2009 Infiniti FX35 Expert Review:New Car Test Drive
New Car Test Drive
More style, more performance for the bionic cheetah.
The 2009 Infiniti FX is the second generation of this performance crossover SUV from Nissan's luxury division. The FX is all-new for the 2009 model year, with new styling, new engines, new transmissions.
The V6 model is still called the FX35, but the V8 model has been renamed FX50 in recognition of its 5-liter engine. (The FX50 replaces the previous FX45.) Both engines have significantly changed, both get new seven-speed automatic transmissions, and many pieces large and small are new.
Emphasizing polarizing looks over box-shaped utility the FX offers the same front seating room as most midsize sedans with a broad back seat with the same legroom as a Honda Civic. Big pieces of cargo will require folding down the back seats, but the V8 version will tow a small boat or pair of personal watercraft. This is not a car with high sales volume so there is some exclusivity, and with the eye-catching looks if there's another around you will notice it.
High style is maintained inside as well, especially on the V8 and premium-packaged V6 cabins; nicely stitched leather, wonderfully stained Maple wood, fine details, and matte-finish surfaces a nice respite from excessive chrome-plated plastic. The interior was the opposite of the mixed opinions on outside style as virtually every observer approved.
Features are good and fair for the price point. Some features, including the Around View monitor, are not available elsewhere at any price, at least not for the next 15 minutes or so. And these things are loaded. If it isn't standard, it's probably available. Standard features include moonroof, bi-xenon headlamps, power hatch closure, XM radio, while smart cruise control, voice-recognition navigation with real-time traffic, rear-seat entertainment systems, and a host of electronics are also available.
Primary competition for the FX line comes from the BMW X6, which by nature of its newness and more sweeping roofline may receive more styling attention and delivers slightly higher performance benchmarks than the FX, but doesn't necessarily drive better and costs thousands more. So if you're looking at the X6 and it seems costly, step over here to the Infiniti showroom and check out the bionic cheetah. You might even prefer it.
Based on the same platform as the Nissan 300ZX and Infiniti G37 sports cars, the Infiniti FX is a rear-wheel-drive based vehicle. (The FX has nothing in common with the Nissan Murano, which is a front-wheel-drive vehicle built on an entirely different platform.) The FX goes like stink and offers sporty handling along with some cargo capacity.
The 2009 Infiniti FX comes in three models: FX35 ($40,950), FX35 AWD ($42,350); and FX50 AWD ($56,700). The AWD models come with all-wheel drive. The FX35 version uses a 303-hp V6 (EPA rated at 16/23 mpg, 16/21 mpg with AWD). The FX50 has a 390-hp V8 (14/20 mpg). All use a seven-speed automatic transmission.
Every FX comes with power leather seats, leather shifter and tilt/telescoping steering wheel with audio controls, dual-zone climate control, split-folding and reclining rear seats, moonroof, power heated folding mirrors with puddle lights, power door locks/windows, power hatch closure, automatic bi-xenon headlamps, fog lamps, rear privacy glass, dark chrome grille, Intelligent key, illuminated mirror visors with extensions, stainless logo scuff plates, HomeLink, Bose audio system (300 watts, dual subwoofers, MP3, XM), rear-view monitor, variable/fixed intermittent front/rear wipers, trip computer, and space-saver spare tire.
Infiniti FX35 comes with a 6CD changer which reverts to single CD when navigation is ordered, and 18-inch alloy wheels. FX35-specific options include 20-inch wheels with all-season tires and matte-finish roof rails. Many FX options come pre-packaged and you could outfit an FX35 closely to FX50-level amenities and features for approximately $7,850.
Infiniti FX50 adds leather upholstery, heated/cooled front seats, power tilt/telescoping steering wheel and auto entry/exit, two-position driver memory, hand stained Maple trim, HDD navigation with eight-inch screen, Around View monitor, magnesium paddle shifters, aluminum pedals, cargo net and cover, iPod interface, 9.3 GB hard drive with CF card slot, Enkei 21-inch alloy wheels, polished aluminum roof rails, and an air-purifying climate control system. Available only on the FX50 are performance summer tires (no charge) and a sport package that includes sport seats with manual thigh extensions and four-way power bolsters for the driver, adaptive auto-leveling dark-tint headlamps, rear active steering, and Continuous damping Control (CDC) suspension.
Options on any FX include lane departure warning/prevention systems, adaptive headlamps, nine-inch LCD DVD rear-entertainment system, intelligent cruise control with distance control, pre-crash belts, brake assist, rain-sensing wipers, tow package, splash guards, aero kit, roof rack cross bars, stainless steel illuminated sill plates, stainless rear bumper top, and a cargo organizer.
Safety equipment includes dual-stage front airbags, front seat side-impact airbags, front and rear side curtain airbags, active front head restraints, first aid kit, stability control with traction control and antilock brakes, and tire pressure monitors. The only safety options are the pre-crash seat belts integral with the intelligent cruise control/distance control system.
