Pros: Powerful V8 engine; lovely interior detail; impressive electronic safety assists; surprisingly manageable road manners

Cons: Poor fuel economy; polarizing exterior design

Subtle is not something the 2012 Infiniti QX56 does very well, so if you're looking for a nice, low-key luxury SUV, this isn't the place to start. Beyond its massive proportions both laterally and longitudinally, the QX56's styling is its most-getting feature, one that can't help but draw stares. Inside its boxy silhouette, the QX is covered in bulging fenders and bulbous corners, slathered with chrome accents and a massive set of nine-spoke alloy wheels that, when rolling, look like giant fan blades ready to slice into anything that draws near.

Newly redesigned in 2011, the QX56 jettisons the Titan pickup-truck platform that spawned the original QX in favor of a more modern Nissan full-size SUV platform sourced from models sold outside the United States. The new platform serves the QX well, giving it better proportions, a better suspension and a more unique identity. The QX56's gargantuan proportions serve its passengers well, providing ample space in all three rows or, with just two rows active, a plentiful cargo bay to hide luggage, sports gear or the latest acquisitions from Best Buy.

When stacked against its competition, the QX56 trounces most challengers in horsepower, handling, price and even fuel economy.

Comfort & Utility

If you want to see what separates a luxury SUV from an ordinary SUV, take a look inside the 2012 Infiniti QX56. The available semi-aniline leather (part of the Deluxe Touring package) feels as buttery soft as it looks, and the seats have a lovely stitch pattern that adds depth and richness to the interior. The dash carries Infiniti's signature style, with vast stretches of real wood trim, a two-tone dash pad and a simple, clean instrument layout with a large LCD navigation screen as its focal point.

The QX56's seating is supremely supportive in the first and second rows, and even the 60/40 power folding third-row seats, while not spacious, are suitable for adults. One important note: the QX56's second-row seats are twin captain's chairs separated by a wide console. If you need three-row seating, you'll need to check off the 60/40 split bench seat option, which can be had at no extra charge. Oddly, to obtain heated second-row seats, you have to order the pricey Theatre package. It's an odd pairing. The way we see it, heated second-row seats are a common luxury feature and should be part of the Deluxe Touring package.

What impresses us most about the QX56's interior is how much stuff Infiniti has designated as standard equipment. With a base price starting at around $60,000 for the 2WD model and $62,000 for 4WD, the QX56 includes a 13-speaker Bose audio system, Intelligent Key keyless entry and push-button start, a power sunroof, a power rear liftgate, HID headlamps, 10-way power driver's and eight-way power passenger's seat with two-way power lumbar support, a heated steering wheel, power tilting and telescoping steering wheel, voice-activated hard-drive navigation, Bluetooth, front and rear sonar parking aids and the Around View 360-degree monitor.

The options list is short, broken into packages such as the $4,500 Deluxe Touring package (Hydraulic Body Motion Control, climate-controlled front seats, upgraded Bose surround-sound system, Advanced Climate Control and headlamp washers), the Theatre package at $2,950 (dual seven-inch LCD screens, wireless headsets, heated second-row seats, remote tip-up second-row seats), and the $3,000 Technology package, which is described below.

Technology

The most impressive technology features for the QX56 can be found in the available Technology package. The package includes Intelligent Cruise Control, which keeps a safe distance between you and traffic ahead; Lane Departure Warning and Lane Departure Prevention, two systems that alert you when drifting out of your lane and will gently move the car back if you fail to respond; and Distance Control Assist, which alerts the driver to slow down by pulsing the throttle and applying the brakes.

The Around-View monitor uses cameras located in the side mirrors, front grille and rear hatch to create 360-degree and bird's-eye views of the scene outside the car, a great aid when parking or pulling out from a blind curve.

Performance & Fuel Economy

The QX56 is powered by a 5.6-liter V8 that makes an impressive 400 horsepower and 413 lb-ft of torque. That's a lot of power at this price point, bested only by the Cadillac Escalade, which has 403-hp and 417 lb-ft of torque. Mated to a seven-speed automatic transmission, the QX56's V8 is marvelously smooth and powerful, capable of producing some delightfully quick passing and merging speeds, not to mention flat-out acceleration from a dead stop.

Models equipped with Infiniti's All-Mode Four-Wheel Drive include a driver-selectable Auto/4HI/4LO computer-controlled transfer case. Left in Auto mode, the system will detect wheel slippage and route power to the wheels with the best traction.

The QX56's fuel economy isn't anything to write home about. Nevertheless, it's better than almost all of its rivals, save the Cadillac Escalade Hybrid. The EPA rates the QX56 at 14 mpg city/20 mpg highway for both 2WD and 4WD models. The QX56 is rated to tow up to 8,500 pounds.

Safety

The 2012 Infiniti QX56 comes with a full roster of safety gear including four-wheel ABS, electronic traction and stability control and an available Hydraulic Body Motion Control system that uses sensors to pressurize individual shocks, minimizing body roll and lean. Inside, the QX provides front, front side impact and three-row side curtain airbags. The Technology package also includes many electronic safety measures to help avoid accidents, keep the vehicle in its lane and alert the driver to vehicles in the QX's blind spot.

Driving Impressions

As big SUVs go, this is one of the better-handling ones. Unlike the Lexus LX570, the QX doesn't feel large and ponderous. Its steering effort is light and direct, with good feedback in fast curves. The optional Hydraulic Body Motion Control system helps the QX56 avoid that tippy feeling commonly found in large vehicles with a high center of gravity. As for acceleration, the 5.6-liter V8 turns in an A-plus performance, responding instantly to throttle input and delivering a sweet, low rumble that is music to a V8 lover's ears.

Other Cars to Consider

Lexus LX570 - There is no contest here. The QX56 is superior in ride, comfort, handling, power, towing and fuel economy. The Lexus may have a few point advantages in resale, but that's about all we can think of.

Cadillac Escalade - The Escalade offers two body lengths, the longer of which has a larger cargo hold than the QX56. Cadillac also offers a hybrid model.

Mercedes-Benz GL - The GL isn't as large as the QX56, and it drives a bit better. Plus, you can opt for a V6 or diesel engine. But a comparably equipped GL costs more than the QX56, and we find the GL's interior a bit conservative.

AutoTrader Recommends

If you're going to do it, do it right. Since there is no difference in fuel economy, go for the 4WD over the 2WD model, then toss in the Deluxe Touring package. If you want heated second-row seats, you have to tack on the Theatre package. The Technology package is helpful for those who think they might need the added assistance, but it's not a must-have.

author photo

Joe Tralongo started in the industry writing competitive comparison books for a number of manufacturers, before moving on in 2000 to become a freelance automotive journalist. He's well regarded for his keen eye for detail, as well as his ability to communicate complex mechanical terminology into user-friendly explanations.

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