Wednesday, January 18, 2017



From the mid-1980s through the 1990s, I had a full-size conversion van that, looking back, was about as close to a “luxury” vehicle of any car I have ever owned.

It was a Ford Econoline 150 with the conversion by Mark III of Ocala, Florida, including second-row captain’s chairs that swiveled so that you could put the removable tray table in place and play cards with the people sitting on the back bench seat.

Seat covers were a velvet-like material, the floor was fully carpeted, and there was a spot in the back to place a small TV that ran off the vehicle’s electrical system and featured a built-in antenna. Luggage fit under the third row, and behind that row was a place to hang up you clothes. The side windows featured adjustable venetian blinds.

It was the perfect vehicle for road trips by the sports staff of my newspaper as we covered football games around the South, and one of the guys immediately christened it the “land yacht.” It was just a bit of an exaggeration, but not by much by the standards of the day.

I bring it up now not as some sort of nostalgia trip but because the term “land yacht” could very well apply to the vehicle that I have been driving for the past week, the Infiniti QX80.

Those of you who are familiar with the alpha-numeric system Infiniti adopted for its vehicles a couple of years ago know that “QX” labels this as an SUV and the “80” marks it as the largest of such in the company portfolio. (As a reminder, sedans, coupes, and convertibles get a “Q” designation from the Japanese automaker, and the bigger the number that goes with it the bigger the car.) In its previous life, the QX80 was called the QX56.

By any label, it is big, of “land yacht” apportions, really. But it is also more than that. A neighbor took a peek inside the one in my driveway and was wowed by the luxurious features like the abundant leather and wood inlays. Quality of interior materials is A-plus.

“Must be $100,000,” he ventured.

Close. The MSRP for the QX80 he was looking at was the Limited trim with all-wheel drive and checked in at $90,445, including $995 for destination and delivery. (Rear-wheel drive is available in the base trim for $64,845, and the base trim with AWD carries an MSRP of $67,945.)

For that price tag, the Limited offers a long list of standard features like a 10-way power adjustable driver’s and 8-way adjustable front passenger seat each with two-way lumbar support, dual climate control, headlight washers, rain-sensing wipers, power rear liftgate, Bose premium sound system, Bluetooth hands-free phone system, navigation with an 8-inch touchscreen, rearview and surround-view camera monitor, keyless and remote start, and a bunch of safety features, including a trailer sway control system. (The QX80 is a workhorse in offering an 8,500-pound towing capacity.)

Power comes from a 5.8-liter, V8 engine that is mated to a seven-speed automatic transmission with manual gear selection capability along with snow mode, tow mode, and hill start assist. The transmission can be set in high or low mode, the latter for more serious off-roading adventures, or put in automatic to let the vehicle decide how to distribute the power via a dial on the console.

Pertinent numbers for the powertrain that is common to both Base and Limited trim are 400 horsepower and 413 pound-feet of torque. Fuel figures are 13 miles-per-gallon city, 19 highway, and 15 combined for the AWD models like the Limited but a slightly higher for RWD versions. After a week of driving mostly on city streets, the computer showed the QX80 I had to be averaging slightly over 14 mpg.

The engine has enough power for comfortable cruising and passing as well as navigating traffic. The main drawback in doing routine chores is running into parking lots with spaces seemingly designed for compact cars only. You might find yourself having to take up two spaces and just living with the glares you get from other motorists.

What I liked about the 2017 Infiniti QX80: Though a big vehicle, running boards and handles on each of the A pillars making getting in and out much less of a chore than expected. In fact, it’s not really a chore at all. The second-row seats flip up to allow easy access to the third row. Infotainment systems are fairly intuitive to operate, though there is an extra step involved in responses to some voice commands (to change a radio station from an FM or AM channel to Sirius/XM via voice command you first change mode, then give the command to the specific channel or frequency) that seems unnecessary.

What I didn’t like about the 2017 Infiniti QX80: The third row is a bit on the cramped side for the three adults it is supposed to accommodate, and I would imagine you would hear plenty of complaints on a longer drive. But it’s what behind, or what isn’t, that third row that strikes me as a disadvantage. There is only 16.6 cubic feet of cargo space with all rows in place, which sounds like a lot but the way it is shaped is going to restrict how much is really usable. In other words, the QX80 may accommodate seven people, but it doesn’t have much room for much of the stuff they may bring with them, unless you want to put it on the roof.

Would I buy the 2017 QX80: Doubtful, since I really don’t like to put up with driving such a large vehicle in city environs. But if that doesn’t bother you, this “land yacht” offers clear sailing in all other regards.

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