Infiniti markets its FX crossover as a luxury crossover with a sports car, but perhaps it should start to call it a tech powerhouse. Although the FX35's performance is nothing to snub your nose at, its safety and infotainment technology stands head and shoulders above the competition. We took delivery of a brand-new 2010 model with the full Technology and Navigation packages and put it through its paces.
First up is the issue of visibility. The FX's high window sills, curvaceous hood, and tiny rear window potentially make simple low-speed actions, such as parallel parking, into nerve-racking ordeals. Infiniti's answer to this is the Around View Monitor (AVM). This system features an array of cameras located at the front and rear of the vehicle and in the undersides of the sideview mirrors. In addition to the standard rearview camera and the not-so-standard front view camera with trajectory lines, the system can also stitch together views from all four cameras to create a virtual bird's-eye view of the area surrounding the vehicle. Users can see painted ground markings, other vehicles, and other potential obstructions. This feature, combined with the audible proximity sensors and sideview mirrors that automatically tilt downward when the vehicle is placed into reverse gear, transform the FX into one of the easiest to park vehicles in its weight class.
Our FX was also equipped with a number of features to keep itself and its passengers safe at cruising speeds. Adaptive cruise control maintains a set distance between the FX's front bumper and the vehicle ahead and can even bring the vehicle to a stop in bumper-to-bumper traffic. Lane Departure Warning beeps at the driver when the vehicle drifts out of its lane without using a turn signal, whereas Lane Departure Prevention takes things a step further by bias braking to pull the vehicle back into its lane. Likewise, the Forward Collision Warning sounds a beep if the system thinks a collision is imminent; Distance Control Assist will actually push back on the driver's foot with the accelerator pedal and slow the vehicle to a stop in an attempt to prevent an accident.
The button for Distance Control Assist depicts a sort of force field around the front of the vehicle. How appropriate?
Factor in headlights that steer with the front wheels, seatbelts that tense up before a crash, and windshield wipers that automatically activate in the rain and it's not too difficult to imagine that the FX could probably drive itself. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on whom you ask), it can't yet, so be sure to keep those eyes on the road.
Your eyes may be on the road, but your ears will be tuned to the FX35's Bose-branded audio system. This 11-speaker system of indeterminate wattage features a pair of subwoofers and a center-fill speaker at the top of the dashboard. Audio quality is as we've come to expect from Bose systems: decidedly better than your average premium audio option, but not what we'd call audiophile-quality. Despite having a pair of subwoofers, this particular Bose system wasn't as boomy as some that we've tested. However, at higher volumes, we did notice a bit of low-end distortion from the door speakers.
Feeding content to the Bose system is an impressive array of modern audio sources. Standard equipment includes a single-disc CD player, a 2GB Music Box hard drive for ripping audio CDS, Bluetooth for hands-free calling, and USB and auxiliary inputs that enable users to connect their iPods and other portable audio players. Stepping up to the Navigation package replaces the CD player with a single-slot CD/DVD player that supports MP3 playback, as well as DVD audio and video discs. The Bluetooth system is fleshed out to include A2DP/AVRCP audio streaming; the Music Box storage space is increased to 9.3GB; and XM Satellite Radio joins the available sources.
As part of the Navigation package, users get a larger 8-inch color display and, of course, turn-by-turn GPS navigation. The system features live traffic and weather data supplied by XM's NavTraffic and NavWeather services and a voice recognition system that also ties in the audio and hands-free calling systems.
Oddly, whether equipped with the 2GB or 9.3GB hard drive, Infiniti's specs only allow for 800MB of music storage. If you're wondering to what the rest of that HDD space is devoted, look no farther than the interface. Infiniti's entire infotainment system receives a much needed visual overhaul with the 2010 model year. Maps are presented in a much higher resolution and the various menus and screens feature nicer textures, shading, and antialiasing, making them easier to read at a glance and of a much higher perceived value to the user.
When last we tested Infiniti's FX, the SUV was powered by the automaker's 5-liter V-8 engine outputting 390-horsepower. Our current FX35's engine room is home to Nissan/Infiniti's workhorse VQ-series 3.5-liter V-6. This is the same V-6 that can be found in various tunes beneath the hood of everything from the Nissan Altima to the Murano. However, in the FX35, power output has been bumped to 303 horsepower and 252 pound-feet of torque.
We're a bit surprised that Nissan has chosen to go with the 3.5-liter mill instead of the more powerful 3.7-liter power plant that twists the axles of its G-sedan, but perhaps we may yet see it for a future revision.
Power is sent through a new seven-speed automatic transmission with sport and manual shift modes before being output through the FX's rear wheels. Keeping the rubber on the road is an assortment of traction and stability control systems, but, most importantly, the FX features independent suspension at all four corners and some fairly good chassis tuning.
We were constantly surprised by how well the big FX handled as we charged up winding mountain roads, but perhaps we shouldn't have been. Although it's visually quite large, the FX's dimensions (wheelbase, track, overall length, etc.) are not that far off of Infiniti's G37 sedan. Of course, there is still the issue of the FX's extra 500 pounds.
Quick direction changes somewhat upset the 4,100-pound FX, so tight hairpins and quick switchbacks were a bit dicey if not taken with care. However, through the sweeping curves of Northern California's Highway 9, the FX settled in and gripped through turn after turn, maintaining its composure well over the posted limits with nary a peep from its various electronic nannies. Steering is communicative without being annoyingly buzzy and is direct without feeling heavy, thanks in part to a speed-sensitive power-steering system.
We were surprised at how well the heavy FX35 handled the sweeping curves of the Santa Cruz mountains.
Power isn't neck snapping from a start, mostly because of the FX's weight, but once the vehicle gets moving, the 3.5-liter is more than adequate for maintaining the highway momentum and quick bursts of power for passing. In its sport mode, the seven-speed transmission holds its revs longer and downshifts more aggressively, blipping the throttle to rev-match as we slowed at the approach to a turn.
The FX may not have all of the abilities of sports car, but it certainly has the soul of one. It also has the fuel economy of one, finishing the EPA test cycle to the tune of 16 city and 23 highway miles per gallon. After a week spent casually running errands and an afternoon spent blasting around the mountains in Sport mode, our estimated fuel economy fell short of both of those marks.
With high levels of tech (both for safety and for infotainment), luxury, and performance, the Infiniti FX35 is a triple-threat. Starting at $42,400, it's also a steal next to the less-powerful and less-equipped BMW X5 xDrive30i ($47,600) and the Mercedes-Benz ML ($45,700). Fully load the three vehicles and the Infiniti's value continues to increase.
Our vehicle featured the Technology package ($2,900) that adds all of the gee-whiz safety features such as Lane Departure Prevention and Distance Control Assist; the Deluxe Touring package ($2,650) that adds 20-inch wheels and tires, wood interior accents, and aluminum pedals; and a Premium package ($2,000) that further boosts the interior appointments with, among other things, quilted leather front seats that can be heated or cooled. The Navigation package ($2,800) is a must-have for the CNET reader, with its advanced audio sources, turn-by-turn directions, and the very cool Around View Monitor. Toss in $135 for an impact alarm, $325 for aluminum roof rail crossbars, and an $865 destination charge to reach our as-tested price of $54,075.
That's a full $4,000 to $7,000 less than a similarly equipped Mercedes or BMW. Of course, we'll be the first to admit that such a comparison isn't always apples-to-apples and there's a lot more that goes into buying a car than comparing prices. But when you consider its performance, tech, and value, the Infiniti FX35 makes a seriously good case for itself.