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2021 Infiniti QX80 Review: Good Pricing, Good Power, Good Grip – What’s Not to Like?

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Auto123 reviews the 2021 Infiniti QX80.

The Infiniti QX80 may just be one of – if not the most – misunderstood SUVs on the North American market today. Heck, the body-on-frame QX80 may be one of the most misunderstood vehicles in general.

That misunderstanding stems mainly from its looks. The SUV is a gargantuan thing, for a start. Then, with that big chrome grille, those headlights and ultra-glam 22-inch wheels, it has presence galore on the road. So much so that I don’t even mind the it’s-not-called-beige-but-let’s-be-honest-that’s-what-it-is paintjob, because well it fits this vehicle just so well. I do wish, however, that the wing mirror caps could be colour-matched with the body, alas these blinding chrome numbers are all you get on the higher trims.

Beyond that, the QX80 has typically come in one of the most distinctive styling packages both in terms of its lines and details, and that’s been a very divisive factor for it over the years.

Here's the thing, though. While the QX80 – and the QX56 before it – seemed to always dwarf the competition even if it actually didn’t (there are some bigger vehicles in the segment, though not many), styling in the full-size luxury (even non-luxury) SUV universe has become increasingly distinctive recently. The new Cadillac Escalade, for example, features the biggest styling departure that truck has ever had from its predecessor, the Lincoln Navigator is an absolute hulk on the road – especially in long-wheelbase form, which Infiniti doesn’t offer for the QX80 by the way –, and have you seen the grilles on the BMW X7, or even on the smaller Genesis GV80?

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2021 Infiniti QX80, profile
Photo: D.Heyman
2021 Infiniti QX80, profile

The QX80 doesn’t quite have the look-at-me styling market cornered as much as it once did. Especially after a 2018 facelift that saw Infiniti streamline the front fascia and make for a much less bulbous and much more chiseled look.

This likely irked some and diminished their appreciation of the QX80, but I’m going to say here as I’ve always said about this vehicle: styling might matter, but there’s so much more worth considering when it comes to deciding on a new full-size luxury SUV. And the truth is this truck really has a whole heck of a lot going for it, not least of which in terms of the value it offers.

My fully-loaded seven-seater ProACTIVE trim rings in at $87,998 (there’s also an eight-seater version that retails for $500 less, while the base Luxe trim starts at $79,998) and with the single option my tester had – the paint – it topped out at $88,748. There are a few other bits and bobs you can add, but none of that is all that remarkable. This is the fully-loaded QX80 and for your money you get a great 4WD system, interior stuff like leather seating, USB-C and USB-A ports, rear-seat entertainment, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, 17-speaker Bose audio, video rear-view mirror, heated and cooled front- and second-row seats, heated steering wheel, tri-zone climate control, 12 cupholders and power-folding third-row seating.

2021 Infiniti QX80, interior
Photo: D.Heyman
2021 Infiniti QX80, interior

Bang for buck
Not to mention all the driver aids like adaptive cruise control, lane keep assist, forward collision alert and adaptive front headlights. There’s even adaptive dampers and while they’re not of the magnetic variety like you see on the GMC Yukon/Chevrolet Tahoe/Cadillac Escalade triplets (and, admittedly, they don’t work quite as well as that system), it’s nice to have.

To get a similarly equipped Navigator you’re up at around $100,000; the Escalade will push you to almost $120,000. And the Germans? Forget about it. Even a top-spec Chevrolet Tahoe High Country sits at about the same price. The QX80, then, is absolutely priced right.

2021 Infiniti QX80, front
Photo: D.Heyman
2021 Infiniti QX80, front

Or is it?
Well, being that the QX80 hasn’t really been redesigned – just refreshed with various styling and packaging tweaks – since the 2011 model year, there are areas where it’s a bit long in the tooth. There’s no real styling effort to the cockpit, just big, broad surfaces and right angles, though they are broken up by the dual-display infotainment system.

The leather feels a bit on the cheap side and having tested this vehicle before, the third row of seating is less spacious or usable than I remember. Of course however effective the third row may have been back then means less today because the competition – especially from GM – has really upped their game in that department. Certain bits of modern tech such as wireless charging and a heads-up display are absent as well, which is a pity.

Somehow, though, I didn’t find myself being too bothered by that (though the seat material did start to get to me after a while, as did how slowly the third row of seating stows and deploys) because I fancied the idea of a big truck like this with just the right mix if robustness and luxury. You climb in, you sit nice and high, gargoyle-like over the hood ahead of you and you really feel like you’re in one heck of a capable vehicle.

And it is capable during the drive; when you consider that the QX80 shares much of its underpinnings and bits with the desert-pounding UN-spec Nissan Patrol truck, it comes as no surprise that our paved roads are no match for the QX80.

2021 Infiniti QX80, front grille
Photo: D.Heyman
2021 Infiniti QX80, front grille

The powertrain
In this department, what we have here is a big ole naturally aspirated V8 that measures 5.6L and makes 400 hp and 413 lb-ft of torque, fed to all four wheels through a 7-speed auto transmission. It’s the same powertrain you’ll find in the Titan pickup, yes, but it also traces some of its roots to an engine that’s used in certain racing versions of parent company Nissan’s GT-R. So there’s that.

It weighs over 2,600 kg, does the QX80, so you’d be hard-pressed to call it “fleet of foot”, but that doesn’t mean it can’t make the power smoothly and across a wide rev band, which it does, pulling gamely from tip-in and feeling pretty much unstoppable while it’s at it; there’s little wonder it can tow almost 3,900 kg.

Overall, though, the QX80 performed over and above what the numbers would suggest. It’s a great, honest, gutsy and yes even somewhat handsome truck that makes no bones about its intentions and what its capabilities are.

Sure, it’s a little rough around the edges, and it doesn’t ride as well as the GMs (though the dampers and self-leveling suspension do their part to keep the everyday goings mostly smooth, and the big, tall body nicely controlled on rougher roads). But there remains a certain intangible quality of stepping up in to a big, tall truck with a big motor up front and plenty of room inside. No complexities beyond the various interior tech goodies - just deep-chested power and a great cost of entry.

2021 Infiniti QX80, three-quarters rear
Photo: D.Heyman
2021 Infiniti QX80, three-quarters rear

We like

Great value
Robust powertrain and chassis
Value
    
We like less

Challenging third row
Thirsty
Cheap-feeling leather surfaces

The competition

BMW X7
Cadillac Escalade
Chevrolet Tahoe High Country
Ford Expedition Platinum
GMC Yukon Denali
Lexus LX 470
Lincoln Navigator
Mercedes-Benz GLS 450

2021 Infiniti QX80, rear
Photo: D.Heyman
2021 Infiniti QX80, rear