2016 Infiniti QX70 AWD Sport Road Test Review

2016 Infiniti QX70 AWD SportThis is an SUV that turns heads. Truly, even while driving through a BMW dealership for some business I needed to attend to, their own people snapped their necks around to take a closer look while one gave me the nod of approval.

I've always had a thing for the QX, even the first generation FX. I was in Phoenix, Arizona for the official launch of that wonderfully sporty ute and remember it vividly. The program was excellent, taking us high up South Mountain Park's lofty summit, which was good from a scenic perspective but daytime traffic limited many opportunities to safely test this 350Z-based model's performance credentials, so with permission from Infiniti's PR staff I woke up at sunrise on the day of my return flight and headed back up the mountain to flog it for all it was worth and get some sweet photos. It's hard to forget a memory like that, plus it left an indelible stamp on an enthusiast's heart and mind for any forthcoming version.

2016 Infiniti QX70 AWD Sport
Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press

Over the years I've tried to classify the QX70 into a given automotive segment, the luxury crossover category having become a fixed part of our automotive cultural reality since that memorable morning in February of 2003. Certainly Lexus' RX had been on the road for years before then, but it wasn't sporty enough to be a direct competitor, while the Porsche Cayenne that arrived around the same time was certainly targeting the same Type A personality, albeit within a higher tax bracket. The next-generation FX grew a bit in size, luxury and quality, not to mention in unique character, and as it has melded into the QX70 we see here it remains a favourite of mine even though it's still hard to classify. The Cayenne is probably its closest spiritual competitor, that and BMW's X6, plus I suppose Mercedes' new copycat GLE Coupe. These appeal to the performance SUV buyer, and not necessarily those placing practicality highest in priority.

2016 Infiniti QX70 AWD Sport
Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press

On that note some might call the QX70 a slow seller, but I like to refer to it as exclusive. I know exclusive is normally relegated to items that are either rare or so expensive that they're out of reach of the masses, the QX70 not falling into either of these descriptors, but it's so good at what it does and looks so incredibly stylish despite having been on the market with only minor changes since 2008, it deserves such respect. It's really the first "sport activity coupe" (sorry BMW) and considering that it can be purchased for just $53,800 with all-wheel drive, is a model that should sell much better than it does.

2016 Infiniti QX70 AWD Sport
Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press

You're probably wondering how many QX70s Infiniti managed to find homes for last year: just 466 in Canada and 5,213 in the U.S. The good news is that it's done better in the first 11 months of 2015 with a total of 489 already down the road above the 49th, but I'm guessing Infiniti isn't exactly celebrating its success, especially considering its U.S. sales are just 5,040 since November's end. This said there are lots of vehicles that sell in similarly small numbers from competitive premium brands, many quite a bit worse, and the X6 didn't exactly run away from last year's QX70 sales with just 897 sold here and a meager 3,896 in the U.S.; yes, Infiniti sold more QX70s across North America in 2014. X6 sales have picked up this year with 1,196 Canadian deliveries and 6,359 American, but like I said a moment ago, it's not exactly stealing the thunder.

2016 Infiniti QX70 AWD Sport
Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press

Rather than the base model noted earlier, Infiniti most recently suited me up with a QX70 Sport, the stylized red "S" suffix attached to its chromed model designation making this point clear for those who aren't familiar with its many upgrades. Those details are hard to miss, by the way, especially all the menacing black chrome trim that replaces most of the usual exterior metal brightwork. Infiniti hasn't eliminated all mirror finishes, the various badges, window surrounds, door handles, tailgate protector plate and twinned chrome tailpipes still radiantly sparkling in the sun during our photo shoot, but the big four-slat grille, headlight trim, fog lamp bezels, side engine vent garnish, mirror caps, rocker mouldings, roof rails, rear license plate trims, and of course those massive 21-inch six-spoke alloys all bask in an inky black gloss that complements my tester's Electric Indigo paint so ideally that, as you remember, it turned heads and elicited positive nods.

