Behemoth-sized, three-row, go-anywhere sport utility vehicles, once viewed only as beasts of burden, now adorn sales lots of many up-market luxury brands as pure-breed stallions.
Rather than packing cattle feed and trailering livestock, these bejeweled teamsters accommodate the extended family within exquisite comfort while towing recreational speedboat to the Lake Geneva summer cottage.
Priced with a bottom line resembling a one-bedroom condo in select Chicago-area suburbs, these vehicles have a finite audience but multi-pronged agendas. Luxury pricing promises a tidy profit for automakers. In addition, these SUVs enjoy double duty as flagship vehicles on the truck side of the ledger, serving as aspirational vehicles.
Virtually unchanged from the 2015 model year and built from a solid, dependable platform, Infiniti's sizeable contribution, the QX80 SUV, adds a limited edition (1,000 units) "Signature" in 2016. What to expect? Body side molding and chrome mirror caps outside with split bench seating and saddle tan interior inside.
Keeping dealer transactions simple, Infiniti offers three decently equipped QX80 versions outside the short-run Signature. A QX80 rear-drive edition starts at $63,250, opt for all-wheel drive and expect a $66,360 price tag. Our tester, an all-wheel-drive QX80 Limited with every conceivable option rocks the bank account $88,850 ($89,845 after factoring in a $995 destination charge). No extra charge for choosing between a seven-seat (middle-row bucket seats) and eight-seat (middle row bench) configuration.
The few a-la-carte options offered in the two non-Limited trims include a Driver's Assist Package (blind-spot warning distance control assist, radar cruise control) Theatre Package (two seven-inch monitors built into first-row headrests and two wireless headphones) and Technology Package.
All three versions come standard with Infiniti's most potent powertrain, a naturally-aspirated 5.6-liter V-8 pumping out a girthy 400 horsepower and teamed with a seven-speed automatic transmission. Premium fuel is recommended to top off the healthy 26 gallon tank. Fuel mileage? If it's a deciding factor, check smaller crossovers as city mileage registers in the lower teens.
Infiniti, Nissan's luxury division launched in 1989, renamed all vehicles within its product line in the 2014 model year, plucking the letter "Q" as a uniting prefix force. All Infiniti vehicles now start with "Q." Prior to 2014, Infiniti used a hodgepodge of alpha-numeric identifiers including FX37, G37, M56, etc.
These alpha-numeric formulas bring a bit of continuity. Sedans and coupes start with the Q prefix followed by a numerical factor of 10; the larger the suffix, the bigger the sedan or coupe. The flagship Q70 full-size sedan evolved from the M56. Five-door crossovers and sport utility vehicles now begin with 'QX' followed by a divisible by 10 suffix increasing as vehicle size grows.
This week's tester's prefix portion remains unwavering. The 2013 Infiniti QX56 full-size SUV (56 reflected the engine's 5.6-liter displacement) gave way to today's 2016 Infiniti QX80
Sales of Infiniti's largest offering in the 2015 calendar year reached a tidy 15,646 units, a nice 13 percent increase from the previous 12-month cycle. Impressively, QX80 ranked as Infiniti's third best-selling vehicle last year trailing only the mid-size Q50 sedan and mid-size QX 60 crossover.
These SUVs take pride in towing ability, with QX80 able to tag along big toys (up to 8,500 pounds) with plush interior surroundings not found in a majority of pickup trucks often serving towing needs.
Turning effort remains effortless in this 5,888-pound truck, a credit to a hydraulic body motion control system, engine speed-sensitive power steering and a rear self-leveling suspension. The potent V-8 engine is appreciated as the vehicle's girth is apparent when changing lanes. Safety nuances (blind-spot warnings, lane departure) help vehicles of this size maneuver crowded roads.
The bold front face includes a tall, stately chrome-like honeycomb grille and one of the industry's top logo designs front and center. Infiniti's logo visualizes 'never-ending infinity' with a 3-D inspired graphic of a three-quartered-circle poised towards a new dimension.
Static running boards built into lower side frames with after-dark illumination and rubber grip strips aid when taking steps upward. Some competitors offer boards which retract under the vehicle when not in use. Side panels and front hood remain smooth faced, with gentle character lines. The upper hatch roof-door intersection features a 90-degree angle rather than curved architecture contributing to a traditional SUV stance. Front side fenders include three small functional port holes for airing the engine compartment. Chrome highlights strap-like door handles while framing long, tall side windows.
When entering, sturdy inside-mounted "A" pillar grab handles aid the first steps. Once inside, plush suede materials adorn side pillars and ceiling.
Expect ginormous head in leg room in rows one and two. Our Limited edition included two middle row captain's chairs (seven-seat configuration). These chairs provide relatively easy access to the third row as seatbacks fold down, than the entire unit flips forward creating a wide aisle. Expect a bit tighter leg and head room in the far back row as the floor is elevated from the front two rows, but still accommodating three average-size adults if the need arises.
Behind the prone third row, a very usable 16.6 cubic feet of cargo space remains capable of holding a Caddy-Shack-sized golf bag. Additional cargo space becomes available as third-row 60/40 backrests fold flat onto cushions via right-panel electric power buttons. The lift back is also power operated via key-fob, under-dash interior button or outside electronic touch pad.
Middle row riders enjoy seven- inch color monitors built into head rests of the front bucket seats. The power glass-sliding moon roof includes a manually movable shade cover extending to the driver and shot-gun riders.
The eight-inch, in-dash non-touch center screen includes a large twist dial and rectangular-like push plates below to summon multiple commands. All plates reside in a brushed- aluminum environment. Sound system (station pre-set, AM/FM/XM band, CD options) and ventilation push buttons reside below with similar brushed aluminum highlights and twist knobs to the sides. Secondary commands are built into the four-spoke steering wheel. Overall, it's relatively intuitive and non-frustrating when on the road.
Centering all these commands; an elegant oval analog time piece with dash lines designating the 12 hours of the day.
The dashboard and doors include brown matte-finish wood-like panels and soft-touch light brown materials with white stitching adorning the heated steering wheel, seats and dash.
An electronic dial aft of the floor-mounted transmission shifter selects all-wheel, four high and four low settings along with tow and snow modes. The large, wide sliding arm rest with top-side quilting pattern includes electronic plug-in ports inside. The parking brake is foot activated.
An extra-large instrument panel includes beefy-sized analog-inspired center circles with smaller quarter-sized dials flanking lower outside corners. Smack dab in the middle, a digital screen with panels monitored from a push-button framing the IP.
2016 Infiniti QX80
Price as tested: $89,845
Engine: 5.6-liter V-8 engine
Fuel estimates: 13 mpg city, 19 mpg highway
Length: 208.9 inches
Wheelbase: 121.1 inches
Height: 75.8 inches
Curb weight: 5,888 pounds
Powertrain warranty: 6 year/70,000 miles
Assembly: Kyusha, Japan