The Infiniti QX80 Limited gets kicked down to the kid’s table of luxury SUVs because look at it. But drive the thing and all of a sudden you’re Shallow Hal discovering the majesty of inner beauty. And it goes even deeper than the quilt-stitched seats.

(Full disclosure: Infinti lent me a ridiculously loaded QX80 Limited for a few days, for free. I probably put about 300 miles on it and returned it with some gas in the tank.)

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I should also disclose that I’d written this car off too. Didn’t care for the styling, you could say.

I’m highly skeptical of any off-road luxury product that doesn’t have R-A-N-G-E-R-O-V-E-R written across the hood. And I get a fresh whiff of “no thanks” about the Infiniti brand every time some brojack in a slammed G35 cuts me off and makes me listen to that ghastly rasp of an exhaust that probably sounded so dope in 2004.

I feel bad saying that, because I’ve met a few designers at Infiniti and they’re top folks. Dedicated individuals who really want to create something interesting, and here we are saying their efforts to luxurize an international Nissan SUV came out looking turdly. Yes, the truth hurts sometimes, but not to worry, I’m about to turn their frowns upside down.

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Practically speaking the QX80 Limited comes so close to luxury SUV perfection that I almost felt like turning my Land Rover show trophies around to write this. Almost.

So pass your own judgements on the QX exterior, but I bet you’re still wondering what’s going on underneath the cybernetic-pachyderm skin that’s got me so rapt. You asked a lot of questions when we told you we were testing this thing, so get yourself an office toilet stall and I’ll break down what’s up with the 2015 QX80 Limited.

What makes the “Limited” so special?

Test-driving the QX80 Limited and calling it a review of the “QX80” stinks harder than the crap you’re probably squeezing out right now. The QX80 Limited is Alec Baldwin, and the regular QX80 is like if Alec Baldwin had a sibling who was also an actor but less successful.

The Limited trim is literal in name; Infiniti says each dealer sells about one per month, which is actually more than you might expect for an options package that commands a $10,000 premium on the regular QX80. So for the price of a really nice used car on top of your $66,350 SUV, the Limited adds:

  • Special paint options and “semi-aniline leather.”
  • Open pore matte finish ash wood.
  • Quilt-stitched seats.
  • Ultrasuede headliner.
  • Leather grab-handles.
  • An interior color-matched leather steering wheel.
  • 22” wheels.
  • More chrome trim.
  • Darkened headlight trim, because why not.
  • Stainless steel running board caps. Can’t drive without that.
  • “Welcome lighting,” more on that later.
  • Did I mention the chrome roof rack?
  • And illuminated kick plates.

Remember when tuner cars were mass-appeal kind of popular, around when 2Fast 2Furious came out, and you’d see 1990’s Accords with home-stitched leather and little neon tubes strapped everywhere? The QX80 Limited is like that, but if it came out as beautiful as it was going to in the mind of the 16-year-old boy before someone glued the knockoff Louis Vuitton-pattern fabric to his door panel.

Is any of that worth ten grand?

I was afraid you were going to ask that.

What are you, insane? Of course not. They’re decorations. Really beautiful ones though. And those of you earnestly shopping in this segment, you’re pretty much on-par with rivals here even at an out-the-door price tag of $89,845.

How does $66,350 plus $10,000 equal $89,845?

Somebody’s paying attention! The difference is made up with the safety suite and twin 7” headrest-mounted TV screens. At $90,000 it’s right up their with the nicest Escalade, a decent Range Rover, or a not-quite-AMG Mercedes GL. If you skip the entertainment and collision warnings the QX80 looks like a downright bargain at under $80,000.

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But with so many spectacular machines in this category, you need to know how it compares. Here’s a quick-and-dirty rundown of how the QX80 Limited looks against its main competition.

Versus the Cadillac Escalade?

Objectively the Escalade’s interior feels more advanced. The gauges are all screens, the buttons feel somewhere between “piano key” and “iPad.” And of course the seats are spectacular; a lot more taut in the Cadillac if that’s your style.

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But the animated readouts aren’t going to age as well as the Infiniti’s traditional dials, and the little knobs you’ll find everywhere on the QX80 make things like changing the fan or seat temperature feel so purposeful.

