Mountain Wheels: Infiniti’s gargantuan QX80 still looms over other import SUVs

Large and in charge, the 400-horsepower QX80 continues to provide spacious three-row seating and proportions so large you’ll need a ladder to reach the roof.
Courtesy photo

The reigning king of the Japanese SUV — and a few of its upscale Infiniti counterparts — continue to provide a bit of flash and scale that Acura and even Lexus haven’t quite been able to match.

The 2023 edition of the tall and full-sized Infiniti QX80 comes with few changes to previous models — I also drove a 2022 model earlier last year, and the biggest difference is a nearly $3,000 price increase, with the top-of-the-line four-wheel drive Sensory model stickered at $87,450. That came to just about $91,000, with fancy illuminated door and cargo scuff plates, roof cross bars and a splashy exterior lighting system that brightens when you approach or unlock the vehicle.

Yes, that’s a lot of cash, but it’s also a lot of vehicle, with a massive presence that still outshines even the new Lexus LX 600 in many ways. It’s got the ginormous 22-inch wheels, and a blessedly old-fashioned 5.6-liter V8 providing 400 horsepower and a somewhat optimistic 19 mpg on the highway.

Underneath the super-glossy looks and the lush and deeply pillowy leather interior, it’s also tremendously capable, with a two-speed transfer case and real off-road 4-Low capability in just slightly dated switchgear, plus the desirable capacity to tow up to 8,500 pounds of trailer.

I think that the QX80 has probably been my most frequent ultra-premium SUV of the last decade or so and it continues to be a pleasant if not somewhat overwhelming experience, with practically useful third-row seating and a moderately updated interior for 2022/2023 models.

The QX80’s gargantuan size does require a bit of forethought on tight corners and the necessity to properly secure loose cargo (or passengers, I guess), as its center of gravity is so high that stuff really will slide around a lot.

Like full-sized trucks, boarding the QX80 requires a perch on the fixed running boards to get in, or to even (barely) scrape the windows or try to get snow off the very, very tall roof. Accessing a roof cargo rack might require a ladder, literally.

You’ll also need to reach for one of the window grab handles to climb aboard, though the payoff is an almost tractor-trailer-worthy perch and views of drivers completely oblivious to your physical largesse.

As in the recent past, there’s a dual rear screen entertainment system on the back of the front row headrests, a powerful 17-speaker Bose Performance audio system and a competent range of radar and sonar parking and safety aids — though other brands are slowly eclipsing the QX80 with their systems. It now features Amazon Alexa on the 12.3-inch touchscreen, and the lane-keep function will produce a jarring buzzing in the steering wheel.

It’s still one of the classiest interiors around, with pleated semi-Aniline seating in the whole cabin, heated second-row seats and easy access to the third row with remote tipping second-row seats. QX80 features almost 17 cubic feet of storage with all the seats up, about 50 cubic feet with the third row dropped and more than 95 cubic feet with both rows lowered.

If sheer mass is not your top desire, you can also consider both the QX60 and the hyper-sporty QX55, both of which provide perhaps more properly scaled but still flashy options, starting at about half the price of the most tricked-out QX80.

For 2023, the 295-horsepower, 3.5-liter V6-driven QX60 starts at just over $49,000 and was nearly $66,000 in the high-end Autograph version I drove, with more lit-up scuff plates and premium paint as added options.

Much the same as the totally reconfigured Nissan Pathfinder but way more Range Rover-styled, QX60 offers much of the plushy plumage of the QX80 in a slightly less audacious package. That’s not entirely accurate, as QX60 is adorned with feature like chromed exterior vents, tons of pleated and quilted leather seating and a miraculous assortment of interior finishes.

You do notice a little weight-to-power discrepancy at times, though its 25 highway mpg is a little more reasonable. It’s also less obviously aimed at any remaining pretense of off-roading; electronic safety features, like Pathfinder, are of a more modern vintage.

Then there’s the curious QX55, the glossed-up and … well, more expensive version of the comparatively diminutive QX50. You can get a base QX50 with the same 268-horsepower 2.0-liter engine for just over $40,000; the Sensory-level AWD QX55 I drove was just over $60,000, and was definitely envisioned as an urban, less all-weather-capable lifestyle machine, especially with its high-performance tires.

The QX50 body gets chopped a bit to produce the sort-of coupe-styled 55, though the loss of rear roofline is negligible except when it comes to overloading the vehicle with boxes or … well, a bit of direct rear visibility.

It’s definitely a looker, with Spider-Man web stripes on the rear lamps, a dark air dam over the rear glass and pentagonal dual rear exhausts. Gloss black roof rails and widely flared lower door contour also give it a distinctive appeal. I tried — and failed — to act like the turbo had AMG-styled boost, as a continuously-variable transmission sorta dogs the overall output, but it can get 28 mpg.

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