Putting the Infiniti QX80 to the Rebelle Rally test
The 2021 Infiniti QX80 is a big, powerful, luxury sport utility vehicle that hasn’t changed much since it was introduced about a decade ago. This SUV is far more capable than its luxury persona might attest, however. Our road test coincided with the QX80’s entry into the 2020 Rebelle Rally, so we thought it fitting to talk to the women who drove it in that competition and find out just how capable it is.
To start with, we need some background on the 2021 QX80. This generation of the SUV was introduced in 2010 and, while seeing a few changes and upgrades (namely technology add-ons) over that time, the QX80 has otherwise remained largely the same. The interior is consequently a bit dated compared to some other options in the class and the Infiniti’s fuel economy isn’t as impressive as newer designs. Yet the big QX80 remains a capable, luxurious utility.
The basis for the QX80 is the Nissan Patrol, one of the most legendary off-roaders ever made. The engine is a 5.6-liter V8 that smoothly delivers 400 horsepower (298 kW) and 413 pound-feet (560 Nm) of torque. This enters a well-considered seven-speed automatic transmission. That transmission powers the rear wheels by default, but four-wheel drive is an option. A self-leveling rear suspension, three-zone climate, 20-inch wheels, second row captain’s chairs, and leather upholstery are among the standard features for this rig. So are advanced driver’s aids like adaptive cruise control, 360-degree camera views, and lane departure mitigation.
In its own right, the 2021 QX80 is a nicely-built SUV for the luxury market that’s competitive despite its age. It handles in a sportier and less truck-like way than do some others and it has an 8,500 pound (3,855.5 kg) towing capacity; something not many others can boast. What’s more, we can attest from personal experience, the QX80 has solid off-road credibility and is capable of going most anywhere you’d expect to get in a luxury SUV. And then some.
To that end, we wondered what the extremes of a navigation rally based in the California desert would mean for a vehicle like this. This year, the 2021 Infiniti QX80 was an entrant in the storied Rebelle Rally, an all-female mostly-dirt rally that takes place every year and features some of the most well-known women in amateur motorsport.
The QX80 was piloted by newcomers Nicole Wakelin and Alice Chase, both automotive journalists keen to try their hand at a rally run. The fun part here is that for all of the practice runs made before the race, this Rebelle team used an unmodified, factory stock (even to the tires), 2021 QX80 in the lead-up to the race itself. Smashing through the sand and scrub of the California desert, these two competitors pushed the QX80 hard in testing. During the actual race, per race rules, several modifications were made to the SUV for safety and durability reasons (meaning, a tire rack in the cargo space, added roll cage upgrades, improved shock absorption, and more terrain-specific tires). The navigation’s connectivity was also disabled, as the Rebelle Rally requires compass and map navigation the hard way, no electronics allowed.
This being their first race, neither Nicole nor Alice had any preconceptions about what is expected of a rally vehicle. Wakelin, who did the driving as Chase navigated, was enthusiastic about having tried the QX80 in the sand, comparing it to driving in the snow in her Northeastern US home. In the stock vehicle, Wakelin said, the QX80 “went up those dunes, no problem. It always felt like we would have no problem getting to the top of that hill or through those rocks.”
The Rebelle itself is a navigation race wherein the competitors only know their start and end points beforehand. Their enroute checkpoints, some of which are mandatory and others of which are for bonus points, are not given to the driving teams until two hours before they leave camp each morning. Navigation, rather than the speed, is the focus of the Rebelle competition. For that Chase had to be on top of keeping track of the vehicle’s location while Wakelin piloted and figured out how to traverse the terrain at hand.
As part of the rally, a “marathon” phase that includes an overnight while on the trail (unassisted) was also included. At this point, the competitors could choose to self-camp or sleep in their vehicle. "We chose to sleep in the vehicle," Chase said. "It was, of the two options, absolutely the most comfortable.”
It was interesting to note that during the practice sessions with the QX80 in the California desert, the unmodified Infiniti was capable of traversing all of the terrain presented. That was far more than our own testing of the 2021 Infiniti QX80 had put the vehicle through and is a testament to the capabilities of this big luxury SUV.
The 2021 QX80 has a starting price of US$69,050.
Product Page: 2021 Infiniti QX80