Expert Review:New Car Test Drive
New Car Test Drive
Small luxury crossover drives like a car.
The Infiniti EX35 is a crossover SUV, smaller than the Infiniti FX. It strikes a balance between sportiness and luxury. It feels more carlike than other crossovers and SUVs, but it isn't as driver-oriented as BMW's X3 and other crossovers.
Inside there is room for five, but it's much more comfortable with four. The cabin boasts rich, soft-touch materials and a stylish design. All of the controls are within easy reach.
The EX35 is brimming with technology. For example, the Around View Monitor shows obstacles 360 degrees around the vehicle, there's a hard drive available with 9.3 gigabytes of storage space for music files. The Lane Departure Prevention system lightly applies the brakes on one side to steer the vehicle back into its lane should it start crossing lane lines.
Room up front is good, but taller drivers will want more head room, especially if they opt for the up-level Journey model with its standard sunroof. The back seat offers decent room, but things get a bit tight with the front seats all the way back. Both rows are easy to enter and exit, thanks to the EX35's ride height, which is higher than a sedan, but not as high as most SUVs.
Cargo room is plentiful thanks to the hatchback design, though many SUVs offer more space. An power-folding second row eases the process of loading items in the back, and they can be brought back up from the driver's seat, handy when pulling up to the curb to pick up passengers.
Under the hood is Nissan's superb 3.5-liter V6. It makes 297 horsepower and is mated to a five-speed automatic transmission that has a manual shiftgate but no paddle shifters. We were pleased by the EX35's ready power. It accelerates from a standstill quickly and offers strong passing response at highway speeds. Fuel economy is an EPA-estimated 16/23 mpg city/highway.
We found the EX35 drives like a sports sedan with a slightly elevated ride height. The EX35 comes with a choice of rear-wheel drive and all-wheel drive. The AWD is meant for on-road use and is very beneficial in foul weather. We found the handling responsive, and the brakes and steering feel natural and inspire confidence. The EX35 rides more smoothly the larger FX, and it isn't as firm as the BMW X3. Even with the available 18-inch wheels, the EX35 smoothes out the bumps without jolting passengers.
With its carlike handling, powerful engine, and useful cargo room, the Infiniti EX35 is a fine alternative to larger, more cumbersome SUVs. The smooth ride and rich, classy interior add to the appeal. If you want a sporty, comfortable vehicle that drives like a car but has the cargo room of a wagon or SUV, make sure to put the EX35 on your shopping list.
The Infiniti EX35 was launched as an all-new vehicle for 2008. For 2010, the headlights have been subtly reshaped and there have been changes to features and option packaging.
The 2010 Infiniti EX35 is offered in two trim levels, base and Journey, each with rear- or all-wheel drive. Every EX35 is powered by a 297-hp 3.5-liter V6. The lone transmission is a five-speed automatic with a manual shiftgate.
The EX35 ($33,800) and EX35 AWD ($35,200) come standard with automatic climate control (with rear heat and air conditioning vents), leather-appointed seating, aluminum trim, eight-way power driver seat with manual lumbar adjustment, four-way power passenger seat, 60/40 split second-row seat, manual tilt/telescoping leather-wrapped steering wheel, remote keyless entry and starting, trip computer, six-speaker AM/FM/CD/MP3 stereo with auxiliary input jack, XM Satellite Radio, RearView Monitor, auto on/off halogen headlights, and P225/60R17 all-season tires on seven-spoke aluminum wheels. Added for 2010 are a USB port for the stereo and heat for the outside mirrors; AWD versions now get heated front seats, too.
EX35 Journey ($36,000) and Journey AWD ($37,400) add a power slide/tilt glass sunroof, dual-zone automatic climate control, heated front seats, auto-dimming inside mirror with compass, power tilt/telescoping steering column, and wood interior trim. For 2010, a Bluetooth hands-free phone system with steering-wheel mounted controls is standard. The Navigation Package (no charge) includes XM NavTraffic, XM NavWeather, and Zagat restaurant guide; plus voice recognition for audio and navigation, 9.3GB Music Box, in-dash single-disc DVD audio/video drive, and streaming audio via Bluetooth.
Options include the Bose Around View Monitor Package ($2,150).The Around View Monitor uses four small front, side and rear-mounted cameras to give the driver a top-down view of the outside of the vehicle and help reduce blind spots when parking. The package includes front and rear sonar park assist, a Bose premium audio system with 11 speakers (including 2 subwoofers) and 2.0GB Music Box hard drive, and an Advanced Climate Control System with auto-recirculation, grape polyphenol filter and Plasmacluster technology.
The Premium Package ($1,750) adds a memory function for the driver's seat, steering wheel and outside mirrors (with tilt-down in reverse); eight-way power front passenger's seat; driver's seat power lumbar support; xenon headlights with AFS; HomeLink Universal Transceiver; premium stitching on the instrument hood; power remote rear seat; headrest coat hangers; and aluminum roof rails. The Technology Package ($2,250) includes active safety features including Lane Departure Warning and Lane Departure Prevention, Intelligent Cruise Control, Distance Control Assist, and Intelligent Brake Assist with Forward Collision Warning. High-performance P225/55VR18 all-season tires on eight-spoke aluminum alloy wheels ($500) are available.
