Automobiles

[REVIEW] 2019 Infiniti QX80

Can you remember when the iPhone 4S was released by Apple? It was shipped with iOS 5, which was the first introduction of a new automated voice control system called Siri. It was also the first introduction of iCloud.

Why am I writing about the iPhone 4S and the introduction of Siri and iCloud? Because the year was 2011 and that was when Infiniti first introduced their full-sized body-on-frame QX56 luxo-SUV. Yup, it was actually that long ago…when Siri was first introduced to the world. Amazing!

In 2016, the outgoing model actually accounted for about nine per cent of Infiniti’s global sales, with more than 20,708 units sold globally.

Rebadged as the QX80 a few years ago, Infiniti’s largest vehicle rumbled along relatively unchanged. However, it received an exterior refresh for 2018 and yes is still one of the few big luxurious yachts still available to two up to 8,500 pounds of stuff behind it.

So, what’s new?

Infiniti says that the global full-sized SUV segment currently accounts for more than half of all-full-sized luxury car sales around the world. No doubt this is why it was still worth giving the QX80 a nip and a tuck. The segment is a tremendously important one for a luxury brand to have a play within.

While the Infiniti QX80 was always large, plush, quiet, well-equipped, and gussied up on the inside, it wasn’t very pretty on the outside. Officially, Infiniti says that the company’s “Powerful Elegance” design language has now been applied on a new scale. But basically, what this means is that thankfully, the Beluga-like snout has been brought more inline with the rest of the Infiniti brand, and it actually looks much more stylish now.

The designers did this by raising the visual height of the double-arch grille and signature LED headlamps. The leading edge of the hood was also extended 3.5 inches further forward and sits 0.79 inches higher, creating a more squared-off profile and a visible, longer, and flatter surface when viewed from the side. The lower section of the bumper was also raised, elevating the visual centre of gravity.

The headlamps also now further wrap around the front corners of the hood and into the fenders. As they taper, the lamps lead into a strong, straight shoulder line that runs from the grille all the way to the rear. Paired with upright and functional air vents aft of the front wheel arches and 0.79-inch wider aluminum sill step running between the axles, these geometric lines convey a muscular, almost architectural statement in profile.

Like the rest of the QX80, the rear exhibits simple, clearly defined details designed to raise the visual center of gravity. With new sharper, thinner LED tail lamps, straight character lines for bodywork and a raised lower bumper section, the 2019 QX80 appears wider, taller and more athletic than its predecessor.

Newly designed and optionally available forged “liquid metal” high gloss 22-inch wheels are now also available though the standard set are still 20-inchers.

Interior opulence

Inside, the Infiniti’s cabin is still a materially pleasant place to be. With a 15-speaker Bose audio system, heated and cooled ventilated front seats, quilted leather surfaces, the QX80 feels every bit like a luxury vehicle. Almost every surface you touch is soft and leather covered. Much of it is finely tailored and crafted by hand.

My test vehicle was equipped with supremely comfortable second-row captain chairs. With the QX80’s cavernous amount of interior and legroom, fitting a rear facing childseat was extremely easy, and my two year old nephew enjoyed the towering view out of the Infiniti’s side windows.

Access to the third row is easily facilitated as the second row chairs tumble forward using just one hand to operate the controls. With its independent rear suspension, the third row seats are reasonably comfortable, but they’re still a bit of a cramped place to be for taller adults.

The QX80 shows its age here as well as it is missing some of the convenience controls that newer competitors such as the latest generation Ford Expedition or Lincoln Navigator have.

Tweaks to the 2019 QX80’s interior include a range of rich new materials, with seats, door panels, and armrests wrapped in perforated and quilted leather. There have also been minor ergonomic improvements to give occupants more storage space, including a larger smartphone and tablet stowing area in the centre console.

Depending on specification, the backs of each seat are also skinned in quilted leather, harmonizing the effect throughout the cabin, with the upholstery sewn together with contrast double-stitching. There is a new leather-wrapped gear shift design with contrast-stitching, and the steering wheel has also been redesigned, again wrapped and trimmed in the same colour-contrast leather as the rest of the interior.

The QX80’s cabin was never a noisy place to be. But further efforts have been made to isolate noise in the cabin even more so.

A wider soundproofing area has been added behind the dashboard panel to further reduce engine noise and denser floor carpets and additional soundproofing materials around the cargo area help to absorb high-frequency noises and vibrations from the road. Infiniti says that the result is a 5 per cent improvement in the cabin’s articulation index score, which is used to measure the audibility of speech between occupants.

In order to keep the kids and adults occupied on long distance trips, the rear entertainment system has also been upgraded. Larger, higher-resolution screens provide the interface for connectivity and entertainment devices. Each screen can now display individual content, as opposed to both rear screens sharing the same input.

The screens in the backs of the front seats have increased in size from 7.0 to 8.0 inches, offering a higher 960 x 540-pixel resolution (up from 800 x 480). Furthermore, the 16:9-ratio screens support super-resolution imaging and Ultra Resolution Technology. The latter enables the screens to convert content into a sharper high-definition picture.

