Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Enter the Kraken - The Infiniti QX80

I've become a bit spoiled. A little less than a year ago, we added a Chrysler 300C AWD Hemi to the fleet and it is, without question, the most well-equipped vehicle we've owned, to date. From its automatic everything to its heated and cooled everything, it has become a favorite in the driveway. And that Hemi!

It should come as no surprise then, that upon arrival in Nashville for a family gathering, my family of three was less than thrilled to find Enterprise handing us the keys to a lesser 300, of the V-6 variety. Thank you, no. Our salesman offered us an even swap into a Grand Cherokee, a truck we would actually buy. But then, he pointed at the burnt cherry behemoth in the corner of the lot. The large and godawful-looking Infiniti QX80. I couldn't resist the curiosity.

First, let me be up front about my thoughts on all things Nissan/Infiniti: BLECH. Nissan's offerings run from embarrassingly frumpy (Versa), to the Adderall-infused and overwrought (new Maxima), to the darling of tasteless millennials (the Joke... Puke... JUKE - damn auto correct!). And have you seen that mess of a new Titan (ACK!) No longer a Nissan Armada in its best outfit, the QX80 now hails from a Nissan Patrol (a non-US model), pimped for the Infiniti badge. But Nissan's attempt to meld the flowing curves of Infiniti's design language into the vast blandness of the Patrol yielded a bulbous and bloated oaf of a truck, with dumb fender vents and a grille the size of Delaware. And not in a good way. It reminds me of a sea creature, at a fetal stage.

"Yeah, but INSIDE, it's like the Taj Majal!", said an Enterprise salesman. Indeed, the interior tells a different story. 8-cows of standard grade leather don't deliver the olfactory wallop you might expect, though this example had 20k on the odometer. But the palette is nice, with shades of creams, taupes, browns, and greys providing a nice contrast to the very dark red exterior. Padded leather, soft-touch plastics and real stitching in the dash and console are nice details. And the 2/2/3 seating configuration is ideal for the majority of buyers who probably won't exceed four occupants.

Controls seemed less than intuitive, at first. But it didn't take long to find and master them. Probably the biggest disappointment was the lack of equipment. I'm sure this rental example was a base model (about $63,000), but it wasn't any better equipped, really, than any typical "EX" offering from... anybody. Heated seats and steering wheel, only for the front seats, and without cooling. A small, standard sunroof over the front seats. The 360° camera is cool, but I'd expect more tech from this marque and price point, like blind spot warnings and crash avoidance, which would seem a requirement for a vehicle of this size. One other note when you're spending this kind of cash... the doors are cheap, light, and tinny. No solid "THUNK" when you close them. Yeesh.

As a front seat passenger for our first long haul, I was ACHING for a place in which to store my phone. Storage in the QX80 is ridiculous. Open a large panel on the front console to reveal an oddly compartmentalized jumble of holes, including cupholders. Another, smaller panel opens up to a deep and irregular hole that could hold a large fries, if not for the boxy intrusion of a USB port. The glove box is like a FedEx bin—a giant empty shovel. All I wanted was a personal shelf or nook in which to place my phone and any other of the standard accoutrement for a 3-hour tour. Front and rear console storage is equally odd. And the passenger seat? Either my throne was broken or it had less functionality than the helm. Without the ability to tilt it, I spent much of my time between Nashville and Memphis trying not to slide onto the floor. And my other half (who puts seat heat on when it's 80° out) said the seat heat on the passenger side paled in comparison to that of the driver's seat.

Navigation was one of the greater aggravations. It's of the 5-seconds-too-late variety. The notchy animation of the map is more 64-bit than Pixar, and resulted in our consistently missing turns. NOTE TO NISSAN: A ping as you are passing your intended turn is not helpful. How 'bout a little advance notice? The navigation voice is female and speaks in a hushed tone, like a golf commentator.

Once behind the wheel, I did find the QX80 to be supremely comfortable in highway cruising. The 5.6-liter V8 provided sufficient power for merging and passing. Visibility is good and everyone gets out of your way when they see that grille in their rear view. Around town, its personality changed. Broken pavement and undulations tossed us around, unduly. And the steering requires way too much effort in parking lot maneuvering.

I have to compare the QX to our last plus-size truck rental: A 2015 Chevy Suburban which we drove from Beverly Hills to Vegas on the day of the big Pacquiao/Mayweather fight. GM is a master in this class and delivers a lithe, solid, and confident driving experience. The QX falls far short of the 'Burban. It's ponderous around town, hollow-feeling, and ostentatious.

I had an Infiniti in the '90's and it was a wonderful ownership experience. But on its lack of equipment and merits, I'd take a comparably equipped Tahoe or Yukon over the QX80, any day. The QX's thin veneer of luxury inside a vulgar exterior doesn't hide the fact that this is a Nissan truck better suited for patrolling dunes in Qatar than the daily needs of American drivers.