Photos by Byron Hurd (for once).
Back in January, I was presented with an opportunity I simply couldn’t pass up. Through a connection on The Car Lounge, I was put in touch with a woman selling a perfect Miata parts car in Dayton, Ohio. Ever since I picked up my 1.6, I’ve wanted to start overhauling the 212-thousand-mile-old drivetrain and suspension. This ’94 was a perfect match. A deal was struck.
At the time, we had Honda’s Accord Crosstour for evaluation. It seemed like a no-brainer. What could possibly be a better chase car than a brand new crossover? As we got closer to go-time however, some logistical issues intervened on the seller’s end, and the whole trip was put off for a week. The result? Well, obviously, the Crosstour ended up somewhat out of its element, and the trip was rescheduled smack-dab in the middle of our evaluation period for the FX35.
So in typical Speed:Sport:Life fashion, we ended up with Honda’s family hauler doing double-duty as a cone chaser, and Infiniti’s sport sedan on stilts being loaded up for a ~1000-mile road trip. Why not, indeed?
Our FX came dressed to impress. At nearly $55k, our tester was only modestly-equipped by Bill Gates’ standards. As if the $42k base price weren’t dear enough, our example tacked on the Tech Package ($2900), Deluxe Touring Package ($2650), Premium Package ($2000), Navigation Package ($2800) and some roof rail cross bars ($325) and an alarm system shock sensor upgrade ($135) just for giggles.
Together, those packages include more options than an LSAT booklet. Quilted/perforated seating surfaces made from supple chocolate leather? Present. Hard-drive-based navigation and entertainment system? Uh-huh. Maple wood accents and piano black trim finish? Yep. Climate-controlled everything? You bet. How about a series of cameras that give you a top-down view from all angles to aid in parking, completely with sensors to alert you to objects (animal, vegetable or mineral) that pose a risk to your progress). Of course. And believe me, there’s nothing in my automotive experience to date that prepared me for the moment when I looked down upon my own car as I backed out of my driveway. It’s more Grand Theft Auto than MVA Driver’s Exam.
If there were ever any doubt that Infiniti’s products come light on the luxury features, a perusal of the FX’s window sticker will eliminate it real quick.
And what do you do with all that equipment? Anything you damn please. Between the RADAR-guided cruise control (Infiniti calls it “Distance Control Assist”), Intelligent Brake Assist and Lane Departure Warning/Prevention systems, the car can essentially drive itself. No joke. With the cruise engaged on a relatively straight highway, the FX will maintain a lane without any real driver input. Sure, the Lane Departure Warning system will beep incessantly at you as 4200lbs of sheet metal and dead cattle wander gently from one side of the lane to the other, but as long as nothing unexpected arises (say, a curve, or for that matter, a curb), you’ll meander along quite gracefully, outwardly no different from the hordes of cell-phone-addicted commuters heading the same direction.
The features don’t just sound impressive. The Infiniti’s navigation system is fantastic. The GUI is attractive and functional, not nearly the also-ran of our Crosstour’s, and the audio system, while not as acoustically impressive as the Honda’s, is robust and intuitive.
But the real beauty of the FX is not in its interior, but in its performance. Let’s put this in perspective. Like the Crosstour, the FX weighs in just a tick above two tons. For those keeping track, that’s the same as a Pontiac G8 or Chevy Camaro SS or BMW M3 Convertible. It’s not light, but in context, it’s not particularly heavy, either. It’s tall, so the center of mass works against you, but the suspension tuning makes it feel very car-like. The optional 20″ wheels add just a hint of an edge to the ride, but it’s not so harsh that’s bothersome. The cabin remains quiet and the steering, while boosted enough to help disguise the FX’s heft, is very well-weighted and very direct for this segment. Despite the so-so frontal visibility, the driver is never wanting for information when it comes to placing the car.
It is, after all, a car. It’s not a truck, not even close. And if you’ve driven a truck (and I mean a real truck, not something “truck-like” by virtue of weight or size), you’ll understand. The FX hustles along better than plenty of well-regarded family sedans. This sucker is downright playful, especially the rear-wheel-drive example we were given. With the nannies set to “watch from afar” and the transmission moved down to “S” mode, the Infiniti offers a more engaging driving experience than plenty of cars you can get for the money.
And speaking of “S” mode, the 7-Speed transmission is a gem. It’s the same ‘box you’ll find in the FX’s FM platform mates, though tuned somewhat less aggressively. We had the opportunity to drive a 370Z with the 7-Speed last year and I found it to be one of the best, if not in fact the best torque converter automatic in any affordable sports car. It has all of the sporty attitude of many dual-clutch boxes–rev-matched downshifts included–while maintaining the smoother operation and convenience of a torque converter. It’s not quite as impressive here, constantly hunting for a more fuel-efficient ratio, but given the FX’s softer-edged mission, it’s neither unexpected nor unforgivable. And yes, the FX passes the Lord Byron “Will it hold this gear ’til the rev limiter?” test with flying colors.
