Think of the INFINITI EX35 as the crossover wagon version of the INFINITI G sedan. It's sort of a cross between a wagon and a coupe but slightly taller. Whatever you call it, the EX35 strikes a nice balance between sportiness and luxury. The INFINITI EX35 comes with Nissan's superb 3.5-liter V6, fully independent suspension and rear-wheel drive, the stuff of sports sedans. Indeed, we found the EX feels more car-like underway than most other crossovers.
The 2011 INFINITI EX35 comes with a new 7-speed automatic transmission, replacing the 5-speed on 2010 and earlier models. 2011 EX35 models also get larger wheels than before, packaging revisions, new instrument graphics and an available blind spot warning system. The INFINITI EX35 was launched as an all-new vehicle for 2008; the headlights were reshaped for 2010.
Smaller than the INFINITI FX, the EX35 can seat five. We found it much more comfortable with four. The cabin boasts rich, soft-touch materials and a stylish design. All of the controls are within easy reach.
Room up front is good, but taller drivers will want more headroom, especially if they opt for a moonroof. The back seats offer decent room, but it's tight when the front seats are all the way back. Both rows are easy to enter and exit, thanks to the EX35's ride height, which is higher than that of a sedan, but not as high as most SUVs.
Cargo room is plentiful thanks to the hatchback design, though many SUVs offer more space. A power-folding second row eases the process of loading items in the back, and they can be brought back up from the driver's seat, handy when pulling up to the curb to pick up passengers.
The 3.5-liter V6 makes 297 horsepower and is mated to the 7-speed automatic transmission that has a manual shiftgate (but no paddle shifters). We were pleased by the EX35's ready power. It accelerates from a standstill quickly and offers strong passing response at highway speeds. Fuel economy is an EPA-estimated 17/24 mpg City/Highway.
We found the EX35 drives like a sedan with a slightly elevated ride height. The EX35 comes with a choice of rear-wheel drive and all-wheel drive. The AWD is meant for on-road use and is beneficial in foul weather. We found the handling responsive, and the brakes and steering feel natural and inspire confidence. The EX35 rides more smoothly the larger FX50. It isn't as firm as the Acura RDX and is a bit less driver-focused than the BMW X3.
With its carlike handling, powerful engine, and useful cargo room, the INFINITI EX35 is a fine alternative to larger, more cumbersome SUVs. The smooth ride and rich, classy interior add to the appeal. If you want a sporty, comfortable vehicle that drives like a car but has the cargo versatility of a wagon or SUV, make sure to put the EX35 on your shopping list.
The Around View Monitor shows obstacles 360 degrees around the vehicle, making it easier to maneuver in tight quarters. There's a hard drive available with 9.3 gigabytes of storage for music files. The Lane Departure Prevention system enhances safety by lightly applying the brakes on one side to steer the vehicle back into its lane should it start crossing lane lines, for example, if you fall asleep.
The 2011 INFINITI EX35 is offered in two trim levels, base and Journey, each with rear- or all-wheel drive. All 2011 INFINITI EX models are EX35s with a 297-hp 3.5-liter V6 and a 7-speed automatic transmission with a manual shiftgate.
The EX35 ($34,150) and EX35 AWD ($35,550) come standard with dual-zone automatic climate control (with rear heat and air conditioning vents), leather-appointed seating, aluminum trim, eight-way power driver seat with manual lumbar adjustment, four-way power passenger seat, 60/40 split second-row seat, manual tilt/telescoping leather-wrapped steering wheel, remote keyless entry and starting, trip computer, six-speaker AM/FM/CD/MP3 stereo with auxiliary input and USB port, XM satellite radio, rear camera, and P225/55R18 all-season tires on aluminum wheels. AWD versions have heated front seats.
EX35 Journey ($36,350) and Journey AWD ($37,750) add a power slide/tilt glass sunroof, power tilt/telescoping steering column, Bluetooth, and Maple wood interior trim; rear-drive Journeys get heated front seats.
Factory options are offered only on the Journey model, and except for roof rails ($250) can be added only in the order presented here; you can not get a Technology package without also adding Premium and Deluxe Touring packages. (All New Car Test Drive prices are Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Prices, which do not include destination charge and may change at any time without notice.)
The Premium package ($2,450) adds voice-recognition navigation with XM traffic/weather/Zagat guide, 9.3-gb Music Box, Bluetooth streaming audio, Bose 11-speaker audio system, Around View Monitor with front/rear park sensors, and upgraded climate control with Plasmacluster air purifier.
