COAL: 2005 Infiniti QX56 – Bull in a China Shop

With the family in need of more space than the ML320, and a tow vehicle too, we considered a few options. Neither of us wanted a pickup truck for an everyday vehicle. The Mercedes GL might have been a consideration, but it wasn’t out for two more model years. We thought about an Escalade, but I had my GM misgivings and with their rising cult status at the time, no one would dicker much on them. We drove a Volvo XC90, but it wouldn’t tow enough weight. My in-laws had driven Fords and Mercurys for decades, but had two lemon Explorers back to back. So, an Expedition probably should have been on our shopping list but got crossed off.  We considered a motorized RV to eliminate the tow vehicle need, but that was just another vehicle to tag, insure and maintain. Thus, we found ourselves at a new and unexpected place.

Doing some research online, the Infiniti QX56 appeared on multiple lists of towing vehicles. It was of course, based upon the Nissan Titan pickup truck. We weren’t terribly familiar with Nissan or Infiniti products, but we liked what we read online, and compared to some of the alternatives, the pricing seemed pretty reasonable as well. We liked the looks too, though I will freely admit that’s a face that some would say only a mother could love.

When we went for a test drive, we went to the dealer closest to the house. There were (and still are) three Infiniti dealers pretty close by. He gave us a tour of a showroom example but he had no 4WD versions in stock. We liked what we saw, though, an Asian themed interior with nice wood accents, heated leather seats, navigation, satellite radio, and DVD system for the kids. Back to the internet, and we found that the dealer furthest away had mostly 4WD versions in stock. The 4WD option included a trailer tow package as well, with a receiver hitch, seven blade plug, and trailer brake prewiring.

So, off to that dealer we went. This was the first time for us driving the vehicle. It was large, no doubt, but you had plenty of glass and could tell where the corners were. This was also our first vehicle with a backup camera (tucked in the top of the license alcove) and rear sensors, which of course are a given on so many cars now. Just a dozen years ago, it seemed so space age. And it was an immense help, making backing, parking, and hitching a trailer a breeze. The back glass also flipped up, unlike the fixed glass of the ML320. That made chucking groceries and the like in the back a lot more convenient.

We thought we wanted black, but it was so much surface area, it was too much of a good thing. Black with a black interior, especially, was like a rolling coal shaft. After going back and forth between the other choices, we settled on silver with a tan interior.

On the test drive, my wife did run over the curb a couple of times. We laughed it off, and thought she would get used to it. She never did. It became a running joke in the family about my wife running over curbs, bushes, and small buildings in the QX56. I recall paying in the 40’s when all was said and done, Google says MSRP for a 4WD version in 2005 was just over $51,000, or about $63,000 today. So, it was about like buying a heavy duty pickup which we didn’t want for a daily driver. And, we were no more out of pocket than my sister in law with the Excursion and used Plymouth Voyager pair.

While the car (truck?) initially rode very smooth and quietly, this seemed to deteriorate rapidly. The OE Continental Contitrac tires seemed to be the cause, and they were wearing rapidly. I replaced them with Michelin LTX MS2 tires, which restored the quiet and smoothness. Much better than when new, actually. And they were an improvement in the snow, as well. It used a lot of gas, but gas was cheap! Until a month after our purchase, when Hurricane Katrina hit and gas spiked to $4.00 in our area ($5.00 today). That was concerning for sure, but gas prices moderated pretty quickly.

When we went to look for trailers, the 9100 pound tow rating made the looking easy, as it was more than we needed. We settled on a two year old, 30 foot bunkhouse with two slides. The slides added to the weight, but we had the capacity to spare. The trailer was 5500 pounds dry, and about 6100 filled with water and LP gas. We camped at sites with full connections, but traveled with the fresh water tank filled to use the bathroom and kitchen on the road. Then, you add all your food, clothes and toys. We put the bikes in there too. So, ready for the road it had to be 7000 pounds.

