Infiniti has been cranking out plenty of new SUV models lately, and we got three of them to look at, including the recently introduced JX model.
First is the FX-35. I really liked this one. One the street, this rig is quick with that 3.7 liter engine cranking 325 horsepower, and is hooked to a sharp 7-speed automatic shifter, with manual override on both the console and paddle shifters mounted on the steering column. Gas mileage is listed at 17-24 mpg, which is close to what I got. Since many of the parts on this rig come from the Infiniti sport sedans, this SUV drives like one too. Steering is quick and responsive. Even with the raised ground clearance, cornering ability was excellent. The brakes have a nice firm feel, and stop right away. The ride quality was mixed. In general, it is comfortable, but those optional 20-inch tires thumped and droned on rough pavement, especially on the highway. I have not tried the 18-inch wheels, but surely they must be better.
The interior looks very nice thanks to the quality of materials and workmanship. There are plenty of buttons and switches, but they are easy to use and understand. Interior room is slightly cramped and cargo space is thus limited. I did manage to stick in plenty of gear for a short camping trip, but on the FX you have to really cram it in there! We thought the metallic blue paint you see in the picture looked nice, but it is hard to match if scratched.
I have two complaints to list. First, the whole point of having paddle shifters is so the driver can manually shift gears while taking fast corners without having to take hands off the wheel. This is why they should be mounted on the steering wheel, not the steering column! So why are
these placed on the column?
Secondly, the rocker panels under the front doors are way too wide, so every time you step out of the vehicle, your leg drags on the outside bodywork. If you are driving in mud or dust, this gets on your pants, and this was NOT a popular "feature" with the women passengers for obvious reasons. This is becoming a big problem on other car/SUV brands today. The manufacturers say this wide metal frame is due to meeting federal crash standards. I don't buy this story, as about 80% of other vehicles meet standards without creating this aggravation. Who is going to enjoy a vehicle if it wipes filth on their pants every time they enter and exit? Doesn't the factory notice these things during development?
Aside from these two gripes, I liked the FX-35. The base price of $44,000 is reasonable
considering all the equipment that comes standard. But with options like radar cruise control, bigger wheels, climate-controlled seats, quilted leather, navigation, and more power goodies we don't really need, but like playing with, the tab reached $55,600. This doesn't include dry cleaning bills for your pants.
Next up is the FX-50. It looks like the FX-37, right down to the roof rack. There are a few differences though. First is the price tag, starting at $59,350. This gives you a monster 5.0 liter V-8 borrowed from the Infiniti super sedans, putting out 390 horsepower, and reaching 60 mph
in just under 6 seconds. Gas mileage is listed at 14-20, which you might get if you are lucky. Like the FX, standard driveline is rear-wheel driven, but I had the optional all-wheel drive for better traction. With this and a technology sport package, the total tab came to $66,545.
The three complaints I had with the FX-35 (paddle shifters, rough riding 20-inch wheels, and too wide rocker panels under the door) apply to the FX-50, so I won't repeat these. Instead we will look at some of the other options. The "sport package" has some good stuff that increases performance like Continuous Damping Control with auto and sport modes, great for beefing
programming during fast mountain driving. The rear active steering seems to boost handling too. This includes upgraded sport seating. Worth the $3,100 I guess. The $2,900 technology pack has radar cruise, lane departure warning, distance control assist, forward collision warning, computer
brake assist, and a list of other so-called safety gadgets. The safety Nazi's promote this stuff, claiming it makes driving safer. I say it simply encourages less driver awareness, making driving more dangerous. But this stuff is optional, and fortunately can be disconnected -- which is what I did! Without these annoying gadgets, the FX-50 is a blast to drive, on or off the road.
Last was the long-awaited JX-35, which is based on the front-wheel drive platform of the Nissan Altima/Murano series. It also includes the smaller 3.5 liter 265 horse V-6 and CVT gearbox from the same. In theory, this should result in a lower price. Well, sort of. Starting tab was only $40,450. But with another technology pack, DVD movie system, more 20-inch wheels, upgraded stereo, navigation, and other add-ons, we hit $54,070!
On the positive side, the engine provided plenty of power. And there was far more room in the cabin, which soaked up all the camp gear we had in the FX, with about 40% more space left. Ride quality was better too. On the negative side, gas mileage was only 16-20, far less than the 18-24 listed. Handling wasn't as sporty as the FX versions (although very good), and off-road ability was very limited due to excess front body overhang, even with the raised ground clearance. And did we mention that $54 grand price tag??!! Overall, this is more of a station wagon than an SUV in terms of function. If you need off-road ability, the Nissan Pathfinder shares the same platform as the JX, and costs about $10,000 less. But if you like lots of gadgets to play with, the JX delivers, just as the FX series does.