Mountain Wheels: Finding I-70 Zen (and great joy in the Infiniti QX80)
I was prepared to jump into a my biannual rant about the ever-declining state of vehicular courtesy and safety in Colorado but I was so unusually elated by my Friday morning Denver-Arapahose Basin-Denver drive that I am instead just a bucket of sunshine.
I mean, I actually saw people signal, move into the left lane, and then signal and move back into the right lane, as you are supposed to do while driving in the United States — rather than fall into the single 85-mph-left-lane death peloton we all know and love so much.
The funny thing was that I wasn’t even driving this week’s focus vehicle, the gargantuan Infiniti QX80, which is now about the right size of car to earn a minor amount of respect on our beloved I-70 (I had a zoom-zoomy Mazda CX-5 I will tackle in a few weeks).
But it gave me hope that the mountain freeway drive doesn’t always have to be the worst trip in the world. And as mentioned, if you want to make even the more typical hellacious journey back and forth to Denver in a less soul-killing fashion, QX80 is definitely an advisable ride.
I got to spend the week with the new Limited edition, which retailed for a cough-inducing $89,900 — plus $355 for a much-welcome all season package including floor mats and carpeting on all of the rear cabin seatbacks, plus $500 for a premium Anthracite Gray paint job.
The nice thing with Limited is that pretty much everything else is absolutely included in that price, versus the $30,000 in options you’ll typically have to add to a German luxury SUV to bring it up to full sparkle. (This may also explain why you can indeed get a “base” QX80 for as little as $65,100).
Limited’s ultra-upgrades also include very nice-looking, machine-finished 22-inch alloy wheels, special satin chrome on the body trim and roof rails, plus a unique look for the bumpers. Power remains the same, with the full-blown 5.6-liter V-8 making 400 horsepower.
In a real-life application of the enormity provided by the imposing three-row QX80, I of course opted to load it up with a one-bedroom apartment’s worth of boxes, tables, luggage, lamps, chairs, clothing, old skis and even a miniature refrigerator.
Here, the massive proportions pay off, with 49.6 cubic feet just behind the second-row seats, and 16.6 cubic feet even with the third-row seats deployed. I took advantage of the full 95.1 cubic feet and while an oversized console between the vehicle’s two second-row captain’s chairs did not mean an absolutely flat surface, some Tetris-style packing techniques produced amazing results.
We are not kidding about largesse. The 6,067-pound AWD version of the QX80 can tow up to 8,500 pounds, and still deliver approximately 19-20 mpg on the highway. It’s more than 210 inches long, almost 80 inches wide and nearly 76 inches high — though getting in and out is not quite as truckly difficult, thanks to enlarged sill plates and plentiful grab handles. Parking can be an issue, though around-view cameras and sonar sensors will let you know when you get too close to the lilacs or other vehicles; the mega-huge and tall liftgate may also just barely deploy in smaller garages.
But QX80 is also set up for full off-road combat duty, with 9.2 inches of ground clearance, an under-radiator skid plate and off-road technologies that are as comprehensive as its on-road electronic sway-and-wobble mitigation. This is the kind of vehicle made for crashing across the sand dunes in the Emirates, Land Cruiser-style (the updated navigation system will understand and provide directions in Arabic). I still encountered quite a number of them on my Friday drive on I-70, as they also make an imposing but manageable (and, frankly, much classier) alternative to General Motors’ biggest SUVs. I am waiting to see how the new BMW X7 compares, however.
I enjoyed absolutely effortless highway cruising, and a pretty sedate ride despite those tall 22s, with limited bounce or stickiness in ruts. I was also impressed by the tenacity of its safety systems, doing some full braking when cars or pedestrians appeared behind it, and capable of fairly comprehensive predictive cruise control functionality.
Interior quality is also very high, with yards and yards of quilted, semi-aniline leather, tons of Alcantara accents and the tasteful open-pore silver ash wood trim on the wraparound dash.
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