Taking on Winter with Infiniti

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceInfiniti AWD
For most people considering the best AWD vehicles for taking on winter conditions, Infiniti is not necessarily the first automotive brand that comes to mind. However, every model in Infiniti’s lineup is now available with all-wheel drive, making Nissan’s luxury brand a compelling consideration when the snow flies. To properly test the brand’s latest models, Infiniti invited a group of automotive journalists to Big Sky, Montana, where there was no shortage of white stuff on the ground — and roads.

© Nissan North AmericaYellowstone Airport
During a typical winter, Yellowstone National Park gets about 150 inches of snow, which is why Yellowstone Airport remains closed for most winter — at least for flights. Infiniti created an automotive winter wonderland at this snowbound airport to properly test the brand’s latest AWD offerings, including the newest model — the QX60.

© Nissan North AmericaVehicles and AWD Systems
Infiniti brought a sampling of its lineup to Montana for auto journalists to test in wintry conditions, and each vehicle has an AWD system best suited to its use. Here’s a look at the vehicles we drove and the system each employs.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceInfiniti Q50
The only non-SUV model left in the Infiniti lineup, the Q50 features an all-wheel-drive system designed to mesh with the rear-wheel-drive performance of this sport sedan. During everyday driving, power gets sent exclusively to the rear wheels; however, the Intelligent AWD system can send as much as 50 percent of the power to the front wheels if the system detects a loss of traction at the rear. An Active Brake Limited Slip system also adjusts torque from side to side for optimal traction.

