The Infiniti FX is crossover utility designed for the owner who wants a fast, responsive car, but wants to haul five people and their ski equipment. Built on the same rear-drive platform as the Nissan 350Z and Infiniti G35, the FX makes no claims as a backcountry trekker. Instead, the FX offers an SUV-size package that can be driven on dry pavement with much more confidence than traditional sport utilities. It's excellent in wet and snowy conditions.
The FX comes in two models, the FX35 with a 3.5 liter V6 engine, which is available in two-wheel drive and four-wheel drive, and the FX45 with a 4.5 liter V8 and 4WD. It's worth noting that the FX has nothing in common with the Nissan Murano. (The Murano shares its front-wheel-drive architecture with the Nissan Maxima and Altima.)
As driver's cars, both the V6-powered FX35 and the V8-powered FX45 are powerful and exciting, with big brakes to match. Costing less than the German competition, but giving up nothing in terms of acceleration and handling, both models challenge SUVs from Mercedes-Benz, BMW, and Porsche in terms of value.
In terms of off-road capability, the BMW X5, Mercedes-Benz M-Class and Porsche Cayenne are better suited for the rough stuff than the FX. Infiniti designed the FX primarily for on-road performance, with an available all-wheel-drive system intended primarily for improved handling and performance in the snow. Its lighter chassis means less weight for its powerful engines to move, making it a comparatively better on-road performer.
Infiniti equipped the FX with enormous 20-inch wheels and tires (optional on the FX35, standard on the FX45); racecar-sized brakes; and a tight, handling-tuned suspension. The goal was to make the FX as fun to drive as a sports car; Infiniti achieved that, but with compromises in ride comfort, space and off-road capability. The end result is a car-based crossover SUV that's full of character and exciting to drive on sports-car roads, but also one that has a stiff ride, a tighter cockpit than some of its competitors and flamboyant styling. But that may be just the thing for committed sports-car enthusiasts who need to lug their winter toys through the snow belt.
For 2006, the fourth year since the model's launch, the FX gets some freshening in the styling department, with reworked grille, bumper, and wheels and added exterior color options. In addition the 300-watt Bose audio system, Rearview Monitor with seven-inch color display, and Advanced Air Bag System now are standard on both models, and premium accessories are now standard on the FX45.
The Infiniti FX looks like the muscle-crossover it is, particularly with the monster 20-inch wheels. The BMW X5 comes with 20-inch wheels, but on the curvy FX they look disproportionately larger. The FX35 comes standard with 18-inch wheels, which are larger than what you'll find on most SUVs. Once you get used to the monster wheels, Infiniti's poised-for-takeoff styling begins to sink in.
The FX is supposed to look like a sports car from the beltline up with its elegant, gracefully curved upper body, while evoking feelings of substance with its heavy SUV lower body.
The proportions of the FX are striking. Its wide stance and short overhangs (the body work that extends beyond the bumpers) are dimensions normally associated with sports cars. Its long, bulging hood looks high and its oversized grille adds to its aggressive appearance.
The 20-inch wheels, a shiny chrome grille, darker accents around the headlights and taillights, and polished chrome roof rails help visually distinguish the FX45 from the standard FX35, though the Sport Package gives the FX35 the same look.
The engine in the FX sits behind the front axle, giving it a front-mid-engine layout. This gives the FX excellent balance; the FX 2WD achieves a near-optimal weight balance of 52 percent front, 48 percent rear, which enhances handling.
Even the protruding, stylized taillights have performance functions beyond their looks. The lip of the lights that extends past the rear hatch adds aerodynamic downforce on the rear end, like a spoiler.
When you climb into the driver's seat of the Infiniti FX, you're coddled by the console and instrument panel. The driver's portion of the cockpit has the sporting and intimate feel of a sports sedan, but it also feels like a tighter fit than you'll find in most other SUVs. The overall interior impression is of a great luxury sport wagon.
The front seats are comfortably firm, like those in a good European sedan. The adjustments may require quite a bit of fiddling, but once you get them right you can program the settings into the seat memory. The driver's seat allows three inches of vertical travel, so even short drivers can enjoy the commanding height of an SUV in traffic or the seat can be lowered for tall drivers or serious driving on challenging roads.
The view over the FX hood reminds us of a Jaguar, with the metal sloped and contoured over the headlights and grille. It's the opposite of the squared-off hood of a BMW X5 or Range Rover.
The view in the mirrors is more than adequate in spite of the thick rear pillars. The rear-view camera displays an image on the seven-inch dashboard monitor of what's below the driver's line of sight, with two virtual lines that correspond to the width of the FX. It's a great aid for checking behind the vehicle before backing out of a driveway or shopping center parking space, helping to ensure no children, pets, or shopping carts are lurking behind the rear wheels.
When designing the interior, Infiniti sought to provide three separate interior zones intended to meet the needs of various FX occupants: the driver zone, the comfort zone and the play zone. The driver zone is designed to be like a cockpit. The steering wheel and instruments remind us of those in Nissan's 350Z sports car, with a thick wheel rim and big gauges that move with the tilting steering column to optimize viewing angle.
The comfort zone is reserved for the front passenger, who gets the same range of seat adjustments as the driver, a separate adjustable center armrest and individual climate controls. Climate, audio and navigation controls are densely arrayed in the center stack. They look cool, but you have to look at them to operate them. Adjusting a switch requires more attention than we prefer.