A Deluxe Touring package ($2,300) adds 19-inch alloy wheels and 245/45R19 tires, adaptive xenon headlights, driver memory system, entry/exit assist, reverse tilt mirrors, two-way power driver's seat lumbar support, driver's seat coat hanger, eight-way power passenger's seat, power up-folding second-row seats, HomeLink, and a stitched dash top.
The Technology package ($2,700) adds lane departure warning and lane departure prevention, intelligent cruise control, distance control assist, intelligent brake assist with forward collision warning, and blind spot warning.
Safety features that come standard on all models include dual front airbags, seat-mounted front-side airbags, front and rear side-curtain airbags, brake-activated pre-crash seatbelts, LATCH child seat anchors, active front headrests, traction control, electronic stability control, ABS with brake assist and electronic brake-force distribution, and rearview monitor.
The INFINITI EX35 is more like a car than an SUV. It looks like a coupe crossed with a wagon. It sits lower than a typical crossover, and has a sporty, swept back appearance. The cat's-eye headlights were subtly reshaped for 2010.
From the front, the INFINITI EX looks similar to the INFINITI G sedan line. In the rearview mirror, it's hard to tell the two apart, with the subtle differences in their grilles and fascia. Its slightly raised stance and larger side mirrors are good indicators that the sporty vehicle behind is the crossover, not the sedan. Also distinguishing the EX35 and G are the different shapes of the air intakes in the front fascia.
Like that of the G sedan, the EX35 front end has curvaceous, organic shapes that flow into body sides marked by prominent wheel openings pushed to the corners. But while the cross-section of the sedan is a single, unbroken curve, the EX sports a graceful character line flowing from front to rear, dipping in the middle and sweeping up at the back to give the crossover a sporty rake. The doors and windows appear to be pushed back, and the roof line sweeps down at the rear in a coupe-like manner. This brings the top of the rear hatch forward to almost the rear edge of the rear doors. The EX35 looks most like an SUV from the rear, mostly due to the rear hatch and high-set taillights.
In fact, the EX35 shares its basic structure (code-named FM) with the G and FX. The EX is nine inches shorter overall than the FX and rides on a 3.4-inch shorter wheelbase. The EX is also lighter than the FX by more than 300 pounds.
Scratch Shield paint is available that uses a clear coat developed to maintain the paint's luster longer. INFINITI says it is self-healing. The softer clear coat heals scratches by flowing back to a smooth finish over time with the help of heat. It works quicker in the summer and in hotter climates.
Rich, soft-touch materials abound inside the EX35, and there is a general feeling of quality and sophistication. The rounded shapes create a dual-cockpit design with flowing lines that are a natural extension of the exterior.
The instrument panel features a large tachometer and speedometer, flanked by the water temperature and fuel gauges, all now white-on-black with violet accents. In the center is a digital display for the trip computer, which shows such information as outside temperature, the odometer and trip odometer, real-time mpg, average mpg, miles per hour, and fuel range.
The center stack juts out to make every control very easy to reach. Its central component is a seven-inch screen that comes standard with or without navigation. The screen has some touch-sensitive controls when ordered with the navigation system, but thankfully doesn't absorb the basic audio or climate controls. Large buttons are laid out below it to move between navigation and audio screens, among others. The unique layout takes some getting used to, but it works well. INFINITI's radio also has A, B and C presets instead of AM and FM presets, another trait that some may find a bit confusing. The good news is that you can quickly switch between favorite FM music, AM talk radio, and XM TV news stations with the press of a button; no need to first change modes.
Small items storage is only so-so. The center console is nicely sized and there are two cupholders in front of it, but there are no small cubbies to hold keys, cell phones, and other miscellaneous items.
The EX35 boasts several unusual technology features. The available navigation system is teamed with a hard drive with 9.3 gigabytes of space to store music files. Music can be ripped directly from CDs. Bluetooth streaming and iPod links are among other input options.
The Premium package includes INFINITI's Around View Monitor, which expands on the rearview camera concept. It utilizes four cameras, one hidden in the INFINITI logo up front, one in the tailgate and one in each outside mirror, to give a virtual 360-degree view of the vehicle. The cameras have fisheye lenses, but the system uses software to flatten out the images. Those images are displayed on the right side of the dashboard screen in either an overhead full-vehicle view or in a right-side view. The system works fairly well, but the images aren't very large, so it is still necessary to survey your surroundings when parking or backing up. When the vehicle is put in reverse, a larger image of the rear is projected on the left side of the screen.
The Technology Package includes INFINITI's Lane Departure Prevention system, which goes one step beyond Lane Departure Warning. Lane Departure Warning detects painted lane lines and emits a beep if you begin to cross those lines without using a turn signal. Lane Departure Prevention then gently applies the brakes on the opposite side of the vehicle to steer it back on course. When we let the EX35 drift to the left, we could feel the system working to correct our path. The system didn't seem to correct as much when we let the vehicle drift to the right, perhaps because of crowned roads.
