Thumbs Up: Surprising handling and more-than-adequate power
Thumbs Down: Styling Can be an acquired taste
Buy This Car If: You want a sport sedan but need a crossover
In the gospel according to gearheads, it is written that all crossover vehicles must be blandly-styled boxes, with no more driving excitement than a four cylinder Buick LaCrosse. Crossovers, after all, are the new station wagons: designed to haul families and their stuff from place to place, with near-zero focus on making the drive entertaining for the person behind the steering wheel. While most can be ordered with rear-entertainment systems to keep the kids pacified, most do nothing at all to amuse the driver.
Infiniti’s FX series of crossovers, on the other hand, are living proof that not all crossovers are boring, and that some are actually built with the driver, not just passengers, in mind. Infiniti builds two versions of the FX crossover: the FX35 comes with a 3.5-liter V-6, good for 303 horsepower, while the FX50 comes with a 5.0-liter V-8, good for an impressive 390 horsepower. Either will do nicely, and the FX35 feels a bit more nimble thank to its lower weight. It certainly doesn’t feel underpowered.
Another departure the FX series takes from the norm is styling: it’s certainly not your average box-on-box design, and that’s where the FX either attracts buyers or repels them. Not many people are indifferent about the FX’s styling: my wife, for example, isn’t a fan. I, on the other hand, am, and I’ll be up front about something else: if I needed a crossover vehicle, the Infiniti FX is probably the one I’d buy.
I like the muscular front fenders and angry scowl of the grille. I like the tasteful use of chrome as an accent (although I prefer the darkened trim on the FX50 S models), and I like the gently sloping roofline that carries over into a pronounced rear decklid. The FX series can’t be mistaken for anything else on the road, and in these days of cookie-cutter styling, I say that’s a good thing.
Infiniti even goes bold on the paint choices available. My press fleet tester, for example, was finished in a color that Infiniti calls “Midnight Mocha,” which alternated from dark brown to black to eggplant, depending upon the lighting. I’ll admit that the color wouldn’t have been my first choice, but at least it was bolder than the traditional black-white-silver-red-beige that most manufacturers reserve for minivans and crossovers.
Climb inside, and it’s clear that this isn’t your average grocery getter. Plush leather seats are the order of the day, and opting for the Premium Package gets you climate controlled (heated and cooled) front seats. There’s plenty of adjustability and ample lumbar support, so the FX is a pleasant place to eat up highway miles. There’s some seat bottom bolstering and a reasonable amount of seat back bolstering, which is really all you need for a crossover with sporting intentions.
The dash is a complex blend of colors and shapes, and in the case of my press fleet tester, those colors were brown (Java, in Infiniti-speak), black, aluminum, chrome and maple wood. While the maple was a nice touch, the rest was a bit busy for my taste, but that’s why Infiniti offers so many interior color combinations. For navigation and infotainment, there’s an eight-inch touch screen display that uses the Infiniti Controller input system for easy and intuitive data entry. There’s also redundant controls for climate and audio, so there’s no need to scroll through screen after screen to change radio stations or lower cabin temps.
Instruments will be familiar to anyone who’s ever driven an Infiniti product. You’ve got a temperature gauge and tachometer on the left, a brightly lit information screen in the middle and a speedometer and fuel gauge on the right. Both the tachometer and speedometer are accented in Infiniti’s trademark purple, lest you forget what brand of vehicle you’re piloting.
Rear seats feature adjustable seat backs, ideal for long-distance comfort. Rear seats are neither heated nor cooled, but rear-seat occupants do get their own climate control vents. The FX35 gives rear-seaters a decent amount of leg room, but the sloping roofline means that headroom is somewhat compromised. If your rear-seat passengers are under six feet tall, this is a non-issue; if they’re over six feet tall, expect them to be arguing over the shotgun seat.
The dropping rear ceiling also means that cargo room, especially cargo height, isn’t as good as you’d find in other crossovers. Unless you routinely haul bulky or tall items this is a non-issue, but be sure to take a look at the cargo area with the rear seats folder before you decide to buy an FX.
The FX35 is powered by a variant of the same 3.5-liter V-6 engine that Nissan / Infiniti uses across their product range, and it comes mated only to a seven-speed automatic gearbox. The engine makes plenty of power (303 horsepower and 262 ft-lb of torque, to be exact) to yield brisk acceleration, even with the FX35’s curb weight of 4,158 pounds. Expect to see zero to sixty times of around six and a half seconds, which is very nearly bordering on sport sedan territory. If you can resist the urge to mat the accelerator, the FX will deliver reasonable fuel economy; expect to see 16 mpg city and 23 mpg highway.
The FX35 may give up some acceleration to its big brother, the FX50, but the tradeoff is a lighter front end and a more nimble feel. The steering is nicely weighted and the front tires deliver more information than you’d expect from your average grocery-getter, but the laws of physics still apply. Push the FX35 hard in a corner and there’s body roll, though less than you’d expect. Understeer is the order of the day, and it’s worth noting that while the FX35 is more engaging than most crossovers, it’s still a crossover. It may be entertaining enough on a twisty road, but you won’t be bringing home any Solo championships behind the wheel.
Opt for the Technology Package, and there’s a mind-numbing amount of safety equipment that comes with it. You’ve got intelligent cruise control, which functions across the FX35’s entire speed range. There’s both lane departure warning and lane departure prevention, which will gently steer you back between the painted lines should your attention wander. In the event of an imminent frontal crash, there are seat belt pre-tensioners, a forward collision warning and intelligent brake assist which pressurizes the braking system for quicker stops. The package also includes adaptive headlights and rain sensing wipers, and I’m sure that Infiniti has a near 100 percent take rate on this option.
Infiniti provided me with a press fleet loaner vehicle for this evaluation. The base sticker price on my 2011 Infiniti FX35 RWD was $42,475, including a destination charge of $875. Option packages included the $2,900 Technology Package (detailed above), the $2,700 Deluxe Touring Package (maple wood accents, aluminum pedals, tonneau cover, 20-inch wheels with V rated all season tires) and the $4,800 Premium Package (climate controlled front seats, front seat memory, driver entry assist, quilted leather seats, power tilt / telescope steering wheel, Bluetooth audio streaming, 9.3 GB hard drive for audio files, navigation system, 8-inch touch screen display, Around View monitor system with front and rear sonar, reverse tilt-down outside mirrors, roof rails), for a total sticker price of $52,875. For comparison, a similarly equipped front-wheel-drive Lexus RX350 would list for $54,525 and a comparable rear-wheel-drive Mercedes-Benz ML350 would sticker at $59,320.