published Saturday, May 17th, 2014

Test Drive: Infiniti QX80 exudes quiet power

The Infiniti QX80 is a quiet yet powerful seven passenger SUV.
The Infiniti QX80 is a quiet yet powerful seven passenger SUV.
Photo by Mark Kennedy.

FAST FACTS

* Model: Infiniti QX80 AWD

* Exterior color: Black Obsidian

* Interior color: Graphite

* Engine: 5.6 liter, V-8

* Horsepower: 400

* Transmission: seven-speed automatic

* Fuel economy: 20 mpg highway, 14 mpg city

* Dealer: Infiniti of Chattanooga

* Price (as tested): $81,295

When you've been around the block a couple of times like some of us, you learn to connect the dots on seemingly random events.

One day earlier this week, for instance, I read a report that the price of gasoline in the United States is likely to drift downward for at least the next three years due to an increase in the domestic oil supply. On the same day, I heard a radio ad for a local car store deeply discounting small, hybrid cars.

Coincidence? I don't think so.

Nobody is expecting $2-a-gallon gasoline again, but the prospect of stable oil prices for the foreseeable future is rekindling America's love affair with big, powerful SUVs.

And few are bigger or more powerful that Infiniti's massive QX80 seven-passenger SUV. With roof rails, it's over 6-feet tall and 17-feet long. Fully equipped, an all-wheel-drive QX80 tips the scales at 5,878 pounds before you add the first passenger or sack of groceries.

George Becknell, general manager of Infiniti of Chattanooga, offered us a Black Obsidian QX80 for this week's test drive. The QX80 line starts at $62,700, but well-equipped, all-wheel-drive versions can drift north of $80,000. Our technology-packed tester has an MSRP of $81,295.

STYLING AND FEATURES

Boxier than some SUVs, the QX80 has enough of Infiniti's trademark curves to rescue it from criticism that its design is just a collection of right angles. For example, the flowing hood and fascia give the SUV a gorgeously sculpted front quarter. Judicious use of chrome on the grille and side air vents add to the QX80's regal appearance.

This is a tall, long SUV is built to yield massive interior volume. With the second- and third-row seats down, the QX80 offers a whopping 95 cubic feet of cargo area (about 50 cubic feet with just the third-row seats folded flat). A power button on the dash flips the second row captain's chairs down and forward for quick access to the third row.

Huge doors that make for easy cabin entry and exits. Our tester came with special nine-spoke, 22-inch wheels shod with all-season Bridgestone tires, a $2,450 option.

Inside, the QX80 is plush and roomy, befitting its price point. A $4,650 deluxe touring package layers on luxury with sumptuous, semi-aniline leather seats that are broad in the hips, yet firm and supportive. The high-grade leather feels like it would age gracefully. The leather theme carries onto a massive dash, which also includes attractive mocha burl trim accents. A 15-speaker Bose sound system is also part of the touring package, as are heated and cooled front seats.

Sales consultant Nick Stembridge demonstrated the QX80s state-of-the-art telematics. Unprompted, the system spoke up to warn us that the area was under a severe thunderstorm watch. The QX80's electronics also include an adaptive cruise control that allows you to dial in the exact distance, in car lengths, that you'd like to keep between you and the traffic ahead, Stembridge said. The cruise feature is part of a $3,200 tech package that also includes blind-spot warnings, a back-up collision system and lane departure warning. Infiniti's nifty Around View Monitor, which makes parking much easier, is standard on the QX80.

DRIVING IMPRESSIONS

Two words come to mind when driving the V-8 powered QX80, quiet and smooth. Despite its elevated chassis, the big Infiniti has a car-like ride with great cabin isolation. The 5.6-liter engine doesn't growl, it purrs -- while pouring out 400 horsepower and 413 pound-feet of torque.

In base trim, the QX80 comes with front-wheel-drive. All-wheel drive QX80s, like our tester, cost about $3,100 more, a reasonable premium for the added security if you occasionally have to drive on a snow-covered mountain road. The AWD system has "snow," "tow," and "hill start" settings.

Body lean is minimized by Infiniti's Hydraulic Body Motion Control System that distributes pressure to the suspension system in a way that results in a smoother ride. The end result is a tank-sized vehicle that's light on its feet and feels like it's floating on a cloud.

BOTTOM LINE

Customers of the QX80 are likely to also look at the big SUVs from Mercedes-Benz, Cadillac and Lexus. At this price-point, all the vehicles are sweet and purchasing decisions largely become a matter of taste. The Infiniti QX80 will appeal to drivers who want the highest level of cabin luxury, an ultra-quiet driving experience and cutting-edge electronic safety features.

If you're in the market for a big, luxurious SUV, it's worth the trip to Infiniti of Chattanooga's gleaming new showroom at 7646 Lee Highway to check out the QX80.

Contact Mark Kennedy at mkennedy@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6645. Follow him on Twitter @TFPCOLUMNIST. Subscribe to his Facebook updates at www.facebook.com/mkennedycolumnist.

about Mark Kennedy...

Mark Kennedy is a Times Free Press columnist and editor. He writes the "LIfe Stories" human interest column for the City section and the "Family Life" column for the Life section. He also writes an automotive column, “Test Drive,” for the Business section. For 13 years, Kennedy was features editor of the newspaper, and before that he was the newspaper’s first Sunday editor. The Times Free Press Life section won the state press award for ...

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