There was a time not so long ago when different cars in a homestead had their duties cut out clearly. A luxury saloon, preferably German, was what you'd park in the porch of your million-dirham mansion on Jumeirah Beach Road. The Italian sports coupé would come out of the air-conditioned garage only for its customary weekend catwalk down Shaikh Zayed Road. And the SUV, abandoned in the backyard for the better part of the year, was thought of only when things started getting cooler and you were in the mood to rough it out in the desert or wanted to find a bit of tranquillity in a wadi tucked away amidst some craggy steeps.
And these SUVs had nothing more to them than what was needed for those off-road duties. Rugged inside and out, they had no hint of luxury in them, and the most advanced gadgetry inside would have been a compass.
But times have changed and the SUV is today an indispensable all-in-one family workhorse. Not only do you use it as a daily runabout or a weekend cruiser, you're no longer ashamed to park it right in front of your house. There is no replacing the pride of place the SUV enjoys in a Middle Eastern household. And it's that knowledge which emboldens manufacturers to churn out newer, still bigger models even as doomsayers in Europe and elsewhere sing dirges to this gas-guzzling species.
The 2011 Infiniti QX56 is not just a new version, but an entirely different vehicle right from the chassis upwards. While the previous version was based on the Nissan Armada's platform, the current one is built on the new Patrol's underpinnings.
Agreed, the QX is not the best looking SUV out there. But it's without doubt the most imposing chunk of metal on four wheels, making the likes of the Lexus LX, the Range Rover and even the Cadillac Escalade look seriously inadequate.
The sheer enormity of the car's towering presence is accentuated by the massive grille up front, which, unlike the vertical slab of chrome in the previous version, is a double arch design in keeping with the rest of the Infiniti family. As against the older model's sharp lines, the body features subtle curves and a flowing, wavy design all round.
The much sleeker xenon headlights sit low beside the grille and taper into the front fenders.
Talking of the fenders, the chrome vents on either side of the car prove more of an eyesore and spoil the otherwise graceful side profile of the car.
The rear is almost entirely lifted from the Patrol, with the LED taillights being the only significant difference.
The current iteration has also grown in size, gaining 35mm in length and 28mm in width over its predecessor. Although the overall height has been lowered by a few inches, Infiniti has managed to keep the headroom inside unaffected, thanks to some tweaks to the overhead trim. The lower height, together with the 22in alloys, add to the behemoth's menacing stance.
The QX's gargantuan exterior deftly hides its plush interior — opening the door and climbing in is as pleasurable as shelling a lobster and finding the succulent meat within. The cabin is a sprawling expanse of the softest leather, accented by polished wood and chrome.
Although the cabin design is pretty much the same as that of the Patrol, the materials used appear to be of a slightly higher quality. You will be hard pressed to find dodgy plastics anywhere in the cabin, especially on surfaces which you constantly come into contact with. The centre console as well as the entire dashboard and the door panels are trimmed in leather. So, it was surprising to find that the joint between the front passenger door and the right end of the dashboard was misaligned when the door was closed; an uncharacteristically shoddy job in an otherwise superbly crafted interior.
The front seats are power-adjustable 10-way on the driver's side and eight-way on the passenger side. The second row in our test car had two separate captain's chairs with more space than a first class airline seat and can be folded back by pressing a button in the centre console to make way to the third row, which itself is a reasonably spacious and 60/40 foldable setup.
It's not just the body and the interior that have been spruced up. Although the 2011 QX retains the same engine displacement, the 5.6-litre V8 powerhouse is now good for 400bhp, or 80bhp more than the previous version. The torque is also up by 28Nm to 560Nm. However, Infiniti claims that despite the 25 per cent spike in power, the new lump is 12 per cent more fuel efficient. These figures are achieved partly due to the new seven-speed transmission with adaptive shift control that replaces the previous version's five-speed auto.
