Infiniti changed its model designations for 2014, ostensibly to simplify the alphanumeric soup it had borrowed from the Europeans. Thus the full-size Infiniti SUV I just drove changed its name from QX56 to QX80.
I'm a little fuzzy about what we might have accomplished here. The name didn't get any shorter, just less descriptive. At least the QX56 moniker told us this big guy was powered by a 5.6-liter engine.
Oh, well. Maybe QX80 refers to the fact the tester would have seated 8.0 people if it didn't have that big console plunked in the middle of the second row of seats.
The operative term with the QX80 is big. It's more than 17 feet long and nearly seven feet wide, for openers. The wheels on the tester (part of a $2,450 tire and wheel package) were 22-inchers. I don't remember ever driving a noncommercial vehicle with rims that large. That's roughly the diameter of the Colosseum. If you demounted one of the tires that fits on these, you could hold a chariot race within its confines.
Happily, the big ute's dimensions translate into an exceptionally roomy interior. There's plenty of leg- and shoulder room in the first two rows of seats, and even the third row, which is obviously intended for children, still has enough legroom to allow someone 6-2 to squeeze in. And even with the third row in use, there's enough cargo room left for the weekly supermarket binge.
Big also describes the QX80's thirst. Of course, when you are talking about a three-ton vehicle powered by a 400-horsepower V-8 that can haul a lot of people and tow up to 8,500 pounds, you can't expect a small hybrid's sipping rates. And you certainly don't get them. The vehicle (for which premium fuel is recommended) has EPAs of 14 city and 20 highway. I got a little more than 12 m.p.g. in mixed driving.
Infiniti's full-size SUV was born in 2004 and was essentially a fancy Nissan Armada, which was built off a Titan pickup-truck platform. The current model came along in 2011 and marked a significant departure from the Armada. The new Infiniti was still a traditional, body-over-frame SUV, but instead of using the Titan architecture, it employed the underpinnings from an SUV never sold in this country: the Nissan Patrol. Add to that a techier, more powerful 5.6-liter V-8 (400 horses instead of the Armada's 317) and a nifty seven-speed automatic transmission and you had a very different - and very improved - vehicle.
In addition to improved performance - that direct-injected V-8 gets the 6,000-pound QX80 from 0 to 60 in a surprising 6.5 seconds - the current model solves the first-gen's major problem: interiors not on a par with competitors like the Cadillac Escalade and Lincoln Navigator.
For a big beast of burden, the QX80 does OK in the handling department. The steering is a tad vague but hardly disconcerting. Since it is a true SUV that can provide more than nine inches of ground clearance, it acquits itself better than most crossovers when taken off road.
I think its high card is its ride, which is quiet and comfortable.
As it turns out, the QX80's interior is as memorable as its body is forgettable. You could argue that it's not hard to design a handsome interior when you start with expensive options like semi-aniline leather and generously sized burl veneer accents. But the clean, fresh design I found inside the tester brought out the best in these quality materials.
The government has not crash-rated the QX80.
2014 Infiniti QX80 (AWD)
Base price: $64,450.
As tested: $79,095.
Standard equipment: 5.6-liter engine, seven-speed automatic transmission, all-wheel-drive system that includes automatic, four-wheel high, four-wheel low range, plus snow and tow modes. Amenities and safety gear are what you'd expect in a luxury vehicle.
Options: Include a $3,100 theater package, a $3,250 technology package replete with accident-avoidance devices, and a $4,650 deluxe touring package that, among other things, replaces the regular leather with semi-aniline, and the tuscan burl trim with the more posh mocha burl trim.
Fuel economy: 14 city, 20 highway (premium fuel).
Engine performance: Excellent.
Ride comfort: Top shelf.
Styling: Less than memorable.
Warranty: Four years/ 60,000 miles bumper
The Ben key: Four bens, excellent; three Bens,
good; two Bens, fair;
one Ben, poor.