At the heart of the FX is either a 3.5L VQ V6 (as in our tester) or a 5.0L V8. The optional extras between the vehicles vary only slightly (wheel-mounted shift paddles are available on the V8, for example, but not on the V6). And this is where perspective comes into play yet again. The V6 will easily rip off a mid-seven-second 0-60. That’s quick enough to run with most V6-powered midsizers. 6.X second sprints aren’t out of the question for the V8 model. To get that level of performance alongside the handling the Infiniti offers, your only other option is a BMW. Go ahead. Price one.
The trade off? Even the “small” engine struggles to break 20 miles per gallon in any reasonable evaluation cycle, including 95%+ highway scenarios. Even Infiniti’s instantaneous MPG display tops out at 30mpg, and you won’t see that end of the scale unless you’re using gravity to do the work. A steady 21-22mpg could be expected from genuinely flat highway cruising, but anything more would be a bit too optimistic. Contrast that (again) with the Crosstour, which pulled 25mpg in mixed driving with regularity–a 30% improvement in economy for only a 13% penalty in power, and our Honda tester drove twice as many wheels.
The VQ is really a love-it-or-leave-it engine. On first impression, you get the feeling that Infiniti decided against dropping their new 3.7L variant into the FX due to its coarser, less luxury-oriented character compared to the 3.5L. But then again, they saw fit to introduce the FX to the European market with the larger engine. It stands to reason then that the 3.5L was considered enough engine, and that any potential hit to the fuel economy wasn’t worth another 20 or 30 ponies. Fortunately for owners of first-gen FX35s looking for an excuse to upgrade, the 2010’s 3.5L is of the “HR” variety, putting down 303hp, a 23hp improvement over the outgoing motor.
The end result is a delicious highway cruiser. Between the pavement-devouring drivetrain and the gluteus-approved seating, the miles just disappear. I found it best to avoid watching the instantaneous MPG display whenever I cared to exploit any of the FX’s more sporting talents. After all, 400 highway miles is 400 highway miles, whether you’re in a Toyota Camry or an Ariel Atom. Sometimes you have to manufacture your own excitement. Fortunately, the FX provides the appropriate tools for the job. The long ribbon of Interstate between Annapolis and our stop-over at Schloss Baruth in Columbus went under our wheels with no unforeseen drama.
But there is a catch. Long trip or short trip, you often have stuff you want to bring along. You know, like clothes. Or a set of spare wheels and tires for the clapped-out rustbox you’re hell-bent on driving those same 500+ miles home. And maybe some tools just in case it breaks down. Oh, and a floor jack in case you need to do this stuff on the side of I-70 at 2:00 a.m.
That kinda stuff.
No problem. We have what is essentially a midsize hatchback on our hands, after all. There should be room for that and plenty more, right?
Maybe not. And therein lies said catch. With a box of tools on top of the wheels, the space was pretty much exhausted. Not visible is the FX’s owner’s manual, which occupies a pouch mounted to the passenger-side wheel well (too much tech; not enough glove box). So our clothes and other travel necessities were forced to occupy the back seat. And it’s a rather spacious back seat, but not quite spacious enough for your friends and your stuff. Choose wisely.
Since there were only two of us on board for the majority of the trip, this didn’t really prove to be an issue. But those with little ones or friends with whom they travel should take note. A trip to the airport or the beach house may prove more of a logistical puzzle than anticipated.
Ultimately, the Infiniti is not just a luxury vehicle, but also a luxury in the more fundamental sense. This is a car you should purchase because you can, not because you need to. There are far better performance sedans and far better crossovers at this price point, so there has to be something about it that speaks to you. Don’t buy it because you think you want a truck (believe me, if it appeals to you, you don’t want a truck) and don’t buy it thinking it’ll be significantly more practical than an equivalent sedan. Neither applies. Buy it because you want a swanky crossover that will show up your neighbor in his 3 Series, even when the roads get twisty. At that, it excels.
2010 Infiniti FX35 RWD
3.5L V6 – 303hp/262lb-ft
7-Speed automatic w/ manual shift and downshift rev-matching
Price as tested: $54,975
What we liked:
- Sporty transmission
- Smooth ride
- Great handling
- Wonderful interior execution
- Fun gadgets
What we didn’t:
- Poor fuel economy
- Limited practicality/storage space
- Wasn’t a V8