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2014 INFINITI QX60 - SOUTHERN COMFORTER
 
(2013 - Fall Issue)

Writer: MARK HACKING



One of the fascinating aspects of attending new car launches is experiencing first-hand where the manufacturer in question chooses to hold the event.

This selection is not as simple as it might seem at first; there are many different elements to a car launch, including some that wouldn’t appear to have anything to do with the vehicle itself.

On the strictly travel-related side of things, there are the airline, the flight connections (if a direct route is unavailable), the hotel, the restaurants and the meals. When made properly, all of these selections have the potential to mirror the lifestyle of the vehicle’s target customer; when these peripheral experiences under-deliver or outperform the vehicle. . . well, this is less than astute planning in action.

Then, there are the event elements that link to the vehicle more directly—the number of experts on hand to answer questions, the amount of time spent behind the wheel and the specific roads chosen for the evaluation, including, even more specifically, the quality of the surface of the road. (A manufacturer with a particularly good suspension system will seek out the bumpiest slice of tarmac known to man or machine in order to highlight this point—I’ve seen it happen.)

A Welcome Change

For the launch of the 2014 Infiniti QX60, journalists had the distinct pleasure of being invited to Charleston, South Carolina. First impressions: This was a smart choice because it was not the obvious choice. Places like Phoenix, Los Angeles and Las Vegas are regulars on the car launch circuit, so anything even slightly out of the ordinary is a welcome change.

Charleston is spectacularly out of the ordinary.

Prior to the American Revolution, this southern city was the fourth largest port in the colonies behind only New York, Boston and Philadelphia. Fuelled by the deerskin trade and enabled by slavery, Charleston was a significant stop for trade ships making their way up and down the Atlantic coast. During the Revolution, it was a focal point for British attacks; then, at the height of the Civil War, the city suffered significant damage once more.

A difficult transition period followed, an era that saw Charleston slip from importance as a centre of commerce. This development, or lack thereof, is a key reason why the city possesses such enduring charm—the downtown core has a number of stunning buildings from the 1700s and 1800s, including, rumour has it, the most churches per square mile of any city in North America. The residential area near the port is stacked with three-storey, single-family row homes butted up against each other, the type of architecture more common to densely populated European cities.

The initiation to Charleston began at the Restoration on King, a collection of four separate buildings near the corner of Wentworth and King, the oldest dating back to 1886. Opened in 2010, this boutique hotel in the core of the shopping district features a great diversity of rooms with different layouts in different locations, as it were.

My room was a loft-like space with an open-floor plan, high ceilings, a gourmet kitchen and large bedroom/living room, as well as a separate second bedroom. A ring of windows ran around the very top of an exposed brick wall and hardwood floors were throughout. The subliminal message behind this particular hotel choice was not so subliminal in the end: The Infiniti QX60 is an urban commuter with plenty of style and no small amount of cachet.

Perfect Combinations

From the hotel, participants set out on a meandering, 160-kilometre drive route that enabled everyone to become intimately familiar with the characteristics of the QX60. Equipped with a 3.5-litre V6 (265 horsepower; 248 lb-ft of torque) linked to a smooth continuously variable transmission (CVT), this luxury crossover handles meandering very well.

While the CVT has been calibrated for efficiency rather than takeoff, that’s a decision completely in keeping with a family vehicle that’s capable of hauling seven passengers and all their gear with quiet composure. The transmission has a sport mode to liven up the driving experience and returns best-in-class fuel efficiency when piloted in a more relaxed manner.

Relaxation was the catch of this day in South Carolina, which became clear when we reached our lunch destination: the Ocean Course Clubhouse on Kiawah Island. Situated some 24 kilometres south of Charleston, this island is an exclusive, gated community where two pastimes—golfing and going to the beach—take precedence over all others.

One of the island’s beaches, at Beachwalker County Park on the west side of the island, has been featured on more than one top-10 list. As to the sport of golf. . . well, the accolades have been even more plentiful. Featuring golf courses designed by such notables as Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player, Kiawah Island is considered one of the top golf destinations on the east coast.

Our lunch spot had both angles covered: From our seats at the table, the course was visible, as were the sand dunes in the near distance. Designed by Pete Dye, the Ocean Course has more seaside holes than any other in the northern hemisphere, 10 in total. It’s also one of only four courses to host all four of the PGA major championships and it was the backdrop for the golf-themed movie, The Legend of Bagger Vance.

The lunch was fantastic—for an avowed “fishmonger,” not much rivals a seafood salad pulled fresh from the ocean, which is within shouting distance. But the fact that we had to leave the island without engaging in a round of nine or a quick dip in the ocean was an opportunity sorely missed.

This setting was, again, very much in keeping with the character of the vehicle; the exterior styling of the QX60 is different than that of the typical family-oriented crossover, which tends to be shaped like an amorphous blob. In contrast, this crossover has a swoopy set of design cues and the Infiniti corporate front grille makes the front end resemble a mean-spirited fat kid chewing bubble gum.

Is it possible to picture an upwardly mobile, style-savvy couple driving a foursome to the local links in the QX60? Or transporting a small cadre of children to the nearest sandy cove? Or parking their QX60 in front of a sizeable manse in a gated community? No doubt.

The drive route back to Charleston was more direct—a mere 100 kilometres this time around—but this was sufficient to gain an even greater understanding of the vehicle. The ride is smooth and compliant—a razor-sharp, corner-carving speed demon, this isn’t. The 2014 QX60 for the Canadian market comes standard with available all-wheel drive and that brings added performance when the weather goes south, but the general sense is that this crossover has been built for comfort and not for outright speed.

There are other ways that the Infiniti makes its case for being a star in the segment, chief among these being its remarkable functionality. There are three rows of seats. The third row offers class-leading levels of legroom. The second row can slide or tilt out of the way, even with a child seat fixed in place, to ease access to the third row. And both the second and third rows fold away to accommodate larger and bulkier items. 

A number of options packages are available with the QX60 and these effectively take the level of comfort and technology to new heights. The list of driver-assistance features is incredibly long and it includes an industry-first: a system that automatically stops the vehicle if a person or object is detected immediately behind.

For those who are determined to never drive a minivan—and that’s a hefty segment of the population—the 2014 Infiniti QX60 represents an inspired alternative. It’s an exceptionally smart and versatile design wrapped in an eye-catching package. Like Charleston, it may not be an obvious choice, but it’s a smart choice.

Travel Planner

For more information, visit:

Charleston Area Convention & Visitors Bureau: charlestoncvb.com

South Carolina Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism: discoversouthcarolina.com

Infiniti Canada: infiniti.ca

Kiawah Island Golf Resort: kiawahresort.com

Restoration on King: restorationonking.com

 
 
 
 
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