- The Washington Times - Friday, April 24, 2009

Luxury full-size sport utility vehicles are a specialty segment, complete with all-in-one capability and premium comfort. These are vehicles that can tow, carry cargo and accommodate seven or eight people in style and comfort. The 2009 QX56 is Infiniti’s entry in this full-size class.

One color (Deep Garnet) has been added to the available hues this model year, and the power door-lock system now has an automatic, speed-sensing function. This largest of Infiniti vehicles can seat up to eight passengers. These leather-appointed seats are thick and comfortable, and the carpet is deeper than you’ll find in many homes.

The standard seating arrange ment includes buckets up front; second row captain’s chairs; and a 60/40 split bench for the third row. First and second rows are heated, as is the steering wheel. Row two is notable for its exceptional roominess. We discovered that this, combined with available features such as a DVD-entertainment system with flip-down 8-inch screen, wireless headphones and remote-control, may make it hard to get whoever’s inside to come outside, once you reach your destination.

If you need to carry maximum people, then you’ll want to opt for the available second-row bench. So fitted, there’s generous room for three adults. Owing to the limited amount of legroom available in the third row, it’s best suited to kids or shorter adults. Accessing that row is pretty straightforward (and easiest for the limber). The seats have the added benefit of folding to a flat floor when not needed. That’s power folding, by the way, and the switches are located conveniently in the cargo area.

Regarding cargo, it gets a very fair shake in the QX56. Capacity ranges from 20 cubic feet (with all three rows in place) to a generous 58 cubic feet with the third row folded. In max cargo mode, capacity measures a mammoth 97.1 cubic feet. The front passenger seat folds forward too, to accommodate really long items, be they lumber or ladders, with the (power) liftgate closed.

Tie-downs are sprinkled about the back to secure your load. The only ding on the cargo bay is that you need to negotiate a relatively high lift-over to reach it - at least on the 4x4 like my test vehicle.

Back upfront, the driver’s visibility is good in all directions, and given the amount of features on a luxury vehicle like this, the layout of controls is neither overwhelming nor overly distracting.

That’s a plus, because in the luxury segment, manufacturers have a tendency to overthink the controls. As a result, some technology-packed vehicles feel like they should come equipped with an engineer to explain it all.

A 12-speaker premium Bose sound system is standard equipment. Redundant controls on the steering wheel allow easy access without undue distraction. Also standard is a navigation system with a 7-inch screen and available real-time traffic information via XM NavTraffic. Adding an entertainment system in back, however, means sacrificing a big piece of the covered center console space to the DVD player.

The Infiniti’s engine is a 5.6-liter V-8, linked to a smooth, five-speed automatic transmission. A QX56 is no lightweight - in 4x4 trim like my test truck, it weighs about 6,000 pounds. But the 5.6L has enough thrust to effortlessly power the big SUV. Making 320 horsepower and 393 lb.-ft. of torque, it’s quick around town, cruises easily at highway speeds and has plenty of pulling power.

The QX56 can be equipped to tow up to 9,000 pounds (4x2); 8,900 pounds (4x4). With all this size and strength, it’s no surprise that gas mileage is underwhelming. The EPA rates fuel economy in the 4x4 at 12 miles per gallon city and 17 mpg highway. I averaged 16 mpg during a week of mixed city/highway driving.

Infiniti’s All-Mode 4x4 system has an electronically controlled, part-time transfer case. The driver can select from four settings (2WD, AUTO, 4HI, 4LO) by twisting a dash-mounted knob. The system will automatically distribute engine torque to all four wheels (up to a 50/50 front/rear split) as road conditions dictate. Ride quality is worthy of the longest road trip, and the auto-leveling, rear air suspension system maintains a uniform ground clearance and departure angle when towing or carrying a heavy load.

Classy and capable, the QX56 meets every requirement for a large luxury SUV. It’s big enough to carry people and their cargo and tow heavy, too. The elegant way QX56 goes about its business makes it worthy of a test-drive by anyone shopping this specialty segment.

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