We’re in the midst of a resurgence in full-size luxury SUVs. A decade ago, it seemed like the big body-on-frame sport utility vehicle was doomed. But a long river of low fuel prices, coupled with a rising tide of recovery has lifted these land yachts to new heights. In the past two years, we’ve seen makeovers for the Lincoln Navigator, GMC Yukon Denali and others drifting by. Not willing to be left out to sea, Infiniti has just unveiled a refreshed version of its full-size body-on-frame SUV. The 2018 Infiniti QX80 is currently on sale at dealerships across North America, and we had a chance to drive it in and around Charleston, South Carolina.
What’s New, Q?
The QX80 was born out of the QX56, Infiniti’s first full-size SUV, which shared a platform with the Nissan Armada from the 2004 to 2010 model years. The current generation vehicle moved to an all-new platform, and bore the QX56 moniker through the 2013 model year, after which it was renamed "QX80" to conform with Infiniti’s new Q/QX naming scheme.
For 2018, the QX80 is all-new from the A-pillar forward (hood, front fenders, grille and front fascia). While the SUV’s design was a bit controversial back in 2011 for being a bit different than the rest — a little swoopier, a little more organic — this makeover tames the front end a bit and brings the QX80 closer to the mainstream. It also brings QX80 into closer conformity with the Infiniti brand design language. Now, when you see a new Infiniti, you’ll be able to quickly note brand commonalities, from the double-arch grille to the look of the headlights, grille and front fascia shape and general character.
Some other exterior tweaks have been executed. The rear fascia, taillights and tailgate have been massaged to improve the relationship between front and rear. The running boards have been widened by 20 mm to ease entry and exit. The 20-inch wheels are now standard, and optional wheels up to 22 inches can be ordered.
The changes on the exterior are subtle but effective. The QX80 now looks a little more tailored and a little more mature than before.
Open Up, I’m Climbing In
Infiniti doesn’t get nearly enough credit for its interiors. When it comes to materials selection, they are second to none in the class, and the QX80 gets flagship-level attention with this iteration. Infiniti tells us that the QX80’s interior is "inspired by luxury jets," and the details support that claim. Delicious quilted leather has a luxury feel and look, and the seats in all positions are ample and generous. There’s a new Saddle Brown semi-aniline leather available for 2018 that looks great and improved stain resistance promises to keep it looking that way.
Performance and Capability
There was no need to update the 5.6-liter V8 gasoline engine that lurks beneath the QX80’s hood, so it carries over with 400 horsepower and 413 lb-ft of torque on tap, and gets hooked up to a 7-speed automatic transmission with either rear-wheel drive or 4-wheel drive ($3,100). The QX80 now gets standard rear auto leveling, and the tires and shocks have been retuned for 2018. Available Hydraulic Body Motion Control (HBMC) (part of the $5,700 Deluxe Technology Package) monitors cornering force and distributes variable pressure to either the outer or inner suspension to deliver minimized body lean and a smoother ride.
Rear-wheel drive versions of the QX80 are rated to achieve 14 mpg city/20 mpg highway. Choosing 4WD dings you for one mpg in each category, for an EPA rating of 13 mpg city/19 mpg hwy. Towing capacity is 8,500 lbs. Each 2018 QX80 comes with a 4-year/60,000-mile basic limited warranty and a 6-year/70,000-mile powertrain limited warranty.
The QX80 is loaded up with technology features — an Infiniti brand hallmark. In the dash, Bose 12-speaker premium audio is standard, and you can access that via the center stack’s 8-inch touchscreen. Nav and Infiniti InTouch systems are also standard, as is an Around View Monitor with Moving Object Detection and Rear Sonar System.
In the category of answers to a question nobody has asked, the Smart Rear View Mirror has to be toward the top of the list. Another component of the Deluxe Technology Package, this one transforms the view in your rearview mirror into a widescreen video image. There are definitely uses for this – it mitigates the visual challenge of driving with a full load of passengers, or with tall packages onboard. The view is great, but it takes a while to get used to the virtual image when you’ve spent your whole driving career looking at a reflection.
