Consumers looking for a sports coupe, sports sedan, sporty five-passenger crossover, luxury five-passenger crossover, trailer-capable SUV, sporty convertible or hybrid luxury sedan have been able to drive out of Infiniti showrooms very satisfied. The automaker offers a well-curated family of vehicles for each of these genres, without question.
However, affluent families seeking an import luxury seven-passenger crossover – without a traditional truck lineage – have been forced to shop elsewhere. Many of Infiniti's missed opportunities end up holding keys to an Acura MDX, Audi Q7 or Volvo XC90. Aiming to close a gaping leak in its product range, Infiniti officially introduced the world to its all-new JX crossover at the Los Angeles Auto Show just a few months ago.
The new arrival has been engineered to "excel in the areas that luxury crossover buyers desire most – interior flexibility and roominess, safety, and advanced hospitality features," says Infiniti. But to us, some of those qualities seem to stray from the company's 'Inspired Performance' tagline. Intrigued by the new arrival, we climbed aboard an airliner and flew to Charleston, South Carolina, for an introduction and test drive of the JX crossover.
Nissan Motor Corporation, the wizard behind the Infiniti brand, has chosen its fresh 'D platform' for the new JX (it's the first of several vehicles to be introduced on the unibody front/all-wheel drive chassis that will also be shared with the 2013 Nissan Pathfinder). Like the Murano and Maxima, a crossover and a sedan that also share some of the JX's architecture, the chassis is designed for a transverse-mounted engine – the Infiniti brand's first since dropping the Maxima-based I35 sedan in 2004.
The JX features one of Nissan's familiar six-cylinder engines, which is no surprise. However, instead of fitting the crossover with a 3.7-liter VQ, the automaker has selected its 3.5-liter 'VQ35DE' variant shared with the current Maxima (the all-aluminum powerplant makes 25 additional horsepower under the hood of the Nissan sedan and more torque thanks to packaging advantages). Naturally aspirated and lacking direct injection, it is rated at 265 horsepower at 6,400 rpm and 248 pound-feet of torque at 4,400 rpm. Mounted sideways in the engine compartment, the engine is mated to a Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT). Nissan has been using this type of gearbox for more than a decade, but this application is a first for Infiniti (the M35h Hybrid has a traditional seven-speed automatic). The standard configuration is front-wheel drive, though we suspect many buyers will splurge for Infiniti's optional Intelligent All-Wheel Drive, which sends 100 percent of the torque to the front wheels under dry conditions.
Other mechanical tidbits include an independent strut-based suspension up front with a multi-link in the rear, while the steering is hydraulic-electric with vehicle-speed sensitive boost. There are internally ventilated disc brakes at all four corners, each clamped by a single-piston sliding caliper. Standard wheels are 18-inch alloys (wearing 235/65R18 all-season tires) with 20-inch wheels optional (tire size 235/55R20).
Infiniti has come out swinging when it comes to configuring the JX.
Infiniti has come out swinging when it comes to configuring the JX. Shoppers will find leather seats, tri-zone climate control, power rear liftgate, privacy glass, keyless entry, heated seats, bi-xenon headlights, Bluetooth connectivity, full power accessories and more as standard equipment on the base JX FWD (starting at $40,450).
However, Infiniti handed us the keys to a loaded 2013 JX AWD (base price $41,550). Our Moonlight White over Wheat leather upholstery test vehicle was fitted with the $4,950 Premium Package (HD-based navigation, Bose audio, Around-View monitor, Intelligent Key and more), $1,700 Theater Package (dual 7-inch second-seat monitors, wireless headsets and 120-volt power outlet) and the $2,200 Driver Assistance Package (Intelligent Cruise Control, Blind Spot Warning, Back-Up Collision Intervention, Distance Control Assist, heated steering wheel, remote engine start and more). Add the $950 destination/handling fee, and the final MSRP on our five-door luxury crossover totaled $51,350.
In the seven-passenger import luxury crossover segment, the aggressive pricing of the all-new JX undercuts the base price of the aged Acura MDX ($42,930) and elderly Audi Q7 ($46,250), but not the decade-old Volvo XC90 ($39,500). Optioned similarly, the Infiniti will still be the least expensive with the most equipment.
We put about 200 miles on the new JX, mostly on secondary highways in South Carolina's Lowcountry. Our speeds were moderate and the roads were crowded and rather unchallenging. Thanks to scattered rain arriving in heavy downpours, the overall driving conditions were about optimal... for an all-wheel-drive crossover.
The JX cabin, unmistakably Infiniti in its warm design and high quality fit-and-finish, is configured for seven passengers in a 2+3+2 layout. In addition to the individual driver and front passenger captain's chairs (separated by a fixed center console), second-row occupants occupy a split (60/40) fold-down bench while third-row passengers sit on a split (50/50) fold-down bench. The eight-way power-adjustable driver's seat is plenty comfortable, but we wished it were mirrored on both sides of the cabin as the front passenger is relegated to an inferior six-way power-adjustable throne that our six-foot, two-inch frame didn't find nearly as appealing.
