Sometimes buying smart involves hoops and hurdles, and other times it’s as easy as two dealerships probably occupying the same lot. So goes it for the 2021 Infiniti QX80, the automaker’s biggest and burliest SUV, making its pitch for seven or eight seat excellence but finding Nissan may have stolen its thunder along the way.
The QX80 has road presence, not least because of its scale. A full 17.5 feet long and over 6.5 feet wide, it’s unapologetically huge, draped in chrome and riding – in Premium Select 4WD trim – on 22-inch forged dark aluminum-alloy wheels. For the 2021 model year the line-up kicks off at $69,050 (plus $1,395 destination) for the QX80 Luxe; Premium Select adds all-wheel drive among other things, and starts at $76,450.
Under the vast hood is Infiniti’s familiar 5.6-liter V8 engine. It now produces a hefty 400 horsepower and 413 lb-ft of torque, funneled to all four wheels via a 7-speed automatic transmission and a two speed transfer case. It’ll tow up to 8,500 pounds, and do 0-60 mph in about six seconds.
You’ll want a straight road for that. Point the QX80 at the horizon and plant your right foot, and the beefy SUV hunkers down and surges forward. It doesn’t feel so much fast, as potent: I’ve never faced down a rhinoceros as it builds up to a gallop, but I suspect it’s a similar experience to the Infiniti’s acceleration.
At 5,706 pounds it weighs more than the average white rhino, however, and so corners are better taken at more sedate speeds. With the suspension dialed in at the soft end of the scale there’s no shortage of body roll if you try to hustle too rapidly, though the upshot is the sort of plush ride you used to have to drive a 70s Lincoln to achieve. Factor in “you only wanted to use one finger, right?” levels of power steering boost, and it’s clear this behemoth was made for cruising.
Within that niche, it does admirably. The V8 thrums in the background, but generally noise isolation keeps the irksome world outside at a long arm’s distance. Infiniti’s 7-speed slurs discreetly, but an eighth ratio for even quieter highway work wouldn’t go awry. Inside, meanwhile, there’s decent space for as many as eight, though usually Infiniti outfits the QX80 with seven seats. The second row is no compromise, with Premium Select spec getting captain’s chairs and a large center console between them.
The third row is a little smaller, but not so much that only the smallest kids need be slotted back there. Power adjustment helps balance their space with the trunk: there’s 16.6 cu-ft with all the seats up, 49.6 cu-ft with the third-row down, and a positively capacious 95.1 cu-ft with the third and second row down. The seats themselves are a little bulky, however, particularly the captain’s chairs.
Infiniti doesn’t stint on the leather, and there’s tri-zone climate control, heated – though not cooled – front seats, a power tailgate and power moonroof, remote start, and a heated steering wheel. A 360-degree camera, blind spot warnings and assistance, and lane departure warnings and detection are standard, too, as is Android Auto, Apple CarPlay, and a Bose 13-speaker audio system. Adaptive cruise is standard, too.
That all looks good on a checklist, but the implementation leaves a lot to be desired. Infiniti’s InTouch Dual HD infotainment system looks dated and is frustrating to use. The graphics – particularly in the navigation system – are tired, even with a recent update, and the whole thing feels disjointed. Factor in the profusion of buttons on the steering wheel and center console, and it just doesn’t feel as modern and sophisticated as its rivals or, indeed, a SUV with a near-$80k sticker as tested.
Infiniti has a problem, then, and like in the best horror stories it’s coming from inside the house. Nissan’s Armada has always been the QX80’s more affordable sibling, and since the 2021 Armada revamp it’s no longer the value compromise but the sensible pick, period.
Exterior styling is subjective, but there’s no argument that Nissan’s upgrade to the Armada’s center console puts it leagues ahead of what the QX80 makes do with. A single 12.3-inch wide-aspect touchscreen handles the heavy-lifting, with a straightforward panel of knobs and buttons for the HVAC. It looks better, and feels faster and more intuitive than the Infiniti’s system, and the fact is that the rest of the cabin feels eight- or nine-tenths to what the QX80 offers in terms of materials and comfort.
A top-spec 2021 Armada Platinum 4×4 is $67,900 plus destination, however, or about $10k less than the starting price of this midrange 2021 QX80 Premium Select 4WD. Both share the same engine – and the same driving dynamics – and both are fairly thirsty, the Infiniti rated for 13 mpg in the city, 19 mpg on the highway, and 15 mpg combined. I got about that with my own mixed driving.
Perhaps there’s more cachet in putting a QX80 on your driveway than the Armada, but seldom has paying for a prestige badge resulted in such an obvious compromise. The new Armada has gone from nipping at Infiniti’s heels to overtaking it, and it’s tough to argue against the wise money getting spent on the Nissan.