For many brands, a flagship model takes the lead on technology, performance or style, but in Infiniti’s case its halo car is measured in kilograms. The QX80 is certainly big and brash, and for 2018 it’s also (a little) easier on the eye.
There’s really no missing the 2018 Infiniti QX80. It’s a massive 5340mm long for a start and wears the brand’s signature ‘look at me’ styling details, front and rear.
Not only does it make a bold statement, but its exclusivity means unlike the armada of Mercedes-Benz GLE and BMW X5 SUVs lining the streets of high-income suburbs, the Infiniti really is something different.
Compared to those road-focussed models, though, the QX80 comes standard with real off-road equipment like a low-range transfer case and multi-mode off-road settings. Against most competitors, the QX80 misses out on the option of diesel power, making it a bit of an oddity in the Australian market.
From the outside, the polarising styling of the QX80 has been toned down. The nose is now taller and longer, and the grille and adaptive LED headlights have been redesigned to look less droopy than before.
At the rear, new tail-lights, a redesigned tailgate, and a little more chrome bling give a wider, more planted look. In between the front and rear, things are much the same as before, save for wider side steps and new front guards with a more angular chrome vent.
Beneath the massaged metal, things stay much the same as before, with the same 298kW and 560Nm 5.6-litre naturally aspirated V8 and seven-speed automatic as the QX80 launched with in 2015. Suspension has been revised a little, though, with a 30 per cent reduction in damping force designed to smooth out the ride.
Similarly, key interior parts haven’t been changed. The dash design is much the same as before, although there are minor changes to the way the dash and door panels are finished, the centre console and gear shifter have been lightly updated, and Infiniti has liberally applied quilted semi-aniline leather to the seats and door trims for a properly premium look and feel.
There are issues, though, not least of which include the lingering similarities to the Nissan Patrol, which serves as the basis of the QX80. Premium though it may be, the $110,900 plus on-road costs Infiniti looks steep next to the similarly specced Nissan Patrol Ti-L (a comparative steal at $88,990).
The difference is in the details, though, and the Nissan gets by without the plush interior, 22-inch wheels (in a new design), or power-folding third row, along with other minor detail differences.
Infiniti uses a slightly different infotainment system to Nissan for instance, though it’s not even close to the systems offered by rivals in terms of technology or connectivity. The rear screens have been upgraded from 7.0 to 8.0 inches, and there are two extra speakers in the QX80’s Bose audio system (15 in total).
The QX80 also features an intelligent rear-view mirror that switches to a full-width camera feed when reverse is selected instead of a reflection – essentially eliminating the chance that people or cargo in the rear will limit visibility.
That’s to go with a 360-degree camera system displayed on the 8.0-inch infotainment screen, where you’ll also find satellite navigation, but not digital radio or smartphone mirroring like CarPlay or Android Auto.
To prove just how capable the QX80 is, Nissan set us off on a course from Melbourne to a place called Mitchellstown, usually just over an hour north straight up the Hume Freeway. But our route took us well off the beaten track, from twisty tarmac to gravel and even over steep rough tracks that seem criminal to punish a $100K-plus vehicle over.
That said, the Infiniti took it all in its stride. Although purists might baulk at the lack of a diesel, the big 5.6-litre petrol V8 suffers from no shortage of low-down torque, coupled with a proper low-range gear set and locking rear diff – the QX80 could walk up and down craggy hillsides all day if required. You might like to select a more off-road-friendly set of wheels and tyres for that, though.
The big engine also howls with a delightful old-fashioned V8 burble that becomes a guilty pleasure in a car that’s in no way athletic, but sounds like it should be. Acceleration to 100km/h takes just 7.5 seconds officially – not bad at all.
Infiniti’s suspension changes aren’t all that obvious without a back-to-back drive of the previous generation. There’s still an initial sharpness that results in a jiggling ride. As a big comfy cruiser, the QX80 struggles to ever feel as compliant as it should, though bigger suspension dips are handled well.
The front end is as light and vague as they come – stable enough to feel planted at speed, but easy to manage either off-road or in close-quarters shuffling. There’s little in the way of feel or feedback, though, but that’s unlikely to be much of an issue.
With a standard tow hitch, the QX80 is also capable of hauling up to 3500kg too. That’s probably fine if you have the luxury of a corporate fuel card, but with an official fuel consumption of 14.5L/100km that’s only going to climb with a boat or horse float on the rear.
Interior space is certainly less of an issue. The QX80 has acreage to spare in all three rows, although rearmost occupants won’t find the foot space they might expect, but every other dimension is plentiful.
Third-row seats feature electric folding (without a one-touch function, though) and the second-row can be either manually tumbled forward or released from buttons on the dash, with adjustment for backrest angle further enhancing passenger comfort.
Amongst its competitive set, the QX80 lines up against the Lexus LX 570 most directly, owing to similar off-road prowess and petrol V8 power, however Lexus does a better job of looking premium inside, but you’ll need to find almost $30,000 more (starting from $143,160) for the privilege.
There’s little to pine for on the safety front either, with autonomous emergency braking, lane departure warning and prevention, blind-spot warning, six airbags including curtain airbags for all three rows, plus traction, stability, and hill descent control.
Held up against cars like the Audi Q7 or Land Rover Discovery, the QX80 wants for little in terms of interior space, power or off-road ability, but it’s hard to see buyers of established brands making the switch to the relatively unheard of Infiniti.
That disparity become all the more clear when you look at details the Infiniti misses out on, like no digital instrument cluster or head-up displays, no ability to option up or customise the car, no adjustable suspension (though the rear is self-levelling), and no autonomous driving features apart from adaptive cruise control.
Its ruggedness and strength are certainly key to the QX80’s appeal, not to mention its ‘outsider’ status as a mostly unknown brand in Australia. Rural buyers are sure to see its charm, but urban dwellers will struggle with the Infiniti’s sheer size.
There’s certainly no doubt the petrol V8 engine is an absolutely lovely thing, but when it comes to cross-country touring, towing and ardent off-road fans, the lack of a turbo-diesel explains Infiniti’s unambitious goal of selling 100 QX80s a year, when most competitors sell in higher volumes each month.
It’s not hard to see why better driving, better equipped seven-seat competitors from European marques are finding more homes in Australian driveways, but for the select few, nothing will replace the big comfort and brash presence of cars like the QX80.
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