Aluminum roof rails ($250) are a stand-alone option on any model. Dealers can install aluminum roof rack crossbars ($240) and a cargo organizer ($150).
Safety features that come standard on all models include dual front airbags; torso-protecting, seat-mounted front side airbags; head-protecting curtain side airbags; LATCH child seat anchors; active front head restraints; antilock brakes with brake assist and electronic brake-force distribution; traction control; electronic stability control; and a rear-view monitor.
The Infiniti EX35 is more car-like than SUV-like. It looks like a coupe crossed with a wagon. It sits lower than a typical crossover, and has a sporty, swept back appearance. The cat's-eye headlights have been subtly reshaped for 2010.
From the front, the EX35 looks strikingly similar to the Infiniti G37 sedan. In the rearview mirror, it's hard to tell the two apart, with their similar grilles and fascia. Its slightly raised stance and larger side mirrors are good indicators that the sporty vehicle behind is the crossover, not the sedan. Also distinguishing the EX35 and G37 are the different shapes of the air intakes in the front fascia.
Like that of the G37 sedan, the EX35 front end has curvaceous, organic shapes that flow into body sides marked by prominent wheel openings pushed to the corners. But while the cross-section of the sedan is a single, unbroken curve, the EX sports a graceful character line flowing from front to rear, dipping in the middle and sweeping up at the back to give the crossover a sporty rake. The greenhouse appears to be pushed back, and the roof line sweeps down at the rear in a coupe-like manner. This brings the top of the rear hatch forward to almost the rear edge of the rear doors. The EX35 looks most like an SUV from the rear, mostly due to the rear hatch and high-set taillights.
In fact, the EX35 shares its basic structure (code-named FM) with the G37 and FX. The EX is nine inches shorter overall than the FX and rides on a 3.4-inch shorter wheelbase. The EX is also lighter than the FX by more than 300 pounds.
Scratch Shield paint is available that uses a clear coat developed to maintain the paint's luster longer. Infiniti says it is self-healing. The softer clear coat heals scratches by flowing back to a smooth finish over time with the help of heat. It works quicker in the summer and in hotter climates.
Rich, soft-touch materials abound inside the EX35, and there is a general feeling of quality and sophistication. The rounded shapes create a dual-cockpit design with flowing lines that are a natural extension of the exterior.
The instrument panel features a large tachometer and speedometer, flanked by the water temperature and fuel gauges. In the center is a digital display for the trip computer, which shows such information as outside temperature, the odometer and trip odometer, real-time mpg, average mpg, miles per hour, and fuel range.
The center stack juts out to make every control very easy to reach. Its central component is a seven-inch screen that comes standard with or without the optional navigation system. The screen has some touch-sensitive controls when ordered with the navigation system, but thankfully doesn't absorb the basic audio or climate controls. Large buttons are laid out below it to move between navigation and audio screens, among others. The unique layout takes some getting used to, but it works well. Infiniti's radio also has A, B and C presets instead of AM and FM presets, another trait that some may find a bit confusing. The good news is that you can quickly switch between favorite FM music, AM talk radio, and XM TV news stations with the press of a button; no need to first change modes.
Small items storage is only so-so. The center console is nicely sized and there are two cupholders in front of it, but there are no small cubbies to hold keys, cell phones, and other miscellaneous items.
The EX35 boasts several unusual technology features. The available navigation system is teamed with a hard drive with 9.3 gigabytes of space to store music files. Music can be ripped directly from CDs. For 2010, models with the Bose premium stereo but without navigation come with a smaller, 2.0 gigabyte hard drive.
The Bose package includes Infiniti's Around View Monitor, which takes the idea of a rearview camera to a new level. It utilizes four cameras, one hidden in the Infiniti logo up front, one in the tailgate and one in each outside mirror, to give a virtual 360 degree view of the vehicle. The cameras have fisheye lenses, but the system uses software to flatten out the images. Those images are displayed on the right side of the dashboard screen in either an overhead full-vehicle view or in a right-side view. The system works fairly well, but the images aren't very large, so it is still necessary to survey your surroundings when parking or backing up. When the vehicle is put in reverse, a larger image of the rear is projected on the left side of the screen.
The Technology Package includes Infiniti's Lane Departure Prevention system, which goes one step beyond Lane Departure Warning. Lane Departure Warning detects painted lane lines and emits a beep if you begin to cross those lines without using a turn signal. Lane Departure Prevention then gently applies the brakes on the opposite side of the vehicle to steer it back on course. When we let the EX35 drift to the left, we could feel the system working to correct our path. The system didn't seem to correct as much when we let the vehicle drift to the right.
The EX35 offers the room of a midsize station wagon. It's a step up in cargo space from a sedan, but it's small by SUV standards.
