Mountain Wheels: Infiniti’s full-size SUVs offer peerless comforts and style | SummitDaily.com

Mountain Wheels: Infiniti’s full-size SUVs offer peerless comforts and style

Andy Stonehouse
Mountain Wheels

Looking back over this year's crop of hot rides, the trend is definitely skewing bigger and bolder — we still have a few old-fashioned actual passenger cars to address before the snow really flies — but the SUV revolution continues to be in full swing.

That has provided a good venue (and benchmark) for Infiniti — Nissan's upscale luxury division — to showcase the prowess and the power of its two biggest SUV models, the QX60 and the QX80. They've both been awarded Kelly Blue Book's 5-Year Cost to Own award, suggesting that the longstanding traditions of Japanese craftsmanship carry on, even in these glossy machines.

My ride in the newest QX60 was a pleasant appetizer to the QX80 experience, which is just so much truck it is hard to believe. The more Pathfinder-sized QX60 is in slightly more just-right territory, with a 295-horsepower 3.5-liter V6 and highway mileage in the 26 MPG range, plus pricing that began at around $45,000 and shot up to $60,670 with practically every option imaginable. That included 20-inch wheels, an upgraded Bose audio system, back of the headrest video monitors and a moonroof for your second and third-row passengers.

It's got room for seven and is, for most purposes, perfectly sized for a substantial family outing, which helped it earn U.S News and World Report's award for the best three-row luxury SUV for families — and will still be the fanciest thing your kids have ever seen, unless you cross-shop with the gargantuan QX80.

Mountain drivers will want the AWD version I drove, and will appreciate the scale and the slightly more car-like driving experience the QX60 offers. The engine shares the same direct-injection system found in Infiniti's blazingly fast Q60 Sports Coupe (it's also found in the QX80's powerplant), so uphill journeys are easy and comfortable.

For your passengers, second-row flexibility is key with seats that slide more than 5 inches forward or back.

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The QX80, meanwhile, takes opulence to a whole new level that even the audacious Nissan Armada was not able to match — my notes from my drive refer to the giant machine as a "Louis Vuitton Locomotive," which I think accurately captures the spirit of this massive luxury SUV.

Just a "regular" rendition of the QX80 is pretty spectacular, however. Mine started off at nearly $68,000 but escalated to a very tall $84,910 with the addition of technology, theater and driver assistance packages — $2,800 for 22-inch wheels, $5,700 for upgraded heated and cooled leather seats, a ride-smoothing hydraulic body motion control system and an impressive Bose audio setup.

Though there's enough chrome to plate an entire fleet of Nissan Sentras, QX80's main differentiator is its interior quality. The upgraded leather is plush and pillowy and the door inserts and the giant console box look like Hermes handbags, not pressure-injected plastic.

Yes, the old Nissan-derived cabin controls need a serious update — the trip computer, overly gigantic 4WD knob and the navigational controls are all old — but the overall look is fabulous.

And the QX80 bombs along like nobody's business, with a wide and imposingly tall ride and stance that takes full advantage of the 400-horsepower 5.6-liter V8. The resulting 16.7 overall MPG I got was consistent for the machine. Steering felt light and you will never, ever be at a loss for power, though like the Armada, you need to exercise a bit of extra caution when getting deep into mountain curves, as its mass is massive. Your ability to simply get aboard will determine if this is the right machine for you.