The first thing that struck us when we took receipt of the 2007 Infiniti FX45 was its space-age look. The car-based SUV's curvy lines and flowing profile boldly go where few other crossover designs have gone before. Once onboard, we found enough tech to justify casting this car in its own science fiction movie. Our FX45 tester came complete with Infiniti's $4,200 Technology Package, which loaded it with the same navigation system we saw in the 2007 Infiniti M35 Sport (although without the latter's amazing voice-command interface), Bluetooth hands-free calling, a back-up camera, Intelligent Cruise Control, and a Lane Departure Warning system.
Test the tech: To Infiniti and beyond
Inspired by its space-age design and the myriad features of its navigation system, we decided to test the FX45's tech by taking it on an extraterrestrial adventure. Unable to get a permit from NASA to exit the Earth's atmosphere on short notice, we devised a modified interplanetary trek around the streets of San Francisco. With some help from Google Maps, we put together a list of destinations for our galactic goose chase: Neptune Street, Uranus Terrace, Mars Street, Saturn Street, the Vulcan Staircase, and Earth. (Well, OK, the Green Earth organic supermarket, but we're doing what we can do here.)
To boldly go: our itinerary for testing the FX45's navigation system.
The plan was to enter the Green Earth as our final destination, with all the other locations programmed as way points. This way we figured that before even leaving the CNET garage, we could punch in all the information needed to get to our five locations. In practice, programming our multistop trip into the FX45's navigation system was straightforward. Unlike the M35 Sport we reviewed last year, the FX45 has no voice-command option for entering destinations verbally. Instead, we had to make use of the bank buttons and the rotary dial in the car's central stack.
Uranus Terrace was the second stop on our journey.
Fortunately, Infiniti does away with the twiddly joystick control that Nissan uses in its cars, relying instead on a collection of buttons and a rotary dial as the main interface. Entering a destination can be done using one of a range of options including: street address, point of interest, address book, telephone number (for businesses), previous entries, and by using the onscreen cursor to pick a point on the map. When selecting by address, drivers use the buttons on the four-way control dial to pick letters from a virtual, onscreen keyboard. The system uses predictive entry, so only letters for available addresses are selectable. Ideally, we would like the processor to have been a bit more responsive, as some menu and input screens took a few seconds to refresh once a selection had been made. With the destination and all way points loaded, we set out with the intention of not touching the navigation system again until we had completed our adventure.
Followed by Saturn Street.
While we were unable to enter street destinations by voice on the FX45, the car itself was able to inform us of street names thanks to its text-to-voice capability, which enables the navigation system to read out individual street names during voice guidance. With this useful feature and the system's clear maps and timely suggestions--including extremely helpful guidance when getting on and off the freeway--we reached our initial destination (Neptune Street) without making a single wrong turn. We particularly like the inclusion of the "Voice" button on the dial for calling up voice guidance on demand and the "Where am I" function in the Route menu, which gives information on current location by giving distances to previous and upcoming roads.
Having arrived at our first waypoint, the navigation system automatically recalibrated to set Uranus Terrace as the next stop, without us having to touch a single one of the dozens of buttons on the central stack (we counted more than 30). On the way to our second destination, the system displayed one of its two downfalls by advising us to turn left onto a major road in direct violation of the No Left Turn sign. Instead, we took three right turns and were back on track. We reached the second way point without any further trouble, and, once there, the system reset itself to head for Mars Street, just one block away. We managed to get only halfway down this block, however, before the navigation system informed us that we had "Arrived at way point three." In reality, we still had at least 100 feet to go. Way points four and five were reached without incident, although we experienced a similarly premature announcement when approaching our final destination. Overall, we were impressed with the performance of the Infiniti navigation system to direct us to multiple locations on the same trip.
In the cabin
The interior of the Infiniti FX45 is a mixture of classic fixtures and trim (rosewood trim and elliptical chrome-trimmed analog clock) and flowing, ergonomic design in keeping with the car's exterior. Forward visibility is excellent, as the cowl sits relatively low, giving the driver good sight lines over the FX45's wavy hood. Rearward visibility, on the other hand, is extremely limited due to a combination of the car's huge C-pillars and its narrow rear windshield. With the presence of an adult passenger in the center-rear seat, it is almost impossible to see behind. Another gripe we have with the interior design is the lack of legroom for back-seat passengers. For some reason, Infiniti decided to add large, protruding pads on the back of both of the front seats, which extend into the rear seating area, making an already tight space even tighter. As well as having to incur the ire of the blindsided driver, any passenger in the center-rear seat also will have to endure the discomfort of a raised platform in the footwell, which presumably acts as a conduit for the wiring to the rear-seat DVD console.
