2018 Infiniti QX80 First-Drive
Can this mid-cycle refresh on a seven-year-old platform keep the big luxury SUV relevant into the next decade?
As I bring all 5,600 pounds of Infiniti’s 2018 QX80 to the start of a beautiful ribbon of twisted South Carolina tarmac, you’d think I’d feel regret. Technical roads should be as foreign to a full-size, body-on-frame SUV as a polar bear walking through Death Valley in the sweltering July Sun.
I should feel shame over even entertaining the idea of upsetting the Gods of physics; making the leather-swathed super-sizer dance through tight turns while my feet work the pedals.
But sympathy for physics escapes me. I tickle the trigger by coming in hot to my first set of twisties. I know that the QX80 uses a trick, hydraulically assisted suspension system — called Hydraulic Body Motion Control — that’s supposed to keep the QX80 flat through corners. But just before turn-in, the troublemaker in me surmises that maybe — just maybe — I’ll figure out a way to make that system trip over itself.
I slap the Infiniti’s gear selector over to manual mode, drop two gears while braking prior to corner entry, and hang on. With my aforementioned mechanical sympathy at an all-time low, I squeeze the brakes harder. The QX80’s nose begins to dive as I pass the yellow “30 mph” sign. It probably wishes it could yell “Slow down!” as the speedometer alleges a number much higher than 30. With that, my hefty braking foot dives the nose at about what I would expect of a nearly three-ton SUV, and I’m evermore confident my spirited driving will out-pressure this system.
Fully prepared to belt out a victorious laugh, I turn in. With a laugh of its own, the QX80 says, “Nice try.” The Earth-pounding SUV leans just enough on its double-wishbone suspension to just barely acknowledge psychics. Lateral actuation from side to side is maybe an inch and a half, but that’s it. That’s not just impressive for a vehicle riding on something as agricultural as a pickup truck frame, but that’s better than some well-sorted sports sedans, or a reasonably priced sports car … less, even, than a Mazda MX-5 Miata.
If the 2017 Infiniti QX80’s face could talk, it would hollar the F-word during mass at St. Peter’s Basilica. In contrast, the 2018 QX80 is a clear-complected conformer.
My fun, however, isn’t the life this SUV was built for. Virtually no one who buys an Infiniti QX80 is going to hustle it along these South Carolinian back roads. They are going to spend a lot of time carrying family in it. Back road antics aside, this makes Infiniti’s Hydraulic Body Motion Control even more necessary. When you have seven or eight people in a full-size SUV, the center of gravity becomes dangerously high. If you counteract that high center of gravity with a suspension that’s roll-averse, you’re keeping your family safe by a) mitigating rollover risk, and b) avoiding an accident altogether by being in an SUV that’s more maneuverable than its size would suggest. If you expect moose tests on your daily commute, this is the full-size luxury SUV for you.
But even though the QX80’s Hydraulic Body Motion Control is my favorite thing about the QX80, it’s nothing new to the cow hide-bathed behemoth. That feature’s been around since 2011. The QX80’s 400-horsepower, 5.6-liter V8 is also carryover. This is only a mid-cycle refresh, so the biggest news is the all-new sheetmetal forward of the A-pillar, and the redesigned rear liftgate. I know several people who found the previous QX80 design offensive. They’re more positive about this one. And while my eye says the 2018 is the best-looking model year yet for the QX80; my troublemaking heart is wistful for last year’s aesthetic eccentricity. If the 2017 Infiniti QX80’s face could talk, it would hollar the F-word during mass at St. Peter’s Basilica. In contrast, the 2018 QX80 is a clear-complected conformer.
What should also be big news this year is the QX80’s updated technology, but aside from the QX80’s “with the times” digital rearview mirror that allows you to see out back unobstructed by craniums and cargo, there’s little here to speak of. The 2018 model receives just enough tech to keep the SUV relevant: accouterments like adaptive cruise control, lane departure prevention, and collision prevention for the front and rear. If you’re looking for the semi-autonomous ProPilot Assist, look elsewhere in their lineup.
Infiniti’s product planning senior manager, Anand Patel, told me adding an advanced system like ProPilot Assist to a seven-year-old platform was infeasible. That’s too bad because the only SUV I’ve driven that’s more comfortable than the QX80 is the much more expensive Bentley Bentayga, which goes further with its driver-assist technology as well. When you can combine comfort with driver-assistance technology, you begin to have a vehicle that actually makes driving less of a tedious exercise. This feels like a missed opportunity with the Infiniti QX80.
ALSO SEE: ProPilot Assist Live Demonstration in SoCal’s Rush-Hour Traffic
The easiest way to counteract any missed opportunities? Take this beast off-road … although the venue is unlikely on the QX80 buyer’s shortlist of activities, truth be told. It, however, should be. Unpaved roads help exemplify the Infiniti QX80’s party piece: its ride. While the QX80’s ride quality can’t match that of the stratospherically more pricey Bentley Bentayga, it comes close. It shouldn’t. The QX80 runs on metal springs instead of air, as well as a defiantly old-school truck chassis. It should ride like a Ford F-150. Yet, because of the QX80’s double wishbone configuration, and the hydraulics, even when off-road, the SUV feels supple, smooth, and almost car-like.
But no matter the situation, whether thrashing through the muck, or charting a course along a beltway, the cabin feels elegant and plush enough for English nobility. Quilted leather and French stitching are nice touches as I found myself petting the QX80’s semi-aniline upholstery like it was a live animal. I may have a weakness for the feel of luxurious surfaces.
In the end, if you can forgive the lack of the latest tech, and look at its on-road capability, luxury, and off-road prowess, the QX80, priced between $65,000 and $85,000, is a solid choice in the segment despite its age. At least for now, as we expect an all-new QX80 to bow in 2021. Perhaps then it will fulfill the ambitions of class leadership.
Words and Images by Manuel Carrillo III
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