2010 Infiniti FX50 Expert Review:Autoblog
Infiniti's FX first arrived on the scene in 2003. At the time, it looked like something transported into the showroom directly from the auto show concept car turntable. While other manufacturers were delivering boxy SUVs, Infiniti presented the world a futuristic four-door crossover that was available in vibrant "Liquid Copper" paint. Even in bland white, the FX turned every head on the road – and rightfully so. Now in its second-generation, the all-new 2009 FX arrives with a more powerful 5.0-liter V8, a new 7-speed automatic and a mouthful of electronic driving aids that are sure to stump even the team at Engadget. Is the all-new FX a worthy replacement to its predecessor? Has it turned soft to please the luxury crowd? What's up with all of that gadgetry? Find out after the jump.
All photos Copyright ©2008 Michael C. Harley / Weblogs, Inc.
With the styling of the first-gen Infiniti FX now looking rather bland among the sea of copycat CUVs, the all-new 2009 model was designed with an aggressive pen. Although the new model is only fractionally different dimensionally, the hood appears longer and the greenhouse shorter. The fenders are bulged, the door handles tapered and the headlights scalloped. The new side "gills" and thickened C-pillars add visual length and character to the sides. With its own semi-radical styling (and an injection of Infiniti-family resemblance), the FX is an interesting study that isn't exactly everyone's cup of tea.
Appearance aside, we were much more concerned with the driving dynamics of our Infiniti flagship. Yes, with the loss of the Q45 several years ago and the inability of the QX56 to step up to the plate, the FX50 AWD is the new flagship in both technology and price. Our "Blue Slate" over "Graphite" 2009 FX50 AWD stickered at $65,015 including destination charges (before you go look, a loaded 2009 QX56 arrives at around $62,000). Those with thinner wallets will likely opt for the much more reasonably priced FX35 AWD or FX35 RWD (starting at $42,150). Those two vehicles are essentially the same, except for fewer options and a smaller – but very capable – 3.5-liter V6 (VQ35HR) rated at 303 hp.
While the previous-generation FX45 wasn't a slouch by even sports car standards, Infiniti cranked up the volume on the 2009 FX50 model. The FM-platform crossover features an all-new 5.0-liter V8 (VK50VE) rated at 390 hp and 369 lb-ft of torque. Even with extensive use of aluminum and lightweight materials throughout, the new FX50 tips the scales nearly 100 pounds heavier (now 4,575 pounds) than its predecessor. Even so, the extra power and a 7-speed automatic transmission help the ATTESA E-TS AWD system claw its mass to 60 mph in just over 5 seconds. (The EPA rates the 2009 FX50 AWD at 14 mpg city/20 mpg highway. On our initial stop, we pumped 16.18 gallons of premium unleaded gas into the tank after just 251.2 miles for an average of 15.52 mpg.)
Climbing inside the cabin, passengers are met with beautiful quilted leather seats, hand-stained maple wood, and real aluminum trim. Electroluminescent gauges greet the driver behind the meaty leather-wrapped steering wheel (now with dual magnesium paddle shifters). Our six-foot two-inch frame fit very comfortably in the heated/cooled front seats of the cabin. The second row is accommodating, but not overly spacious. Passengers won't complain, as they will be content watching the optional flip-down DVD player with its 9-inch display through their wireless stereo headphones. Take the headphones off, as the 13-speaker (included 2 subwoofers) BOSE premium audio stereo sounds great, and will play just about any type of audio media in existence. It seems everything inside the cabin is power-operated, including the automatic tensioning device on the front seat belts that removes the slack once you settle in – no kidding. The interior of the FX is simply plush.
There are, of course, a few gripes. Thanks to that aforementioned styling, outward visibility is hampered by both the thick C-pillar and the rearview mirror that's seemingly placed smack in the center of the windshield from our tall point of view. The sunroof is very small (especially when compared to the panoramic moonroofs found on direct competitors). The exterior mirrors don't auto-dim, and there aren't enough 12v power outlets.
