Infiniti SUV: Luxury in seven seats

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Families who need a vehicle with three rows of seats have a new, roomy and plush sport utility choice this year that’s high in government fuel economy ratings.

Infiniti’s 2014 QX60 Hybrid SUV, which is a gasoline-electric hybrid that’s more than 16 feet in overall length, is rated by the federal government at 26 miles per gallon in combined city/highway travel. This is the same combined fuel economy rating as the smaller, 2014 Honda CR-V and 2014 Toyota RAV4 SUVs that have only two rows of seats.

Indeed, the city/highway fuel economy rating for the seven-passenger QX60 Hybrid is the second best mileage among all 2014 SUVs with three rows of seats. Only the smaller 2014 Toyota Highlander Hybrid, which has less second- and third-row legroom, has a higher combined fuel economy rating — 28 mpg.

But the test QX60, driven a majority of the time on city streets, fell short of the government’s combined city/highway estimate of 26 mpg.

Still, the well-appointed, 2014 QX60 Hybrid received an overall, five out of five stars in federal government crash tests.

And the non-hybrid QX60 is a recommended buy of Consumer Reports magazine, where reliability is shown as average. The hybrid version of QX60, introduced for 2014, is too new to rate reliability.

Starting manufacturer’s suggested retail price, including destination charge, for a base, front-wheel drive, 2014 QX60 Hybrid with supercharged, 2.5-liter four cylinder mated to an electric motor and lithium ion battery pack is $46,095.

This starting price is $3,000 more than the starting retail price for a non-hybrid, front-wheel drive 2014 QX60 SUV that’s powered by a 3.5-liter, gasoline V-6. The combined city/highway government fuel economy rating for a non-hybrid, front-wheel drive, 2014 QX60 is 22 mpg.

Meantime, the all-wheel drive, 2014 QX60 Hybrid has a starting MSRP, including destination charge, of $47,495. This price, too, is just $3,000 above the starting retail price for a non-hybrid, all-wheel drive, 2014 QX60.

Competitors include the few gasoline-electric hybrid SUVs with three rows of seats. But the QX60 has a niche, because it wears a luxury brand name. Infiniti is the luxury brand of Japanese carmaker Nissan Motor Co., and standard features on every QX60 Hybrid include leather-trimmed seats, three-zone, automatic climate control, power moonroof, heated front seats, rearview camera and power rear liftgate.

Additionally, safety technologies are available as extras on the QX60 Hybrid that are not offered on some other three-row, hybrid SUVs. This includes backup collision intervention that automatically can stop the SUV if sensors detect the vehicle is backing up into an obstacle, such as a car or a child. The QX60 Hybrid also can add a blind spot monitoring system that not only alerts a driver that another car is adjacent in the SUV’s blind spot but can intervene to try to keep the QX60 from moving into the adjacent vehicle.

The competing Highlander Hybrid has a starting MSRP, including destination charge, of $48,385 and includes leather-trimmed seats, power moonroof, rearview camera and power liftgate, among other items.

The 2014 Nissan Pathfinder Hybrid, which shares its hybrid technology with the QX60, is another competitor and, with cloth seats and a shorter list of standard features, starts at a much lower price — $36,160.

The QX60 name may not sound familiar. When this sizable Infiniti SUV debuted in March 2012, it was called the JX60, and it was sold alongside other Infiniti SUVs with EX and FX names. But Infiniti officials decided to consolidate names and now puts QX on every SUV. Numbers after the QX denote the different Infiniti SUVs.

The test QX60 AWD model impressed immediately with its ample size, richly designed interior and oh-so-quiet cabin.

The exterior retains Infiniti’s somewhat bulbous nose and drew a tepid response.

For a hybrid, the QX60 has a bigger size than most. It is some 5 inches longer, overall, than Honda’s largest SUV, the Pilot.

Fit and finish on the QX60 tester, which was built at Nissan’s Smyrna, Tenn., plant, was excellent, with gaps between body panels consistent and aligned and interior trim pieces perfectly placed.

It took just a bit of a lift for small-statured passengers to get inside this 5.7-foot-tall vehicle, and everyone had a nice, high seat position and good views out.

But the QX60 test SUV felt less than agile and a bit bulky in its handling, particularly in tight quarters.

Still, the suspension, which was a bit on the soft side, did a fine job keeping even severe road bumps away from passengers. There was little road and wind noise, and passengers conversed in regular tones.

Power came on readily, thanks to the instant-on torque from the 15-kilowatt electric motor. The transitions between electric power and power from the supercharged, double overhead cam four cylinder were imperceptible, and power delivery was smooth. Total system horsepower is 250 and compares with the 265 horses delivered by the V-6 in the non-hybrid QX60. Torque from the hybrid system peaks at 243 foot-pounds and compares with 248 foot-pounds at 4,400 rpm in a non-hybrid QX60.

The continuously variable transmission in the QX60 Hybrid worked well to deliver the power without a lot of fuss and noise.

Be aware, though, that premium gasoline is recommended for the supercharged four cylinder. So a fillup of the 19.5-gallon tank can cost nearly $75.

Second-row legroom of 41.7 inches is noteworthy, and there’s another 30.8 inches of legroom in the third row.

When these seats are folded down, the cargo floor is flat. This makes sliding heavy items inside easy. The rear liftgate opening is plenty wide, and the center console between the front seats is large, too.

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