This story originally appeared in Toronto Star Wheels on Dec. 16, 2017
The big SUV is easy to drive, has great pickup and has a ‘powerful elegance.’
CHARLESTON, S.C. – I didn’t know very much about Charleston when I flew down here in December, 2017. I knew, of course, that the city was named to honour King Charles II of England, and it was where the U.S. Civil War started, and the book — later the movie — The Prince of Tides, was based here. But that was about it.
Unfortunately, the weather was awful, and I wasn’t able to get out and about to learn more about the place, but the one thing I did find out is that the 2018 Infiniti QX80 luxury SUV is a damn fine car.
And how did I learn that? Because instead of walking around and finding out about Charleston, I drove around to stay out of the rain and learned lots about that car instead.
Adam Paterson is managing director of Infiniti Canada. He told me and other reporters that the car was completely redone for 2018, and he called the design “powerful elegance.” After a day in the car, I understood what he was saying.
The 2018 Infiniti QX80 has been built around three pillars — design (which the company, of course, says is commanding and distinctive), technologies and comfort, and performance and capability (enhanced handling and control).
So, for starters, the car has a new exterior design fore and aft. Gone is what looked like a snout in favour of a more upright and wider grille. In fact, the grille is double-arched, with the top being inspired, or so they say, by the outline of a bridge in Japan and the bottom being a reflection of that bridge in the water.
The headlights are now shaped more like the human eye. The back of the car is sleeker and the tail lights are thinner. There is more chrome — on the grille, the side mirrors and the rear bumper. And the wheels — 20 inches and 22 inches — also have a new design.
Inside the car, which is roomy and luxurious (the company says to think of a private jet), there is seating for up to eight, and incidentally, the seats have new tailoring and there is leather everywhere, which is both soil and stain-resistant. There are three new colour options, with my favourite being the all-new Saddle Brown with charcoal trim.
The InTouch infotainment system is within easy reach, and there is a new eight-inch, touchscreen colour display. It replaces an older-generation screen, and the display is both faster and smoother.
The centre console has been redesigned, and no potential problem has gone unaddressed. For instance, not only are there cup holders but they are cut out so that beverage containers with handles can fit right in. And the storage compartment in the console can now handle larger iPhones and tablets.
A dial on the console behind the gear shift is user-adjustable, which means that drivers can easily choose between four settings: AUTO, which means the power distribution between the front and rear wheels is automatically adjusted; 2WD for most conditions but can go to AWD when needed; 4WD when the vehicle is trying to move in heavy snow, and 4WD Low when you are off-road and going up and down steep hills, or for when you’re stuck in snow or mud.
The car boasts the usual driver aids — lane-departure prevention and warning, cruise control, distance-control assist, forward-collision warning, emergency braking, blind-spot warning and backup collision intervention. On this car, this is an optional package, but as the company says, there’s a shift coming, and by 2020 or so, much of what is now optional will be standard. But not yet.
Infiniti is particularly proud of two innovations on offer in the 2018 version of the QX80. The first is an Intelligent Key with a memory system that allows for hands-free unlocking and starting, and after it’s been used once, returns the driver seat, steering wheel and mirror positions to where they were the last time a driver used the car. The second is a smart rear-view mirror and “around view” monitor.
That the Intelligent Key works, let there be no doubt. On this particular media trip, my co-driver was shorter than me and he drove the car first. After we’d tooled around for an hour or so, it was my turn. When I got into the car and turned it on, I found myself squeezed right up against the steering wheel. I couldn’t figure out what was happening until I remembered that the car’s computer had internalized his preferences and since we were using the same key, thought that I was him when I climbed into the cockpit.
Information from two Intelligent Keys can be stored, so a couple can trade places easily without having to manually change the settings on just about everything.
The rearview mirror is something else. It operates like a normal mirror in good conditions, but if the rear window is fogged up, or you can’t see through it for some other reason, a rearview camera becomes your eyes and you see what’s behind and around you through the “mirror” rather than the display screen.
Now, to go from one to another (the real mirror vis-a-vis the camera), you have to reach up and push or pull on a switch (or lever) that is at the bottom of the mirror. You know, the way you used to angle the mirror at night to deflect the glare of headlights from the car following too closely behind you. So, it seems easy, right?
Not so fast. There are other switches on the bottom of that mirror, and I was adjusting it after I’d started to drive — a no-no, I know — and I somehow pressed or pushed one of the others, and I suddenly had no rearview mirror or monitor. (I still had the side mirrors, but I learned to drive when there was just one rearview and I automatically look there.)
So, lesson learned (again): make sure everything is set and ready to go before putting the car in gear or else you can create problems for yourself when you’re out on the road.
Having said that, when everything was working properly, I really liked that mirror feature. It’s something that I bet other manufacturers will be adopting soon.
Now, moving back inside the car, we come to the second row of seats where passengers and/or children sit, and this is a roomy place, indeed. The seating is living-room comfortable, and all seats are easy to get into and out of (I checked).
The rear entertainment system is new with eight-inch screens (when I was a kid, albeit 100 years ago, we planned games to play when we went on a family trip and traded all our old comic books for new ones to keep ourselves entertained; now, parents just pop in a DVD when they want to keep the little ones occupied), and there’s a redesigned centre console with additional USB ports and Bose surround sound.
That Bose sound is something else. There are 15 speakers inside the cabin and, if you wish, you can turn up the volume and put on Beethoven’s Fifth and it will sound like you are sitting in the middle of the Toronto Symphony as they’re actually playing it.
Having said that, when it’s going full blast, it would be impossible to hear a siren.
Passengers can control the entertainment system, but if there are only children back there, parental controls make sure the grown-ups remain in charge.
The vehicle is powered by a 5.6-litre V8 engine which makes 400 horsepower at 5,800 r.p.m., and 413 pound-feet of torque at 4,000 r.p.m. It has a seven-speed automatic transmission. As the company says, this is perfect for daily commuting or hauling your boat to the cottage in summer or a travel trailer to a campsite in Florida in winter.
Now, what I particularly liked about this car is Infiniti’s Hydraulic Body Motion Control, which the company says is exclusive to its class. What this means is that the system monitors body roll as the car turns into a corner and adjusts the suspension so that the ride remains flat.
I can vouch that this works, as both my co-driver and I put the QX80 through its paces, and the ride through some twisty sections around Charleston was smooth and effortless.
As well, the SUV boasts rear auto-levelling suspension, which means the vehicle is engineered to smooth out bumpy roads and to adjust the suspension pressure to maintain the ride height of that trailer you’re pulling.
All in all, the car — for a big, luxurious, SUV — was really easy to drive. It had good pickup from stop lights and the brakes were firm when you had to put them on. And since I use a light truck for my daily driver, and like to sit up high, the QX80 fit the bill in that respect.
Infiniti as a brand celebrated its fifth consecutive record year in Canada in 2017 and had a seven per cent increase in year-over-year sales of 11,702 units. In particular, the full-size SUV segment continued to grow, increasing 12.7 per cent year-to-date. Globally, the year-over-year increase was eight per cent. When you look at the QX80, and factor in the improvements and the ride, it’s easy to understand why the company is optimistic about continuing along that path.
Canadian Infiniti dealers will get the QX80 — which the company says is a luxurious step above all the other vehicles in its lineup — by late January or early February. Exact pricing will come then, too, but if you’re looking for a guide, the 2017 QX80 base was $75,650, and fully loaded, it sold for $83,800.
- Better looking
- Private-jet luxury
- Smart rear-view mirror
- Cup holders with handles (really?)
- Surround sound (can be dangerous)