood-tone plastic and leather.

Other options are a nifty navigation system, two-tone paint, a rear wind deflector and a towing package. The 2WD model is available with the heated seats, but they must be ordered in combination with the Premium Package.

Also available is the Infiniti Communicator, which uses global positioning satellite and cellular telephone technology to provide around-the-clock roadside assistance and travel directions. Infiniti operators can unlock the QX4's door if you've locked the keys inside and track it if it is stolen. Most important, the system notifies the Infiniti Response Center in the event of an airbag deployment. If contact cannot be made with the QX4's occupants, the IRC calls the 911 dispatcher closest to the QX4's location to summon help.

Checking all the option boxes on order form can push the total cost to $41,404 on a 2WD and $43,104 on a 4WD.

Walkaround

Infiniti has spruced up the QX4's appearance without diluting its legacy. So shoppers will know it's new but that it's a QX4.

The front end is cleaner, less busy and projects a more solid presence. Grille openings appear more expansive without being any larger. Fog lights look out through a single-piece lens in place of the 2000's horizontally split, dual-pane lens. Compound, high-intensity-discharge, xenon headlights produce a whiter light while using less energy than halogen lights.

From the side, the styling strongly suggests traditional Infiniti. The QX4 is derived from the Nissan Pathfinder and its physical architecture projects that. Another indication of this is the handle for the rear side door, which is not in the door's lower panel but notched flush into the trailing edge of the window frame, well above the QX4's beltline.

The lower-body, side cladding is beefier, the better to link the fuller front and rear bumpers. The result is a visually, more-solidly planted vehicle.

The QX4's split-level rear liftgate has been revised. Gone is the license plate housing that contrasted with the rest of the tailgate in both color and texture. In its place is a smaller inset surrounded by a softly sculpted rim that smoothes while adding substance.

Interior Features

The 2001 QX4 delivers a pleasing array of interior enhancements as well. Where the 2000 QX4 suffered from a monochromatic and seriously plastic interior, the 2001 gets an upgrade. Just don't scratch too deep.

Plastic trim designed to look like birds-eye-maple brightens the center console, dash and door panels (and the optional, partially leather-covered steering wheel). Standard leather seating surfaces grace comfortable seats on both models.

The 2001 QX4 also gets a classic-faced, analog clock that's been a trademark of the Infiniti sedans from the beginning, 10 years ago.

The optional navigation system does all the expected stuff - finding the nearest service station, guiding drivers to their choice of hotel, but offers a fresh new display. Called the "bird's eye view," this takes the standard paper map-type plan view and lays it down in the screen, presenting the route almost three-dimensionally from the perspective of a bird flying over it. In addition, drawing from the database, the display shows depictions of the hotels, hospitals and the like along the route.

The airplane-like overhead console features a drop-down receptacle to hold sunglasses. Tall drivers need to be careful to avoiding bumping heads.

Front-seat passengers are protected not only by supplemental side-impact airbags but also by so-called active head restraints, engineered to thrust upward and forward to cushion occupants' heads in the event of a violent rear-ender. Rear outboard-seat occupants enjoy three-point belts and head restraints. But occupants of the rear center seat get a lap belt only and no head restraint.

Interior dimensions are unchanged from the 2000 model's. The QX4 is a bit roomier up front than the Jeep Grand Cherokee and nearly as roomy as the Land Rover Discovery Series II. Front seat headroom for QX4 is 39.5 inches, compared with 39.7 inches in the Jeep Grand Cherokee, and 40.4 inches in the Land Rover Discovery Series II. Front seat leg room is 41.7 inches in the QX4, 41.4 inches in the Grand Cherokee , and 42.3 inches in the Discovery. Cargo capacity with the rear seat folded up is 85 cubic feet in the QX4, 72.3 cubic feet in the Grand Cherokee, 63.3 cubic feet in the Discovery. Rear-seat passengers don't fare as well as the cargo. Rear headroom in the QX4 measures 37.5 inches, while the Grand Cherokee delivers 39.5 inches, and the Discovery provides 40.1 inches. Rear-seat passengers don't enjoy a lot of foot space, but they do get reclining seatbacks.

A nice touch are storage bins located in the cargo area.

The running boards are more hassle than convenience. For most people, the QX4 doesn't sit high enough to need them, so their primary function devolves to depositing road grime on occupants pants' legs/hosiery.

Driving Impressions

Despite all its luxury features and adornments, the QX4 is still a sport-utility vehicle. Although much of the roughness normally associated with truck-based utility vehicles has been squelched and upholstered over, the QX4's center of gravity is immutably higher than a car's. So it leans more when turning, no matter the speed or road surface.

But otherwise, the QX4 delivers a comfortable ride. It absorbs potholes and other bumps well. Very little wind noise intrudes, although the standard roof rack generates a modicum of whistle.

It's also capable, if not overwhelmingly competent, when driven off-road. It has an ultra-low transfer gear, essential not only for safe descents of unpaved tracks but also for walking-speed ascents of rock-strewn trails, which attests at least to an intent by its designers and engineers that the QX4 be perceived as more than merely a pretending dirt-tracker.

The QX4 comes with disc brakes in front and drum brakes in the rear, rather than the superior four-wheel disc brakes.

The new 24-valve 3.5-liter V6 is far more sophisticated than last year's 12-valve 3.3-liter V6 and power is up dramatically. This year's QX4 boasts a whopping 240 horsepower, compared with 170 last year. Torque has been raised from 200 foot-pounds to 265 foot-pounds at 3,200 rpm. This gives the QX4 the best horsepower in its class, and only the Jeep Grand Cherokee with the 4.7-liter engine tops the QX4's torque rating (with 295 foot-pounds). Anybody who drove an earlier QX4 will appreciate the improvement.

Buyers choosing the 2001 4WD model get the same power-distribution system as in the 2000. Adapted from a high-performance sport coupe available only in Japan, the QX4's four-wheel-drive system is fully automatic; when road conditions change the driver doesn't have to do a thing except drive. A collection of electronic sensors monitor what's happening at each axle and direct power where it can best be used. For the miniscule percentage of owners who dare to try something truly radical, as in treading where vehicles aren't intended to go, there's a manually selected, ultra-low set of gears permitting the optimal application of horsepower and torque at walking speeds. The 2WD model boasts the same ground clearance as the 4WD model, a quite respectable 8.3 inches (unchanged from the 2000 model).

With an Environmental Protection Agency-estimated 15/19 miles per gallon city/highway, fuel economy is on a par with or better than the competition, equaling the Grand Cherokee V8 model's and exceeding the Discovery's 13/17 mpg.

Final Word

Getting a much better dealer may be one of the best reasons for buying an Infiniti QX4 over a Nissan Pathfinder. Infiniti has worked hard at continuing and improving the relationship buyers have with its dealers, and generally with success. Among the Infiniti benefits: Free loaner cars or drop-offs and pick-ups are offered while service is being performed.

Despite sharing so much with the Nissan Pathfinder, the Infiniti QX4 isn't a Pathfinder; that's truer this year than before. It looks like a luxury vehicle, both outside and inside. It coddles, physically and visually, in ways the Pathfinder doesn't.

Overall, the QX4 delivers a luxury experience.

© New Car Test Drive, Inc.

New Car Test Drive

Copyright © 1994-2009 New Car Test Drive, Inc.

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