1997 Infiniti QX4 Is a Rolling Oxymoron
If you build one, chances are apparently good that the rich will buy one.
From the February 1997 issue of Car and Driver.
I have a friend, a Manhattan lawyer, who grunts his hunter-green Range Rover into four-wheel low-low to traverse a brief stretch of potholed dirt road on the approach to our upstate New York driveway. It's 50 yards of "off-roading," for which a Vermonter in a Caprice wouldn't even lift off the throttle, but it's the only polishing the gears in my attorney amigo's transfer case ever get.
The typical Infiniti QX4, the world's newest upscale sport-ute—the category-within-a-category that we now call LSUV, "L" for "luxury"—probably won't even go that far off the road. Leathery trimmings, a CD changer and a Bose sound system, and a superb highway ride so pervade this machine that it's difficult to imagine anyone bramble-brushing its paint job, muddying the carpeting, or dirtying the stylish three-spoke alloys. Indeed, Infiniti rationalizes the ample slathering of imitation wood trim in the cabin by calling it a "further element of ruggedness, so as not to let the occupants forget they are in a sport-utility." Which they otherwise might.
Still, the QX4 is a fully capable off-roader, with a sophisticated new four-wheel-drive system biased toward transparent highway performance, presumably for the day you simply must cross a wet Hamptons lawn to reach valet parking at the wedding reception.
To say the QX4 is nothing more than a Nissan Pathfinder carrying around $9900 worth of leather, imitation wood, and electronics perhaps misses the point, although certainly there is a Pathfinder under the aggressively restyled grille and body cladding. (Much of the marketing motivation for the LSUV class is the understandable desire of Infiniti, Lexus, and Acura dealers to share in the profit their mainstream counterparts are accruing from standard SUVs.) The excellent new-generation Pathfinder serves as a platform for a totally recalibrated five-link, coil-spring rear suspension that, in combination with the independent front struts and a lot of ride-control engineering, provides the QX4 with what is arguably the most comfortable, most compliant, most refined, and yes, most luxurious ride of any sport-utility vehicle in the world.
Nor did the QX4's four-wheel-drive system come out of a pickup-truck parts bin. It's in fact derived from the electronic all-wheel-drive system used in the hot Nissan Skyline GT-R coupe sold in Japan—one of the more desirable cars off limits to the U.S. In the "auto" setting of the three-position dash switch (two-wheel drive, automatic operation, and locked center differential), a wet multiplate clutch in the center diff apportions power to the front wheels as well as the rears, depending not only on slippage but also on throttle opening and engine rpm. It does all this not in preset steps but via seamless variable torque splitting. This All-Mode four-wheel-drive system is not shared with the Pathfinder.
No apology is needed for the QX4's handling. There's none of the hobbyhorsing of some short-wheelbase utes or the high-roll-center slackness of others with necessarily long off-road suspension travel. The QX4 feels like . . . well, like a tall car.
For all the real estate they take up on the planet, SUVs like the QX4 are surprisingly inefficient people movers. The QX4 is really a slightly cramped four-person vehicle—though there are belts for three in the back—and rear head and foot room are a bit limited.
You really have to crank small-engine SUVs to get what would in any car be considered subpar acceleration. It's true of the iron-block two-valve 3.3-liter QX4 as well, whether freeway merging or approaching the wall of aerodynamic reluctance that begins to solidify at about 70 mph—0 to 60 mph takes twelve seconds. Admittedly, the 168-hp V-6 is cammed and tuned for low-speed torque in an odd nod to potential off-road use. So you'll be paying about $38,000 (loaded) for a vehicle because it has boondocks capabilities that may rarely be used, and it will be lumbered with performance around which a Neon will run brightly colored rings. But at least the QX4 is vastly quieter than its more utilitarian competition, so you're spared the roaring, whining, trapped-inside-an-air-conditioner cacophony of lesser SUVs.
The luxury-SUV market is a special and limited one, for unlike most luxury sedans and coupes, the contenders offer not much more in pure performance than do their plebeian counterparts. Most buyers demand a bit more for their money.
The Acura SLX (née Isuzu Trooper), the Honda Passport (née Isuzu Rodeo), the Lexus LX450 (née Toyota Land Cruiser), and now the badge-engineered QX4 (née Pathfinder) join a category long served by Land Rover. These vehicles also compete with the image-enhanced Mercury Mountaineer, and by next fall, the Mercedes-Benz M-class will attempt to redefine the whole LSUV market with its unique Daimler-Benz cachet. There are signs that the SUV market is finally nearing saturation—Ford's offer of Explorer rebates, for one—but the LSUV niche will remain viable as long as there are buyers who absolutely, positively must have a rolling oxymoron that makes few compromises in highway ride, interior quietude, cabin luxury, or—it's true—off-road capability.
1997 Infiniti QX4Vehicle Type: front-engine, rear/4-wheel-drive, 5-passenger, 4-door wagon
PRICEBase/As Tested: $36,209/$37,872Options: Premium Sport package (power sunroof; heated front seats, limited-slip rear differential), $1650; luxury tax on option, $13
ENGINESOHC 12-valve V-6, iron block and aluminum heads, port fuel injectionDisplacement: 200 in3, 3275 cm3Power: 168 hp @ 4800 rpmTorque: 196 lb-ft @ 2800 rpm
CHASSISSuspension, F/R: struts/rigid axleBrakes, F/R: 10.9-in vented disc/11.7-in drumTires: Bridgestone Dueler H/TP245/70SR-16
DIMENSIONS Wheelbase: 106.3 inLength: 183.9 inWidth: 72.4 inHeight: 70.7 inPassenger Volume, F/R: 52/39 ft3Cargo Volume, Behind F/R: 85/38 ft3Curb Weight: 4258 lb
C/D TEST RESULTS60 mph: 12.0 sec1/4-Mile: 18.7 sec @ 72 mph100 mph: 71.0 secRolling Start, 5–60 mph: 12.4 secTop Gear, 30–50 mph: 6.0 secTop Gear, 50–70 mph: 10.0 secTop Speed (drag ltd): 100 mphBraking, 70–0 mph: 205 ftRoadholding, 300-ft Skidpad: 0.70 g
C/D FUEL ECONOMYObserved: 15 mpg
EPA FUEL ECONOMYCity/Highway: 15/19 mpg
C/D TESTING EXPLAINED
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