The Infiniti premium car brand is caught in a bubble at the lower end of a very popular segment. Struggling to generate more traction in a luxury marketplace that heavily favors Mercedes, Lexus, BMW and Audi — in that order — Infiniti is part of a group led by Acura and comprised of Cadillac, Lincoln and a trailing Volvo that has more of a niche impact on consumer tastes. Each brand has modest growth, if any, year after year, while expanding brands such as Subaru or Kia gobble up more marketshare. Subaru’s mainstream Forester — what some used to consider a snowbelt product — outsells all by itself the whole lineup of Acura, Cadillac, Infiniti or Lincoln. From that perspective, there is a lot of energy — capital — that goes into a separate car line with sales levels of only 114,000 units through the first nine months of the year.
For Infiniti, the midsize QX60 crossover featured here is the brand’s top-selling product. Based on the similar Nissan Pathfinder three-row wagon, the QX60 leads Infiniti’s five-crossover, three-sedan lineup — a structure that reflects the industry’s emphasis on all things sport utility and wagon-esque.
Available with front- or all-wheel drive, the QX60 is physically similar to the Dodge Durango or Toyota Highlander; at 196 inches long on a 114-inch wheelbase and tipping the scale at 4,645 pounds, the QX60 is lighter than most competitors. From our last visit with the QX60, the engine bay has gained 30 more horsepower with the venerable 3.5 VQ V-6 engine receiving upgrades meant to provide more torque and efficiency. While both horsepower and torque are up measurably, fuel economy increased marginally (19/26 mpg EPA, 21 mpg realized), towing capacity remains 3,500 pounds, and premium fuel is suggested for peak performance. A mild hybrid version of the QX60 also is available.
Teamed with a CVT automatic transmission — a design that Nissan/Infiniti have developed to lead the industry — the 295-hp QX60 is more responsive and less strained under load. Manual mode action is available, with reasonable simulations of conventional automatic shifting, plus a drive-mode knob on the console ranges from snow to sport settings for better modulating power and traction abilities of the AWD hardware.
In normal driving, the Infiniti feels like a front-drive wagon with an artificially weighted steering wheel tugging at your hands as the numerous lane-watch/lane-keeping electronic driving aids subliminally attempt to override your directional path. The QX60 was a more comfortable driving machine with these interventions deactivated. The forward-collision sensors also interrupted smooth travel with abrupt automatic braking acts at unexpected periods, as the Infiniti’s components leaned to a far more reserved driving style than reality might present. Using components shared with other automakers (few automakers make their own systems any more) the QX60’s behavior is no longer the exception and reinforced the notion that we are still in beta development of some of these driving aids.
Functionally, the QX60 offers numerous virtues along with some nit-picks that only a redesign will remedy. In top premium trim, the triple panel sunroofs open up the cabin with light and visibility, the third row seats are easily accessed and actually fit real humans, plus the cargo floor is wide and flat when the rear seats are stowed. The dual-screen rear DVD entertainment system is a must for road warriors with kids, and the individually folding rear seats at each position allow immeasurable cargo flexibility.
Up front, the QX60 continues a Nissan/Infiniti design emphasis. All of the controls and switches above the center line of the instrument panel and center dash are convenient to use, easy to modulate and often redundant buttons from the touch-screen — smart and simple. Unfortunately, too many buttons are mounted below the center line, especially left of the steering wheel. These are awkward to see and use and cause the driver to memorize or misapply while driving. The functionality of the console could be improved as well; a vehicle of this size and family emphasis needs more pockets and small item storage.
Gripes aside, the QX60 remains one of the more attractive three-row crossovers with graceful lines and a distinctively upscale fascia. Graceful at rest or at speed, the QX60 is easily the best looking of the Infiniti crossovers. The ride is controlled and balanced, and the dimensions fit nicely into real life, yet the QX60’s relative age is apparent as the segment gets “freshened” every year with new designs.
QX60 pricing begins at $44,095 for a base front drive model — add $1,800 for AWD. Driver Assist package, Theatre Package, Deluxe Technology Package and Premium Package can add up to $20,000 to the sticker very quickly.