Stuck in a nasty San Francisco traffic snarl in the 2012 Infiniti FX35 Limited Edition, I encountered a cop supervising the road full of stopped cars strolling up on the passenger side. Rather than haul me down to the station, he commented on how good the Iridium Blue paint on the FX35 looked. Then he went on to praise the 21-inch graphite-finish wheels. And this is a guy who sees thousands of cars go by each week.
This incident highlights the striking design of the FX35, and the extras brought on with the Limited Edition trim. However, I did not test whether a highway patrol officer would appreciate the look of the car enough to issue a warning rather than a ticket for excessive speed.
Excessive speed is not really the FX35's forte, anyway. During the last decade, Nissan's VQ-series 3.5-liter V-6, which powers the FX35, won a lot of awards. But it has now been surpassed by competitors' direct-injection and turbocharged power plants that deliver more power and get better fuel economy.
In the FX35, this engine produces 303 horsepower and 262 pound-feet of torque, while getting an EPA-rated 16 mpg city and 21 mpg highway. In my driving course, which included city, freeway, and some fast driving on mountain roads, the car averaged 17.6 mpg, well within a not-very-impressive fuel economy range.
And although the FX35 is one of the best-looking crossovers, it does not really live up to the promise conveyed by its sporty design. The long, bulbous hood and low, curving rear hatch make it seem like a comic book superhero's car. Chrome-trimmed vents on the front fenders suggest the need to bleed excessive heat from under the hood.
Putting the FX35 through tight turns, I found it did not seriously distinguish itself. The suspension is tuned for tight response, which gave it good stability, but the high center of gravity was still very apparent. The FX35's all-wheel drive helped in the turns, the front wheels scrabbling for grip when the rear wheels struggled. But the, with its adaptive suspension and torque vectoring, deals with fast cornering much better.
The FX35's new seven-speed automatic transmission includes a Sport mode, which at first seemed very promising. When I braked hard before a turn, it shifted down aggressively, holding the engine speed at almost 5,000rpm, giving me plenty of power for the exit. Continuing with heavy throttle and hard braking, the transmission held the low gears.
But, as is typical with automatic transmissions, each shift took too long for real performance driving. Using manual shifting mode, I could feel the transitions for each gear change, a moment of hesitation followed by a soft thunk as the transmission did its job.
It was particularly disappointing when, in Sport mode, a car ahead pulled into a turnout to let me by. When I floored the accelerator, the FX35 took an inordinately long time to get up and go, nearly sacrificing this gracious move by the other driver.
Despite the FX35 being a bit of a sports poseur, it remains a very enjoyable car for everyday use. Infiniti's notion of luxury means keyless entry and start, power-adjustable leather seats with memory settings, and soft-touch materials around the cabin. With this Limited Edition vehicle, the rear hatch opens and closes at the push of a button, beeping a warning as it moves.
Being more crossover than SUV, it did not feel mammoth, yet offered a high driving position. In the city, it took off readily at each green light and there was little rollback during hill starts. But its real bonus for urban driving was the surround-view camera system.
This amazingly useful bit of technology showed a rear view on the FX35's LCD, complete with distance and trajectory lines, along with another top-down image of the car. The top-down image revealed obstacles and curbs on the sides of the car. The rear view also switched to a front view when the car is going forward at low speeds, such as while parking. This camera system is incredibly useful with a high-sided car like the FX35.
Infiniti makes some other tech available for the FX35, not optioned on CNET's car, suitable for the freeway. Lane departure warning and prevention can help prevent a drowsy driver from going off the road during long road trips. The blind-spot warning system helps prevent you from inadvertently cutting off other cars, and adaptive cruise control shoulders some of the driving work when you're covering hundreds of freeway miles.
However, that freeway driving won't be as comfortable as it could be in the FX35. The suspension is not soft, which may help its cornering stability but leads to hard jolts in the cabin when the road is less than smooth. An adaptive or air suspension could have given the car a more luxurious ride, in keeping with its nameplate.
Like the drivetrain in the FX35, the cabin tech could use a tech update to make it competitive with German luxury brands. I appreciate that Infiniti covers all the bases with the cabin electronics, but they are not as refined as what is available from Audi, BMW, and Mercedes-Benz.
Infiniti's cabin tech interface is still one of my favorites, with its easy and intuitive dial topped by directional buttons. This interface makes going through any onscreen menus or entering letters on the virtual keyboard quick and easy. The LCD is also a touch screen, which is a good additional option when using the interface.
The voice command system also works well, but is not as advanced as those used by other automakers. For example, when entering an address I had to say each part separately, rather than speaking a whole string as with some other systems.
The navigation system is the same one that Infiniti has been offering for a few years, and includes a 3D view with rendered buildings. Although the maps aren't as nice-looking as Audi's, the map views are more complete than those offered by Toyota or Honda; they show all the relevant information, including traffic. The system also shows weather forecasts, with pop-up warnings for severe weather alerts.
Infiniti has also improved its phone system over the last year to download a paired phone's contacts, making them available onscreen or through voice command. This useful feature is in addition to a dedicated vehicle phone book, something of a legacy from the previous generation of this cabin tech suite.