© Nissan North AmericaInfiniti QX50 / QX55
Although the Q50 is based on a rear-wheel-drive platform, the QX50 and QX55 5-passenger crossovers have front-wheel-drive-biased all-wheel-drive systems. When the front wheels slip, the system can direct as much as 50 percent of the torque to the rear wheels. As an additional benefit, the QX50 and QX55 automatically engage the AWD system at launch for maximum traction regardless of road conditions.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceInfiniti QX60
The newest model in the lineup also gets the latest all-wheel-drive system the luxury brand offers. A 3-row SUV redesigned last year, the QX60 is primarily a front-wheel-drive vehicle like the QX50 and QX55. This premium SUV features a new AWD system with a direct coupling that engages much more quickly than the brand’s other systems. Up to 50 percent of the power can be sent to the rear wheels, which happens almost instantaneously when the front wheels slip. According to Infiniti, the system can even detect slick conditions and engage AWD before the wheels begin to slip.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceInfiniti QX80
The largest model in the Infiniti lineup, the QX80 full-size luxury SUV features Infiniti’s All-Mode 4WD. With a proper 4-wheel drive system, the all-mode 4WD gives the QX80 a 4WD Low setting to handle more demanding off-road challenges while providing maximum grip on slick surfaces. The system can be put into Auto mode, letting the computer-controlled transfer case shift power front or rear as needed.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceThe Right Tires
All-wheel drive can be a lifesaver when drivers must deal with icy or snowy conditions, but the wrong tires can defeat all benefits of AWD. Infiniti partnered with Bridgestone to fit our test vehicles with Blizzak winter tires for the press event. Offering impressive traction on the snow and ice, the Blizzak tires combined with the Infiniti AWD systems made for an ideal combination to tackle winter road conditions.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceThe Drive
Call it either good or bad timing, but Montana was hit with a winter storm just as we arrived for our drive. Heading south from the Bozeman airport on 50 miles of narrow 2-lane roads in the driving snow to reach our hotel would typically be a white-knuckle affair, but the Infiniti QX60 fitted with Blizzak tires inspired so much confidence there was little concern among journalists. The road was completely snow-covered, but traction was never a problem. We appreciated the comfortable interior and beautiful winter views without any worries.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceHeading to Yellowstone
After the storm, we headed to our snow-covered venue at Yellowstone Airport. Sunny and bitterly cold — the QX60 indicated an outside temperature of 20 degrees below zero — the roads were covered with snow and ice. Cruising at highway speeds was no issue, and on the occasion when our driving partner wasn’t paying close attention and drifted into the deep snow on the edge of the road, the QX60 stayed perfectly composed and easily returned to its intended path with little effort.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceWinter Driving Courses
To properly showcase the abilities of the Infiniti AWD systems and Blizzak winter tires in a safe environment, Infiniti created a number of driving and handling courses on the wide-open spaces of the closed Yellowstone Airport. These included a high-speed slalom, figure-8 handling course, low-speed ice slalom, and a snow/road course — all designed to mimic possible real-world situations. Even though Infiniti had a range of vehicles on hand, the new QX60 was the focus and primarily the vehicle we drove.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceAcceleration
No matter the course, the first thing we noticed was how well the QX60 accelerates from a stop on hard-packed snow. Even with traction control off, hard throttle engages all four wheels immediately. And with the uncanny grip of the Blizzak tires, the QX60 moves off quickly and perfectly stable with no sliding or fishtailing.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceFigure 8
The figure 8 course showcased how well an AWD Infiniti can enter a tight corner, navigate the corner’s apex and accelerate back onto a straight road in slick conditions. Although the Blizzak tires offered exceptional traction in most situations, entering a corner at too high a speed on slippery snowpack pushed the tire’s limits, and the Infiniti tended to go wide. However, as soon as we reduced the speed, the front tires bit into the snow and led the vehicle through the turn. As we exited turns and arrived back onto the straights, we could apply power as soon as the front wheels pointed in the direction we wanted to go, and the QX60 immediately straightened out, heading happily for the next turn.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceHigh-Speed Slalom
A runway is a perfect place for some high-speed driving, and it’s even more exciting when that runway is covered in snow with cones to slalom. Our first run was with traction and stability control engaged. Passing through the cones was on par with an emergency lane change, and the QX60 performed impressively well. At speeds exceeding 70 mph, we quickly turned to the left and back to the right around cones with near-perfect control and stability.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceNo Nannies
To properly test the AWD system on its own — and to have a bit more fun —we turned off the “nannies” and headed out on course again. Swerving to the left or right at speeds approaching 80 mph properly showcased how well the Infiniti AWD system and Blizzak tires worked together. On a few occasions the rear end would start to slide around, but a quick steering correction and a steady throttle input brought the QX60 back in line with almost no drama — although with plenty of fun.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceLow-Speed Ice Slalom
For the ultimate test in traction, Infiniti set up a slalom on a surface that had been polished like an ice skating rink — slick enough that it was almost impossible to stand on without holding onto something. Although we couldn’t go much more than 18 mph without losing all traction, the AWD system working in tandem with the Blizzak tires made it possible to maneuver through the slalom without hitting cones (or anything else). Impressive given the almost complete lack of grip.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceQX80 on Course
We had the opportunity to take the big QX80 around a snow-covered handling course, and even though this vehicle has considerably more mass to start, stop and change direction, the QX80 performed well. Entering a wide curve (think large roundabout), the QX80 remained easily managed with predictable handling and smooth power delivery. Surprisingly, the big QX80 was the easiest of all Infinitis we drove to drift through a turn with practically perfect control — not that we recommend doing this on public roads.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceDriving the Q50
As a bonus for attending journos, Infiniti rolled out its most potent model in the wintry conditions — the Q50 Red Sport 400. This high-performance 400-horsepower AWD sport sedan was also fitted with high-performance Blizzak winter tires. With that much power on tap and the grip to get moving quickly, the Q50 was not only great fun but also the easiest car to push too hard.

© Sam Abuelsamid Too Fast
On our first circuit of the handling course, we came out of a corner with a decent dose of throttle which got the Q50 moving very quickly — enough that we couldn’t slow for the next turn and ended up nose-first in a snowdrift. After an embarrassing moment, we backed out of the snowbank without assistance, and with no damage to the car (and only a bit to the ego) we proceeded on with lesson learned.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperiencePremium Winter Ride
With a complete lineup of all-wheel-drive vehicles that range from compact crossovers to full-size V8-powered SUVs —and a solitary sport sedan — Infiniti is somewhat undiscovered as a proper winter driving option. With the right winter tires such as Bridgestone Blizzaks and impressive stability in frigid conditions, the Infiniti lineup could be considered an excellent choice for all-season premium transportation.

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