On performance the volumetric efficiency of the Nissan 5.6 V8 leaves a lot to be desired, burping out a pathetic 400 horsepower at a filthy fuel consumption rate. Yet the QX80 has no trouble at all getting out of its own way. I mean, I don’t even feel dumb saying it scoots. But the Escalade’s 6.2 v8 surges ahead with the fury of a runaway train, and on the flipside rewards gentle driving with pretty impressive fuel mileage.

Versus Lexus LX?

Being based on the venerable Toyota Land Cruiser, you’d think the LX would crush this prissy Nissan like a beer can and throw it in the fire pit after a dirty day of off-roading.

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Not really, and yes, I did say Nissan. As in Nissan Patrol; an SUV you might not have heard of because it’s not sold in America. But it is the platform for the QX80 and it does stuff like set a speed record for sand-dune climbing. It’s considered a pretty capable machine, if generally second to Toyota off-road.

But since neither model is ever actually used in rough-country driving, the QX kind of kicks Lexus butt where it matters; in your actual butt. As in, the Infiniti’s seats are way more comfortable and even if you’re not into the styling at least the infotainment rig doesn’t look like it’s running off Windows ’95 like it does in the Lexus. Nissan’s software looks like XP, at least.

Versus Mercedes GL?

The Merc feels much more aggressive inside and out, but the pair of turbos are what really help it the GL550 whoosh ahead of the QX Limited. Like most modern Benzes the GL has a much more sterile vibe to it which is an especially stark contrast to the Infiniti. The Benz straight-laced, always on time, and headed to the top floor of an office building. The QX’s wavy lines and funky quilt patterns are on their own schedule, and on the way to a swinger’s party.

Versus the Range Rover?

We all know that the Range Rover is an incredibly capable, elegant, and luxurious vehicle. But it’s got something else that no other luxury SUV brand has been able to build – a brand that somehow appeals to just about every flavor of rich person who might be in the market.

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Deep down there’s a little anglophile in every American, and I think this subconscious reverence for England has done a great deal to keep Land Rover solvent. Hell, consumers voting with their wallets have proven it’s stronger than their desire for reliability.

So, no, the QX80 Limited is not “better” than a Range Rover. But it could be considered more comfortable, and it’s almost definitely more reliable.

Ok, let’s dive deeper on Infiniti’s “truck.” You said the platform was a Nissan Patrol?

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Indeed. The QX80 is a “traditional truck” in the sense that it’s built in a body-on-frame configuration as opposed to being built around a unibody shell. Both the American Infiniti and global Nissan-badged vehicles get the same “All-Mode-AWD” off-road traction control setup with settings for sand, snow and other surfaces. That’s pretty common in modern SUVs, but unique to the Infiniti is a feature they call the “Hydraulic Body Motion Control System.”

Basically the idea there is that the shocks actively work to smooth out the QX80’s ride in corners by managing the pressure at each corner. When the vehicle turns right and leans left, the left shocks will stiffen up a bit to mitigate bodyroll.

Does that actually work?

All I can tell you is running over potholes and poor people is like spreading butter that’s been sitting in the California sun for six hours.

What about the engine, I heard it’s huge and weak?

You’ve heard correctly, and did I mention it has a serious drinking problem?

400 horsepower from a 5.6-liter, 32-valve V8 isn’t what I’d call tight, but that doesn’t describe the driving experience. Maybe the QX’s seven-speed automatic is just really well tuned, but I never had any issues trying to make this machine go faster than I needed to. Sounds good too. No, really. Step on it and it sings with just enough vroom to announce its presence, not enough to be offensive.

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Incredibly the QX, which weighs over 6,000 pounds itself, is even rated to tow another 8,500 pounds off a ball hitch. That’s half a ton more pulling power than a gas-powered Chevy Colorado. I’d be skeptical about that with my eyes on these specs. But after driving it I’m confident the QX could hit its tow max. At about 3 MPG, but it’d get the job done.

Pity about the fuel burn though, which we measured at an average of 14 MPG unladen in mixed driving. The EPA combined rating, if anyone cares what those guys say anymore, is 16 and the highway rating is 20. Pause for laughter.

If you can squeeze a legitimate and consistent 20 MPG out of this vehicle, please invite me to your dojo of hypermiling.

