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Bourbon, Bluegrass and THE BOOK – Driving the 2011 Infiniti QX56

The King is DEAD, long live the King. Very appropriate for the all new Infiniti QX56 being launched in the USA later this year. But first, we have to set the stage for the review itself – not the vehicle. Infiniti hosted small groups of journalists at the 21C Museum Hotel in Louisville. The hotel itself was worth the trip. Quirky, quaint with 42 plastic red penguins to entertain the guests. Penguins with bibs at dinner. Penguins with a shower cap in the tub. The “museum” part of the hotel’s title relates to the art on display – all by artists alive today and produced during the 21st Century. When an artist dies, their works are removed to a private gallery in the owners’ quarters on the 4th floor of the hotel. Oh, yeah, THE BOOK – found in the bar with a plain cover is worth the price of a martini.
The great drive in the QX56 through bourbon country and horse country from Louisville to Frankfort (Kentucky’s capital) was picturesque and the roads were great. Not much traffic. Rolling hills. Perfect for the large sport ute. Major surprise, however, was that the historic mile-after-mile of white fences Kentucky horse country is known for has transformed into creosote black fences… lower cost and longer life. The drive through northern Kentucky is highly recommended. Hopefully you have more than a stock rentacar. Don’t forget to stop at Choctaw Jim’s general store in Campbellsburg. They make a mean peanut and jelly sandwich with peanut butter bread. Yum. The only blemish is that the authentic American Indian artifacts mostly are made in China.
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Intiniti QX56 Formidable Competitor in Premium Luxury SUV Class Now, about the second generation Infiniti QX56. As you probably know, the first generation QX is based on the Titan pickup and assembled at Nissan’s Canton, Mississippi assembly plant. The new QX is based on the Japanese market Nissan Patrol and produced in Japan.

QX56 Styling and Interior Execution The style of the new QX is strong and a bit contrived. It will definitely be controversial, but the look grows on you after a short while. The look is muscular but also sophisticated. The new vehicle is not quite as aggressive as its slab-sided predecessor, but it clearly looks like it can do the job – carrying people and their stuff and towing a trailer.
Inside, the QX56 is fitted with upscale materials. The cockpit execution is excellent with the controls easy to reach, easy to understand and easy to use. The seats are very comfortable for short and long jaunts. A Cadillac Escalade available for review came across as positively cheap when compared with the QX56 interior.
Powertrain Delivers The 5.6L DOHC V8 in the QX56 delivers 25% more power (400HP and 413 lb-ft torque) and 14% better fuel economy (14mpg-city/20mpg-highway) than its predecessor. The V8 is mated to a new 7-speed automatic transmission with adaptive shift control.
While the QX is not of the point-and-shoot variety like the Nissan GT-R, it is very quick for such a large vehicle. Merge onto a fast moving freeway. No problem. Pass four vehicles at a time. If it’s clear; no problem. The engine is powerful, responsive and reassuring. All while powering a package that has great interior quietness.
Handling is good for a vehicle this size and weight. Think about it. Today, a mediocre 4-door sedan performs and handles better than a sports car of 20 years ago. A big sport utility vehicle like QX56 performs and handles better than most competent sedans. You could put it up against the likes of the BMW 5-Series or Mercedes E-Class in moderately aggressive driving situations (but not at the limit, of course). Very impressive, indeed.
Technology Overload? The Infiniti QX56 is available with one of the widest arrays of vehicle technology available. Let’s just list some: All-Mode All Wheel Drive, Hill Start Assist, Automatic Rear Self-Leveling System, Hydraulic Body Motion Control System, Around View Monitor, Lane Departure Warning, Lane Departure Prevention, Intelligent Brake Assist, Forward Collision Warning, Intelligent Cruise Control, Blind Sport Warning System, 8-inch Color Touch Screen Navigation System, Bose Audio System with a 9.3GB Music Box, Bluetooth Streaming Autio, Theater Package with dual headrest mounted monitors. Ah, those Infiniti engineers! Are they answering questions that nobody is asking or are all these nifty features really required? Time, of course, will tell, but using big SUV as a technology test bed is a great idea.
Why is Using QX56 as a Technology Showcase a Good Idea? The QX56 has Infiniti’s youngest, most highly educated and most affluent buyers. These affluent consumers will actively experience these new technologies and determine which are most useful. Having such a fully-featured vehicle gives these folks technology bragging rights.
So It’s Expensive? Infiniti has kept the pricing for the 2011 QX56 the same as for 2010. The base 2WD QX lists for $56,700 and is expected to be 40% of the mix. The AWD version is $59,800 and is expected to be 60% of the mix. All that is well and good, but let’s quibble about their package pricing. In order to get any optional package, you first have to buy the Theater Package ($2,450) that gives dual headrest monitors and a DVD game player. Frankly, I wouldn’t want the Theater Package, so I don’t want to be forced to buy it just so I can get the Deluxe Touring Package ($5,800) that gives me upgraded leather for the seats, cooled front seats, heated second row seats, 22-inch wheels, hydraulic body control system, advanced climate control and headlight washers. Then for an additional $1,500 you can get the Technology Package that includes all the cool technologies like Lane Departure Warning, Blind Spot Warning, Intelligent Control and more. Just give me the Touring Package and I’d be happy.
Is the QX56 in the same league as the Mercedes-Benz GL450? Yes. Is it in the same league as the BMW X5? Yes. Is it in the same league as the Lexus LX470? Yes. Is it in the same league as the winner of AutoPacific’s 2010 Vehicle Satisfaction Award for Luxury SUVs – the Cadillac Escalade? Better. In a shootout with these vehicles, the QX56 just might win.

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