The play zone, the back seat, has personal reading lamps, a center armrest with tray and storage, seatback pockets for storing DVDs and magazines, reclining seatbacks and chest-level air-conditioning vents. The optional DVD player has a seven-inch screen, a remote and two sets of wireless headphones. The play zone is surprisingly comfortable. Three adults fit comfortably in the split rear seats, and the recline feature makes it much more accommodating for taller folk than the rear-sloping roof might suggest.
The standard 300-watt, 11-speaker Bose stereo with six-disc changer and MP3 capability does a good job of blasting classic rock at high decibels. Infiniti says it worked with Bose specifically to emphasize bass and treble for rock and roll.
With the Intelligent Key option, the FX can be operated without the key. As long as the driver has the remote key fob in pocket or purse, he or she can open the doors simply by using the handle, and start the FX by pressing a button on the dash.
Storage space includes a lockable box in the center console with enough room for larger items like a purse. The door pockets flip out, and three bins are hidden under the rear cargo floor.
The rear seats fold flat easily with simple levers that are accessible from the side doors and the rear, the latter saving you a trip to the back doors when loading cargo through the hatch. The sculpted rear hatch pops open with an electro-magnetic release. Total cargo capacity (64.5 cubic feet with the rear seat folded) is less than in many square-shaped SUVs, but larger than in other high-style SUVs such as the Porsche Cayenne or BMW X5. Infiniti says it placed a higher priority on floor
The Infiniti FX is designed to be driven enthusiastically, borrowing its chassis architecture from the rear-drive Nissan 350Z and Infiniti G35. Rather than an SUV, we'd call it a fine luxury sport wagon with a higher seating position. We should note that it has more interior space than the sport wagons can offer, and we think it is also more exciting to drive than most of them.
Plant the V8-powered FX45's accelerator to the floor and you'll be rewarded with a healthy hot-rod roar. As revs rise, the sound becomes a higher-pitched hum. Brisk acceleration makes the big FX feel athletic and nimble. You get the feeling you can pass anything in front of you. And Infiniti's design objectives come more clearly into focus.
The Infiniti FX45 offers comparable acceleration performance to the Porsche Cayenne S, according to each manufacturer's statistics. Infiniti says the FX45 can zip from 0 to 60 mph in slightly more than 6 seconds, while Porsche says the Cayenne S, even with its more powerful V8 engine, takes nearly 0.2 second longer. How can that be? Very simply, the Infiniti FX is considerably lighter, so each of its 315 horses is hauling fewer pounds.
The V6-powered FX35 is no slouch, either. It launches impressively from a stop, largely because it has substantially more horsepower and torque than most other six-cylinder SUVs. There's as much oomph here as most owners will ever need. We found its acceleration performance entirely satisfactory. The V6 engine that powers the FX35 is the same engine used in the Nissan 350Z sports car. It's powerful, giving the FX35 responsive performance. While driving the FX35, we never found ourselves wishing for the more powerful FX45.
Granted, the step up to the V8 is noticeable, particularly when you stab the gas at, say, 60 mph. The FX45 will rocket to 80 at a much greater rate than the FX35. However, with gas prices rising, one must note that the V8 also chugs fuel at a much greater rate, reducing range between fill-ups by anywhere from 25 to 75 miles, according to the EPA's numbers. Both FX models are electronically limited to a top speed of 130.
All this power is managed with sophisticated electronics with names that sound like alphabet soup. The ATTESA E-TS (Advanced Total Traction Engineering System for All Electronic Torque Split) all-wheel-drive system improves handling in limited traction situations due to its optimum 50/50 front/rear torque distribution, which can shift rearward up to 0/100 when conditions require. The system provides good starting traction and stable acceleration in snow-covered or off-road situations, since it always starts off with the torque split 50/50.
The VDC (Vehicle Dynamic Control) electronic stability control system reduces engine output and/or lightly applies braking force to individual wheels when entering a corner too fast. It engages so gradually that we couldn't detect when it was working.
The FX suspension is stiff, reflecting Infiniti's decision not to make this SUV an off-road vehicle. With its limited travel and taut feel, the suspension gives the FX excellent handling on smooth, winding roads. However, we noted that the stiff suspension made the FX less than ideal when traveling any distance on an unpaved road. And while the FX offers a high ground clearance of 7.6 inches, it doesn't have skid plates, underside armor, or the long travel and compliant suspension tuning of a true off-road vehicle.
On tight and sweeping corners, however, the body stays incredibly level, which is the plus side of its stiff suspension. We drove it hard, as we would drive a sports sedan. Understeer, or the sliding of the front tires that is the default skid condition in most vehicles, begins very gradually when you aim the FX into a corner, and the front wheels continue to push only slightly until you get near its very high cornering limits. If really pushed, the VDC allows a slight amount of power overs
The Infiniti FX is the sports car of SUVs. It's not suited for driving off road or on unpaved roads, but works really well on winding mountain pavement. With all-wheel drive, it is terrific on ice and snow. It comes stuffed with the latest in active safety and passive safety features. Its futuristic technology includes a rear-view camera that senses objects behind the vehicle, Intelligent Cruise Control that senses traffic ahead, a key that can automatically unlocks the doors when you approach the car, and the Lane Departure Warning system. Plus there's an amazing stereo and a DVD video player for back-seat riders. If you're looking for a unique, road-burning, high-style luxury SUV for your ski team, the Infiniti FX is worth looking at. It's more fun to drive than you may expect.
NewCarTestDrive.com editor Mitch McCullough is based in Southern California.
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