Reviews

2021 Infiniti QX80 Remains Relevant

Most of the changes for the 2021 Infiniti QX80 read like the usual minor year to year evolutions that you expect on a vehicle that’s been around awhile and still sells just fine. The video rear-view mirror is a little bit bigger and higher resolution. There are two new interior colors, Sahara Stone and Truffle Brown. They renamed the trim levels, and some of the electronic driver aids such as blind-spot intervention and adaptive cruise control, are now standard. Oh, and they dropped the price by $6,970. That last bit seems important.

That’s for a maxed-out QX80, which in 2020 cost $92,845 for a Limited 4WD. The 2021 tops out at $85,875. And while Infiniti points out that it’s not exactly apples to apples—the 2020 had some different cosmetic embellishments—that’s still a major discount. When we last tested a QX80, in 2018, we called it “simultaneously a good deal and overpriced” because it cost so much more than the fundamentally similar Nissan Armada. Now that price gap is narrower. We’re so influential it’s scary.

HIGHS: Powerful and smooth powertrain, cushy ride, nice price cut.

The revised pricing is accompanied by a new trim hierarchy: Luxe, Premium Select, and Sensory, each of which is available in either rear-wheel drive or full-time four-wheel drive (with a low-range transfer case). There are basically no options—each trim is built to a single spec with the exception of premium paint ($695) and illuminated kick plates ($485). The split bench second-row seat, which increases passenger capacity from seven to eight and was a $250 option last year, is now a zero-cost option across the range. And expensive add-ons such as rear-seat entertainment ($2,000) and the ProActive driver-assist package ($3,300) are standard, provided you step to the top-of-the line Sensory trim. The entry-level model, Luxe, costs a little more than it did last year, but now includes adaptive cruise control, lane-departure prevention, and blind-spot intervention as well as distance-control assist, which will maintain a set distance from the car ahead of you even when you’re not using cruise control. That trick 9.6-inch rearview mirror, which can switch to a video feed—handy if the inside of the car is packed to the gunwales with stuff—is now standard, too.

The QX80 shares its 5.6-liter V-8 and seven-speed automatic transmission with the Nissan Armada, but it gets an additional 10 horsepower (for a total of 400) to give it a veneer of supremacy. You won’t be able to tell the difference between a QX80 and an Armada when it comes to acceleration, but you certainly can in terms of the ride, provided you’re driving a Sensory model. That one brings a cross-linked hydraulic anti-roll system that’s conceptually similar to the one used by McLaren and maybe even more effective, given that it’s applied to an SUV with a high center of gravity. Most high-riding trucks tend to toss your head from side to side when the anti-roll bars load up and release on rough- or off-road driving. This hydraulic system eliminates conventional bars. Only when both outside wheels rise together—as they do when you enter a corner—does the anti-roll function work. This allows the control-arm suspensions to smother potholes, leaving the ride uncannily smooth. The standard suspension isn’t rough, but the hydraulic system serves up a serene glide. The Sensory’s trick suspension also benefits the steering, in that the boost (hydraulic as well, with a hefty feel) is determined by vehicle speed rather than engine speed. Lesser trims use a more conventional engine-speed-based setup.

LOWS: Dreadful fuel economy, aging design, nearly identical Nissan Armada is less expensive.

The QX80’s interior got an update for 2020, most noticeably in the infotainment systems. The center stack now houses dual high-definition flush-mounted touchscreens (8.0-inch upper and 7.0-inch lower), which replaced the decidedly low-def screen that had been around since Carlos Ghosn was a free man. It also gained Apple CarPlay and Android Auto capability, as well as an optional 17-speaker Bose Performance Series audio system (now standard on the Sensory, along with everything else). That’s a sweet sound system, but even the standard Bose setup features 13 speakers, including two subwoofers. Unfortunately—and this might come across as the plaintive grunts of frustrated troglodytes—the dash redesign killed the DVD player. There’s still a CD player, but no longer can you cue up your trusty DVD of Garfield Gets Real to tranquilize the kids for 74 minutes. There are HDMI inputs and an AC power outlet for the second row, though, so not all hope is lost. You could theoretically plug in your own DVD player back there, if you’re committed to physical media. But we tried an Xbox, and it kept tripping the circuit breaker for the power supply.

Last year, Infiniti sold 20,260 QX80s in North America. That’s a healthy number for a big, expensive SUV, particularly one that debuted a decade ago (under Infiniti’s old displacement-based naming conventions, when it was called the QX56). In the United States, December 2019 was the QX80’s best month ever, and last April’s 1339 deliveries was its best April so far, in spite of the pandemic. SUV buyers like this big galoot, and Infiniti made it easier to like when they restyled the ichthyic front end in 2018. Perhaps the QX80 isn’t as fresh as a Lincoln Navigator, Cadillac Escalade, or Mercedes-Benz GLS, but it’s not nearly as expensive, either. Actually, forget the Escalade. At $70,445, the QX80’s base price is more like a nicely optioned Chevrolet Tahoe. We take it for granted that prices move ever upward as creature comforts and technological innovations proliferate, but the QX80 proves that there’s an audience for sound luxury SUV fundamentals—big power, smooth ride, body-on-frame construction, nice interior, good towing ability—wrapped in a package that, yeah, is looking awfully familiar. But $6,970 says we could probably get over it.

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