With a push of the start button, however, the V8 growls to life. As expected, power is strong. Goose the throttle, and the FX quickly finds its gear and pulls strongly up to speed. The 7-speed automatic wasn't as smooth as we had wished it to be around town – it wanted to race, while we wanted to relax. In the canyons, its shifting actions were more welcomed. Downshifts with the paddles were met with aggressive-sounding rev-matching throttle blips from the all-aluminum 5.0-liter under the hood. You can throw the FX50 into a corner, but there isn't a whole lot of feedback to get your juices flowing. Back and forth through the canyons, the FX will hold the line. But, after a few minutes of the childish driving on public roads, the driver is forced to ponder what they are trying to accomplish. It's just not a sports car.
Mid-way through the week, the FX50 was called to Buttonwillow Raceway Park for race support. The drive to the track was about 150 miles each way across Southern California's expansion-joint-laden concrete freeway system, and then along several long stretches of smoother asphalt. The Continuous Damping Control (CDC) suspension did a mediocre job of keeping us comfortable. Both modes ("Auto" and "Sport") were too harsh for comfortable freeway cruising, even on the smoother sections of pavement. We can't just blame some electronic dampers – one also has to suspect the massive and heavy 21-inch wheels wrapped with meaty 265/45R21 tires. They look trick but are loud, as tons of road noise permeated into the cabin.
At the track paddock, with the second-row seats folded, the FX swallowed four brand-new race tires without complaint (even though overall cargo volume is reportedly down a few cubic feet compared to the outgoing model). The rear liftover is high, and you have to be careful not to mar the painted urethane bumper, but let's face it... hauling cargo really isn't the FX's objective either. The rear tailgate is surprisingly still manually opened and shut in a segment where nearly all of the competition is offering standard power-operated liftgates.
The long drive to Buttonwillow also gave us an excellent opportunity to get acquainted with Infiniti's latest automotive wizardry: LDW, LDP, ICC, DCA, and IBA. The automaker claims the confusing slew of acronymic technology is either part of the "lateral safety shield" or the "forward safety shield" of the FX50. Whatever the case, we are willing to bet most FX drivers don't have a clue how they work, why they exist, or what they are used for. We aren't your average car folk, so we made it a point to run through the big hitters.
The most obnoxious (see our bias coming?) is Lane Departure Warning. It sounds an alert if your car is about to move out of a detectible traffic lane. The system is turned ON by default when the FX is started (it can be defeated with a button on the lower instrument panel). In nearly every case, we forgot to shut it off at start-up. Of course, we were quickly reminded by the annoying audible alert within minutes of driving. In our experience, and on our local roads, normal safe in-lane driving was not good enough for LDW, and it constantly called us on it. The technology apparently works, but Infiniti's application is flawed by the fact that LDW needs to default to OFF with the option to active at for long road trips when you are likely to be distracted, or fall asleep.
Lane Departure Prevention (LDP) is actually a bit spooky. It defaults OFF (rightly so), so you have to activate it first. When running, LDP watches your position in the lane. If you veer slightly right or left, it will gently nudge the left or right brakes to bring the FX back into the correct position within the lane. A tone lets you know it is working (if you can't feel the ghosts tugging at the brakes through the steering wheel, you shouldn't have a driver's license in the first place). The system only works when you depart your lane at a slight angle. If you veer sharply out of your lane, it cannot help you. And yes, the driver can easily override the system with the steering wheel. Again, this technology works, but it is still a few generations from perfected.
Intelligent Cruise Control (ICC) simply rocks. It is OFF by default, but easily activated with the cruise control switches. The system uses a radar (in the grille under the front bumper) to watch the vehicles in front of the FX. Set the cruise control to 75 mph, and the FX50 will happily stay there... unless the car in front slows down. Upon realizing traffic has slowed, ICC will slow the FX accordingly to maintain the gap. It will even bring the vehicle to a complete stop! While you still have to accelerate from a standstill once again, ICC is absolutely priceless in moderate traffic situations – we can't wait until it goes mainstream at a reasonable price point.
