Payne: Infiniti QX70, the cure for the common ute

Posted by hpayne on March 6, 2017

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I first encountered the Infiniti QX70 at a rental counter at Christmas in St. Louis. Normally $125, it was the daily special at just $30 a day — just $10 more a day than my usual Nissanfordyota Altimafusionry sedan. Best gift I could have given to myself.

The SUV arrived around the rental building like Jim Carrey’s limo in “The Mask” — headlights followed by five miles of hood. That’s a crossover?

The QX70 is Infiniti’s cure for the common midsize ute. Like BMW X6 or Maserati Levante, its rear-wheel drive platform and coupe-like roof defy SUV convention. Initial impressions are that Frankenstein tried to make a sports car out of SUV parts. Shark-like gills (for better brake ducting) aft of the front fenders and tapered C-pillar (who needs rear quarter visibility?) add to the effect.

Like a cat set to spring on its haunches, the ute draws you near. The “3.7” stamped on the front fender suggests the stance is backed up by engine-room muscle. I turn the key and the big, 325 horsepower V-6 jumped to life with a growl of the twin tailpipes.

QX70 was built to boogie.

Which is in keeping with the market positioning of Nissan’s luxury brand as the sporty Asian. Cruise the internet and you’ll find, say, Acura dealers comparing RDXs against the QX70s. Japanese luxe vs. Japanese luxe. Their 28 mpg RDX fuel economy vs. QX’s 24. Roomier RDX interior. Cheaper sticker. But you might as well be comparing Miso soup and fried ice cream.

The QX70 is a different meal meant for a spicier, more European appetite. The QX70 V-6 has a whopping 46 more ponies than the RDX V-6. Infiniti once referred to it as the “bionic cheetah.” This cat moves.

The $48,645 QX70 is best compared as a more affordable $60,650 Porsche Cayenne, which launched in the same year — 2003 — as the Infiniti. Yes, the Cayenne. You know the Porsche, but the Infiniti — first known as the FX45 — was also an early 2-st century pioneer of the sporty sport ute (since followed by BMW, Mercedes and Maserati with their own snarly utes).

The German and Asian even look alike from the side with their soap-smooth lines and fastback shapes. As the QX70’s cheaper sticker suggests, the Infiniti is less ambitious in the drivetrain (though it once optioned a V-8)) and chassis engineering departments.

Nissan/Infiniti makes for an interesting banquet table. Parent Nissan’s core offerings are standard-issue appliances — Sentra, Altima, Rogue, Pathfinder — that excel at utility if not at accelerating your heartbeat. For that duty the Nissan family has a fleet of bad boys: the Juke, 380Z and the earth-pawing GT-R beast (better known to motorheads as “Godzilla”).

These hellions would seem better suited to Infiniti’s sporty lineup with their growly exhaust notes and muscled haunches. Infiniti even shares its engine with the Z. It’s not hard to imagine a Godzilla version of my QX70 tester: All-wheel drive. Twin-turbo V-6. Rear wing on the roof. Call it QX70 GT-R and sic it on a BMW X6 M.

Infiniti has dabbled in racing over the years with IndyCars, sports racers (a racing pal stomps around the vintage circuit in an Infiniti-powered V-8 IMSA prototype) and Formula One. The experience is rubbing off on its production lineup: the sexy Q50 sedan, racy Q60 coupe and curvy QX30. The QX70 may be the most head-turning of the family.

It’s not just the long hood and big engine. Approach QX70 from the rear and it looks like something that rolled out of a spaceship. The round shape (are those Martians peering out of the rear window?) takes in swollen rear-wheel wells, giving the car a planted stance. Artistic, angled rear lights decorate the shoulders.

Inside, these visual effects demand compromise. With its long hood and huge front fenders, the Infiniti looks like it was inspired by a 1960s Jaguar. “That’s not a hood, it’s a bow,” commented Mrs. Payne, straining to see over the Q-ship.

With the QX70 sitting so far back on its haunches, the rear wells encroach on rear seat egress. A long-legged 6-foot-5, I had to turn sideways to get my legs out of the narrow door opening. The coupe-like roof does not sacrifice as much head space as you might think, but the rear blind spot (as already suggested) is as big as Alaska. Thankfully, the Infiniti comes with blind-spot detection as part of a safety package.

As far as drawbacks go, I found the QX70’s technology is lacking relative to similar-priced bionic cheetahs. Infiniti’s infotainment layout reminds me of the Ford Escape crossover. But the Escape’s screen is more responsive and its infotainment choices more robust, including Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

I warmed quickly, however, to QX70’s seat-temperature controls — heating and cooling all on one rotary dial just like air-temperature controls.

For 2017, Infiniti has rolled out a Limited edition which introduces a new mesh grille, wicked black 21-inch wheels and a Vegas penthouse of interior materials including black quilted doors, white quilted seats and “aluminum flake” console trim. What, no mirror on the ceiling?

Under the skin, however, nothing changes, which will be the challenge for this sports ute in a midsize class that now features a pair of famous sports brands, Jaguar and Alfa Romeo, whose respective F-Pace and Stelvio are also rear-wheel-drive platforms with AWD capability.

I drove the F-Pace last year and its handling is superior even as its interior lacks inspiration compared to other luxury class leaders.

The Stelvio may be a tougher opponent. I have yet to drive Alfa’s crossover (first tests are later this year), but it is essentially the taller brother of the Giulia sedan, which is one of the best-handling chariots made. The Alfa’s interior is luxury-grade with sweeping lines and a superb BMW-like rotary dial. Add the Italian’s two engine choices, and suddenly the Infiniti’s $48,000 price tag (already north of Jaguar) is going to roll eyeballs.

Credit the Infiniti for being easy on the eyes, though. With its strong legs and Ashley Graham lines, it was an early indicator that plus-size SUVs can be sexy, too.

Henry Payne is auto critic for The Detroit News. Find him at hpayne@detroitnews.com or Twitter @HenryEPayne.

2017 Infiniti QX70

VEHICLE TYPE FRONT-ENGINE, REAR- AND ALL-WHEEL DRIVE, FIVE-PASSENGER

CROSSOVER

Power plant 3.7-liter, port fuel-injection V-6
Transmission 7-speed automatic
Weight 4,376 pounds
Price $48,645 AWD base ($58,480 as tested)
Power 325 horsepower, 267 pound-feet of torque
Performance 0-60 mph, 6.0 seconds (Car and Driver)
Fuel economy EPA 16 city/22 highway/18 combined

Report card

HIGHS HEAD-TURNING, REAR-DRIVE PLATFORM; THROATY ENGINE
Lows Pinched rear-seat ingress; sticker shock next to newer

rivals

Overall:★★★

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