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Infiniti delivers a unique new car with the 2008 Infiniti EX35 Journey, packing it full of over-the-top technology that all proves useful. The EX35 fits the crossover mold, a segment in which Nissan/Infiniti has plenty of experience from prior models, such as the Murano and FX45. But the EX35 leans more toward the car side, with a front end designed after the G35. The roofline of the EX35 isn't much taller than a typical sedan, and the quick drop-off at the rear leads to minimal cargo space.
But the EX35 wins us over with driving tech that includes an almost legendary engine, adaptive cruise control, and lane drift prevention. The interior is everything we expect from Infiniti, with an excellent-sounding stereo and many options for digital music. The navigation system is also loaded with tricks, including 3D view and live traffic with smart routing. And for maneuvering in tight spaces, the Around View Monitor offers camera views around the entire car
Test the tech: 360 degree vision
Because of the camera system on the EX35, we ran two tests where we maneuvered the car through a traffic-cone course in reverse. The Around View Monitor uses four cameras, one in front, one in back, and one on each side mirror, to let the driver see any objects around the car. On the LCD, you see a view of the front or back, depending on whether you are in drive or reverse, and a side screen that shows the sides, front, and rear of the car. It is an impressive system, with our only complaint being that the display of the entire car should be a little bigger.
The AVM shows the front or rear view in the left screen, and the view around the car in the right screen.
We call our first challenge the squeeze. We set up four cones with their bases just an inch out from each tire. Car Tech editors Kevin Massy and Wayne Cunningham took turns attempting to reverse the EX35 through this narrow corridor by only looking at the LCD. On the initial approach, we relied on the back-up camera, which uses a graphic overlay to show how close objects are and the car's path depending on which way the wheels are turned. This rear-view let us line the car up for a straight approach, although Massy rode over the base of the front left cone. Reversing through the cones, the AVM let us see how close we were to the first set of cones as they moved along the sides of the car, and the rear-view camera helped with keeping the rear set of cones lined up. Cunningham ran over the base of the left rear cone on the way through the squeeze.
Using the AVM, we were able to maneuver the EX35 through a tight cone course.
For our second test, we set the cones to describe a 90-degree left turn. Again, we would have to reverse through the course. The maneuver was a tricky one, as the cones were placed too close together to make the turn without adjustments. Again, we used the reverse camera to set up the approach to the course, getting the first set of cones in view and lining up the car. Once into the course, we had to cut the wheels to get the back end moving through the 90-degree turn. The AVM proved very useful for keeping track of the inner cone, on the left side. We got the EX35 moved back until its rear end almost touched the cone on the outside of the course, then pulled forward, cutting the wheels right. A little more back and forth, and we had the EX35 through the 90 degree turn, with neither Cunningham nor Massy touching a single cone.
The AVM let us see where each cone was in relation to the car, and we were helped further by the car's sonar park distance sensors. These sensors flashed warnings at each corner of the representation of the car on the LCD when objects got close, first green, then amber, then red. This combination of sensors should make insurers very happy as they help drivers maneuver through tight spaces in parking garages.
In the cabin
The interior fit and finish of the 2008 Infiniti EX35 is everything we would expect of an Infiniti. The design is very clean and the materials nice. Because the car is higher than a sedan, the driver gets a slightly raised view of the road. Our car came packed with electronics, which includes a very usable interface that combines a touch-screen LCD with a multicontroller knob. This knob has buttons embedded on top that give directional capability, like a joystick, and an enter button. Using this controller to spell out street names on a virtual keyboard was very easy, as you can quickly move up or down rows of letters. This controller is supplemented by a fairly capable voice command system.
The 3D map view shows buildings in urban areas when it is zoomed in.
The navigation system is one of the most advanced we've seen. It stores maps in 2D and 3D on a hard drive, and offers details such as building outlines in certain urban areas. You can also split the screen, showing a 2D map on one side and 3D on the other. Our only criticism is that, in 2D, the map is a little ugly, with jaggy street names laid over a white background. But the route guidance graphics get very nice, with representations of freeway exits that look almost photo-realistic. Under route guidance, the system will pronounce the names of upcoming streets when giving directions.
Even better, this system integrates XM traffic, showing traffic flow in green, amber, or red on freeways and other major, monitored streets. In our experience, the traffic reporting doesn't cover as many streets as that provided by Clear Channel for BMW, which we last saw in the BMW M3. But this navigation system will route around bad traffic, an advanced feature we haven't seen on many cars yet. When we tried it out, the system let us drive into slow traffic, indicated by an amber overlay on the road, but as our route approached a red zone, the navigation system directed us to take an exit onto surface streets.
The Music Box is an area of hard-drive space in the car reserved for music.
As with many hard-drive-based navigation systems, some disk space is reserved for music storage; 9.3 gigabytes in this case. To load music to this space, you just put in a standard audio CD and touch the onscreen record button. The system will rip the disc and even tag it from an internal Gracenote database. Infiniti calls this space the Music Box, and it is one of many means to listen to digital music in the EX35. The car also has full iPod integration, RCA jacks for an auxiliary input, and a compact flash reader, this last letting you load music from a flash memory card. The interface for iPod music is the best, letting you select by genre, artist, or album, while the compact flash interface works similar to the MP3 CD interface, letting you browse through folders. XM satellite radio is also available on the EX35.