Infiniti coined the original FX the bionic cheetah and this latest iteration hasn't strayed far from the concept. One could argue the FX was the progenitor of the fashion-trumps-function style that spawned the likes of the BMW X6 and similar vehicles. If there was a class of car labeled four-door coupe SUV, this is what it would like.
For this second generation FX, the distance between front and rear axles has been increased by almost 1.5 inches, pushing the front tires farther forward and endowing the FX with a hood not unlike a 1980s Corvette: long and horizontal, but not flat as it arches over wheels on the sides and engines in the middle. In profile, the hood looks as long as that on a musclecar or Rolls-Royce, while the roofline appears a canopy pulled down taut over a framework with no straight lines and a nearly semicircular rear window.
Relative to the stylish Infiniti G37 coupe from a similar background and also endowed with a long hood, the FX has an inch more wheelbase, is eight inches longer, four inches wider, and ten inches higher. It's significantly bigger, in other words. So it needs the six-spoke 21-inch wheels of the FX50 to make it appear a sleek modern conveyance rather than a reinterpretation of the 1975 AMC Pacer made famous in 'Wayne's World.' A lot of SUVs this long have three rows of seats, where the FX is strictly two rows.
Where door meets window glass is a straight line, as is the chrome strip below the doors, and everything else is curved. Projector headlamps lend some animal characteristic to the front and step in notches into the front fenders, while the dark chrome grille between has three-dimensional waves rather than two-dimensional slats. In some respects it resembles the old Hyundai Tiburon (aptly named after a shark) and in others the wide swooping grille and multiple layers suggest the lovable tenacity of a drooling bulldog. Whatever you think, you'll get lots of opinion because it doesn't go unnoticed: The fashion statement worked.
Behind the huge front wheels are chrome, arched vertical vents for ducting engine compartment air out and reducing front lift by five percent; door handles are also chrome while mirrors are paint matched. The paint applied to the steel, aluminum and resin body panels is called Scratch Shield clearcoat and it is designed to use sunlight to heat the clearcoat and fill in small scratches over a few days.
Like the front lights, the rear LED lamp housings curl around the body sides, and protrude somewhat to offer better visibility and some aerodynamic downforce at high speeds; this and the front vents are more aimed at Infiniti's European customers rather than American driving habits. If you're concerned about seeing the tail lights in the outside mirrors, don't be; the mirror side view ends around the rear door handles.
The spoiler atop the rear glass is integral with the hatch, void of the seams more common tacked-on pieces do; it may aid downforce and wind noise, too. Large swaths of chrome set off the license plate recess, and a bumper top cover is available to avoid paint scuffs too deep for Scratch Shield to fix.
If you look carefully you will find a camera above the license plate, on the bottom of each (very expensive) rear-view mirror, and one at the top of the grille.
The 2009 Infiniti FX cabin is very nicely finished. The FX35 interior in black presents well. The diamond-quilted upholstery in the FX50 brings to mind British or Italian coachbuilding and when added to the vertically grained Maple trim hand-stained for darker edges and matte-finish silver appointments it is handily as stylish inside and as out. There is no wood on the dash, a good thing as it eliminates reflections, but all doors have big sweeps of wood and the center console has it on three sides, a chrome strip protecting the 90-degree edges. Soft-touch surfaces are everywhere, with hard plastic only on the lower center pillars and rear edge of the center console where shoes or diamond-ringed vent adjusters would scuff it.
The driver works with a suitably small-diameter, thick-rim, three-spoke steering wheel with thumb-operated pushbuttons and toggles, and plenty of adjustment in two planes for driving comfort and gauge viewing. Shift paddles behind it are among the best around, solid magnesium pieces with leather along the back side for your fingers, and long enough that you can change gears mid-bend; downshifts are left-hand, upshifts are on the right.
Ahead of the steering wheel are electroluminescent gauges lifted from the G37 coupe, although the FX pod does not move up and down with the wheel as it does in the coupe. Fuel and coolant temperature are in lower corners, the primary tachometer and speedometer frame a message center with trip data, scrolling information, and a decent-sized gear indicator you can read at a glance; with seven to choose from you may not always know what gear you're in. Odometers and gauge lighting work through silver ear tabs at the top sides of the pod.
Short-travel column stalks with chrome lips on the twist ends handle the usual chores: signals, lights, and wipers. To the left below the vent is a bank of switches for much of the gadgetry you can get on an FX. These include IBA Off (intelligent brake assist), VDC Off (electronic stability control), DCA (distance control alert), FCW/LCW, AFS on/off (adaptive headlights that follow the road with steering input), and mirror adjustment and fold switches. Mirrors shouldn't need much adjustment in motion but some of the other buttons will, and buried by your left knee all in white-on-black is not the easiest place to find them. The pushbutton start switch is on the dash to the right in clear view.
Between the center vents is a well-shaded screen, whether you have navigation or not, which offers split-screen views. Below it on a near-horizontal surface is the multifunction control wheel with direct access keys to the sides. The system recognizes voice for climate, audio, phone, and navigation, the latter run by a hard-disc drive and offering XM real-time traffic data on screen. We were able to operate this without any owner's manual to consult and got what we wanted with a minimum of missteps, so consider intuitiveness average or better.
