2013 INFINITI QX56 Driving Impressions

The QX56 has solid handling, with electronic assistance all over the place. We'll remember the night we drove into a winter storm warning and through Oregon's icy Columbia River Gorge, hauling that queen bed in the back, like a thief in the night. The QX56 made us feel confident and secure. At least once, the VDC saved us by correcting a slide. It was ahead of us, like it's supposed to be. With winter tires it might not have happened in the first place. The standard 20-inch all-season tires, slightly narrower, might be better on ice and snow than our optional 22-inchers, which cost $2450 on their nine-spoke alloy wheels.

We had the all-wheel-drive system set at Auto. INFINITI's All-Mode 4WD system has Auto, 4H and 4L modes. In Auto, up to 50 percent of the engine torque goes to the front wheels when needed for traction.

The torque and growl of the V8 is recognizably Nissan. We remember that feel from the Titan pickup truck. It's a satisfying engine, with 413 foot-pounds of torque at 4000 rpm. At lower rpm there's strong torque too.

The 5.6-liter 32-valve DOHC aluminum-alloy V8 features INFINITI's advanced VVEL (Variable Valve Event and Lift) technology and Direct Injection Gasoline (DIG) system. The VVEL system combines hydraulic-controlled variable valve timing and electronically controlled variable valve lift on the intake side to help improve performance and response. Throttle response is enhanced by directly controlling the intake valve, rather than using the traditional method of controlling intake with the throttle valve. The VVEL system also offers improved emissions and fuel efficiency (over non-variable valve designs) by reducing the intake resistance that occurs when the engine's throttle valve opening is narrowed and output is low.

The DIG direct-injection system provides better wide-open throttle performance and improved fuel economy and emissions performance (versus a non direct-injection system) by reducing engine knock, improving combustion stability and offering more precise injection control.

The powerful engine smoothly drives the whopping weight of the QX56, reaching three tons with driver. But when it does, you can't help thinking how much energy spelled g-a-s it takes. High-test gas. The QX56 is EPA rated at 14/20 mpg City/Highway; we got 17.1 mpg on the highway, most of it at a gentle 60 mph. Its greenhouse gas rating is an unimpressive 3 on a scale of 1 to 10, and its smog rating is a 5.

We have driven the QX56 for hours in a day-long rainstorm in Kentucky, so we know the brakes work when wet. The vented brake rotors are big, 13.8 inches. We like the feel of the pedal, and the solid anti-lock brakes, tested on snowy streets in Washington.

Electronic systems that take over stopping and steering the car are available. The Intelligent Braking System (Technology Package) uses sonar ranging to stop the QX56 without the driver's input as it approaches a stopped vehicle, and Distance Control Assist prompts the driver to release the throttle and applies the brakes in slowing traffic.

The QX56 also uses the brakes to take over the steering; the $3100 Technology Package also includes Lane Departure Prevention, which responds to potential unintended lane departure with a buzzer. If the driver doesn't obey the buzzer and steer back, the system applies the brakes on the opposite side of the alleged wander, forcing the car back. Here's the problem, in the fine print: the system turns potential into reality, which might be wrong. We've had it happen, although not in our QX56. The car fights the driver from doing what the driver knowingly with eyes-wide-open wants to do.

The 7-speed transmission was a joy, like it wasn't even there. Killer power and smooth transmission, our notes said. It's what you're always looking for. It has Adaptive Shift Control (ASC) and manual shift mode with Downshift Rev Matching (DRM).

The QX56 uses a rigid frame with thick side rails, and independent suspension. With the Deluxe Touring Package ($4650), ours had the Hydraulic Body Motion Control system. It's a closed hydraulic circuit that connects the shock absorbers and moves hydraulic pressure between them, to reduce body lean in corners. High-tech anti-sway bars.

The ride is firm but always comfortable. We would have liked the seats to grip more, or else be a bit softer; but after all, the QX56 is not exactly a driver's car. Wide flat seats probably make more sense, with many front-seat passengers (spelled parents) often turning to the rear.

INFINITI says that in the wind tunnel, the QX56 generates zero front and zero rear lift. Sounds great. The measurement is not something manufacturers include, and we wish we had the aerodynamic lift numbers from all the big SUVs, to compare.

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