For a company that’s high on technology, there’s a surprising lack of the latest and greatest in infotainment. You can’t get Apple CarPlay or Android Auto on a QX80, nor is it equipped with wireless Qi charging.
A big SUV needs advanced safety systems these days, especially when it’s used to transport a big family. Infiniti is proud of its Predictive Forward Collision Warning System, which can scan for stopped traffic two cars ahead. Lane Departure Warning and Prevention, blind spot monitoring and intervention, a full suite of airbags, full-speed range Intelligent Cruise Control, Distance Control Assist and Forward Emergency Braking with Pedestrian Detection all conspire to keep the QX80 and its occupants safe.
Trim Levels and Options
There are two basic models of QX80 for 2018: QX80 (starting at $64,750) and QX80 4WD (starting at $67,850). Both come with the same 5.6-liter V8 with a 7-speed automatic transmission, a moonroof, Class IV tow hitch, proximity key with push button ignition, leather-appointed seating, Bose 13-speaker audio system with Bluetooth streaming audio, a USB port, navigation, Infiniti InTouch services with a free 12-month trial, an around-view monitor and more.
A Driver Assistance Package ($2,900) adds Backup Collision Intervention, Blind Spot Intervention and Warning, Lane Departure Warning and Prevention, Intelligent Cruise Control with Distance Control Assist, Forward Emergency Braking with Pedestrian Detection and more.
A Theater Package ($2,450) includes dual 8-inch monitors in the first-row headrests, a wireless remote control, two sets of wireless headphones and two headphone jacks, auxiliary HDMI/USB A/V inputs and a 120-volt power outlet, heated outboard second-row seats and remote tip-up second-row seats.
The Deluxe Technology Package ($5,700) includes HBMC (as mentioned earlier), heated/ventilated front seats, Charcoal or Espresso Burl Trim, adaptive front lighting with auto-leveling headlights, Smart Rear View Mirror, an upgrade to semi-aniline leather and Bose Cabin Surround Sound System with 15 speakers. Infiniti Wi-Fi is an additional $450 add-on (not including monthly subscription fees for 1 GB or 5 GB plans), and can connect with up to five devices.
We drove the QX80 in and around Charleston, South Carolina, a charming destination that suited the QX80 perfectly. Infiniti chose The Dewberry as its headquarters, and the property and vehicle couldn’t have been better matched. The Dewberry began its life as a Federal Government office building, a grand example of mid-century modern architecture. The building had the distinction of being the last project authorized during John F. Kennedy’s presidency. After its tenure as a government building expired, the building fell into neglect, disrepair and eventual abandonment. Developer John Dewberry rescued the building and repurposed it to its current use, and it is now a treasured showpiece in Downtown Charleston — an upscale hotel with luxury appointments and services. Just exploring the marble and wood surfaces in the building is an adventure in itself.
The QX80 is a similarly old-fashioned body-on-frame (truck-based) vehicle. It would’ve been very easy for Infiniti to discard it for a unibody (car-based) concept, but they chose instead to renovate a vehicle with very good bones. The result is a premium SUV that has a commanding presence on the road and treats its driver and passengers to a luxurious, comfortable experience with smooth edges and a firmly cushioned ride. You can push the QX80 hard, and it responds with elegant capability. The suspension and chassis tuning keeps things from getting floaty or too plush. Driving the QX80 is a reminder of why people love big luxury SUVs — they’re very rewarding and flattering vehicles. When you climb behind the wheel of a QX80, driving is an event, and you’re up on stage. It’s easy to scorn the class of full-size luxury from a snide position on the sidewalk or from the cramped back seat of a Prius, but it’s very hard to complain from the inside of a QX80.
Full-size premium SUVs are a paradoxically small set of competitors: There’s the Cadillac Escalade, GMC Yukon, Lincoln Navigator, Lexus LX, Mercedes-Benz GLS, all of which merit serious consideration. The 2018 Infiniti QX80 delivers something a little different, and does it very well. Check it out before you buy a competitor.
To gain access to this information, Autotrader attended an event sponsored by the vehicle’s manufacturer.