Wheels: Nov. 24, 2013
It is the grand duke of excess — a gaudy member of the family of Infiniti, its biggest and most exhibitionist relative, destined never to become king. Ego is its primary excuse for being.
It makes little practical sense, a deficit worsened by the overall ugliness of its demeanor.
The 2014 Infiniti Q80 sport-utility vehicle — lacking in anything remotely related to “sport” and easily trumped by lower-cost models in matters of utility — is the silliest vehicle I’ve driven in years.
Judging from the rave online reviews supposedly rendered by Q80 owners, I am alone in that assessment. So be it. On this one, I choose to remain an outlier.
My objections are many, my compliments few. To begin:
■ The Q80 is too big, certainly too big for daily urban use and, based on experience, problematic in crowded suburban settings, such as shopping-center parking lots. The thing is 17.4 feet long and 6.7 feet wide. It stands 6.3 feet tall. Nissan Motor Co., maker of all things Infiniti, has equipped the Q80 with some remarkable technology to help drivers handle its girth. We’ll discuss that later. For now, I prefer to look at the Q80 from the perspective of a motorist sharing the road with this bauble-laden beast. It is a bus masquerading as reasonable family transportation.
■ Essentially, the Q80 is a truck — I’m thinking a scion of the Nissan Titan pickup — placed atop a limousine chassis. Nissan/Infiniti tries to excuse this unhappy matchmaking by extolling the Q80’s suspension technology, specifically the Q80’s patented Hydraulic Body Motion Control System.
Marketers for Nissan/Infiniti call this a “world-first technology.” I beg to differ. Similar systems can be found in vehicles from Cadillac, Mercedes-Benz, BMW, Audi and others.
The idea is to use hydraulic fluid, with electronic assistance, to balance cornering forces on sharp turns, with the payoff being reduced vehicle body lean in turns and a smoother overall ride. That system works OK in the Q80. It works much, much better in smaller, tighter vehicles.
Here’s the problem: The Q80 with all-wheel-drive, the model driven for this column, has a nearly three-ton factory weight, tonnage minus passengers and cargo. Specifically, in this case, that totals 5,878 pounds. Add people and cargo, and you’ll soon realize that you are not swinging around anybody’s curve — not safely, anyway — in the Q80.
It seems that Nissan/Infiniti’s designers took too long a lunch break on this one. The Q80 is French Provencial on wheels — bubbles and curves everywhere, even in the most inconvenient places, such as the front fenders, when it comes to ding-free parking. The interior is elaborate, but it’s severely lacking in ergonomic common sense. There are tufted “semi-aniline leather appointed seats” with similar “semi-aniline leather” material quite literally draped on interior door panels. There also are “mocha burl” wood inserts in the door, the instrument panels and in the center console.
It looks decadently rich. If that is what you are looking for in an oversize SUV, the Q80 is for you.
But you might want to think a bit. The Q80 comes fixed with a 5.6-liter gasoline-direct-injection V-8 engine that delivers a maximum 400 horsepower and 413 pound-feet of torque. The engine swills gasoline at 14 miles per gallon in the city and 20 miles per gallon on the highway — a lackluster combined total of 17 miles per gallon at a time when all vehicle manufacturers, including Nissan, are busting their corporate tails to deliver better fuel economy.
I suspect that the Infiniti Q80 is a marketing exercise designed to pick up as many customers as possible whose egos reside in their wallets. That’s my takeaway from this driving experience. The Q80 is not the least bit sporty. I get better real utility out of something such as the 2014 Subaru Forester, which has a base price of $21,995, compared with an entry price of $64,450 for the Infiniti Q80.
Also, the Subaru Forester is easier to drive — it offers much better handling. It is substantially less aggravating in congested city traffic. You can park the Forester almost anywhere. And it, too, comes with advanced electronic safety and parking assistance systems.