What I Learned Driving the 2023 Infiniti QX60 on Snow and Ice

How letting loose in the Infiniti QX60 on a purpose-built snow track makes for more competent driving across all four seasons.


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Among the four seasons, winter can present the most challenging driving conditions. According to research from tire manufacturer Bridgestone, 54% of drivers who live in winter weather regions have lost control due to snow and ice. A road covered in fresh or packed snow offers less than half the grip of a smooth, dry, and paved surface. If that road is covered in ice, at best you're left with roughly a quarter of the grip you'd experience in ideal conditions, so it makes sense that winter weather calls out the majority of drivers.

Those same challenges can also present learning opportunities for increasing car control competence. Being able to break traction at a lower threshold means you don't have to drive as fast to surpass your tires' adhesion limits. Beyond those limits, there are lessons to be learned that could potentially help you remain in control of your vehicle after the tires break traction rather than being caught off guard and adding yourself as another member of that 54%.

To illustrate the impact of edge-case-and-beyond winter driving, Infiniti invited me to Montana to test the 2023 QX60 on snow and ice. I've attended a winter driving school before, but you could learn some valuable information. Indeed, this experience would leave me with several eye-opening takeaways.


What I Learned Driving the Infiniti QX60 in Sport Mode With Stability Control off

The 2023 Infiniti QX60 offers five driving modes, two of which are Sport and Snow. Sport mode is where the fun happens. This setting quickens the QX60's throttle response and adds more heft to the steering for greater control as well as enhanced driver confidence and enjoyment.

Extra control is exactly what you need when the stability program is switched off. Driving a car past the limits of adhesion requires many driver inputs in a short span, so a vehicle's quick responses are key here.

This experience wasn't just about hooning on the snow at the empty airfields of Yellowstone Airport in West Yellowstone, Montana. While the capabilities of electronic stability control (ESC) are nigh on magical, ESC cannot break the laws of physics, meaning that even with such technology, you still run the risk of losing control, especially in inclement road conditions.

This is why it remains useful to experience how a vehicle acts past its grip limits to better your chances of remaining in command after the tires break loose. I had plenty of time to explore what the QX60 is like past its adhesion limits, and here's my one-word summation: wow.


I love practicing my drifting skills at every opportunity, but I never thought I'd be able to get such practice in a three-row luxury crossover SUV. Going through a high-speed slalom on a long and wide section of snow-covered runway, I was able to drift the vehicle through the entire run. Sometimes I'd see roughly 45 degrees of slip angle, the kind of drifting where you navigate through the front passenger windows instead of through the windshield.

At one point I was certain the SUV was going to spin out, but Infiniti's all-wheel drive (AWD) kept the QX60 in a beautiful, controlled drift, which is one of the most satisfying experiences an enthusiast like me can have behind the wheel.

What I felt leveled up my skills through this experience was visualizing my line through the cones. Every driving school and track day I've attended has exhaustively instructed me to keep my eyes up and look where I want to go. That's good advice, but it yielded minimal benefit for me.


I made that advice my own once I started visualizing my line. Instead of just looking where I wanted to place the QX60, I was looking while plotting my path, which gave my hands and feet much clearer signals for balancing the steering and throttle. I'm astonished at how a simple tweak to my visualization strategy could make such a strong impact.

The other helpful thing I learned was on a much shorter and narrower section of our test track where I'd see significantly slower speeds and far less traction. This was the ice-slalom experience of the day. On this section of runway, I'd estimate I was working with maybe a tenth of the traction of a smooth, dry, paved surface. In other words, it's easier to lose control on ice than it is on much grippier snow. Case in point: I lost control twice on this section of airfield, but oh, did I learn so much.

By its nature, AWD can only work when the wheels are being driven, so even when you feel like you're losing control, it's a good practice to keep a light touch on the accelerator to allow the tires to turn in order to guide the car where you want it to go. Otherwise, hopping off the throttle increases your chances of the vehicle crashing into something you'd rather avoid.


Putting this technique into practice, you really have to fight your brain's sense of what's counterintuitive. At one point when the QX60 was headed into a snowbank, the track instructor started barking at me over the walkie-talkie to add throttle. At the same time, my brain was barking about how adding throttle was not in accordance with my self-preservation, but I was determined to do what I was told.

Sure enough, the light throttle application allowed me to miss the bank by inches. It felt like a miracle, but it was simply an instance of my right foot allowing the AWD to maximize available grip.


2023 Infiniti QX60 Snow Mode Versus Sport Mode

If Sport mode with ESC deactivated is great for helping to maximize control beyond the limits of adhesion, Snow mode with ESC engaged is suited for maintaining control before you reach your tire's traction limits.

In complete contrast with Sport mode, Snow mode slows throttle response, which reduces the likelihood of wheelspin. In addition, the QX60's nine-speed automatic transmission begins in second gear when taking off from a standstill, which also reduces the chance of spinning the tires off the line.

In Snow mode with ESC active, you can stomp the QX60's accelerator from a stop, mid-turn — wherever — and the Infiniti will only give you as much speed as there is traction available. That meant navigating the ice portion of the airfield barely faster than a walking pace, but I still had traction.

On the snow slalom with Snow mode and ESC active, rather than channeling the late, great Ken Block as I was when in Sport mode with ESC off, instead I was moseying through those cones like grandpa on his way to the Elks Lodge. In practice, the Infiniti QX60's Snow mode offers a boring winter-driving experience that isn't anything to write home about, but that's exactly the point. Snow mode with ESC on is all about getting you from point A to point B drama free, and that's what most folks are looking for.


A Better Winter Driver Is a Better Year-Round Driver

With today's technology and modern safety systems, drivers have more computing power than ever backing them up on roads of all conditions. That doesn't mean you shouldn't keep your skills sharp. Freak scenarios happen all the time, and automotive safety technologies, as robust as they are, can only go so far.

The better the driver you are, the better you are at leveraging your car's safety features and capabilities. Most motorists do not usually exceed their tires' traction limits, but there's always a chance of overstepping them. Being familiar with how a car behaves past those limits can mean the difference between getting home safely and not.

A program like the Bridgestone Winter Driving School I attended last year is a great first step in bolstering your car-control skills. I say first step because I've been to a lot of driving schools. You can learn a lot on a sweltering racetrack in the crucible of summertime, but that's sort of like starting elementary school in the sixth grade.

Honing your car control skills can be better suited to winter than in summer because it's much safer to lose control on ice at lower speeds than at typical highway speeds. I'd argue it's also more fun because of how much easier it is to spin out and have a laugh.

Even if you're familiar with performance and precision driving curricula, if you've never done a winter driving school, I highly recommend it. This Infiniti winter driving experience added car control and driver safety skills I'll get to use year-round and for many years to come.


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Manuel Carrillo III
Though he works within every facet of automotive media, Manuel Carrillo III is happiest in front of the camera, where he currently co-hosts a popular TV show on a major network. Before joining Capital One, Manuel was automotive reviews editor at a large technology publication. He also contributes feature stories to a leading outlet in the global luxury market, so adventures like driving house-priced automobiles in Sicily, or rubbing elbows with the rich and famous is well within the parameters of a 'typical day at the office.'