Thumbs Up: Distinctive styling, surprising handling and power
Thumbs Down: Overly sensitive alarm, puzzling speedometer calibration
Buy This Car If: You want a sport sedan but need an AWD crossover
I’ve been driving a lot of crossover vehicles lately, probably because this is the hottest segment in the auto industry today. Crossovers have replaced SUVs as the darlings of the American public, so every manufacturer is scrambling to get product in the hands of journalists. With dozens of options on the market, it’s easy for a product to slip through the cracks and escape the attention of car buyers.
Such is the case with the Infiniti FX50. You see plenty of FX35s on the road down here, but you rarely see the more powerful and more expensive FX50. And that’s a shame, really, because the FX50 shattered any preconceived notions I may have had about crossovers, performance and handling.
I’ll come clean up front: I loved driving the FX50. I know I’ve said this about the Cadillac SRX (which remains my wife’s favorite) as well, but the two are very different animals. The Cadillac is better suited to chewing up highway miles in comfort, while the FX50 encourages you to take the scenic route, especially if it contains twisty roads. Equipped (like my tester) with Infiniti’s Sport Package, it’s the first crossover that will give sport sedans a run for their money, within the boundaries of physics. Of course you pay the price for all this performance and luxury, but more on that later.
Let’s start with the exterior styling: like the Cadillac, the Infiniti looks like nothing else on the road, and I salute the designers for going their own way. The Infiniti’s styling could best be described as “anti-Cadillac”, since there isn’t a straight line used in the exterior styling, except at the rocker panels. Most pronounced are the fender bulges, visible both inside and outside the car. From behind the wheel, the fender bulges give visual cues to the size of the FX; outside the car, they add character not seen on many modern vehicles. The styling is definitely polarizing, and I’d admit that it took me a few days to get used to. I still don’t love it, but I do respect it for being unique.
Climb inside, and all sins are forgiven. Thick, quilted and ventilated leather is used on both the front and rear seats. The front seats are power adjustable for any conceivable position, and include adjustable thigh support, lumbar support and inflatable bolsters (with the Sport package). To ensure year-round comfort, the front seats are both heated and cooled. Rear seat occupants may not get temperature controlled seating, but their seat backs do recline for maximum comfort. To accommodate cargo of all shapes and sizes, the rear seats fold in the traditional 60/40 split.
The interior is a visual treat, and uses contrasting black plastic, leather, maple wood inserts and aluminum trim. The steering wheel, leather-wrapped, of course, is a joy to grip and provides controls for audio, nav and cruise control. The Bose premium sound system provides an impressive tonal range in the FX’s utterly silent cabin, and the Infiniti nav and information system is easily accessed via the Infiniti Controller. This may not be as intuitive as other systems on the market, but Infiniti is very good at providing redundant controls for the stereo and nav systems. If you can’t find what you’re looking for in one place, you’ll probably find it in several others.
Instruments are backlit and feature a blue accent ring around both the tachometer and speedometer, which are split by an orange information display. One of the few gripes I had about the FX’s interior was speedometer calibration; the dial shows 20 mph main increments, split by barely-visible 10 mph hash marks. It’s exceedingly difficult to see where 35 mph is, or 45 mph, and I’ll bet that I’m younger that the FX50’s target demographic. Is it really necessary to have a speedometer that registers to 180 mph, when the FX50 is most likely limited to 155 miles per hour or less?
There’s quite a bit of electronic gadgetry in the FX50, and that’s not always a good thing. I found myself turning off the Lane Departure Warning and the Forward Collision Warning system every time I got behind the wheel, because it triggered constantly in everyday driving situations. I understand the purpose of both, but surely there must be a way to calibrate the system to reduce sensitivity. I don’t need a collision warning tone to tell me a car has entered the road a few hundred feet in front of me, thanks. I also had the alarm system go off on several occasions, thanks to Navy P3 Orions on approach to NAS Jacksonville; like the FCW system, I’d hope there’s a way to decrease the alarm’s sensitivity.
The FX50 comes with a 5 liter, 390 horsepower V8, driving all four wheels through a shiftable seven speed automatic transmission. When equipped with the Sport Package, the FX50 includes superb steering wheel mounted paddle shifters, and it’s smart enough to competently rev-match on downshifts. Shift it yourself, and the FX50 can bang off a zero to sixty time of around five and a half seconds, which is damn impressive for a vehicle that weighs two and a quarter tons. The 21” wheels and 265/45-21 tires (summer only on my tester) provide surprising lateral grip without having a negative effect on overall ride quality. Leave the suspension in normal mode, and the FX feels like a luxury crossover; select the sport mode, and the suspension feels noticeably stiffer. You do, of course pay a penalty for all this performance: the EPA rates the FX50 at 14 mpg city and 20 mpg highway, and my own mix of city and highway driving yielded 16.6 mpg. And I certainly wouldn’t want to contemplate the replacement cost of 21” tires.
I regret that there aren’t many twisty roads in northern Florida, because I would have liked to probe the FX’s handling limits a little more than I did. Don’t get me wrong on this; the FX50 isn’t going to run with a BMW M5 or a Cadillac CTS-V. I’d love to see it up against a Porsche Cayenne GTS or a BMW X6 xDrive50i; even though both options will set you back more than the Infiniti, I suspect the Infiniti would hold its own against either choice.
The Infiniti FX-50 I drove had a base price of $59,265.00 including destination charge. Options on my tester included the $325 Aluminum Roof Rail Crossbars, the $2,900 Technology Package (Lane Departure Warning / Prevention, Intelligent Cruise Control, Distance Control Assist, Intelligent Brake Assist with Forward Collision Warning, Pre- Tensioned Seat Belts, Rain Sensing Wipers, Auto Leveling Headlights, Adaptive Front Lighting), the $3,000 Sport Package (Continuous Damping Control Suspension, Rear Active Steer, Sport Seats, Tinted Headlights, Steering Wheel Paddle Shifter) and the $135.00 Alarm Impact Sensor. Total sticker price on the tester I drove came to $65,625, which puts the FX50 in a lofty price bracket. There are a lot of other crossover options for less money, but none are the performance equivalent of the Infiniti. Price a comparably equipped Cayenne GTS, and it will sticker at $99,220. A comparably equipped BMW X6 xDrive50i will set you back $87,825. If you absolutely have to have a crossover, and you want to drive it like a sport sedan, the Infiniti has the lowest admission price.
Would I buy one? The answer is “no”, simply because I’m not in an income bracket to contemplate a vehicle at this price point. If my annual income was sufficient, and if I needed to haul four or five people around regularly, through all kinds of weather, the Infiniti FX50 would be atop a very short list of options.