Infiniti QX80 makes you feel like a king

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ONE of my favourite treats is the nostalgia that comes on winter mornings as I warm up a truck or sport utility vehicle (SUV) after a night’s new snowfall.

I grew up in Oregon in the United States, which means I spent many cold mornings helping my dad brush powder off windshields and remove icicles from side mirrors before he drove me to school. I loved how the scrape, scrape, scrape of the ice pick sliced the muffled silence of winter, and how the puff of our breaths and the exhaust from the truck rose around us like the smoke in a sorcerer’s chamber.

It made me feel like a queen preparing a sleigh to survey her frozen kingdom.

So I loved it this morning when I stepped outside of my apartment to see my little New York neighbourhood covered in white.

I had the perfect conveyance: the US$89,000 (RM323,960) 2015 Infiniti QX80 Limited, the highest-priced Infiniti on the market today. The “Limited” note affixed to this QX80 means each Infiniti dealer gets (maybe) one a month for the year, no more. It’s on sale nationwide now; the wait time is currently four months.

The car is big and tall enough to feel like a carriage rather than a sleigh, really — the roof soared well over my 1.78m head and the step up into the driver’s seat is a fair distance from the ground, even in my heeled black booties. I got inside and immediately started the car to warm it up, turned on the wipers front and back, activated the seat heaters, and jumped out again to clear a path onto the street. I used a venti Starbucks cup to brush snow from its three rows of windows  — a stiff brush probably would have been more elegant, but I was in no mood to go searching for one.

This is the part where a footman would have been most helpful.

Big and tall

The QX80 proved suited for just such wintry wanderings because of its great heft, its dexterity, and the many interior comforts offered within its confines.

Let’s talk about each of those elements.

First, if the photos haven’t proven descriptive enough, know that this rig has quite the footprint. It’s taller and longer and heavier than things like the Cadillac Escalade, Land Rover LR4, and Mercedes-Benz GL; its considerable height gives it a vantage point so elevated that it will change your sense of self. Two pilot seats in the middle fold down to make a veritable table and a long walk back to the third-row bench seats. If you want to get away from it all, just climb on board and find a spot at the rear.

Here’s the twist: It’s actually 528.32cm long — just 5.08cm longer than the BMW 7 Series I drove last week. So while you feel very high and mighty driving this car, parking doesn’t feel like backing an elephant into a refrigerator box. On first glance, I worried I’d have nowhere to put this thing on a quick trip downtown to the Ludlow Hotel, but I had no trouble parallel parking it along the streets in the Lower East Side. The 7 Series gave me more awkward situations than this rig. I think it’s because you expect it to feel so long — that height! — that when it comes down to its actual dimensions, manoeuvring it is a surprise.

Everything inside is enormous, too, from the centre console and lockable glove compartment to the sunroof and the gauge of the diamond pattern quilted into the leather seats. Simply driving this gilded tank over the frozen tundra of Manhattan makes you feel like inclement weather is not an issue; in fact, I felt so secure driving one snowy, cold morning last week I actually offered to chauffeur my colleagues Nic Screws and Moti Ankari to their menswear shows for the Autumn/Winter 2015 collections. I just wanted the rush.

Muscle control

Of course, all that body needs the muscle control to be good. The QX80 has all-wheel drive and multiple motion control systems that work under a supremely stiff suspension to monitor and tune torque between the wheels. The seven-speed automatic transmission pleased me as it swelled through the car’s lower gears; the Snow mode (one of several drive modes from which to choose) is slow and safe, as is fitting.

I was surprised this car has only a V8 engine (better for efficiency anyway), and at first glance on paper the 400 horsepower (hp) seems paltry compared with the 445hp and higher coupes and sedans I’ve been driving lately. Maybe that’s a commentary on just how silly we’ve all gotten about power ratings. Call it engine bloat. Anyway, this engine performed fine. Not fine like ho-hum. Fine in a good way, a solid way. It’s not flashy as a performer, but it’s smooth and commanding.

The QX80 has lots of safety systems, as you’ll no doubt become aware regardless of whether you want to. The automatic braking kicks in during heavy traffic. I worry I’m becoming too used to the blind-spot and lane-departure warning systems that are now par for the course in these sorts of vehicles, but I can’t deny how useful they are in driving something of this size.

The parking monitors — which were so helpful showing my wheel alignment and views from every possible angle of the car — kept sounding their alerts this morning as clumps of snow slid down from the hood and covered their sensors. It would have been awkward had anyone else been riding with me. I felt relieved when they stopped, and they did, eventually.

Truffle butter

I’ve saved talking about looks until last because, well, I’m not sure what to say. The QX80 looks like a polished mahogany tree trunk, a gleaming wooden fortress affixed with a chandelier grille and light-emitting diode headlights illuminated day and night. In person, it doesn’t come across as bad as it does in the photos. That’s a backhanded compliment, but it’s accurate according to the unscientific polls I conducted among friends and colleagues last week.

It comes with a unique truffle-toned leather interior, the aforementioned quilted seating, special badging, Alcantara throughout, and exclusive exterior paint colours (imperial black, deep mocha almond, and a Dakar bronze — I would stick with black). I don’t like the fact that when you order the limited-edition QX80 it means you’re stuck with that brown interior, but I hear it goes over big in the burbs.

I do like the rubber-capped stainless steel side steps, the darkened chrome trim along the sides of the body, and the massive 55.88-cm wheels. I especially like the “open-pore” wood trim on the console and dashboard, the first finish of its kind in an Infiniti vehicle and whose matte, bare finish lends the interior another tactile singularity. (Unfortunately the finish is non-negotiable in the Limited.) And the noise-insulating glass, tinted rear windows, and Bose 13-speaker sound with two subwoofers make it easy to feel like a ruler of some domain.

To enhance the feeling, I also recommend hiring that footman. — Bloomberg


This article first appeared in The Edge Financial Daily, on February 23, 2015.