CHARLESTON, SC – With an all-new Lincoln Navigator arriving in dealerships now – the first redesigned model in the large-luxury SUV segment since the Cadillac Escalade in 2014 – the segment’s other players know they need to raise their game or suffer sales declines.
One of those prepping for the full-court press of the Navigator is Infiniti. Unable to do a full redesign at the moment, the Asian luxury brand has refreshed its 3-row, body-on-frame QX80 where it thinks it will matter most: inside and on the dotted line.
The QX80’s interior features the usual luxury-vehicle assortment of soft, supple leather in silly names but with appealing color, stitching and quilting patterns, and decadent wood trims, in even sillier names, plus metal or metal-look trims to add a cool contrast.
It all comes together to create a soothing, handsome cabin that should help sell the SUV, which receives no powertrain updates for ’18 and only slight suspension changes.
But what likely will help sell the QX80 even more so than a fancy interior is its pricing.
Whereas the ’18 Navigator begins at $72,055, an ’18 2-wheel-drive QX80 will set buyers back just under $64,750.
A 4-wheel-drive QX80, evaluated here by WardsAuto, starts just below $67,850.
Climbing behind the wheel of our QX80, with more than $10,000 worth of options, is a familiar but comfortable experience. The current QX80 started life as the ’11 QX56 before it was refreshed in ’14 and the QX80 name was adopted; we’ve tested both those incarnations.
We never took issue with the vehicle’s ride being too stiff or harsh, but apparently – per Infiniti research – some buyers did. To remedy the problem and increase ride comfort, tires with softer sidewalls are added and dampers are retuned to filter out poor road conditions. Much of our drive here felt like we were floating on air, so the changes appeared to have worked. Then again, South Carolina pavement doesn’t have many suspension-challenging potholes.
The QX80 keeps its Hydraulic Body Motion control system, which automatically counteracts body roll during cornering and increases passenger comfort.
We did take issue with light steering in the QX56 back in our 2010 test and unfortunately the condition persists. Moving the wheel is too effortless for a vehicle of this size, making over-corrections likely.
Steering also lacks good on-center feel. We often approach lane lines and set the optional lane-keep assist warning system off. (Then there were the times it didn’t notify us at all due to faint lane lines, just another reason to never let your guard down when using semi-autonomous safety technologies).
Another available safety technology is Distance Control Alert, which takes the distance setting from adaptive cruise control (also available) and applies it to everyday driving. Can’t say we’re huge fans of the technology – it was a bit disconcerting to be turning left at a light and have the brakes applied because the QX80 thought we were too close to the car ahead – but it could be valuable for nighttime, when drivers may be tired and weary.
The 400-hp carryover 5.6L V-8 moves this beast easily, and throttle tip-in appears to have been tweaked to be more aggressive than we remember from the ’11 QX56 drive, when slamming the accelerator into the carpet to get the behemoth moving was necessary.
Also improved from back then is the amount of engine and road noise making its way into the cabin. The refreshed SUV is quite quiet inside, thanks to sound-dampening materials added in the upper instrument-panel and cargo area, as well as higher-density carpet.
Most people don’t buy big SUVs for good fuel economy, with Infiniti engineers noting as much when asked why no improvements were made on this metric. Still, we were happy to get 19.2 mpg (12.3 L/100 km) in a short morning drive at an average speed of 40 mph (64 km/h). In a longer afternoon leg, we log 17.4 mpg (13.5 L/100 km) at a slower 29 mph (47 km/h).
While there are many things we like about the interior, there are some flaws, namely the carryover center stack. It is seven-plus years old and looks it, mainly due to the 8-in. [20-cm] screen, a dainty size today against 12-in. (30-cm) monitors now common in luxury models.
Also a dead giveaway of the QX80’s advanced years is all the buttons on the center stack. But, as third-party owner surveys keep reminding us, people still like hard switchgear, not swiping and scrolling through tablet menus while driving. This could end up being a boon for Infiniti, attracting those averse to the Navigator’s fancy floating touchscreen.
While the QX80’s front touchscreen remains the same size, rear-seat entertainment screens gain an inch, and all screens now are high-resolution, Infiniti says.
Other creature-comfort improvements include a front center box that can accommodate tall standing bottles, a cubby for a cellphone in the center console and wider running boards, although they still err on the narrow side.
A digital rearview mirror is optional on the QX80, giving a wider view than a traditional mirror and allowing drivers to see past an icy window, as well headrests or cargo in the rear.
Due to its advanced age, the QX80 lacks Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, but remote locking and unlocking with Alexa Skills is possible with a subscription to Infiniti’s telematics’ service.
With more bulges and curves than sharp edges, the initial QX80 had a stand-out design in the luxury large SUV sector. The new model is no different and only slight tweaks have been made for the ’18 model year: Infiniti’s double-arch grille is widened, there are new “eye-inspired” LED headlights and new, bigger wheels are standard or available.
The Navigator has a cleaner look, but the QX80 has a similar mold-breaking appearance for the sector.
Overall, the refresh updates most of the right places, sans the center stack. The lower starting price against the Navigator, as well as the rest of the competitive set (Cadillac Escalade, Lexus LX, Mercedes GLS, Range Rover) should allow Infiniti to maintain its roughly 1,000-units-per-month sales pace, as it hopes to do.
The refreshed QX80, assembled in Japan, is on sale now at U.S. Infiniti dealers.
'18 Infiniti QX80 4WD Specifications
|Vehicle type||4-door, 7-passenger, 4-wheel-drive SUV|
|Engine||5.6L longitudinally mounted gasoline V-8, all aluminum|
|Power (SAE net)||400 hp @ 5,800 rpm|
|Torque||413 lb.-ft. (560 Nm) @ 4,000 rpm|
|Bore x stroke (mm)||98 x 92|
|Transmission||7-speed automatic w/ Adaptive Shift Control, Downshift Rev Matching|
|Wheelbase||121.1 ins. (3,076 mm)|
|Overall length||208.9 ins. (5,306 mm)|
|Overall width||79.9 ins. (2,029 mm)|
|Overall height||75.8 ins. (1,925 mm) with roof rack)|
|Curb weight||5,888 lbs. (2,671 kg)|
|Base price||$67,850, plus $995 destination and handling|
|Fuel economy||13/19 mpg (18.0-12.4 L/100 km) city/highway|
|Competition||Cadillac Escalade, Lexus LX, Lincoln Navigator, Mercedes GLS, Land Rover Range Rover|
|Comfortable ride||Light steering|
|Blingy interior materials||Dated center stack|
|Priced below competitors||Lacks some of their modern features|