Second-row seating, which Infiniti says is more accommodating than a Cadillac Escalade, is comfortable for adults. The automaker has ensured that the third-row is easy to access with an innovative rail and pivot system on the right seat that moves the bottom cushion up and out of the way (check out our Short Cut video for a closer look). It will even do so with a child seat strapped in place. There is technically more legroom back there than in the Acura MDX or Audi Q7, but nobody is going to call it roomy even with the second-row slid forward six inches.
With a press of the start/stop button, the 3.5-liter V6 stirred to life quietly. Instead of going with the latest electronic gear selector, which frees up space in the center console, there is a console-mounted shifter and a traditional foot-operated parking brake. While a CVT isn't our first choice for a gearbox, it is fuel efficient and undeniably smooth. Early on, we chose to leave Infiniti's Drive Mode Selector (with Standard, Sport, Eco and Snow settings) in Standard after finding the artificial 'cogs' of Sport mode very unnatural and the parsimonious Eco mode annoyingly frustrating.
The power delivery from the trusty 3.5-liter VQ won't snap any necks (we estimate the 4,419-pound JX will do 0-60 in about eight seconds), but it was more than sufficient to move the Infiniti down the road with poise and resolution, if not passion – the CVT extinguishes any urge for enthusiastic driving. According to the EPA, the JX AWD earns 18 mpg city and 23 mpg highway with a combined rating of 20 mpg (the FWD model earns 18 mpg city and 24 mpg highway with a combined rating of 21 mpg). According to our trip computer, we averaged 19.1 mpg during our daylong venture.
For the most part, we found the ride comfortable and the cabin adequately void of wind noise (the JX boasts a .34 coefficient of drag). The non-adjustable suspension isn't engineered to be sporty and the standard all-season tires aren't designed for tenacious grip. Nevertheless, abrupt steering inputs (e.g., avoidance maneuvers) were easy to control but replete with significant understeer. We would have preferred more suspension travel in the crossover, as the JX reacted harshly to severe potholes and/or large dips in the road. At one point, the Infiniti bottomed-out its suspension when we encountered one deep dip at highway speeds.
The four-wheel disc brakes brought the JX to a halt without drama and with good modulation. The official tow rating is a modest 3,500 pounds – if you want to tow a trailer, Infiniti will gladly sell you its flagship body-on-frame QX56.
Few will choose to purchase or lease the all-new JX based on its acceleration, handling and braking.
Few will choose to purchase or lease the all-new JX based on its acceleration, handling and braking. The JX will entice buyers with its standard luxury and long list of standard and available technology – its linguist-confusing soup of acronyms designed to improve both active and passive safety.
The familiar and/or self-explanatory include the JX's Lane Departure Warning (LDW), Anti-lock Braking System (ABS), Intelligent Cruise Control (ICC), Advanced Climate Control System (ACCS), High-Intensity Discharge headlights (HID), Lane Departure Prevention (LDP), Advanced Air Bag System (AABS), Vehicle Dynamic Control (VDC), Electronic Brake Force Distribution (EBD), Around View Monitor (AVM), Blind Spot Intervention (BSI), Blind Spot Warning (BSW), Brake Assist (BA), Tire Pressure Monitoring System (TPMS) and Remote Engine Start System (RESS).
The innovative Distance Control Assist (DCA), Forward Collision Warning (FCW) and Intelligent Brake Assist (IBA) work together to help slow and stop the JX in traffic and/or warn the driver of an impending collision while the brilliant Backup Collision Intervention (BCI) and Moving Object Detection (MOD) help the driver identify and avoid collisions with objects while in Reverse.
The impressive Infiniti Personal Assistant program allows owners to call a concierge service for assistance with just about anything at all.
Prefer pampering over technology? Infiniti coddles its discriminating buyers with its subscription-based Infiniti Connection and Infiniti Connection Plus telematics systems (both are complimentary the first year of ownership). Services include crash notification, emergency calling, roadside assistance, remote lock/unlock service, drive zone boundaries, speed alerts and more. Lastly, the impressive Infiniti Personal Assistant program (standard for the first four years of ownership) allows owners to call a concierge service for assistance with just about anything at all. Just for grins, we called to find out when Haley's comet will make its next appearance and the operator at the other end quickly replied that the famous celestial traveler will arrive on approximately July 28, 2061. Um, okay.
The all-new 2013 Infiniti JX is very good at safely and comfortably transporting seven passengers between two points on the surface of our planet, but as a driving machine, it completely failed to raise our pulse. Even worse, its design set off our internal alarms. Blame the sum of its primary building blocks – a dull powertrain, an isolating passenger cabin and an overwhelming deluge of intrusive electronic nannies – components designed to remove the driver from the annoyance and responsibility of piloting a motorized vehicle.
Infiniti is capable of designing engaging vehicles, ones that we actually enjoy driving – look at the G, M and FX for reference – but it really doesn't have to. Automotive marketing folks know that volume models don't need to entice discriminating enthusiasts; they only need to impress car-buying consumers. With a strong value proposition and impeccable showroom manners, this all-new seven-passenger luxury crossover should sell very well. We wish it luck, but at the same time hope that its unengaging driving experience isn't indicative of Infiniti's new direction.