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Whether the Infiniti FX's bulbous curves can be considered beautiful is debatable, but one thing we know for certain is that--in FX50S trim--it certainly is imposing. With muscular front fenders, a large dark chrome grille, and a pair of the most aggressive headlights we've ever seen on an SUV, the 2009 Infiniti FX50S prowls the streets looking like an angry hippopotamus on 21-inch wheels. Before you laugh, there's something you should know about the hippo. It is one of the most aggressive animals in the world, and is often regarded as the most dangerous animal in Africa and can prove quite agile and powerful when provoked. Surprisingly, despite its stocky shape a hippo can quite easily outrun an Olympic sprinter.
The same goes for the FX50S. With its mighty 5-liter V-8 and continuously damping controlled suspension, when equipped with the Sport Package, this is one big SUV that will surprise you with its speed and nimbleness. Put the seven-speed automatic transmission into the Sport mode or slap the paddle shifter for a rev-matched downshift, and the FX50S will throw you back in your seat as it rockets forward with a roar.
The FX50S isn't all power and brutality. Inside the cabin is a surprise of a different kind, with luxurious leather trim and a very advanced cabin tech packages.
Test the tech: Easiest parking ever
Moving the shifter into reverse activates a plethora of safety features. The side-view mirrors tilt downward to allow for a better view of the road. The reverse camera comes online along with the FX50S' most interesting feature, the Around View Monitor. Essentially, the AVM consists of four images from cameras positioned on the front and rear bumpers and the side-view mirrors, which are stitched together by software to create a real-time bird's-eye view of what's happening around the vehicle. The result is incredible.
The AVM is a technology that is absolutely necessary with the FX50S' extremely poor rearward visibility and high front fenders. Using the camera, we were able to perfectly maneuver the FX50S into very tight parking spots. The system can also be called up when the vehicle is moving forward with the touch of a button, although it automatically deactivates at speeds faster than 10 mph--a speed at which you probably should be looking up anyway. We can see the AVM as being useful for avoiding small pets and children who may wander into the vehicle's path as it moves into and out of a driveway or garage. The view can be changed to a close-up view of the front or passenger-side camera for delicate jobs such as parallel parking or easing into a garage. While in these views, guidelines similar to those in the rearview camera show the vehicle's position and trajectory.
The Around View Monitor creates a bird's-eye view of the ground around the vehicle.
The addition of standard sonar-based proximity sensors should keep you from smashing into garage walls or other vehicles, if you are not paying attention to the mirrors and cameras. The system sounds audible beeps if you get too close to an obstruction, increasing in frequency as you get closer. With multiple systems informing the driver of the immediate surroundings of the FX50S, it should be one of the easiest vehicles we've ever parked. Were it not for the FX50S' odd power steering making parallel parking difficult, it would be.
In the cabin
Describing the 2009 Infiniti FX50S' cabin is like naming a laundry list of nearly every bit of luxury and cabin tech available today. Starting with entry and egress, the FX features Nissan/Infiniti's Intelligent Key system, which lets you lock and unlock the doors without removing the key from your pocket; simply press a tiny button on the door handle while in range with the RFID smart key. Once inside the vehicle, it can be started with the touch of a button.
The driver's seat, door panels, and dash have been wrapped in black leather with silver and piano black trim pieces for accent. The seats are eight-way power adjustable and include power lumbar support, heating and cooling, and--with the Sport Package--power adjustable back and thigh bolsters. Once you've got your seat set up to perfectly match your backside, up to two positions can be stored. The top-of-the-line FX50S comes standard with Infiniti's hard-drive navigation system, which features XM NavTraffic and voice recognition. The voice recognition system is very easy to use, allowing the entry of addresses with natural speech, meaning you can just say "Broad Street" instead of having to spell "B-R-O-A-D." The system also allows the search of point of interest categories, but when the vehicle is in motion, you're only given the five nearest choices in a category, for example the five nearest gas stations or hotels.
When the vehicle is stopped, you're able to access more robust options, such as searching for specific points of interest. Typing is handled by either touch screen or Infiniti's cool rotating controller, which spins like a knob and features directional buttons. Interestingly, we were able to input addresses more quickly by spinning the knob to select letters than we could hitting the screen. The Infiniti's auto-complete feature also made short work of city names and common street names, greatly increasing our entry speed.
Audio from the 11-speaker (including 2 subwoofers) Bose system fills the cabin with clean, powerful sound. Highs and mids are clear and free from distortion. The bass can be felt as well as heard. Audio sources include the MP3/CD player, AM/FM/XM stereo, and the auxiliary input. Our tester was equipped with the standard interface system for iPod, but the 30-pin dock connector dongle was missing, so we weren't able to test it. An available 9.3GB of hard-drive space for audio storage and a dash mounted CompactFlash slot round out the available audio sources.
A Bluetooth hands-free system is standard on the FX50S and pairs quickly with phones via a series of onscreen prompts. Call quality is clear, thanks in part to the fantastic Bose system. We were able to seamlessly transfer a long phone call back and forth from the handset to the Infiniti's system without the caller noticing a drop in call quality between the systems.
A ceiling-mounted 9-inch flip-down display keeps backseat passengers entertained with DVD movies fed into a center-console-mounted DVD player. Two sets of wireless headphones keep the action from distracting the driver.