The central control panel is finished in piano black. The upper set of audio controls flank an analog clock lit like ice at night and the lower set handle climate operations; in either case the visual details appear on-screen. All these operate in a straightforward manner, though the two round volume/audio knobs and left/right temperature knobs are identical and a quick reach may result in a radio change when you wanted more heat or cooling, or vice versa. At the bottom is a push-open felt-lined bin.
You won't see it, but the FX50 climate control system includes systems that sound derived from space travel. A Plasmacluster ionizer runs in two modes to trap particulate contaminants and make the air crisper and fresher, and a grape seed polyphenol filter neutralizes allergens that get past regular filters.
A small conventional shifter rides center on the console and offers manual mode, but the paddles do better at this and there's no chance you'll accidentally tap the shif.
The driver's view over the swoopy hood implies power lurks beneath and we were not disappointed. With a high-revving V6 that pulls well past 7000 rpm, the FX35 will reach 60 mph in a shade more than 6 seconds, even with all-wheel drive. The romping V8 FX50 will cover it in a bit more than 5 seconds.
Although both engines spin freely and make more horsepower than torque (and run on premium unleaded), the V8 is the smoother of the two and with seven-speed automatics one is never at a loss for propulsion. The competing X6's 3-liter twin-turbo inline six is quicker, more flexible and smoother than the FX35 and we expect the twin-turbo V8 X6 will outrun the FX50; however, you will rarely get to use the full performance of any of them on most roads, the X6 tends to run $10,000-$15,000 more than the FX, and at 10-plus-percent heavier the X6 won't match the FX on mileage.
The new seven-speed automatic does everything it should, with quick gear changes up or down that have a reassuring firmness when you're in a hurry and more muted silkiness at slower speeds. It offers downshift rev-matching for smoothness and least wear on car and occupants, a snow mode, two overdrive ratios for relaxed highway cruising, and is a main contributor to the improved mileage ratings in spite of added power. When run in manual mode, the transmission will not downshift automatically, even if you floor the throttle in top gear.
The available all-wheel-drive system works without any driver input or feedback; it puts power to the ground in the most efficient manner and if that isn't enough the traction control helps out. Though they have 7 inches of ground clearance, these machines are not designed for off-road travel and anything more than a damp beach is asking a lot.
The all-wheel-drive models are rated for towing 2000 pounds with a V6 and 3500 with the V8; towing is not recommended for rear-drive V6s.
If most of your driving is commuting, we'd suggest the V6 for its better mileage, less aggressive throttle tip-in and softer riding tires.
Brakes are four-wheel discs, and on the FX50 they are stout 14-inch discs with silver-painted multipiston calipers at both ends. Combined with the performance summer tires, it can stop in a hurry and has no issues with fade in repeated applications. Infiniti claims the 21-inch Enkei wheels on the FX50 are as light as competitors' 18-inch wheels, which helps explain why the 800-pound heavier FX50 stops almost as well as the G37S coupe with essentially the same brakes but narrower tires.
Underneath, the FX is essentially a car with more ground clearance; the front axle shafts actually go up from the gearbox to the wheels. The majority of the suspension pieces and subframes are aluminum, and the lightness thereby imparted makes it easier to tune a good ride/handling compromise. The basics are coil springs, large stabilizer bars, relatively neutral weight distribution, and 265-section tires regardless of model; it's just the profile that changes, or the performance tires available on the V8.
The FX rides firmly, more like a sport sedan than a crossover, and the only SUV or crossovers that have the same bias to performance over softness are the Acura RDX, BMW X3, X5 and X6 sports, and anything with an AMG badge on it. Fortunately the FX has a very stiff structure to build from so the ride isn't jarring or stiff unless it's a really bad road.
Despite the extra wheelbase the thin sidewalls and performance bent still allow some fore-and-aft pitching, and putting this much weight over a speed bump on such a setup is not done gracefully. But get to a winding road and the impressive grip from the Dunlop SP Sport asymmetric tires, nicely weighted steering, firm roll stiffness and near-neutral balance make for a fun ride with lots of ability for a hefty box.
An FX50 sport package also adds continuous damping control (CDC) suspension and active rear steering. Unless yo.
The Infiniti FX delivers a stylish crossover sport-utility with a healthy dose of amenities and solid performance at a decent price, and a palette of options to please almost anyone. If you prefer looking good and speed to practicality, comfort and fuel economy it's worth putting on your list.
G.R. Whale filed this report to NewCarTestDrive.com after his test drive of the FX models in Southern California.
Infiniti FX35 ($40,950); FX35x ($42,350); FX50 ($56,700).
Options As Tested
Technology Package ($2900) with Lane Departure Warning, intelligent cruise/pre-crash belts/distance control, rain-sensing wipers; Sport Package ($3000) with auto leveling, adaptive, dark-tint headlamps, active rear steering, sport seats, CDC suspension; 265/45WR21 performance tires (N/C).
Infiniti FX50 ($56,700).
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