The EX35 offers the room of a midsize station wagon. It's a step up in cargo space from a sedan, but it's compact by SUV standards. The seats don't fold quite flat, but the liftover is fairly low, and with the seats down there is 55.7 cubic feet of cargo volume. With the rear seats up, there is still 18.6 cubic feet of cargo volume.
Getting in and out is a breeze because the EX35 sits higher than a sedan but lower than most SUVs. With the Journey's sunroof, head room up front is tight for anyone over 6-foot. Leg room, on the other hand, is plentiful. The front seats are comfortable, with nice bolstering that may pinch the love handles of larger passengers.
The EX's large exterior mirrors provide good visibility to the rear but petite drivers may have to look around them more. The shape of the rear pillar and the position of the headrest on the passenger side rear seat creates a large blind spot over the driver's right shoulder, and it's not a lot better on the driver's side.
The rear seats are comfortable, but the EX35 will be far more comfortable for four passengers than five. Head room isn't the problem until you reach six feet, but leg room gets tight when the front seats are pushed far back. The rear seats are shaped to make the outboard positions more comfortable than most, but getting stuck in the center position will definitely cause fights among the kids. The seat is split 60/40 and there is a standard fold-down center armrest, which further aids comfort for outboard passengers. On Journey models with the Premium package, a coat hanger pops out of the back of the driver-seat headrest, useful for hanging a sport coat or suit jacket.
Journey models with the Premium Package feature a second-row seats that fold up and down via power controls located in the rear cargo area. There are also power controls up front to raise the seats, though the driver can't lower the seats from behind the wheel. With or without power, the second-row seats also fold down manually in an easy one-step motion.
More than other crossovers, the INFINITI EX35 drives like a car. In fact, the EX drives like a sporty sedan, and a pretty good one at that. That's not surprising because the EX traces its roots to the G sedan's architecture.
Compared to INFINITI's V8 crossover FX50, the EX35 is aimed a little more toward luxury than sportiness. The difference mostly manifests itself in ride quality. With the base wheels now 18-inch and fitted with VR-speed-rated tires, the EX35's ride isn't as soft as it was but is still compliant, better than the larger FX (especially on 21-inch wheels) and softer than the G sedan. Sharp bumps never jolt, even with the available 19-inch wheels. The ride becomes busier with the 19s, but it is still livable.
With a taller ride height than the G sedan and softer suspension settings than the FX, the EX isn't quite as sporty as its INFINITI siblings. That said, it doesn't lean much in corners and it's nimble during quick changes of direction. The steering feels natural and direct, and is quick for a crossover, though not as fast as in a sports car. Braking is confidence-inspiring, with good pedal feel.
The 297-hp 3.5-liter V6 that comes in the EX35 is one of the better engines available. It is mated to a seven-speed automatic transmission with a manual shiftgate. The duo works in tandem to provide willing power in any situation. INFINITI doesn't list a 0-60 mph time, but we'd say you'll rarely have to use all of the engine's power, a good thing because when you do it revs to 7600 rpm and makes noise that seems out of place amongst the cushy cabin. Otherwise the cabin is quite quiet and makes longer trips low-fatigue affairs.
The EX35 leaps from a stop and is even more impressive in passing situations at highway speeds. The seven-speed automatic is quick to kick down to a lower gear when extra power is needed, and drivers can use the manual shift mode to enhance the fun in the twisties. In sport mode it automatically downshifts under moderate braking, holds gears during cornering, and rev-matches downshifts for longevity and quicker gear engagement. Oddly, steering wheel paddles aren't provided. We think the EX35 would be even more fun with them.
Fuel economy is average, the result of big wheels, 300 horsepower and two tons. The seven-speed automatic helps somewhat as 2011 ratings are 17/24 regardless of rear or all-wheel drive. INFINITI recommends but does not require premium-grade fuel for the EX.
Regardless of EPA ratings we expect an all-wheel drive's real-world fuel economy to be slightly lower because of extra machinery and 200 pounds. The all-wheel drive is only for severe weather with winter tires and not off-highway use; the rear-drive car has almost one inch more ground clearance.
No tow rating is published for the EX35, however, hitches may prove useful for bike racks and the like.
The INFINITI EX35 offers a pleasant driving experience and sporty looks to go with useful cargo space. Add in a powerful engine, a classy interior, and some cool tech features and the EX35 is another fine alternative to clunky SUVs.
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondents Kirk Bell and G.R. Whale contributed to this report.