As a testament to its arsenal of onboard tech, the central stack in the cabin of the FX45 constitutes a massive cluster of buttons, dials, and knobs sitting beneath an in-dash LCD display. The 2007 FX45 comes with a 300-watt Bose audio system, which makes itself heard through 11-speakers around the cabin. The standard audio deck is a six-disc in-dash changer that will play MP3 and WMA discs as well as regular CDs. For MP3 and WMA tracks, the system displays full ID3 tag information (press the Display hard button), although, there appears to be no way of browsing files without skipping through tracks. Also, while the system shows RDS information at the bottom of the map screen, this is not the case with digital audio files--to see what's currently playing, users have to navigate away from the map screen. We prefer the way that Cadillac allows drivers to see map and audio information on a single screen.
The central stack in the FX45 houses a massive cluster of buttons for cabin tech controls.
Sound quality is not as great as other systems we've tested with this many speakers. The presence of three speakers on the dash, including one center fill, makes for an immersive audio experience, but a heavy bass note dominates the output even with the EQ setting for the bass turned way down. The thrumming bass is most evident at high volumes, where highs also tend to become shrill.
In addition to the standard audio system, our test car came with extra media playback capability with the inclusion of Infiniti's optional DVD mobile entertainment system ($1,400), which comes with two sets of wireless headphones (as a sophisticated safety feature, the headphones do not work in the front seats). To take their minds off the cramped seating arrangement, rear-seat passengers can watch DVDs on the system's 7-inch ceiling-mounted display. Discs are inserted into a slot in the DVD console near the floor, and those in back get full control, courtesy of a dedicated remote. Unlike the system in the M35 Sport, however, the rear-seat screen in the FX45 cannot be used to view or program the car's navigation system.
Other cabin tech in the FX45 includes an as-standard Bluetooth hands-free calling interface. As we have found with other Nissan and Infiniti models, the cell phone pairing process for the Bluetooth system, which is done entirely by voice command, is trickier than it should be, and we had to try repeatedly to get the system to recognize our phone. When the car and phone were paired, however, voice dialing was straightforward, with the system able to understand our spoken numbers and commands without any trouble.
Under the hood
As its name suggests, the FX45 boasts Infiniti's 4.5-liter V-8 engine, making 320 horsepower and a stout 335 pound-feet of torque. These vital statistics translate into a brisk driving experience as the hefty FX45 responds quickly to throttle inputs, especially when driven in manual shift mode, which uses downshift rev-matching to eliminate lurches between ratios.
Sharing its platform with the M35 coupe/ sedan, the all-wheel drive FX45 displays impeccable road manners around town and on the freeway, with responsive steering and handling that belies its 4,488-pound curb weight.
Our tester came with the optional rear-seat DVD entertainment package.
As part of its $4,200 Technology Package, our tester came with Intelligent Cruise Control (lCC) and a Lane Departure Warning (LDW) system. LDW works by mounting two range-finding CMOS cameras, which constantly monitor road markings, on the underside of each of the car's wing mirrors. If the car starts to change lanes by drifting over a lane dividing line, a light turns on in the instrument cluster, and a chime sounds in the cabin to let the driver know. On the FX45, the system only kicks in when the car is traveling at more than 45mph and is overridden if the turn signal is activated as the driver has declared an intention to change lanes.
While the LDW system attempted to prevent us from lateral deviations on the freeway, ICC ensured that we didn't rear-end the cars ahead. Using forward-looking radar sensors, ICC enables drivers to select a preset speed and then drive either at that speed or at a slower speed while maintaining a constant distance from the car ahead. In practice, driving the FX45 with ICC was an eerie experience as the car accelerated and decelerated of its own accord.
In our week with the FX45, we covered around 170 miles in mixed city and highway driving. Pressing the trip button, we were able to see that we achieved an average fuel economy of 15.5 miles per gallon--within the EPA's estimates for the car of 14mpg in the city and 18mpg on the highway, but conspicuously low for a vehicle in the crossover segment.
The 2007 FX45 will appeal to those looking for a luxury SUV with an edge in both styling and performance, although the latter comes at the expense of poor fuel economy. There are few crossover SUVs that offer as many cabin gadgets and driver-assist features as a fully optioned-up FX45. Our test car had a base price of $49,850, to which was added $4,200 for the Technology Package (navigation, LDW, ICC, Sirius Satellite Radio prewiring); $1,400 for the rear-seat entertainment system; $350 for aluminum roof rail cross bars; $70 for a cargo area protector; and $700 for delivery--adding up to a grand total of $56,570. While its technology features are still enough to set it apart from most luxury SUVs, Infiniti will need to make some upgrades (with a voice-command system and real-time traffic for its navigation system, for example) if it is to remain competitive with other high-tech models, such as the 2007 Lexus RX 350 and the 2007 Acura RDX.