Getting in and out is a breeze because the EX35 sits higher than a sedan but lower than most SUVs. With the Journey's sunroof, head room up front is tight for anyone over 6-foot. Leg room, on the other hand, is plentiful. The front seats are comfortable, with nice bolstering that may pinch the love handles of larger passengers.
The EX's large exterior mirrors provide good visibility to the rear. That's especially important because the shape of the rear pillar and the position of the headrest on the passenger side rear seat creates a large blind spot over the driver's right shoulder.
The rear seats are comfortable, but the EX35 will be far more comfortable for four passengers than five. Head room isn't a problem, but leg room gets tight when the front seats are pushed far back. The rear seats are shaped to make the outboard positions more comfortable than most, but getting stuck in the center position will definitely cause fights among the kids. The seat is split 60/40 and there is a standard fold-down center armrest, which further aids comfort for outboard passengers. On Journey models with the Premium Package, a coat hanger pops out of the back of the driver-seat headrest, useful for hanging a sport coat or suit jacket.
Journey models with the Premium Package feature a second-row seats that fold up and down via power controls located in the rear cargo area. There are also power controls up front to raise the seats, though the driver can't lower the seats from behind the wheel. With or without power, the second-row seats also fold down manually in an easy one-step motion. The seats don't fold quite flat, but the liftover is fairly low, and with the seats down there is 55.7 cubic feet of cargo volume. That means the EX can handle most trips to Home Depot, but it is not as roomy as most midsize or even compact SUVs. With the rear seats up, there is still 18.6 cubic feet of cargo volume, which is at least more than in most trunks.
More than other crossovers, the Infiniti EX35 drives like a car. In fact, the EX drives like a sports sedan, and a pretty good one at that. That's not surprising because the EX traces its roots to the G37 sedan's architecture.
Compared to Infiniti's other crossover, the FX, the EX35 is aimed a little more toward luxury than sportiness. The difference mostly manifests itself in ride quality. With the base 17-inch wheels, the EX35 offers a smooth ride. The EX35 rides better than the larger FX and softer than the G37 sedan. Sharp bumps never jolt, even with the available 18-inch wheels. The ride becomes busier with the 18s, but it is still comfortable.
With a taller ride height than the G sedan and softer suspension settings than the FX, the EX isn't quite as sporty as its Infiniti siblings. That said, it doesn't lean much in corners and it's nimble during quick changes of direction. The steering feels natural and direct, and is quick for a crossover, though not as fast as in a sports car. Braking is confidence-inspiring, with good pedal feel.
The 297-hp 3.5-liter V6 that comes in the EX35 is one of the best engines available today. It is mated to a five-speed automatic transmission with a manual shiftgate. The duo works in tandem to provide willing power in any situation. Infiniti doesn't list a 0-60 mph time, but we'd estimate it at around 6.0 seconds.
The EX35 leaps from a stop and is even more impressive in passing situations at highway speeds. The five-speed automatic is quick to kick down to a lower gear when extra power is needed, and drivers can use the manual shift mode to enhance the fun in the twisties. Oddly, steering wheel paddles aren't provided. We think the EX35 would be even more fun with them.
While power is ample, fuel economy is just so-so. With rear-wheel drive, the EX is EPA-estimated at 17/24 mpg City/Highway. With all-wheel drive, the numbers are 16/23 mpg. Infiniti recommends but does not require premium-grade fuel for the EX.
The V6 engine roars under heavy acceleration, but it is docile the rest of the time. Otherwise, the cabin is impressively quiet, with wind noise well controlled at highway speed and very little tire noise.
The Infiniti EX35 offers a pleasant driving experience and sporty looks to go with useful cargo space. Add in a powerful engine, a classy interior, and some cool tech features and the EX35 is another fine alternative to clunky SUVs and boring station wagons.
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent Kirk Bell filed this report.
Infiniti EX35 ($33,800); EX35 AWD ($35,200); EX35 Journey ($36,000); EX35 Journey AWD ($37,400).
Options As Tested
Premium Package ($1,750) includes memory function for the driver's seat, steering wheel and outside mirrors (with tilt-down in reverse), eight-way power front passenger's seat, driver's seat power lumbar support, xenon headlights with AFS, HomeLink Universal Transceiver, premium stitching on the instrument hood, power remote rear seat; headrest coat hanger, aluminum roof rails; Bose and Around View Monitor Package ($2,150) includes Around View Monitor, front and rear sonar park assist, 11-speaker Bose premium audio system with 2.0 GB Music Box hard drive and Advanced Climate Control; Navigation Package (NC) includes XM NavTraffic, XM NavWeather, Zagat restaurant guide, voice recognition, single DVD audio/video drive, streaming audio via Bluetooth, and upgrade to 9.3 GB Music Box; Technology Package ($2,250) includes Lane Departure Prevention system, Intelligent Cruise Control, Distance Control Assist and Intelligent Brake Assist with Forward Collision Warning; Around View Monitor.
Infiniti EX35 AWD Journey ($37,400).
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