The QX56 handled it very well. I had read that staying 2000 pounds under the maximum tow rating for your vehicle is ideal, and I think this is sound advice. You could tell there was all that weight back there, for sure, when accelerating or braking. But the QX56 handled well with the trailer, and steering and tracking were unaffected. The electric trailer brakes and anti-sway hitch were must-haves, of course. We got about 10mpg when towing, so we learned we could get about 40 minutes out of each quarter tank. Gas stops took some planning ahead, lest you find yourself on an isolated stretch when the need arises.

On our first trip to Florida, we broke the trip into two days. As a newbie camper, I didn’t want to arrive late and have to back and hookup in the dark. At our overnight stop, we awoke to find about 20 people examining the QX56. Had I hit something? Did I have a flat? It turned out they were tourists from Australia, who had heard of Infiniti but never seen one (they were not sold there at the time, but are now). They had rented RV’s and were taking a few weeks to tour around the USA. We had a great visit, and chat about their exploits over coffee!

Now, I know that the old Titan pickup (which was just recently replaced) had a spotty reputation for reliability. But in our time with the QX56, we had very few problems. The most notable was a cracked exhaust manifold. When accelerating up a steep onramp on a Florida summer day, pulling the trailer, we heard a loud “pop” followed by a hissing noise under heavy load, for the rest of the trip. That “pop” turned out to be one exhaust manifold cracking. It was the subject of a “campaign”, and though long out of warranty, both manifolds were replaced for free.

At around 100,000 miles, the shift interlock on the shifter became balky. Sometimes it wouldn’t let you shift out of Park, and sometimes it wouldn’t let you shift into Park either! You could override it by inserting a metal key into a hidden slot on the shifter bezel. We had that fixed, at our expense of course. Some oily areas under the hood turned out to be loose clamps on the oil cooler hoses.

Best campground ever!

And that’s it. In about 120,000 miles, we hauled the trailer to Disneyworld five times, camped at the beach every summer, took the trailer as far north as upstate New York, and slogged through six snowy winters, taking the kids and their cousins to ski lessons. That’s pretty darn good, in my book. And cosmetically, it held up very well too. It sat outside, because it was too wide to fit in the garage in our 70 year old house (we had moved into town from the house we built in the country). I bought WeatherTech mats when it was new, and they protected the light tan carpet perfectly. The tan leather seats showed virtually no wear at all, despite kid messes being scrubbed with Clorox wipes on a regular basis.

Not my dealer, but a nice photo

I should also point out that the dealer experience with the selling dealer, and the servicing dealer closer to our house, were first rate. It was the best I’ve ever had with any make. The car was always washed, they always had a free loaner, competitive pricing, and very little turnover among the staff. We had the same service advisor the entire time, which in my experience is unusual. I didn’t go to the dealer for every service, but I did for most of them, because of the pleasant nature of it.

After six years and 120,000 miles, my wife was ready for a new car. She still needed three rows, and we still wanted to pull the travel trailer. The kids (now 13, 11 and 9) were getting pretty big to fit into the “bunkhouse” beds, which were smaller than a standard twin. But even if the camper trailer days were waning, we also had a 6,000 pound boat and trailer by this time to pull as well. She wanted all of this, and “smaller”, “easier” and “more car-like”. I was pretty stumped.

I really thought long and hard about keeping the QX56 for myself, as I was on a succession of “beater” cars as you will read about later in the series. In the end, I didn’t, but I soon wished I had! My beater car soon thereafter developed some expensive issues that would have cost it’s entire value to fix correctly.

Up to this point, the QX was the longest we had kept a car. We bought it the first week of July, 2005 and traded it the first week of July, 2011. It’s replacement is still here, though, so I guess that’s the new elder statesman in our house by a nose. The vehicle in the next installment now belongs to our youngest. Yes, the baby who caused the premature demise of the 4Runner, is 15 and has his learner’s permit!

What’s the longest you have kept a daily driver car, new or used?