Any good off-road?

You know, I sure wish I could tell you but every “truck trail” I tracked down on the map turned out to be closed to trucks for jogging or dog walking. After a few fails there it was too dark to do anything take a lap at the In-N-Out drive-thru. Don’t worry guys, I climbed right over their curb no sweat without even taking the truck out of “Auto 4WD.”

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Sadly there is no 2WD setting, which makes desert donuts a little harder (but not impossible!) There’s only “automatic,” full-on 4WD or low-range.

Dropping down to low gets you a 2.7:1 gear ratio that Consumer Reports has said is actually pretty beast for crawling. Where it does come up short the traction control system can pick up the slack, but the QX will be working hard to make progress off-road as long as it’s wearing those 22” wheels and rubber band tires.

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All signs say the machine can make way though; it’s got the right configuration, decent ground clearance, and puts power down well. I can believe we’d be impressed with this on some meaty wheels. Maybe Infiniti will lend it back for our next camping trip?

Could it even fit on a trail? How big is this baby?

Every time I parked the QX and came back to find it again, I was pretty sure it’d eaten another car and grown in size. It’s a mammoth thing to behold at just over 208” long and more than 80” wide. You won’t really sweat that trying to park it though, because the 360º camera works wonderfully in high-resolution for the two or three times you won’t have a valet to hand the keys to.

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What about the options I actually want, the stuff that will make my trips to the mall easier?

Third-row seats lay flat in about an hour as you stand at the back squeezing a button, but the second row seats will snap into stowed-mode for cargo almost instantly. You might still have some difficulty carrying much inside the QX though simply because there are so many precious surfaces you won’t want to scuff.

The headlights point with the steering wheel, which has been blowing minds since the fourth or fifth car-ever invented I think.

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Blind-spot and backup collisions are onboard of course plus what Infiniti calls a “safety shield” that includes driver warnings about imminent collisions and lane drifting. The QX80 will beep at you for going astray or almost rear-ending someone, then automatically start to hit the brakes or nudge you back into your lane if you’re really slacking. You can turn all that on or off.

Let’s talk details, what really stands out about this thing?

I mentioned a flamboyance to the interior design and that’s a pretty major undersell.

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The shapes are unique. Like the exterior, there are more curves inside the QX than you think should be possible on one surface. To my eye, the concept is pulled off a lot more elegantly inside. But it’s the material selection where the Limited really shines.

Soft and light wood is stretched all over the place, shored up with pillowy leather you’ll swear is still breathing. The steering wheel is a perfect medium-girth in a very soft wrapping, and we haven’t even started stroking the center console yet.

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The tactile experience is superb, even by the high standard of a $90,000 luxury vehicle, which should be reason enough to look at this thing pretty seriously if you’re in the market.

One last design feature you won’t notice until you’re inside; the hood. Bear with me.

Those funky fish-face lines your brain can barely make sense of from outside the QX? Yeah, you can still see them from behind the wheel. Unlike every other SUV which has a rifle-straight lifeguard style seat looking out over a flat beach of metal, the QX cockpit lets you bask in the glorious waves of the vehicle’s rollercoaster hood.

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It’s like driving some futurized version of a a Gatsby car, or that wacky-ass machine from The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen. But seriously, I can’t remember driving anything else with as interesting of a hood to look at from the driver’s seat.

I can’t believe I’m alluding to the idea that the exterior has grown on me over the course of writing this, but I respect what the designers were trying to do.

So what’s the verdict.

Damn fine way to get around, if you like luxury and don’t give a damn who knows it. Except the guy at the gas station, who you’ll be getting to know very well in your QX80.

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For those of us who can’t imagine spending $90,000 on anything, a car like this is never going to make sense. But if you’re dead set on off-roadable opulence and you really want something this big I think you’ll be pretty impressed with just how comfortable the QX80 Limited is to drive and be driven in.

Best in class? Maybe not objectively, but you’d be crazy not to earnestly cross-shop this against its rivals. On interior comfort alone this really was one of my all-time favorites, and in this segment that might be the column that matters most.

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Images by the author and via Infiniti


Andrew is Jalopnik’s off-road and adventure guy. Drop him a line at andrew@jalopnik.com.