Sometimes an automotive designer, or more likely a committee of them, goes out on a limb and you get something like the Range Rover Evoque, a breakthrough design that gleefully thumbs its nose at tradition, adopting new curves and contours in all the right places. Other times, the intrepid designer creeps out onto the trembling tip of the bough and, rather suddenly it all comes tumbling down in a messy denouement, seeming to hit every branch of the fugly tree on the way down. Which might be a bit of an overstatement as it pertains to the less-than-flattering front end of the outgoing QX80, but when I lined up the new model with an older one we encountered out on the road one rainy day in Charleston, South Carolina, the new car looked ready for some affluent family’s driveway, and the old one looked like it had escaped the local aquarium. Too soon? Well anyway, rather than dwell on past imperfections, let us celebrate the good news: Infiniti has put the looks of this well appointed SUV in order, and the result is something Infiniti should be proud of. Add to which, the new QX80 is better couched on the design language of the entire QX range, and that’s generally quite a good thing.

Pleasantly surprised by the QX80’s visage, the next treat is it’s portion of off-the-line torque— the big SUV is pleasantly responsive upon first tip-in, as the 5.6-liter V8’s 560 Nm is appreciably generous for getting this big-boned ride up and running. The DOHC 32-valve is good for 400hp, and always served up enough power to handle any critical overtaking or other manoeuvres, while providing a premium motoring experience, albeit not one that’s not quite exciting, just more than sufficient. That level of performance is, I think, spot on for the segment.

The cabin has been upgraded too with plusher materials and better craftsmanship

Out on the road the QX80 feels capable and, perhaps more importantly in the 8-seater class, exceedingly comfortable. The ride quality is very smooth and there’s very little road or wind noise to speak of, the cabin is tranquil and loaded up with high quality surface materials. The centre console is just a tad on the dated side, and not nearly as design-forward as something like the Escalade, which Infiniti has in its sights. But then, it is supremely inoffensive as well, whereas the Escalade cabin is just a lot more, er, specific. My one other quibble— almost seven years ago I reviewed the infiniti M56 and noted that the foot-actuated parking brake was already feeling a bit off-brand in the luxury segment, but the QX80 still rocks one these many years on. I spoke to the afffable Kyle Bazemor, Infiniti’s Director of Corporate Communications for the Americas about this, and he pointed out that the QX30 does have a push button parking brake and we should expect to see them in more Infinitis over time. I get it, lead times are long in automotive manufacturing. It’s also of very little functional value, and more of a “keeping up with the Joneses” feature.

The QX80s rack-mounted, variable ratio electric power steering is intuitive and essentially a non issue. Motoring journalists will often pine for the hydraulic steering of old, but back in the bad old days a huge SUV like this could be a beast to parallel park, even with “power steering.” Well no more, the QX80 is an exceedingly easy to drive, point and shoot ride, and that’s a good thing in vehicle of its size: 5,340 mm in length, 1,925 mm tall, and 2,030 mm wide, the new QX80 is a formidable presence out on the road.

The QX80’s all-wheel drive system can be customised via a dial in the centre console

Under its refreshed faced (thank goodness) the QX80 isn’t particularly different — as always, our region will likely prefer the four-wheel drive version, an on demand system that activates all-wheel traction when conditions require it, and off-road capability at the request of the driver. Infiniti has calibrated the system for what it calls “optimal all-season power delivery”, which means that the the rear-biased drivetrain is designed to favour rear-wheel drive, constantly optimising power distribution between front and rear axles.

These days, any premium vehicle worth taking seriously comes equipped with a raft of safety tech— the QX80 is no exception. Infiniti’s largest SUV offers Lane Departure Warning and Prevention, Intelligent Cruise Control, Distance Control Assist, Predictive Forward Collision Warning, Forward Emergency Braking, Blind Spot Warning and Intervention and Backup Collision Intervention. The driver assist technologies will operate between 32 and 145 kph, while Intelligent Cruise Control can operate all the way down to just 1 kph, which could be useful for walking the dog with air conditioning. (Editor’s note: this is humour, do not attempt with your own beloved pet.)

Perhaps the coolest new feature in the QX80 is the car’s new Smart Rear View Mirror. This ‘digital’ mirror allows the driver to use the rear-view mirror as a standard mirror, or turn it into a monitor at the flick of a switch, much like the traditional night-time operation of a conventional rear view. The screen displays video from a camera mounted in the upper rear windshield, offering excellent visibility in conditions like fog, and ice, or obstructions by passengers, or cargo. (You’ll still have to de-ice the camera lens, but we’re not too worried about that in the Middle east). The system also helps with night and low-light conditions, utilising a High Definition Resolution (HDR) display that combines two images into one, like a smartphone camera, at 60 frames-per-second. The screen has a better angle of view than any mirror, offering up to a 48.1° view compared with the 19 to 20° viewing angle through the car and out of the rear glass.

The main cosmetic difference up front is the restyling and repositioning of the headlights

Of course, this is the age of driver customization and the QX80 is no slouch in this department — the all-wheel drive system can be customised via a dial in the center console. In its default, automatic mode the SUV’s computer-controlled transfer case redistributes engine torque to the wheels with the most traction on the fly.
The driver can also select fixed high- and low-range all-wheel drive settings for appropriate terrain. Infiniti says the high-range setting is intended to tackle moderate off-road driving and snow; while the the low-range function is geared towards proper off-road conditions, with steeper inclines and declines, and less stable surface materials. Underpinning QX80’s off road capability is its four-wheel Active Brake Limited Slip (ABLS) system, which “responds to wheel-spin by automatically applying brakes to each spinning wheel, and redistributing torque to other wheels to maximize traction and control.” We didn’t have occasion to take the QX80 off the beaten path, so we would only be able speculate on how well this all works in practice. Sounds like a job for a long termer.

All in all the QX80 is an upscale family hauler with more than decent push, plenty of modern day tech, and the best looks the model can claim to date. This model seems content to let the competition push the envelope, instead offering a solid option that will feel comfortably familiar and well, just plain cosy. One big question that remains in my mind — does it have the offroad chops to sway our region’s legion of Patrol fanatics who might be looking for something a tad more upscale? Er, possibly? We’ll let you know when we take the car out locally.