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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 FX45 ($49,750) features a 320-hp 4.5-liter V8, a sport-tuned suspension, a five-speed automatic transmission, and all-wheel drive.
All models come with leather seating surfaces, dual-zone climate control with microfiltration, power-adjustable heated front seats with driver's seat power lumbar support and adjustment memory, split folding and reclining rear seats, power tilt/telescope steering wheel, 300-watt Bose audio system with 11 speakers, steering-wheel controls, six-disc CD changer and MP3-CD playback, high-intensity discharge headlights, and roof rails (polished aluminum on the FX45, black on the FX35).
The FX45 gets a firmer suspension with 20-inch wheels as opposed to the 18-inch wheels on the FX35; new aluminum and wood interior trim finish; Intelligent Key with panic alarm, selective unlock mode, and answer-back; Bluetooth hands-free phone system; and memory for the driver's seat, mirrors and steering wheel. Sunroof, automatic headlights, aluminum roof rails, cargo net and cover and universal garage door opener have been added to the list of standard features on the FX45 for 2006.
The FX35 can be loaded with the FX45's luxury features by ordering optional packages. Among them: The Touring Package ($1,300) includes power sunroof, garage door transmitter, automatic headlamps, and cargo net. The Hands-free package ($600) includes Bluetooth and Intelligent Key. The FX35 Sport Package ($1,950) adds the stiffer suspension, 20-inch wheels and tires, and cosmetic upgrades including aluminum pedals, aluminum side rails, etched aluminum interior trim and dark chrome exterior accents.
Both FX models offer a Technology Package ($4,200) that includes a DVD-based GPS navigation system, satellite radio, and traffic-sensing cruise control. A rear-seat DVD entertainment system is bundled with the Lane Departure Warning system on 2006 models ($1,750). Other options include a tow hitch ($600), roof rail crossbars, chrome wheels, and run-flat tires ($350).
Safety features that come on all models include dual-stage front airbags, front side-impact airbags, full-cabin curtain-style airbags, front seatbelt pretensioners and load limiters, and active front head restraints. Active safety features include sophisticated anti-lock brake system with electronic brake proportioning, electronic stability control (VDC), and the rear-view TV monitor. Optional safety features include intelligent cruise control and a Lane Departure Warning system.
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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