Distance Control Assist (DCA) and Intelligent Brake Assist (IBA) work hand-in-hand to keep the FX50 from plowing into the vehicle ahead of itself. DCA (default is OFF) will push back on the accelerator and apply the brakes if your closing speed is too great, while IBA (default is ON) will apply the brakes when forward collisions are about to occur. In normal driving, they work very well. If you are racing around like a madman, or you expect it to overcome the laws of physics, get to know your body shop manager well.
Infiniti's Around View Monitor (AVM) really deserves mentioning too. Cameras have been placed on all four corners of the vehicle and the composite image is displayed on the navigation screen while the vehicle is in Reverse. The "standard" rearward camera view appears on the left of the screen, while an overhead shot is on the right. While it still isn't a substitute for looking over your shoulder, it works exactly as advertised and there are no excuses for backing into anything (or anyone) with an AVM-equipped vehicle
The list of Infiniti acronyms goes on: ASC, CHMSL, ACCS, RDS, AABS, VDC, TCS, ABS, BA, TPMS, AFS, FCW, and even LED (one has to wonder how many Infiniti salespeople can even decipher them all?). While we genuinely like the FX platform and engine, all of the previously cited technology suffocates the driving experience. During the long ride home, we kept thinking that a base Infiniti FX35, with or without the impressive ATTESA E-TS AWD system, is really the way to go.
After one week with the FX50 AWD, we had mixed emotions. Infiniti tags the FX50 AWD as the "Luxury SUV with the Heart of a Sports Car." While this may be both physically and mechanically true, the crossover seems to have lost its focus in the remake. The last-gen FX45 AWD was raw and brutal, with just enough luxury to justify the price. The new model is refined and tempered, but it works far too hard appealing to crowds on both sides of the fence. The luxury is spoiled by the harsh ride and cabin noise, while the driving passion is lost by the inundation of technology and its cumbersome weight. As a brand flagship and technology showpiece, the 2009 FX50 AWD hits the mark. As a specific vehicle that someone needs to put in their garage – we are still seeking the argument.
All photos Copyright ©2008 Michael C. Harley / Weblogs, Inc.
Click above for a high-res gallery of the 2009 Infiniti FX
It's confession-time: I've got a fetish for multi-purpose vehicles. No, I've never been a fan of SUVs. And no, the recent spate of crossovers has left me scratching my head (give me a wagon or give me death!). But what I am interested in are vehicles that can exhilarate on-road while holding their own off-road. It's that same allure that had me pressed against the window of a Subaru dealership at midnight to fantasize about the 2.5RS ten years ago; the reason that I can't wait to drive the BMW X6; and the reason I find myself in San Diego, once again, to spend some quality time with the 2009 Infiniti FX.
All photos © 2008 Damon Lavrinc / Weblogs, Inc.
Truth be told, I liked the last generation FX. I even went so far as to recommend it to a friend, with the caveat that it wasn't the most refined ride in its class. Back when it was introduced, the FX stood alone among the sluggish stalwarts of the SUV set, blending a fair bit of functionality with some manner of sport. But with an interior by Playschool and a suspension made of granite, it didn't quite live up to buyer's expectations. Despite this, the FX still solidified its place as a niche vehicle in a segment that had yet to be defined. The 2009 model aims to do the same, but this time, Infiniti is attempting the same feat on a shoe-string budget with competitors that have gotten hip to the idea that a two-plus-ton beast should actually be engaging.
First things first -- the FX looks pissed. Not angry in a "you used Equal instead of Splenda in my soy vanilla latte," but more of a "if you don't give me your chocolate, your money and your first born, I'm going to channel Ghenghis Khan and get 13th century on your ass." But then again, you'd be fuming too if your ass was that size. It certainly isn't subtle, but it's not particularly purposeful, or elegant – both of which are becoming de rigueur for the segment. While we understand that Infiniti has to make its mark in the styling department, we would have preferred a headlight treatment similar to the G's and a grille that lends some cohesion to the rest of the Infiniti range. That said, at least the vents aft of the front wheel arches are functional, simultaneously reducing under-hood temps while providing down force at speed.