2016 Infiniti QX70 AWD Sport
Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press

The price for the QX70 Sport AWD is somewhat more than the base AWD model mentioned before, this one hitting the road at $60,450 before adding on freight and dealer fees. Along with the exterior styling upgrades and those fabulous wheels mounted on very sticky 265/45R21 V-rated Bridgestone Dueler H/R all-season rubber, adaptive cornering headlamps with auto-leveling add function and the cabin's gorgeous graphite quilted leather upholstery continues such function with a beautiful dose of form, the exclusive front sport seats boasting extreme comfort along with thigh extensions while the driver gets four-way powered bolster adjustment for cinching backside into place ahead of spirited drives. I love the purple contrast stitching adorning those seats as well as the leather-wrapped steering wheel, shifter boot, door pulls, armrests and centre console armrest, the final pièces de résistance being two of the best solid magnesium and leather-trimmed paddle shifters in the industry, both appropriately attached to the steering column instead of the steering wheel so as to remain constantly in place while rotating the latter, critical for fully extracting all the performance from Infiniti's seven-speed autobox and award-winning VQ engine without hampering control.

2016 Infiniti QX70 AWD Sport
Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press

Personally I think that automatic should be getting some sort of award too, the QX70 utilizing the Jatco JR710E gearbox that might not have as many forward cogs as some newer automatics yet delivers much greater functionality from a sporting perspective. First off it's a very quick-shifting albeit smooth close ratio automatic with two overdrive gears for speed and efficiency. Unique features include Adaptive Shift Control (ASC) and Drive Sport (DS) mode with Downshift Rev Matching (DRM), a technology that automatically synchronizes engine revs to a chosen lower gear to ideally mesh the two together, similar to how a driving pro might blip the throttle while downshifting a manual gearbox ahead of a curve. If you managed to pull this off without grinding gears while using a stick you'd gain instant credibility (albeit not with the Q60's manual that incorporates the same DRM feature), the QX70's seven-speed automatic just does it all for you, similar to how a Formula 1 car would, resulting in better performance, control and sensational sounds.

2016 Infiniti QX70 AWD Sport
Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press

None of this transmission tech would matter if it weren't for the aforementioned multi-awarded VQ engine, my tester's 3.7-litre the brand's most current V6 until Infiniti stuffs the QX70's engine bay full of the new twin-turbocharged 3.0-litre VR version announced just days ago (fingers' crossed), which puts out 400 horsepower and 350 lb-ft of torque in its most energetic form. This said the normally aspirated version in today's QX70 is no slouch with 325 horsepower and 267 lb-ft of torque, the latter number meaning you'll need to let the engine rev higher to extract the most from its available output, but this makes it an exciting ute to drive, much like the original 350Z with four doors, albeit larger and therefore more of a 370Z with four doors.

2016 Infiniti QX70 AWD Sport
Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press

As you might expect with credentials like that, few SUVs can slice through a serpentine back road like the QX70. Infiniti no longer offers its 390-horsepower V8 with 369 lb-ft of torque (an engine I miss although one I'll likely forget when effectively replaced by that just noted top-line VR mill), but the 3.7 delivers good performance off the line and even more go-to power on the highway where revs are already primed, but that in mind the QX70 is no longer the accelerative standout the FX50 once was. It goes quickly, but there are many SUVs in this class with similar accelerative performance if not better.

2016 Infiniti QX70 AWD Sport
Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press

As exciting as the VR engine news is for a vehicle like the QX70, I think Infiniti should do with this ute what it did to the Q50 Eau Rouge. Why not work some crazy enough magic to get noticed, because right now this SUV, as good as it looks and impressive as it manages corners, doesn't get much attention. Infiniti could give the QX70 some much needed publicity by shaking up the status quo and dropping a GT-R mill under the hood that would out Porsche a Cayenne Turbo or blow the M off of an X6M. They'd certainly get some ink, and hopefully sell more of these regular 325 horsepower models, not to mention QX60s, QX50s and new QX30s. As it is the new VR will first arrive in the brand's most popular Q50 and then most likely in an all-new Q60 sports coupe, although it's quite possible they will roll it out across the board sooner in Infiniti's updated 2017 model line, at which time a slightly refreshed QX70 is expected. The new engine will without doubt improve fuel economy too, which is necessary due to the current model's fair but hardly class leading 14.6 L/100km city and 10.7 highway rating.

