2021 Infiniti QX80 review: All that glitters is not gold

The QX80 casts an imposing shadow in traffic.


Andrew Krok/Roadshow

The 2021 Infiniti QX80 is a fundamentally good three-row luxury SUV. However, context is always important, and when viewed through the same lens as its newer competitors — including a call that’s coming from inside the house, so to speak — all its shiny bits may not be as bright.

Like

  • Smooth, potent powertrain
  • Luxury-soft ride
  • Oodles of passenger space

Don’t Like

  • Worse tech than the Armada
  • Aging styling
  • Way too thirsty

Premium looks and comfort galore

The 2021 Infiniti QX80 has cosmopolitan good looks, some of which carry over from a 2018 update, while the rest stem from a 2020-model-year interior nip-tuck. While the headlights and taillights now more closely resemble other modern Infiniti models, the general shape of the body remains the same from when it was called the QX56, including the rear bumper’s unsightly underbite. From a front three-quarter view, though, it’s modern in all the right places, and its 22-inch alloy wheels fill the wells with the right kind of flashiness.

Context once again comes into play inside the QX80. While I like the layered dashboard, it looks decidedly old when compared to other luxe three-rows such as the Mercedes-Benz GLS, Cadillac Escalade or Lincoln Navigator. Heck, even the Nissan Armada — an SUV with which the QX80 shares a platform — feels a step ahead of the Infiniti in this department, especially when the awful two-screen center stack is the focus. Nevertheless, there’s plenty of comfort to be found in here, with soft leather on the seats and, well, just about everywhere you can reach.

Considering the QX80 is roughly the size of a red dwarf star, it’s no surprise that the second and third rows aren’t too shabby for occupants, either. My Premium Select tester rocks two captain’s chairs in the second row that are just as comfy as those in the first, separated by a center console sizable enough to handle whatever kids want to throw at or in it. Slide either chair forward and there’s ample room to sneak to the third row, which is spacious enough to house adults, although maybe not for cross-country road trips without some stops to stretch.

Luxury doesn’t impugn on cargo capacity either. With the third row up, the QX80 offers a commendable 16.6 cubic feet. Drop the third row, and that number expands to 49.6 cubes. Leave just the front row standing, and that number grows to a proper 95.1 cubic feet. 

Plenty of motivation

The 2021 QX80 reminds me that sometimes there’s no replacement for displacement. All variants of Infiniti’s honkin’ three-row SUV come with a 5.6-liter V8 producing 400 horsepower and 413 pound-feet of torque, which is sent to either two or four wheels (the latter on my tester) through a seven-speed automatic transmission. That’s the exact same setup as the Armada, believe it or not.

Performance is even keeled across the two fraternal twins, as well. Despite a porcine curb weight of about 6,000 pounds, the V8 is keen to pick up the QX80’s nose and send the SUV careening forward with minimal provocation. The transmission is smooth for its age, but some downshifts take a little longer to register than I’d like. Towing fans will appreciate all that hustle, because that motive force grants the QX80 an 8,500-pound towing capacity in both 2WD and 4WD variants.

Comfort is at the forefront of the QX80 driving experience, and the result is rewarding. The steering is a touch overboosted, which makes it a little easier to make directional changes without upsetting the SUV’s balance; on its standard fixed suspension, things can get a little body-roll-heavy if provoked to move too quickly. However, between the dampers and the 275/50R22 Bridgestone Dueler H/T tires, most road nastiness is vanquished before it reaches the cabin. Road and tire noise are delightfully low in the cabin, too.

All that motive force needs something to kick it off, and unfortunately, that something is a whole lot o’ gasoline.


Andrew Krok/Roadshow

One thing that’s low, and not in a good way, is the QX80’s fuel economy. 4WD variants like my Premium Select tester achieve an EPA-estimated 13 miles per gallon city and 19 mpg highway, with each number bumping up by 1 for 2WD models. I’m generally pretty easy on the throttle on the expressway, but reaching EPA estimates took a fair bit of concerted effort.

In all honesty, both the Armada and QX80 drive almost exactly the same. They feel pretty similar on the road, whether it’s steering feel or suspension or braking. They’re both capable of towing 8,500 pounds, too. One of those vehicles costs a few thousand less than the other. What you choose to do with that information is up to you.

Odd, old infotainment

Infiniti needs to put its two-screen infotainment setup onto a boat and ship it off to Valhalla. It’s not necessarily difficult to use — the map lives on the top screen, while most of the usual duties are handled by the screen below — it’s just nowhere near as good as what rivals can offer, like BMW’s iDrive or Mercedes-Benz’s MBUX. The graphics are dramatically different on each screen, although I’m glad Infiniti upgraded the top display to a resolution that no longer resembles a Best Buy-purchased Garmin, and neither layout really screams “luxury vehicle” to me. At least there are physical buttons for the climate controls, which makes adjusting them a breeze. Both screens are sufficiently responsive, though, and modern niceties like Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and a Wi-Fi hotspot are all tucked in there.

Here’s the biggest problem, though: The Nissan Armada’s new infotainment is leagues ahead of its luxury-oriented sibling’s, and for less money, to boot. The layout is cleaner, the graphics look like they were designed within the last year or two and Apple CarPlay is available wirelessly. I can only hope that this system makes its way not just to the QX80, but to all Infiniti models in the future, because it’s far closer to what’s expected in a luxury vehicle in this price range.

Even with clear delineation of duties, dual-screen setups are often more distracting and difficult to figure out than their single-screen counterparts.


Andrew Krok/Roadshow

Even though my Premium Select tester isn’t a range-topping variant, it’s still loaded with oodles of standard safety tech. The window sticker includes forward-collision warning, adaptive cruise control, automatic emergency braking, rear-door alert, blind-spot monitoring, lane-departure warning, lane-keeping assist and a bird’s-eye-view monitor. I’m not keen to use them most of the time, as I prefer to be in control of this much momentum at all times, but when I did engage the highway-friendly stuff, it worked smoothly.

Down to brass tacks

The 2021 Infiniti QX80 has some stellar competition, which puts it in a tricky spot. The Mercedes-Benz GLS-Class and BMW X7 are far more luxurious, and both are also more rewarding to drive. The Lincoln Navigator can be optioned out in wild ways, offering unique interior styling cues that even the Germans have trouble matching.

But in all honesty, the QX80’s biggest competitor is the 2021 Nissan Armada, which offers the same driving experience and cabin space with better technology and, in my opinion, better looks. My Premium Select tester is the midrange model, and with a small number of options, its $76,450 base price bumps to nearly $80,000 including $1,395 for destination. Nissan hasn’t released pricing for the 2021 Armada as of this writing, but it will undoubtedly come in lower than this.

In a bubble, there’s a lot to like about the 2021 QX80. It’s a big boy that offers ample interior space and leather-lined comfort on the road, and it’s capable of towing a good amount of stuff thanks to a V8 that loves to move. But when placed against the context of its closest competitors, it begins to lose some of that luster.

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