By ANN M. JOB
For The Associated Press
With the new name of QX80 for 2014, Infiniti's largest sport utility vehicle packs some of the softest-feeling leather, shiniest burl wood and a host of other luxury items into a big, nicely crafted interior.
But this seven- or eight-passenger SUV, renamed from last year's QX56 so it fits with Infiniti's new, 2014 nomenclature, retains its predecessor's styling, truck-based platform and even the 5.6-liter V-8 that helped create the name QX56 in the first place.
Confusing? Yes. Is it disappointing that there's no 8-liter engine under the QX80 hood? Not necessarily.
The carryover, naturally aspirated V-8 is gasoline direct injection and generates a healthy 400 horsepower and 413 pounds-feet of torque at 4,000 rpm.
It propelled the 2-ton-plus QX80 test SUV quickly around other vehicles in traffic and onto highway merges. It also helps give the QX80 a towing capacity of 8,500 pounds, which rivals some full-size pickup trucks.
Better yet, the QX80 feels stout and sturdy and can be fitted with an array of the latest safety features - most of them optional, such as backup collision intervention that takes rearview cameras to the next technological step. Too bad, though, that neither the QX80 nor its predecessor QX56 has federal government crash-test results to compare with other full-size SUVs.
Still, the QX80 is a recommended buy of Consumer Reports, where reliability is listed as above average.
Starting manufacturer's suggested retail price, including destination charge, is $62,345 for a base, 2014 QX80 with rear-wheel drive and automatic transmission.
The starting retail price, including destination charge, for a base, 2014 QX80 with all-wheel drive is $65,445.
Competitors include other large, luxury SUVs that have seats for seven or eight, such as the 2014 Mercedes-Benz GL450 4Matic, which starts at $65,475 with 362-horsepower, bi-turbo V-8, automatic transmission and four-wheel drive. Note that while the QX80 has one engine choice, the Mercedes GL offers several, including a fuel-sipping diesel six-cylinder and a high-performance, 550-horsepower V-8.
Another competitor, the 2014 Cadillac Escalade, has a starting manufacturer's suggested price, including destination charge, of $68,965 with a 403-horsepower V-8, automatic transmission and rear-wheel drive. Cadillac also sells an Escalade Hybrid.
Styling on the 17.4-foot-long QX80 is polarizing: Infiniti engineers continue to refine the ride. For 2014, an optional Hydraulic Body Motion Control system for the suspension seeks to counteract the weight and mass swings that a big, heavy vehicle like the QX80 would have in cornering and sweeping curves. The system provided impressive improvements vis-à-vis the normal motions of a big SUV. It did not eliminate head toss and a tippy sensation now and then.
While road bumps overall were nicely managed, there was bounciness in the ride on some road surfaces and a weighty feel at the corners where the optional 22-inch wheels resided.
Views out front were excellent, and a rearview camera is standard. The optional backup collision intervention automatically stops the vehicle if an obstacle back there is detected.
Other newer safety features are available, such as blind spot warning that has intervention, which helps guide the QX80 back into its lane if it's drifting into a vehicle at its side.
The QX80's big size and the lack of any exterior trim on the doors make it seem prone to dings and dents from neighboring car doors in parking lots.
But all riders in the test QX80 were impressed by the interior craftsmanship of this tall-riding SUV. The optional semi-aniline leather on the seats was soft to the touch, and softly gathered leather on the interior doors added unexpected luxury.
The light tan seat color was mimicked on the front of the dashboard and so was the seat stitching. But smartly, the top of the dashboard, where glare from sunlight can be a problem, was finished in a warm and dark brown, creating an easy-on-the-eyes atmosphere.
The QX80 interior is peacefully quiet, enough to make the optional Bose Cabin Surround a wonderful feature.
Shifts were mostly smooth from the seven-speed automatic transmission, though engine vibrations in first gear often came through the gas pedal to the driver's foot.
Premium gasoline is recommended but not required in the QX80, and the tester averaged just 12.4 miles per gallon in mostly city driving. The federal government's ratings are 14 mpg for city, 20 mpg for highway travel.
Everyone climbs up to get into the QX80, and side running boards are standard. They could be a bit wider, however.
Front-row and second-row captain's chairs look wide and are, so they can accommodate larger-size passengers and provide good support and comfort. It's the third row, where people sit with knees up near their chins, and with 28.8 inches of legroom, that the QX80 shows its limitations.
In contrast, the third row in the Escalade offers 34.9 inches of legroom.
Infiniti does have power-recline seatbacks for this row, but this doesn't improve legroom or the shortness of the third-row seat cushions.
It also can be tricky for less-than-nimble folks to get to the third row because they have to work their feet onto the exterior side running board, then to the slightly higher entry floor spot, then to the still-higher third-row floor.
The middle person in the QX80 back seat doesn't have a head restraint. And unlike today's crossover SUVs, second-row seats do not have fore-and-aft seat tracks that could help improve third-row legroom.
However, buyers can get a second-row bench seat instead of captain's chairs to accommodate an eighth person.