2018 Infiniti QX80 First Drive: Same Old, But Better Looking

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Big luxury SUVs tend to have long life cycles. There are more years between all-new versions compared with the increasingly short lifespans of today’s small crossovers. And there are fewer choices when it comes to big SUVs that fit entire families and can tow their toys. It means midcycle refreshes are mandatory to stay competitive and keep these profitable land yachts on buyers’ radar screens.

Such is the case for the 2018 Infiniti QX80, which is an upgrade of the second-generation SUV that came out in 2010 as a 2011 model and was called the QX56. But Nissan’s luxury brand deems its 2018 midcycle refresh significant enough that it introduced a design concept, the QX80 Monograph, at the 2017 New York International Auto Show and then introduced the production QX80 at the Dubai auto show in November. The vehicle is headed to dealers now.

Infiniti knows it is a challenger premium brand. The QX80 is up against the all-new Lincoln Navigator that is turning heads and the 2017 Land Rover Discovery was also a full revamp. Over at General Motors, the 2018 Cadillac Escalade and GMC Yukon Denali use a new 10-speed automatic transmission. Lexus made news at the Los Angeles Auto Show when it said it would add a two-row version of the LX 570 and a three-row version of the RX, calling the new seven-passenger hauler the RX L. Mercedes freshened the GLS for the 2017 model year to go with its name change.

Infiniti sees itself as entrepreneurial with the ability to be a bit scrappy. That is one way to describe the outgoing QX80 that had a love-it-or-hate-it look replete with snub nose. For 2018, from the A-pillar forward has been changed to reflect Infiniti’s new and more upscale look. There is a new front fascia, wider and more upright grille, and raised signature eye-shaped LED headlights and foglights for a front end that is no longer polarizing. The liftgate, taillights, and rear bumper finisher are also new, and the turn signal is now in the rear bumper, which can be hard to see, especially from a vehicle with a high perch.

The overhangs are longer, and the vehicle gained some weight, but fuel economy remains the same at 14/20 mpg in city/highway driving with the rear-drive model and 13/19 with four-wheel drive.

The standard 20-inch wheels have been redesigned, and buyers can opt for new 22-inch aluminum-alloy wheels. Softer sidewalls are designed to improve the ride quality

If you like the performance of the current QX80, you will like the 2018 model, as well, because it is the same Nissan Patrol platform, same V-8 powertrain and seven-speed automatic transmission, parking brake on the floor for your left foot to engage, and largely the same ride. The shocks were retuned for additional comfort.

The 5.6-liter engine generates 400 hp at 5,800 rpm and 413 lb-ft of torque at 4,000 rpm.  It is still satisfying to hear and feel the rumble of eight cylinders in a world where they are heading toward extinction. The air suspension absorbed bumps well, and there is a self-leveling rear suspension for the body-on-frame SUV that can tow 8,500 pounds. The four-wheel-drive system has a dial to choose auto, 4WD high for snow and light off-road duty, or 4WD Low for heavy off-road.

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