Exterior aesthetics aside, the 2009 FX still retains the basic shape of its predecessor, albeit with a wider track and a longer wheelbase. But more importantly, it utilizes the same FM (front-midship) architecture as the G35 sedan. That means weight distribution is some of the best in its class (FX50 AWD 54/46, FX35 AWD 53/47, FX35 RWD 52/48) and a potent choice of powertrain options that look downright tasty on paper. The entry-level FX35 comes packing the VQ35HR, 3.5-liter V6 that we've come to know and love, shoveling out 303 hp and 262 lb.-ft. of torque to either the rear wheels or all four through a variation of the ATTESA E-TS system. If you throw caution to the wind (read: gas prices) you can option up to the FX50 with the VK50VE, 5.0-liter V8 that's pushing out 390 hp and 369 lb.-ft. of torque, and comes standard with all-wheel-drive. Both models benefit from a new, seven-speed automatic transmission with manual shift modes and downshift rev matching. Plus, Infiniti pilfered the parts bin to equip the FX with what look to be the same paddle shifters found on the Nissan GT-R. We're getting excited, but wait... there's more.
The four-wheel independent suspension has been recalibrated (double wishbones up front and a multi-link rear setup) and aluminum has been used throughout the new FX, from the suspension to the doors, to shave 200 pounds off the curb weight. To deal with the rough ride that was the bane of previous FX owners, Infiniti installed its own Continuous Damping Control (CDC) system to allow drivers to choose between "Auto" and "Sport," with the former soaking up the bumps and the latter getting things stiff in all the right places. While the standard wheels on the FX35 are 18-inch, five-spokes that looked to be pulled off the EX35, the real rollers you want are the lightweight, 21-inch Enkeis wrapped in 265/45R21 high performance summer tires (only available on the FX50). However, this is where things suddenly veer off course.
Remember that 200-pound weight savings? It's been negated by all the new standard equipment on the 2009 model. From seats to safety, the new FX is a technological tour de force, but it comes at the expense of an easy explanation. Let's start slow so we can avoid the mutual explosion of our heads.
Intelligent Cruise Control has become a de facto feature for anything with a price tag north of $50k and it's part of the FX's Technology Package. Thankfully, it works as advertised. Set the cruise control at any speed between 1 and 90 mph and the FX keeps a safe (three-second) following distance from the car ahead. It's easy, functional and could turn into a necessity for those of us in traffic-choked urban areas. The same goes for the Around View Monitor, which uses four cameras (one in the front grille, another on the hatch and two more mounted underneath the side mirrors) to provide a seamless, bird's-eye view of the vehicle's surroundings. It worked flawlessly during our drive and prevented us from scraping those delicious dubs when trying to fit into a parking space in San Diego's Gas Lamp District. With those two easily understood features out of the way, let's get stuck in.
The advanced climate control system features the same dual-zone setup you've experienced before, but that's where the similarities end. A Plasmacluster Filtration system removes mold, fungi and other unwanted particles from the cabin and partners up with the Grape Polyphenol Filter to collect dust, squelch allergens, and, according to Infiniti, the deodorizing principals of both systems can suck up all manner of nasty smells, from farts to French fries.
Also included in the Technology Package is the Distance Control Assist (DCA) system, the Intelligent Brake Assist (IBA) system and the Lane Departure Prevention (LDP) system. All of which seemingly aim to isolate and befuddle under Infiniti's branded Safety Shield system.
Let's begin with the DCA, which uses a laser detection system in front to warn drivers that they're approaching a vehicle too quickly. The system responds to the risk by providing haptic feedback in the form of a subtle push back on the accelerator. Failing that, the IBA system will alert the driver with a tone and a visual signal on the dash. If no action is taken, it begins applying the brakes in an effort to reduce the force of the impact. Too much you say? Try this on for size: The 2009 FX comes standard with a Lane Departure Warning system that utilizes a camera mounted above the inside mirror to detect if the vehicle has left its lane (more than two-degrees of steering angle and it shuts off). While the absolutely infuriating chime that sounded whenever we happened to touch a line on some of the twisting roads that made up our test route was enough to cause random button-pushing above our left knee, even more disturbing is the fact that if you enable the Lane Departure Prevention system, it will actually apply one of the rear brakes to pull you back into the lane. Scary? We thought so too, but it could prove to be a necessary evil.
