2004 FX35 New Car Test Drive
The Infiniti FX surprised us. Like any self-respecting, SUV-hating group of automotive journalists, we were all set to hate both the Infiniti FX35 and the more powerful FX45. Then we drove them.
The first thing we discovered is that these are exciting driver's cars, smooth, powerful, very stable. They can be driven much harder than traditional sport-utilities, with big, powerful brakes and firm, fully independent suspensions. On the highway, they feel planted and much more confident than traditional SUVs.
None of this should come as a surprise, given the Infiniti FX is based on the Nissan 350Z sports car. (A common assumption is that the Infiniti FX shares its structure with the Nissan Murano. It does not. The FX shares its rear-wheel-drive design with the 350Z and Infiniti G35, while the Murano shares its front-wheel-drive design with the Nissan Maxima and Altima.)
The second thing we discovered is that the FX35 is plenty. Its V6 engine, the same engine used in the 350Z, is powerful, giving the FX35 responsive performance. While driving the FX35, we never found ourselves wishing for the more powerful FX45.
Any way you cut it, the V6-powered FX35 and the V8-powered FX45 give Mercedes, BMW, and Porsche a run for the money, particularly your money. When it comes to acceleration, not to mention handling on twisty roads, the Infiniti gives up nothing to the Euro-luxury SUVs. The Infiniti drives more like a big sport coupe than a truck-based SUV. Better still, the FX35 and FX45 cost less than the German competition.
Infiniti built its SUV for the road. It was not designed to go off road, though the available all-wheel drive is designed for improved handling and performance in the snow. Its chassis could therefore be lighter than most other SUVs, reducing the weight its powerful engines must move. And the weight advantage was just a starting point. Infiniti equipped the FX with enormous 20-inch wheels and tires and race car-sized brakes. The inspiration for this SUV's design and performance was a 'bionic cheetah.' The goal was to make the FX as fun to drive as a sports car; Infiniti achieved that with compromises in ride comfort, space and rock-climbing ability.
The end result is a car-based crossover SUV that's full of character and exciting to drive on sports-car roads, but also one that has a stiff suspension and ride, a tighter cockpit than some of its competitors and flamboyant styling. While the BMW X5, Mercedes M-Class and Porsche Cayenne each deliver varying levels of off-road capability, all are better suited for the rough stuff than the FX. Squeezing into the cockpit and bouncing along a bumpy snow-belt back road, however, may appeal most to committed sports-car enthusiasts.
Launched for the 2003 model year, the FX nonetheless gets several improvements for 2004. On the functional side, there's a new Snow-Mode transmission program that reduces shift points to gain traction in very slippery conditions. All FX models get an eight-way adjustable passenger seat (as opposed to four-way last year) and a standard microfilter that cleans air in the cabin. For appearance, FX now offers brushed aluminum roof rails and two new wheel finishes, including chrome plating.
Infiniti offers two FX models. The FX35 ($34,350) is powered by the 280-horsepower 3.5-liter V6 from the Nissan 350Z sports car, and starts with rear-wheel drive. All-wheel drive ($1,500) is an option. The FX45 ($44,375) gets the 315-horsepower 4.5-liter V8 from Infiniti's Q45 luxury sedan, and all-wheel drive is standard.
Both FXs come with a 5-speed automatic transmission, dual-zone climate control with microfiltration, power front seats, split folding and reclining rear seats, tilt/telescope steering wheel and high-intensity discharge headlights.
The FX45 gets a firmer suspension, 20-inch wheels as opposed to 18-inchers, leather heated seats and trim, a power tilt/telescope steering wheel, memory for the driver's seat, mirrors and steering wheel and one-touch windows. The FX35 offers these added luxury appointments in a Premium Package ($2,900), which also includes a sunroof, a 300-watt 11-speaker stereo with steering-wheel controls and a six-disc CD changer, automatic headlights and a built-in garage door transmitter. You can add the last four items to the FX45 with its Premium Package ($2,100).
The FX 35 Sport Package ($1,500) adds the 20-inch wheels, the stiffer suspension and aluminum pedals, With the Sport and Premium packages, the FX35 is equipped identically to the FX45, without the V8, for $2,180 less.
Both FX models offer a Technology Package ($4,300) that includes a GPS navigation system, a security system that allows the owner to unlock and start the vehicle without the key, traffic-sensing cruise control, a rear-facing camera to assist backing up and a tire pressure monitor. A rear-seat DVD viewer ($1,600) is now a stand-alone option. A satellite radio receiver ($400), tow hitch ($600), aluminum roof rails ($220) and 20-inch chrome wheels ($1,600) are also offered separately.
Buyers expect extensive safety features in any luxury vehicle and the FX delivers: Standard Safety equipment includes dual-stage front airbags, front side-impact airbags, full-cabin curtain-style airbags, front seatbelt pretensioners and load limiters, active front head restraints, a sophisticated anti-lock brake system with electronic brake proportioning, and electronic stability control. Rear-seat side-impact airbags are not available.
With its unique combination of styling, size and performance, the FX has been selling at about 30,000 per year, while competitors like the BMW X5 sell closer to 45,000 per year. Buyers have been choosing the FX35 nearly two-to-one over the FX45, but nearly 85 percent choose all-wheel drive. The point? If you want to buy a rear-drive FX35 off the lot, your dealer may have to do some searching.
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