Infiniti is a brand that has tremendous potential, but has not gotten close to realising it in the nearly three decades of its existence. But things are beginning to be geared towards a welcome transformation. The Japanese premium brand has already been doing some brilliant work in terms of engine development and driving dynamics in recent years, with design being its apparent weakness. Although there is a distinctive family design language that connects the models together, most of them are marred by their overbearing idiosyncrasies. But no Infiniti model has polarised opinion, or drawn universal flak like the flagship QX80 SUV has. While its sales numbers have been decent, especially in our market, there’s no denying the fact that the second generation QX80, which is based on the current sixth-generation Nissan Patrol, was distinguished by its clumsy countenance and awkward proportions.

It’s this unfortunate aspect of the QX80 that Infiniti is seeking to alter with the significantly refreshed 2018 model of the large SUV. We have high hopes of Karim Habib, the former BMW design head who joined Infiniti last year, to bring about significant changes to the brand’s styling direction. However, the design changes made to the QX80 were effected before Habib was headhunted. The styling cues follow those seen in the QX80 Monograph concept revealed at the 2017 New York motor show, and have effectively mended pretty much everything that was wrong with the 2010 model. Its lines are more angular, and clearly defined compared to the model it replaces. The more upright ‘doublearch’ grille that sits more flush than before, while the leading edge of the bonnet extends forward and sitting higher. The anomalous blank space above the headlights in the previous model has been covered by the repositioned pair of headlights, while large fender vents make sure there is no awkward real estate up front. These changes do make the QX80 appear slightly longer than before.There aren’t much changes made to the profile, but the rear gets some tweaks including a chrome strip that connects the restyled LED taillights.

 

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Photos: Stefan Lindeque

The cabin has also been suitably upgraded, with decidedly more premium upholstery featuring quilted leather and contrast double stitching and an even more hushed and refined passenger cell. However, despite its four-wheel independent suspension, the large Infiniti’s ride could at times be juddery, especially with those large 21in wheels. But this is only if you hit a speed bump or some road imperfection. Otherwise, on a highway cruise it’s a comfortable as any other luxury utility vehicle in this category. Steering is quick in its response but a bit too light and numb to inspire any level of confidence if you happen to enter a highway loop at speed. However when driven at slower speeds, this helps mask the QX80’s considerable heft, making it relatively easy to manoeuvre. The ride and driveability are more comparable to those of a Cadillac Escalade than those of a Mercedes-Benz GLS or even a Lexus LX570. Thankfully, Infiniti is aware of the vehicle’s strengths as well as its foibles, so there’s no fancy but pointless Sport mode in here.

The massive, naturally aspirated 5.6-litre V8 engine is as brilliant as ever, building power in the most linear manner and with a self-assured, deep growl. The seven-speed automatic transmission does a great job shifting seamlessly and with no drama.

 

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Photos: Stefan Lindeque

Ther are many tech upgrades s well, such as a rear entertainment system with higher-resolution screens that lets passengers control connectivity and entertainment features, and the ability to memorise more than 200 settings for two drivers, including customised presets for navigation, seat positions, audio, safety systems, and climate control.

There are drive assist technologies aplenty, including 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, among others.

The 2018 QX80 is a vastly improved offering compared to the model it has replaced. However, its biggest drawback is also, ironically, its biggest strength. It essentially being a Y62 Patrol with a different badge, a natural question that begs to be asked is, “why choose this over a Patrol?”  Well, it’s true that for the QX80’s starting price, you can get the fully loaded Platinum variant of the Patrol with the same engine, mechanicals and interior. So the only reason you’d choose this would be a need to stand out from the omnipresent Nissan.