And it does a great job of transferring the V8's increased power to all four wheels helping the mammoth haul you in a stately and composed manner. The ride is silky smooth and matches the comfort of any luxury saloon out there, thanks to the Hydraulic Body Motion Control System — essentially a set of hydraulic cylinders that transfer fluid from one side to the other, helping cut roll and vibration. The lower height and suspension changes have also done wonders to the truck's stability, inspiring more confidence in the bends.
However, the oversensitive steering could do well by being a bit more communicative, as there is much less feedback than you'd prefer in a car this size. To be fair, even if you happen to veer away from the lane, the effective lane departure warning system alerts you without being intrusive unlike many other recent models.
So, a great urban people mover the Infiniti is, but does that make it just a city slicker? Look at these images. What do you think? Remember, it shares its mechanicals with the legendary off-roader, the Nissan Patrol. This means the frame structure boasts a much higher level of stiffness than the old model, with increased torsional rigidity in both body and frame.
The revised four-wheel drive system offers three different modes: Auto, 4H and 4L. Although under regular conditions you'll leave it in Auto, which directs all the power to the rear wheels, up to 50 per cent of the might can be transferred to the front when the situation demands it. In 4H, the system is locked in a 50:50 split and the QX makes short work of the most imposing sand dunes you throw at it.
Along with the Hill Start Assist feature, which prevents rollback on a steep incline, the Around View Monitor is one of the most useful tech additions to the QX56. It employs five cameras around the body to show you the car's position in relation to its surroundings. It will prove a great help if you choose to go mountain climbing in your Infiniti.
The 2011 Infiniti QX56 is overall a great improvement on the model it replaces: more powerful, more comfortable, better looking and a lot more capable as an off-roader. It's one SUV you'd want to be seen in. The kind of respect it commands on the road is amazing. But, as great as it is to have the Nissan Patrol's platform, the very thing could prove a disadvantage as well.
In hindsight, Nissan might have shot itself in the foot by packing the Patrol with all the technology and luxury available in the Infiniti, as well as sharing the same engine. The top-banana QX56 comes with a price tag of Dh310,000, while prices for the Patrol LE housing the same 400bhp V8 motor start at Dh215,000, a good Dh95k less.
And you could get the Patrol SE with the 320bhp engine that did service in the previous QX starting at just Dh181,000. But then, in a market where the badge on your car means everything, there'll be enough customers willing to shell out the difference.
The 2011 Infiniti QX has a completely new body and frame designed for enhanced structural rigidity. The side rail section has been widened, cabin mounting points stiffened and a rear body ring structure has been incorporated around the tailgate to improve the vehicle's dynamics.
The big Caddy has one of the largest capacity engines in its class with the 6.2-litre V8 developing 441bhp and 835Nm of torque. It's basically a more stylish and flashier version of the Chevy Tahoe and the GMC Yukon. Although it's huge with an overall length of 5,144mm, the 2011 Infiniti is 146mm longer and has a longer wheelbase too.
Lexus LX 570
The flagship Lexus SUV has a bigger 5.7-litre V8 engine with an output of 362bhp and 530Nm of torque, figures which were better than those of the previous generation QX56. But, the new one betters Lexus in both power and torque with the same displacement engine as its predecessor. But the Lexus is unmatched in its supremely comfortable ride.
Based on the same platform as the VW Touareg and the Porsche Cayenne, the Audi Q7's 4.2-litre eight cylinder lump is good for 350bhp and a lowly 440Nm of torque. Although not as spacious as the rest of the players in the segment, the Audi's build quality inside and out is by far the best in class.
- Model: QX56 Engine 5.6-litre V8
- Transmission: Seven-speed auto 4WD
- Max power: 400bhp @ 5,800rpm
- Max torque: 560Nm @ 4,000rpm
- Top speed: NA
- 0-100kph: NA
- Price: Dh310,000
- Plus: Extremely spacious, comfortable and capable
- Minus: Patrol offers all these for much less