I was once mock-charged by an elephant while on safari in South Africa. It was astonishing to see this massive, ponderous creature suddenly burst into motion, moving far faster than I could possibly flee on foot.
That scene ran through my head every time I slapped down the gas pedal on the 2012-model Infiniti QX56. A full-size SUV of such impressive girth you could swap the side mirrors for big floppy ears and call it Dumbo.
I certainly wasn’t expecting the massive surge of smooth power it delivers from a standstill. This elephant charges thanks to its 5.6-liter V-8 heart, which pumps out 413 pound-feet of torque and 400 horsepower. In tests by Edmunds Inside Line, it reached 60 mph in 6.5 seconds -- almost as quick as a 2010 Chevrolet Camaro with a V-6.
I started my week with the QX with rather low expectations. I feel the same way about full-size SUVs as I do about McMansions: Who are you trying to impress with that big thing?
At 17.3 feet long, 6.3 feet high and 6.6 feet wide, the QX takes up a hunk of roadside real estate. It weighs 5,800-plus pounds and gets a cringe-inducing 14 miles per gallon around town, 20 on the highway.
Yet it drives extremely well, is exceptionally quiet and is generally an agreeable place to while away time when you’re stuck in traffic -- ignoring the fact that it’s this kind of oversized vehicle which contributes more than most to the congestion.
The designers at Infiniti, the luxury arm of Nissan Motor Co., didn’t go for the aggressive air of the Dodge Durango or the bling-bling of the Cadillac Escalade. Rather the QX is quirky, with an expression that begs to be anthropomorphized by Pixar for the next “Cars” flick. The rear has droopy angles, the side mirrors are small. Threatening it isn’t.
The first QX56 was released as a 2004 model and was based on Nissan’s Armada SUV. The truck underwent a full redesign for the 2011 model and it is now, unmistakably, a luxury vehicle.
The four-wheel-drive starts at $62,790. As tested, mine came to more than $75,000, courtesy of various packages like the “deluxe touring” and “theater,” which scores you two video screens in seat backs.
Even without those you get leather seats and wood trim that looks and feels top notch. The vast space inside is pleasingly laid out, with interesting angles. It smells expensive.
And of course it has three rows of seating, which fits seven (or up to eight, if you opt for a second-row bench seat). The front seats are particularly big, with both my female and male passengers professing their comfort, which is unusual. Too often it seems SUV seats are meant for those who shop at big-and-tall stores.
My test vehicle had two bucket seats in the middle row, with a large center divider in-between. The third row is a bench. All of the rear seats recline, a bonus which makes the third row tolerable, especially with its own side windows which remind me of portholes in a cruise ship.
Fold all the seats down and you get 95 cubic feet of storage space. You could almost fit a coffin in there.
It was hard not to be aware of the QX56’s bulk around Manhattan, where negotiating through double-parked side streets posed a challenge. On the highway, with more room to maneuver, its charms leap out at you.
The power from the thirsty engine is relentless, even on steep hills, where I surged past BMW sedans and Dodge pickup trucks. A hydraulic system in the suspension helps keep the truck level on curves, mitigating body roll. It also softens bumps on the road.
The cabin is monastery quiet. At 65 mph, wheels are spinning on asphalt and the large form plows through dense air, but those physics are awfully hard to detect. This is surely a result of massive amounts of heavy, sound deadening materials that Infiniti stuffed into the skeleton. You can speak in whispers. Or catch every nuance from the optional and excellent 15-speaker, surround-sound Bose stereo system.
The truck runs full time in four-wheel drive, and if you should be so silly as to take it off-road, you can engage both high and low ranges. It also has a snow mode and can potentially tow up to 8,500 pounds -- just in case you own an equally overlarge boat. Either way, I imagine the QX would get you ably up a snowy driveway.
And then there’s that surprising acceleration. There’s just something so unlikely about this hunk of metal moving that fast from a stop that I did it repeatedly. (And paid the price at the pump.)
An SUV this big is hard to justify. But now I understand the allure. It is definitely an elephant, but on second thought, don’t call it Dumbo.
The 2012 Infiniti QX56 4WD at a Glance
Engine: 5.6-liter V-8 with 400 horsepower and 413 pound-
feet of torque.
Transmission: Seven-speed automatic.
Speed: 0 to 60 mph in 6.5 seconds.
Gas mileage per gallon: 14 city; 20 highway.
Price as tested: $75,340.
Best feature: Lavish interior.
Worst features: Weight and gas mileage.
Target buyer: The driver with a lot of passengers.
(Jason H. Harper writes about autos for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)