We were also very impressed with the audio quality from the Bose system in our test car. This optional system, included as part of the Premium package, uses 11 speakers, including two subwoofers and a centerfill, plus a 24-bit digital audio converter for the CD player. The sound it produces is very impressive, with very clear highs and good separation. Bass is strong, but not overpowering. We did hear a little speaker rattle on a particularly bass-heavy track.
When you put an entry in the phone book, the car asks you for a voice tag.
Besides the navigation and audio systems, the other major piece of cabin tech is the Bluetooth hands-free cell-phone system. Using this system is mostly done through voice command, although there is onscreen feedback and an onscreen keypad, if you have to type in a number. Although this system doesn't automatically download contact lists, you can push a phone's address book into the system. Using our trusty Samsung SGH-D807, we were able to send one entry at a time to the car, after which the system asked us to say a voice tag for it. The car also supports transferring a whole phone book, for phones that support this feature. The big drawback with this Bluetooth system is that it only holds 40 entries, so you will have to pick your contacts carefully.
Under the hood
The 2008 Infiniti EX35 is powered by Nissan's VQ35HR engine, used in many other Nissan and Infiniti models and appearing on Ward's 10 Best Engines list for 12 years in a row. This 3.5-liter V-6 pushes the EX35 around well, offering decent, but not breathtaking, acceleration, with 297 horsepower and 253 pound-feet of torque. The VQ35HR is mated to a five-speed automatic, one gear short of what we would expect to see in a cutting-edge car. Although the transmission has manual selection, we were happy to see no paddles on the steering wheel, as the EX35 is too high up to be driven that aggressively. All shifting is done with the stick--pull it to the left of its Drive position, and it goes into Sport mode. Here, it will do an OK job of downshifting and holding gears on corners, but we've seen better. From Sport mode, you can bump the shifter up or down to shift manually.
The five-speed automatic goes into Sport mode when you move the shifter to the manual shift area.
When we put the EX35 through its paces on some winding roads, we liked the rear-wheel-drive feel it offers, as many crossovers are front-wheel-drive (the EX35 can also be had in all-wheel-drive). Diving into corners, it almost felt like a sports sedan, although that feeling was mitigated by its center of gravity and suspension, designed more for comfort than canyon carving. We were happy with the responsive steering, which was dialed in at a comfortable space between twitchy and loose.
The EPA rates the EX35 at 17 mpg city and 24 mpg highway, and our average fell right in the middle of that range. Although it dropped to about 19 mpg in our city driving, our overall average came up to 20.4 mpg, which impressed us as most 3.5-liter V-6es we've seen, even other VQ35HRs, tend to stay below 20 mpg. A sixth gear should improve the freeway economy in the EX35. For emissions, the EX35 meets the California Air Resources Board's minimal LEV II rating.
For driving tech, the EX35 has a few other tricks up its fenders. Although we've seen Infiniti's Lane Departure Warning system before, which beeps if you cross a lane line without signaling, the EX35 adds to this something called Lane Departure Prevention. Essentially, if you continue to drift after the car has beeped its warning, it will lightly brake the opposite-side wheels, nudging the car back into its lane. Recognizing that this system could be controversial, Infiniti has it off by default, requiring the driver to consciously choose to use it. Turning the wheel more than two degrees will override the system, and it doesn't activate below 45 mph.
The lower button turns on Lane Departure Prevention, while the upper button sets the adaptive cruise control follow distance.
In our testing, the system worked very well. We first let the car drift across a lane line on the freeway, heard the beep, then felt the nudge as the wheels braked, and the car stopped drifting across the line. We tried it again, but this time held the wheel and forced the car into the next lane. This maneuver proved no problem, as the wheel braking lasts for less than a second. We also tried moving more aggressively across a lane line, and the wheel turn was enough to defeat the system. We don't think the system would keep the car in its lane on a substantial curve, but weren't willing to risk the car and ourselves testing it.
As icing on the cake, the EX35 also includes adaptive cruise control, a feature we last saw on the Mercedes-Benz S63. With this system, you can set your cruise control speed, and the car uses its forward-looking radar to match your speed to any slower moving cars in front of you. We spent some time using it in the EX35, and were impressed by its capability to fix on cars in our lane, without being thrown off by cars in the lanes next to us. As with other adaptive cruise control systems we've seen, a button on the steering wheel lets you choose from three different following distances.
The 2008 Infiniti EX35 Journey goes for a base price of $34,850, but most of the tech comes in option packages. Our loaded EX35 came with the $1,950 Technology package, which adds AVM, Lane Departure Prevention, and adaptive cruise control, the $2,150 Premium package, bringing in the exquisite Bose audio system, iPod integration, and Bluetooth, and the $2,150 Navigation package. Along with a couple of cosmetic options and an $815 destination charge, our car's total was $43,815.
Although well north of $40,000, the tech in the EX35 makes it a comfortable cruiser that can act a little sporty now and then. For cabin tech, we are really impressed with the navigation and traffic integration, the audio quality, and the multiple digital music sources. Bluetooth was OK, but limited by the small phone book, and AVM, while very cool, isn't useful if you don't drive in areas with minimal space. The performance tech in this car is good, although we would like to see another gear on the transmission. The lane departure systems and adaptive cruise control push the performance tech over the top.