Each winter I go with my family to southern Florida. One week of thawing out there allows us to get through New England winters without mental side effects. One of the biggest challenges of each trip is finding the right rental vehicle. It’s needs to be spacious and comfortable, but also appeal to my own undefined, sporadic criteria. This vehicle choice is further defined by availability, rental cost, and the pressure of having my inpatient wife and kids waiting for me at the airport terminal.
Two years ago I spotted an Infiniti QX80 among the row of thirty available “Tahoe or similar” vehicles. There was no doubt in my mind that this was going to be my rental. Ever since reviewing a QX56 in 2012, the big Infiniti always topped my list of great road trip vehicles. This one had the super bonus of having factory headrest mounted DVD screens. Winnah!… although even with my rental company membership discount it wasn’t cheap, but I deemed it worth the extra bucks.
The truth is that this pictured 2019 QX80 isn’t that much different from the 2012 model. It received a minor facelift, keeping it somewhat modern but nothing besides from that has really changed. The whole drivetrain is the same and aside from some fabric and material changes, so is the interior. The big upset is that the infotainment has not been updated, either. It just feels old.
The lifespan of full-size utility vehicles is much longer than that of typical cars. Tahoes and Sequoias feel equally dated, with the Ford Expedition and Lincoln Navigator being exceptions due to their recent redo. While others tend to complain about that, I don’t see much of an issue here. They’re still great vehicles – huge, comfortable, and able to tow a substantial trailer. These cannot be beat on a road trip – the driver has plenty of space, at some point all passengers will fall asleep, and there is room for everything.
Those who appreciate the benefits of that full-size space have the ability to overlook the side effects of full-size SUV ownership. They can be tricky to park, they consume a lot of gas, and they’re not cheap. The big Infiniti is in line with all of those and yet I found myself happily paying the extra bucks for it. Full-size SUVs are like upgrading to a 5000 square-foot house. Sure, at first it seems huge and exuberant but then you get used to it and can’t live anywhere else.
Old school is its game and the QX80 delivers smooth power and smooth, quiet highway cruising. The driver sits high and the big windows yield very good visibility. The 5.6-liter V8 cranks out 400-horsepower. The power delivery feels old school-ish but in a good way, as in it is always there. There is no lag – it’s quick off the line and it’s quick to pass on the highway. The seven-speed automatic is free of drama as it always seems to be in the right gear.
There are cameras all around to aid parking and the power-fold side mirrors hide when the space is really tight. There is also a monitor in the rearview mirror that is shows what the mirror would if it wasn’t obscured by whatever is in the trunk – great idea. At 76-inches high, the QX80 just clears most city garages. Its width and length push the envelope of standard parking spots but it isn’t difficult to maneuver it.
For such a big vehicle, the space inside could be improved upon. The third row, while big, lacks legroom. The second row comes with a large bench or, as in this vehicle, two large chairs and a large center console. While the seats are very comfortable, the huge console isn’t really useful. When the third row is folded it creates a rather high load floor – the Tahoe is like that, too. The Land Cruiser, with seats that lift and secure to the side, has an advantage here.
I have a soft-spot for the QX80. I’m willing to overlook its design and cost because I think it’s one of the best highway cruisers on the market, more so than a Tahoe or even the new Expedition. Ironically, its biggest competition seems to come from within. The Nissan Armada, save for some trim, is pretty much the same vehicle but costs significantly less. I don’t understand Nissan’s marketing there but both vehicles, despite their age, are worthy competitors in the full-size SUV segment, be it to buy or rent on vacation.
[Disclaimer: Infiniti provided this QX80 to me at home for the purpose of this review.]