A full size SUV can, for the most part, be one of two things: clumsy or more clumsy. The market for big haulers is just as large as their outward size but dynamically, there has yet to be a true stand out. In the past, these trucks with interiors have handled and behaved just as such; so much so that they tend to get chastised for being slow, dimwitted and sometimes, even unsafe. These thoughts often cause many buyers to opt for smaller alternatives which may handle in a smarter manner, but at the end of the day, those people are left with just not enough space. So the question becomes this: is there a full size SUV that can haul like a full size SUV but drive like a midsize SUV? The answer might just be yes and it might just get delivered by the 2012 Infiniti QX56.

The QX namesake has an interesting time line in Infiniti history. It was first seen in the late 1990s when Nissan took a midsize Pathfinder, and gave it the “premium” treatment to create the QX4. This vehicle lived its life until 2004, when Nissan played the name game once again to rebadge the then-all-new Armada SUV in order to give birth to the QX56. Based on the F-Alpha platform that is used by the Titan, Frontier and Xterra body-on-frame vehicles, the Infiniti is a true, honest-to-goodness full size truck based SUV; the kind of which usually get set on fire by environmentalists. Now in its second generation, the big-bodied QX was redone for 2011 when it received a lot of help from the insanely successful Nissan Patrol. It may be large – weighing over 6,000 lbs, stretching out 208.3 inches and covering 80.6 inches of road – but its fully independent suspension with available hydraulic dampers make us wonder if there is more to just its size and shape.

In order to find out, we got behind the wheel of a 2012 with four wheel drive. One of the two versions to pick from (the other being rear drive), the 4WD starts at $61,800 and includes standard features such as leather seating, heating for the front rows, tri-zone climate control, power liftgate, rain sensing windshield wipers, Infiniti’s Hard Drive navigation system, voice recognition, real time traffic and weather, satellite radio, Around View Monitor, bluetooth device pairing, Bose-supplied stereo and electronic brake force distribution. Added to our Liquid Platinum tester were a total of $12,550 worth of options otherwise known as “loaded to the teeth.” The Theater Package gives the QX56 dual, seven-inch monitors for the rear seats. The Technology Package adds Intelligent Cruise Control, Blind Spot Warning, Lane Departure Warning, Distance Control Assist, Intelligent Brake Assist and Adaptive Front Lighting. The Deluxe Touring Package gives the vehicle surround sound, the Hydraulic Body Motion Control System and headlight washers. Other items such as 22 inch wheels, cargo mats, and first aid kits added to the price to bring the final MSRP of our tester to $75,340 with destination charge.

Just like the 2011 QX56 we drove last year, the 2012 is motivated by one heck of a powerplant. It may carry the same displacement as the first generation truck from 2004, but the latest 5.6 liter VK56 V8 was given a serious boost in both power and efficiency. Using an all-aluminum construction, dual overhead cams with variable valve timing and gasoline direct injection, the high output engine would make any muscle car proud and does when it finds work in the h0t-rod M56 super sedan. In truck form, 400 horsepower and 413 lb-ft of torque is put to the ground via Infiniti’s now-corporate seven speed automatic transmission. Compared to the 2004-2010 QX, the 2012 makes 80 more horsepower and 23 more lb-ft of torque all while achieving an EPA estimated 14 mpg in the city and 20 mpg on the highway. Its mixed driving average of 16 mpg is around 2 miles better than the older V8; thanks mostly in part to direct injection. What this all means is despite the vehicles startling outward size and appearance, this full size family and boat hauler can actually haul in between the lights. If launched from a standstill, 60 mph can show its face in about 6.5 seconds accompanied by a muffled but endearing muscle car thumping hum. Sadly, due to its rather aerodynamically stupid size, the Infiniti seems to run out of steam around triple digits but then again, a QX56 dirver is more than likely going to be hauling their drag car behind them.

Powertrain wise, the Infiniti has the guts to match the super SUVs from GM and can out run most offerings from Germany, but it’s when the road turns curvy that things get interesting. One of the biggest deterrents for most that stops them from buying a full size SUV is handling characteristics – or the lack there of. Most offerings are dumb witted, slow to respond and offer the kind of communication usually associated with some paper cups and string. But in our QX56, those traits seemed to disappear and blame can mostly be put on the optional Hydraulic Body Motion Control. A central system monitors each damper to fill and empty the hydraulic fluid as needed so that body roll can be reduced and ride quality can be raised. The system is very similar to the one used in the Audi RS5 and in the Infiniti, it works like a charm. This doesn’t mean that the QX is an autocross worthy slot car, but its ride, turn in and steering feel is worlds better than the majority of offerings on the market today. Perhaps more important than offering crisp handling, the new dampers give a driver something that is extremely rare in the full size SUV segment: confidence. Add in the Around View Monitor system which will ensure that the Infiniti will always be in a parking spot, and what the engineers at Nissan have done is create a three row, truck based, boat pulling, family machine that doesn’t drive or act like one.

The QX56 has some seriously tough competition with long-standing reputations. After all, the Range Rover, Lexus LX and Cadillac Escalade are basically the fathers of the luxury full size SUV segment and their success has been proven. Even though the Infiniti is wonderful at what it does, it lacks certain charms held by its competition, mainly the Escalade and Range Rover’s “street cred.” Big, bold, tough and stout are all words used to describe the Michigan monster and the English shining start with each one of those offerings carrying one special leg up against the Japanese new comer. For instance, an Escalade would beat the QX56 at the drag strip while a Range Rover would blaze a trail much further than the Infiniti. At the end of the day however, those traits only mater to the folks who are loyal to those namesakes and new buyers shouldn’t think twice about not including the QX on their full size shopping list. The sheer amount of technology and features packed into the truck is absolutely astounding and everything works just like it should. The navigation is fantastic, the stereo is wonderful and the ergonomics are correct. Putting aside its lackluster off road ability and its take-it-or leave it “fluid” styling, the Infiniti does something rather interesting that most full size offerings are failing to do. It acts, behaves and operates like it’s smaller all while carrying the ability to haul just about anything and do it in quiet comfort. If a true, game changing machine sounds good to you, than the 2012 Infiniti QX56 is right up your ally.

Photos: © Copyright 2012 Ossamah Shabbir

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