Infiniti QX80 ($110,990)
Lexus LX 570 (140,500)
When it comes to luxury SUVs, not all are created equal.
Certainly there are the traditional German tarmac-crushers from Mercedes-Benz, Audi and BMW, but they lean to on-road prowess, not outback adventures. The more off-road-capable Range Rover certainly does the trick off the beaten path, but with a starting price just over $170k it can do some serious damage to the bank balance.
So, if you want to go off-road in style, like, right off-road, with a premium badge up front and room for the neighbour’s tribe in the back, where does that leave us?
They also come equipped with brawny petrol-swilling V8 engines, but (and here’s a dirty little secret you probably already knew) both are based on more prosaic off-roaders from their respective Nissan and Toyota parent companies.
To find out which is the better hard-working luxury buy, we journeyed from leafy green suburbs to forest-green fire trails to see what we could uncover.
With leather trim covering all three rows of seating, and acres of woodgrain trim, these are unmistakably high-end offerings.
Thanks to its more recent facelift, the LX 570 has a more modern-looking interior, a more sportily-styled steering wheel and most telling of all, an absolutely massive central screen, backed-up by a pair of huge widescreen rear displays.
By comparison, the slabby walnut trim and large grey plastic button-housing in the centre stack of the QX80 does not feel as modern, and the much smaller screens all-round seem positively archaic next to the techy Lexus.
Driver and passenger are treated to powered chairs that offer a full range of adjustment in both models, however the Lexus also includes cushion-length adjustment while the Infiniti does not.
The Infiniti claims a point back though by offering seat heating and ventilation, compared to heating only in the Lexus, with cooling being grouped into the LX570’s sole Enhancement Pack option.
It’s a similar story for the second row, with Lexus providing power-sliding adjustment, while Infinity has fixed seats, however the heated outboard positions of the Infinity are standard, and part of the Enhancement Pack on the Lexus.
Both middle seats offer decent acreage, there’s enough room for three adults across the rear, with headroom and legroom aplenty. By a bare fraction the LX 570 offers a larger rear door aperture making getting in and out slightly easier, and also has a more inviting second-row seat.
Infinity also provides a third climate-control zone adjustable from the rear of the centre console, meaning it can always be reached. Lexus splits the rear into two zones, which is nice, but the controls live in the fold-down armrest, and can’t be accessed from the rear seat with three passengers in the second row.
As for those relegated to the rear, by being able to slide the second row forward, the rearmost seats of the Lexus can offer more space, but lack padding and feature a 50:50 split, meaning the middle passenger draws a very short straw.
By comparison, the QX80 is a more comfy place to sit, and features power-recline. Where the Infiniti’s rear seats fold flat into the floor (electrically) the LX 570 pushes its seats up against the side windows - that means more depth, but less width in the cargo bay when stowed.
The Infiniti’s folding seats also result in a higher load lip. While the Infiniti’s suspension is at a fixed height, the Lexus provides three positions, even the highest of which puts the boot floor some 90mm lower than the Infiniti, dropping to 180mm lower in its lowest access-height setting.
ON THE ROAD
Big grunty petrol V8s are the only choice for these two in Australia, and, in fact, the only choice for the Infiniti QX80 globally (as is the case for the mainstream Patrol it is based on).
Lexus does offer a diesel LX overseas (New Zealand included), but that vehicle, using the 4.5 litre twin turbo diesel V8 of the LandCruiser, doesn’t catch the boat here.
Is that a real problem? By the time you’re spending this kind of money for a land-yacht, probably not, while a diesel option would lower fuel costs, neither V8 is short of torque when pressed into service.
Despite a slightly smaller 5.6 litre capacity, the QX80’s 298kW and 560Nm outguns the LX 570’s 270kW and 530Nm from 5.7 litres.
Throttle mapping of the two only heightens that difference, with the more immediate throttle response of the Infiniti making it feel infinitely more willing than the rather ponderous Lexus.
Likewise, the more incisive seven-speed automatic fitted to the QX80 works brilliantly with the driver to keep the big guy on the boil.
This is unlike the eight-speed auto of the Lexus that seems to require multiple downshifts, makes occasional clunky upshifts, and simply isn’t as alert.
As a result of combining decent on-road behaviour with enough ground clearance to ford a river, the ride of both feels tense over small high-frequency bumps. Throw deep potholes or country-road corrugations under the wheels however, and both can shrug off the big hits with ease.
A more responsive steering rack, and less wallowy handling give the QX80 the handling edge in this instance, backed up by brakes that clamp down more assertively with a slightly shorter pedal stroke.
Despite the similarities between the two engines, the pair couldn’t sound more different. The LX 570 makes a wheezing mechanical groan if you sink your boot in, compared to the richer, burblier note of the QX80 - a nice reminder that the bones of this engine contribute to Nissan’s V8 Supercars.
OFF THE ROAD
In a stark role reversal (although not a surprising one, really), the QX80’s on-road superiority is eroded off the beaten track. While both are brilliantly capable in the rough stuff, the LX 570 picks up points for its extra considerations.
Things like height adjustable suspension in the LX, allowing it to clear high-rising obstacles more easily. The softer ride also smothers the ruts and bumps of rough trails without shaking passengers about.
Thanks to its gentler throttle-calibration, it’s easier to modulate the rough terrain progress of the Lexus, likewise the long-travel brake pedal allows more subtle adjustments - ideal for picking your way along a rocky trail.
While both feature easy-to-set push-button off-road modes, the added crawl control of the Lexus gives a greater degree of control for downhill descents, while turn assist (which brakes the inside rear wheel to pivot the car around in tight turns) increases agility on loose surfaces.
While the unique styling of both helps set them apart from their more mainstream LandCruiser and Patrol counterparts, the more road-focussed front bumpers of both, but particularly the QX80, came in contact with the ground a little too often.
We’re going to split this one down the middle. Almost.
If yours is a life of adventure, spent off the beaten track, crossing deserts and dunes or picking along mossy forest trails, then we at TMR envy you. Oh, but we’d also suggest that the best way to tackle that kind of terrain in absolute comfort is from behind the wheel of the Lexus LX 570.
On the other hand, if your off-road forays are rarer, but you’d still like enormous presence and seating for eight, the Infiniti QX80 is the most compelling on-road choice while still providing the ability to tackle river crossings and muddy rutted trails.
Unfortunately the big petrol-gulping V8 engines (that both require premium fuel) are the biggest liability to this pair. The LX 450d available overseas would be a welcome addition here, however neither Nissan or Infiniti has a diesel option ready to slip into the QX80.
Overall though, thanks to a list-price saving of over $29,000, and in recognition of the reality that the vast majority of both LX570s and QX80s sold will spend their time firmly on the tarmac, not off it, the Infiniti QX80 ekes out the win by a narrow margin.
It will take you right off-road, if perhaps with a little less ease than the Lexus, but it's the on-road ease that you will most appreciate.
(Review: with Tony O'Kane and Shane Wiedman)
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