Under the hood
According to Infiniti's marketing materials, the FX50S is a "Luxury SUV with the Heart of a Sports Car." With a 5-liter V-8 cranking out 390 horsepower, we're inclined to believe them. Stomp the go pedal from a stop and a wave of torque--369 foot-pounds to be exact--hustles the 4,575 pound vehicle forward at a fantastic rate. The sound from Infiniti's trademark tuned exhaust evokes the exotic sound of the G35 and G37 sports coupes, but is deeper and more guttural to fit the larger engine and body.
The FX50S' 5.0-liter V-8 creates acceleration that belies the vehicle's heavy weight.
You won't fool yourself into thinking that you've accidentally sat down in an M3--the FX50S' speed is only impressive relative to its size--but as far as we can tell, the FX50S' performance is only eclipsed by one other SUV, the Porsche Cayenne GTS.
While the engine supplies the power, the transmission controls the flow of power to the wheels. Left in Drive, the seven-speed automatic transmission shifts smoothly and low in the powerband, as it attempts to balance fuel economy and power delivery. Floor the gas while in this mode and you'll be greeted with a second's delay while the vehicle decides whether you actually want to go fast or you just sneezed. It's quite annoying when trying to merge into tight traffic. However, nudge the shifter over into the Sport mode and the FX50S takes on a different character. Throttle response sharpens, shifting occurs at much higher revs, and the transmission is more eager to drop down a gear when provoked.
Steering-column-mounted paddle shifters allow even more flexibility, giving the driver complete control over when shifts occur. This is both a gift and a curse, as the FX50S' redline is vaguely defined and very unforgiving. An aggressive fuel-cut occurs about 6,000rpm, despite redline being marked at about 6,800rpm. Miss a shift and you'll be punished with massive amounts of engine braking that hits like a ton of bricks, throwing the vehicle off balance. After a few scares, we decided to just let the computer do the shifting.
While we agree that the FX50S' engine may be the heart of a sports car, it still has the legs of a truck. The front double-wishbone and rear independent-multilink suspension performs admirably, with the assistance of the gratuitous amounts of rubber wrapping the 21-inch wheels, but the FX50S can't disguise its weight when turning. Our model included the optional Sport Package, featuring the Continuous Damping Control that adds a Sport mode to the suspension. In Sport mode, body roll is reduced at the expense of some smoothness over bumps. Left in Auto mode, the suspension firms or softens the suspension depending on vehicle demands, keeping the vehicle flat in the turns and comfortable on freeway blasts. The suspension seemed to adjust so quickly that we didn't notice a difference between Sport and Auto modes during spirited driving.
Our sole complaint about the FX50S' handling is with the vehicle speed-sensitive power steering. While we liked that the steering was light at lower speeds and weighty at highway speeds, when the vehicle is stopped, the power steering cuts out completely, requiring great strength and strain to move the wheel. This makes parallel parking in tight spots nearly impossible, because you can't turn the wheel when the FX50S is stopped to tuck the nose into the spot. We're particularly frustrated by this flaw, because it all but defeats the purpose of the Around View Camera, which should make the FX50S an all-star at getting into tight spots.
You'll pay the price for breaking the laws of physics at the pump. The FX50S' EPA estimated 14 city and 20 highway miles per gallon isn't bad for a vehicle of this size and output, but it'll certainly never be called "thrifty." If you're a lead-footed driver who enjoys feeling the kick of a 5-liter V-8, like CNET's Car Tech Editors, you can expect your practical combined fuel economy to hover about the 15-16 mpg range.
We absolutely loved the Around View Camera and spent hours inching the FX50S around parking lots, watching the road go by on the screen. This is probably the first safety feature that we could describe as fun to use. The rest of the cabin is also fantastic, with comfortable leather seats, an impressive amount of well-designed entertainment options, and an operating system that allowed the driver access to three flexible control schemes: speech, touch screen, and the control knob.
While we expected big power from a vehicle that advertises its 5 liters of displacement in its model number, we were genuinely impressed by the acceleration and willingness to change direction that the FX50S exhibited. We didn't like unnerving way the engine management handled the rev-limiter or the way the power steering behaved at the lowest of speeds, but overall the FX50S performed admirably.
Our 2009 FX50 starts out at $56,700, which includes the Around View Camera, hard-drive navigation with 9.3GB of MusicBox space, and the Bose Audio system with Bluetooth as standard features. Adding the Sport Package for $3,000 adds the Continuous Damping Control suspension that puts the "S" in FX50S, sport style front seats with adjustable bolsters, and auto-leveling and steering Xenon HID headlamps. Next, adding the $2,000 Technology Package brings more safety tech to the party, including lane departure warning and intelligent cruise control. Those anticipating filling the rear seat up with passengers will want to consider the $1,600 flip-down DVD player. Add an $815 destination charge and you end up with an as-tested price of $65,015.
The robo-hippo looks and performance of the Infiniti FX50S are outgunned by the more refined Porsche Cayenne GTS on the Concours and on the track, but only just barely. However, with a savings of about $25,000 over the equally equipped Cayenne and with much better cabin tech, the FX50S proves that it is a good value for the money.