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Big luxury SUVs tend to have long life cycles. There are more years between all-new versions compared with the increasingly short lifespans of today’s small crossovers. And there are fewer choices when it comes to big SUVs that fit entire families and can tow their toys. It means midcycle refreshes are mandatory to stay competitive and keep these profitable land yachts on buyers’ radar screens.
Such is the case for the 2018 Infiniti QX80, which is an upgrade of the second-generation SUV that came out in 2010 as a 2011 model and was called the QX56. But Nissan’s luxury brand deems its 2018 midcycle refresh significant enough that it introduced a design concept, the QX80 Monograph, at the 2017 New York International Auto Show and then introduced the production QX80 at the Dubai auto show in November. The vehicle is headed to dealers now.
Infiniti knows it is a challenger premium brand. The QX80 is up against the all-new Lincoln Navigator that is turning heads and the 2017 Land Rover Discovery was also a full revamp. Over at General Motors, the 2018 Cadillac Escalade and GMC Yukon Denali use a new 10-speed automatic transmission. Lexus made news at the Los Angeles Auto Show when it said it would add a two-row version of the LX 570 and a three-row version of the RX, calling the new seven-passenger hauler the RX L. Mercedes freshened the GLS for the 2017 model year to go with its name change.
Infiniti sees itself as entrepreneurial with the ability to be a bit scrappy. That is one way to describe the outgoing QX80 that had a love-it-or-hate-it look replete with snub nose. For 2018, from the A-pillar forward has been changed to reflect Infiniti’s new and more upscale look. There is a new front fascia, wider and more upright grille, and raised signature eye-shaped LED headlights and foglights for a front end that is no longer polarizing. The liftgate, taillights, and rear bumper finisher are also new, and the turn signal is now in the rear bumper, which can be hard to see, especially from a vehicle with a high perch.
The overhangs are longer, and the vehicle gained some weight, but fuel economy remains the same at 14/20 mpg in city/highway driving with the rear-drive model and 13/19 with four-wheel drive.
The standard 20-inch wheels have been redesigned, and buyers can opt for new 22-inch aluminum-alloy wheels. Softer sidewalls are designed to improve the ride quality
If you like the performance of the current QX80, you will like the 2018 model, as well, because it is the same Nissan Patrol platform, same V-8 powertrain and seven-speed automatic transmission, parking brake on the floor for your left foot to engage, and largely the same ride. The shocks were retuned for additional comfort.
The 5.6-liter engine generates 400 hp at 5,800 rpm and 413 lb-ft of torque at 4,000 rpm. It is still satisfying to hear and feel the rumble of eight cylinders in a world where they are heading toward extinction. The air suspension absorbed bumps well, and there is a self-leveling rear suspension for the body-on-frame SUV that can tow 8,500 pounds. The four-wheel-drive system has a dial to choose auto, 4WD high for snow and light off-road duty, or 4WD Low for heavy off-road.
Infiniti says it has class-exclusive Hydraulic Body Motion Control for a smooth and flat ride, but I was hard pressed to discern it in action. This is a big vehicle, and although there were few curves in our drive around historic Charleston, South Carolina, on the few occasions we needed to swing it around it felt like exactly what it is: a large SUV. Body roll was not excessive, but the vehicle did not defy gravity, either.
The 2018 QX80’s safety suite is unchanged. It includes predictive forward collision warning that uses radar to see two cars ahead, lane departure warning and prevention, adaptive cruise control, distance control assist that maintains the same distance from the car in front even if adaptive cruise control is not on, forward emergency braking with pedestrian detection, blind-spot warning that pulls the vehicle back if the lane is not clear, and backup collision intervention. It does not have ProPilot Assist—that would have required adding more sensors, radar, lidar, etc.
For 2018 the QX80 becomes the first Infiniti to get a smart rearview mirror that uses a camera for a digital view if the window is blocked by people, gear, fog, or snow. It is also easier to see at night.
There is a wider step to get in, and the interior upgrades include new stitching, piping, and attractive quilted leather seats, as well as a new wood grain. In addition to the saddle brown and graphite interior color choices, the 2018 QX80 adds a new wheat leather and charcoal burl wood trim combination that is warm and inviting. On the practical side, everything from the seats to the console to the armrests have been treated with a stain-resistant coating. A holdover: a surprisingly noisy seat belt retractor.
The center console has been updated to better accommodate mugs with handles. It also adds USB ports and makes room for your phone. There is Wi-Fi, and the rear entertainment system has 8.0-inch screens. A Bose sound system with 15 speakers is optional.
The Infiniti InTouch system has an 8.0-inch touchscreen and pairs with Alexa to remote start and unlock from inside your home. Because this is an older platform and electrical architecture, the QX80 cannot accommodate Apple CarPlay or Android Auto. The gauge cluster is a throwback, considering other expensive vehicles have gone digital.
The eight-passenger QX80 is the head of Infiniti’s SUV family, pater to the QX60 that was updated for the 2016 model year and the 2019 QX50 that is now on a new platform with ProPilot Assist and the new VC-Turbo variable compression ratio engine—new technology for the Nissan-Renault Alliance launches in Infinitis. The baby is the QX30 that was new for 2016. There are four SUVs in the lineup and only three sedans, good positioning given shifting consumers tastes away from cars.
The Infiniti brand is sold in 50 markets, and of those, 27 sell the QX80. The most important are the U.S., China, the Middle East, and Russia. They are instrumental to Infiniti delivering a fifth consecutive year of record sales in the U.S. in 2017 and record global sales, as well.
Anand Patel, senior manager of Infiniti product management and planning, says the global large SUV segment now accounts for 2.2 million annual sales and shows no signs of slowing down. Zeroing in on the U.S., AutoData sales figures show the large SUV segment in the U.S. was just shy of 300,000 through November of this year, and the luxury SUV segment was about 215,000 strong.
QX80 sales through November 2017 were only 15,365, but Patel is confident the upgrades will increase Infiniti’s market share. He said the SUV appeals to a female buyer, with an average age of 46 compared to the segment average age of 54. Its buyers cite riding comfort, lots of space, safety, performance, and reliability as the reasons for choosing the QX80.
The 2018 QX80 starts at $65,745; the four-wheel-drive model starts at $68,845. The 4WD model we drove came to $85,070.