Auto review: When you absolutely must reach a bucket list automotive event, the Infiniti QX80 proves a good choice

McClatchy-Tribune Information Services

March 18, 2019

             

The 2019 QX80 continues the bold interpretation of Infinitis Powerful Elegance design language with unmistakable signature design elements. It features a commanding presence with powerful muscularity, enhanced horizontal movement and iconic double-arch grille and signature headlamps

AMELIA ISLAND, Fla. — Gardeners look to the earth for the first signs of spring, nature lovers for the first robin. Auto buffs listen for the engine rumble of the Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance, the first major automotive gathering of the old car season.

Last weekend, motorheads converged on tiny Amelia Island, off the coast of Jacksonville, Fla., for a show that is the must-attend event for car enthusiasts.

Show founder and chairman Bill Warner, a genial Southerner with a welcoming smile and infectious sense of humor, would prefer you think of it not as a concours d’elegance — a rarefied car show where only the wealthiest display their exotic vehicles by invitation only. Instead, consider it a celebration of the automobile, one that showcases not just mint-condition vintage vehicles, but race cars as well. It’s a love that grew out of his job as a photographer for Road & Track and Sports Car Graphic shooting at racetracks in Sebring and Daytona.

Warner’s love of all things automotive means you’ll find racing legends such as Derek Bell, Jackie Ickx, Sam Posey, Hurley Haywood or Lyn St. James on the field. It also means you’ll also stumble across the world’s leading automotive design chiefs, including FCA’s Ralph Gilles, Ford Motor Company’s Moray Callum and GM’s Michael Simcoe, along with retired design honchos, including Ed Welburn, Wayne Cherry and Gorden Wagener. You’ll even find Jay Ward, creative director of Pixar’s “Cars.”

What attracts them, and thousands of attendees, is the always entertaining show field. This year, visitors saw rebodied Volkswagen Beetles, Mercedes-Benz 540ks, cars that shuttled heads of states, Ferrari 250 GTs, and cars and guitars owned by rocks stars, a class that attracted John Oates, of music duo Hall and Oates.

It solidifies Amelia as the nation’s most interesting and influential car show, a garden party fueled by gorgeous sheet metal, intoxicating speed and the chance to mingle with automotive legends.

It became my destination for the week, and my chariot of choice to transport me there was the 2019 QX80.

Redesigned for the 2018 model year, the QX80 retains its expressive, bold exterior design and incredibly tall overall height. Its boxy look lends the vehicle an enormous appearance, yet it doesn’t feel as immense inside, where its leather-lined cabin offers three rows and room for seven with the second-row captain’s chairs and enormous center console.

For 2019, Infiniti has added a new top-of-the-line Limited trim level, which enhances the exterior’s LED headlights and fog lamps with standard adaptive lighting with headlamps washers, an optional feature on lesser models. There are also extra bits of stainless steel and chrome trim, not to mention an Infiniti spotlight that shines its logo on the ground as you approach the vehicle. Nice.

But the real treat lies inside, where luxurious two-tone semi-aniline leather lines the cabin, accented by an Ultrasuede roof liner and matte silver open-pore ash wood accents. Of course, entering the cabin means using the running board, a necessity given this vehicle’s height. Once there you’ll find it’s an ideal place for four given that the third row is best left to munchkins or, better yet, cargo. By folding the third row, you’ll expand the cargo area from midsize-car-like 16.6 cubic feet to a much more accommodating 49.6 cubic feet.

Storage is ample. The front armrest can hold three upright one-liter bottles or vertically hold electronic tablets. However, the cupholders are made of a single piece of cheap mold-injected plastic that lacks adjustability for different sized drink containers. This ensures that most will rattle around unsteadily. But for most, the infotainment system will be the biggest letdown. Lacking Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, its 8-inch screen, while perfectly functional, seems Lilliputian next to its competitors. And while its software interface works, it feels outdated.

Nevertheless, this luxury vehicle’s performance is pleasing. Based on the Nissan Patrol, which is sold in the United States as the Nissan Armada, it employs double-wishbone independent suspension and 22-inch wheels that return the ride and handling of a luxurious truck, thanks to Infiniti’s Hydraulic Body Motion Control system that’s standard on the Limited and optional on other models. HBMC monitors body lean and roll and adjusts suspension stiffness on each side of the car by transferring oil between hydraulic cylinders connected to the shock absorbers. As the car corners and the body starts to lean, HBMC firms up the suspension on one side of the car to counter it. As its name implies, HBMC does a good job of limiting body motions while smothering the worst that our neglected highways can dish out. While remaining stable in corners, there’s still enough body lean to slow you down. In addition, the automatic rear-leveling suspension maintains the perfect ride height while hauling cargo or an 8,500-pound trailer.

Power is smooth and ample thanks to a double-overhead-cam V-8 and seven speed automatic transmission that delivers 400 horsepower to the rear wheels or all four depending on model. The Limited test model had the latter, which was actuated through a dial mounted on the center console. That said, you’ll find the QX80 struggles to meet its EPA-rated mileage. Overall mileage came in at 13.3 mpg despite highway driving. Thankfully, it doesn’t require premium fuel.

Despite its thirst, the QX80 Limited is a satisfactory road warrior, delivering a comfort, style and capability. In that regard, it calls to mind the finest luxury rides of decades past that you’ll find at the automotive nirvana that is the Amelia Island Concours. It’s an event that should be on every automotive enthusiast’s bucket list.

Travelling there in a ride as sweet as the 2019 Infiniti QX80 is merely gilding the lily.

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Stats

Base prices: $65,100-$89,800

Engine: 5.6-liter DOHC V8

Horsepower: 400

Torque: 413 pound-feet

EPA fuel economy (city/highway): 14/20 (RWD); 13/19 (4WD)

Wheelbase: 121.1 inches

Length: 210.2 inches

Ground clearance: 9.2 inches

Towing capacity: 8,500 pounds

Cargo capacity: 16.6-95.1 cubic feet

Curb weight: 5,679-5,926 pounds