2016 Infiniti QX70 AWD Sport
Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press

Where the QX70 not only shines but radiates positivity is out on the open road, preferably something black, narrow, curvaceous and undulating. I've referred to it as a four-door Z car a number of times, even though Nissan's Maxima wants to wear that label. The difference is that the QX70 is actually a Z under the metal, or at least based on the same platform architecture. More accurately it's related to the Q60, a model that quickly became my class favourite when first testing it as the G35 Coupe in (yes, you guessed it) Phoenix, Arizona during its 2003 press launch, and just as that old sports coupe was morphed into its second-generation and now the Q60, and by doing so has become a much faster more accomplished car, the QX70 is a phenomenal handler, capable of feats of lateral acceleration that few in its class can duplicate. I took to a number of quiet, rural back roads that I know well, the same set that I tested last year's QX70 Sport on, actually, and it performed as flawlessly as the previous example, though even repetition in a vehicle like this never gets old. Hard charging into a 90-degree corner it remained flat, true, and totally predictable, in a good way, while high-speed stability over bumpy stretches was just as confidence inspiring. The engine and exhaust make a sweet harmony too, especially when revs rise, an addictive process that I continued to enjoy corner after corner, an undertaking made possible via strong, linear braking that never seemed to fade away no matter how many times I dug deep for more binding power. As far as performance utes go, the QX70 knows few peers, although it doesn't forget its luxury promise during such activities either, its ride hardly soft, yet not unforgiving either.

2016 Infiniti QX70 AWD Sport
Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press
2016 Infiniti QX70 AWD Sport
Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press

Soft is what you get on the inside, the QX70's cabin almost completely devoid of hard plastics that otherwise haunt some others in the premium class. Infiniti won't take the chance of buyers questioning its premium status, at least not in this model. Other than the leathers, genuine aluminum, piano black lacquer and other beautifying accents, Infiniti doesn't only cover the entire dash top in high-grade pliable surfacing, but even dresses each side of the centre stack and lower portion of the centre console similarly, plus each entire door panel including their lower extremities. Only a small panel under the steering wheel is a hard plastic, the glove box lid ahead of the front passenger being soft and pliable, which unfortunately isn't the norm in this class.

2016 Infiniti QX70 AWD Sport
Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press

Likewise, Infiniti has always impressed with switchgear, all of the QX70's top grade stuff. Put this beside a Porsche Cayenne and you'll walk away wanting the QX70, as there are no poorly damped cheap quality plastic buttons that wiggle in their mountings. Although, where Porsche has recently updated all of its electronics to some of the better high-resolution colour displays on the market with truly attractive graphics, the QX70's infotainment system looks a tad dated. It's quite functional, my tester upgraded to an excellent 360-degree surround camera plus loads of useful features, but it's not exactly state-of-the-art kit, nor is its resolution as crisp as some of the newer products on the market. Ditto for the multi-information screen between the electroluminescent gauges, the latter which are especially attractive thanks to their purple surrounds, but the MID somewhat behind the segment leaders. I expect these to be updated when the refreshed QX70 arrives.

2016 Infiniti QX70 AWD Sport
Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press

Most of these electronics come standard with every QX70, the only difference being a slightly smaller seven-inch infotainment display in place of the Sport's eight-inch unit and a regular backup camera system instead of my tester's surround unit, plus mine included optional navigation as well, while additional standard equipment on the base model that gets pulled up to Sport trim includes proximity-sensing passive access with pushbutton ignition, a powered leather-wrapped multifunction steering wheel with memory, power-folding heatable side mirrors, 10-way powered driver's and eight-way powered front passenger's seats with variable heating and forced ventilation, the quilted leather upholstery noted earlier, a great sounding 11-speaker Bose audio system, a powered moonroof, a powered liftgate and more, that last item opening up to a decent sized cargo area with 702 litres (24.8 cubic feet) of total space when all seats are in use or 1,756 litres (62.0 cubic feet) when expanded via its standard 60/40-split rear seatbacks.

2016 Infiniti QX70 AWD Sport
Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press

On top of everything already mentioned, the QX70 Sport can be had with a $3,500 Technology package that adds rain-sensing wipers, full range adaptive cruise control, distance control assist, intelligent brake assist with forward collision warning, lane departure warning and lane departure prevention, plus front pre-crash seatbelts.

Even after all these years the QX70 is an impressive sport utility, with the emphasis solidly on sport, albeit no one will feel it's missing much in the way of luxury either. As noted it bests some lofty rivals when it comes to premium execution and certainly delivers way above its price point, value for money always being an Infiniti strength. If you want the latest greatest thing the QX70 is clearly not for you, but if you're looking for a tried and tested original that truly stands out from the crowd while still capable of drawing one, I couldn't recommend the QX70 any higher.