More connected than previously, the second-row rear-seat entertainment system now also supports input from the new HDMI auxiliary port in addition to a media USB port. Two further USB ports have added to the rear of the cabin to charge mobile devices. Where the outgoing QX80 offered wireless headphone support only, the new model now also has headphone jacks for two rear passengers to listen via wired headphones.

Despite the changes though, the rear entertainment system lacks the ability to mirror driving data or navigation content with the front Infiniti InTouch infotainment system, nor can it wirelessly stream or mirror smartphone content like the system in the latest Ford and Lincoln vehicles.

Part of the challenge lies with the QX80’s InTouch infotainment system itself. While it has been updated to include voice recognition in more languages, it feels quite out-of-date in both graphics and user interface functionality compared to even Infiniti’s latest system in its other vehicles.

Equally hilariously out-of-date is the low-resolution, dot-matrix driver-information screen in the gauge cluster, Whereas others have moved onto high-resolution colour screens, the QX80 still trundles on with its back-to-basic display.

It’s reliable, it works, but it’s just a bit back to basic.

A pleasantly dignified driving experience

Infiniti has long been a pioneer in changing public perception of active and protective safety technologies. The brand led the way with a range of world-first applications of proactive safety innovations including Backup Collision Intervention, Lane Departure Warning and Prevention, and Predictive Forward Collision Warning.

Despite its age, Infiniti has thankfully been updating the QX80 with most of these latest active and passive safety technologies. These include active cruise control, blindspot warning, forward collision warning, lane departure warning, front and rear-collision intervention, and adaptive headlights.

Yes it may be three tons, but the QX80 is surprisingly easy and comfortable to drive. Granted, it’s not nimble, nor does it encourage you to drive quickly. The steering is predictable, but has a few too many turns lock-to-lock and is numb and overboosted.

However, its lightweight and relatively quick-feeling ratio helps to mask the QX80’s considerable size. Is it as good as the electric power steering system on the latest Range Rovers or Lincoln Navigators? No, definitely not but it doesn’t feel as if you’re piloting an oil tanker either.

Part of the reason why the QX80 feels lighter on its feet than perhaps the Cadillac Escalade, is also due to Infiniti’s Hydraulic Body Motion Control. This clever hydraulic suspension system resists body roll by eliminating conventional anti-roll bars. A four-wheel-independent suspension with self-leveling rear air-springs helps to create a ride quality that is generally quite good, unlike most similar behemoths that use live rear axles. At times though, there is no masking the top-heaviness.

As fetching as the new 22 inch wheels are, there is no ignoring the fact that they do allow more initial impact sensations to permeate the cabin when driving over bumps. The standard 20 inch units are probably a better choice if you want the best ride quality.

Power to move you and a few others plus your toys

I’m particularly fond of the QX80’s big, naturally aspirated 32-valve direct-injected 5.6-litre V8 engine. Churning out 400 horsepower and 413 lb-ft of torque at 4,000 rpms, the V8 builds power in a linear fashion and sounds incredible when the throttle pedal is pressed to the floor. It can still hustle the QX80 from 0 to 100 km/hr in just over 6 seconds, and also tow up to 8,500 lbs.

The seven-speed automatic transmission is also similarly satisfying, delivering downshifts when necessary. The powertrain is refreshingly straightforward with extra driving modes to choose from.

The QX80 is available with two-wheel drive or Infiniti All-Mode 4WD, the latter enabling four-wheel traction when conditions require it, and off-road capability when the driver demands it. With optimal all-season power delivery, the rear-biased drivetrain defaults to rear-wheel drive, continually adjusting power distribution between front and rear axles.

The system sits in ‘auto’ mode by default, using a computer-controlled transfer case to instantly redistribute engine torque to the wheels with the most traction. Permanent high- and low-range four-wheel drive settings are also available for more challenging situations such as off-roading, or more likely, towing a yacht up a slippery boat launch ramp.

Final thoughts

As the old adage goes, the more things change, the more they stay the same. The QX80 is largely the same old, but better looking and upgraded all around.

Big luxury SUVs tend to have longer life cycles with more years between all-new versions compared to small crossovers. There are fewer and fewer choices when it comes to big SUVs that can fit entire families and also tow their toys. Infiniti knows that it’s still a challenger premium brand and it’s up against some stiff competition. However, the company is confident that the QX80’s upgrades will continue to increase Infiniti’s global market share.

With large SUV buyers citing ride comfort, space, safety, performance, and reliability as the reasons for their increasingly rare vehicular choice, the QX80 is certainly still a reliable choice to explore for those looking for gargantuan elegance.

Andrew Ling
Andrew is a proud car and tech geek who has worked in Surrey for over the last 10 years. He comes from a communications/marketing background and has worked for automotive-related companies such as Edmunds.com, BenzWorld.org since 1999. From track driving, to rally driving to autocross, he has done it all! When he’s not reading about the latest automotive news, he can be found outdoors snapping pictures at various events around town.
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