For the sake of brevity, we're going to avoid giving you the blow-by-blow on the Scratch Shield Paint, Rear Active Steer, 12-point (12!) Sequential Welcome Lighting, adaptive headlamps, HDD navigation, voice recognition for everything from the HVAC to the audio system, XM Navtraffic and the 9.3 gig Music Box hard drive. We hope you're okay with that, but if not, you can expect more when we get an FX in the Autoblog Garage for a week.
Putting the acronyms aside and getting comfortable in the driver's seat, you can see why the exterior is just an evolution of the outgoing model. The interior received the lion's share of the attention. The seats are heavily padded and provide suitable bolstering; they're also heated and cooled, and come in a variety of materials. The dash is easy to read and the steering wheel is sufficiently chunky with just enough redundant controls to avoid technological overload. The center instrument panel is fitted with all the right buttons for all the right tasks. If you don't see it in physical form, a few quick clicks of the center-mounted scroll wheel that controls the display will get you what you want, sometimes in a less-than-intuitive way. Overall, the materials are a substantial step up from the last generation, and do their best to combine a bit of old-school luxury with a hint at the technological marvels that lie beneath.
On the road, both the V8-powered FX50 and V6-equipped FX35 feel like a handful of other 'utes that are attempting to emphasize the "Sport" in Sport Utility Vehicle. The ride is certainly better than the outgoing FX and even with the dampers set to Sport it's not the kidney-punishing affair we previously endured. The steering isn't what we'd call engaging, but it's what we've come to expect from vehicles of this size and weight. Power from the V6 is ample, with a linear torque band that seems to come into its own above 2,500 rpm, while the V8 produces a muted burble out back and provides plenty of motivation when you stamp down on the aluminum long pedal. Both engines have their strong points, but given the weight penalty of the V8 and the better fuel mileage of the V6 (16/21 city/highway for the V6 versus 14/20 for the V8), most buyers would be content with an FX35 optioned up to suit their own specs.
About twenty miles from our starting point, we stopped into a nursery so Infiniti could prove that the FX is both an engaging steer and an SUV with Utility. With the seats folded flat, two five-foot baby oak trees were placed in the back, along with two bags of dirt, all of which was destined for a fire recovery center set up to help victims of the wildfires that laid to waste a large part of Southern California last year. It was a nice gesture, but couldn't have been more poorly timed. The route they'd set us on involved more curves and undulations than on the pages of Playboy, and with two trees and a couple bags of topsoil behind our backs, we did our best over the next two-and-a-half hours to prevent one of the large poles from impaling the front seat occupants. To say that we never got the opportunity to push the FX beyond 5/10ths would be an understatement, but it did give us a hint of the FX's capabilities on the back roads. We were less than impressed.
For a vehicle easily classified as a heavyweight, Infiniti did its best to balance ride comfort and a taut suspension. Where the FX gives up the ghost is its lack of any quantifiable tactile feedback. Steering inputs are masked with a thin layer of Novocain; shifts are somewhat sluggish and the paddle shifters aren't nearly as immediate as they need to be. While we had no complaints with the motivation provided by either engine, there was never that sense of speed and engagement (even without the foliage occupying the rear) that would make the FX anything more than a high-dollar people mover. The FX simply does the job expected of it and little more.
That verdict isn't a huge surprise considering all the effort Infiniti put into festooning the FX with enough high-tech wizardry to keep a CES attendee occupied for years. While the advanced safety features, upgraded interior and magical gizmos are impressive enough, driver involvement obviously took a back seat to electronic sorcery, and because of that, we might have to look elsewhere for our multipurpose kicks.
All photos © 2008 Damon Lavrinc / Weblogs, Inc.
Our travel and lodging for this media event was provided by the manufacturer.
New Car Test Drive
Second generation of bionic cheetah runs like the wind.
The Infiniti FX runs like a bionic cheetah, with sporty handling and responsive engines. The FX35 comes with a 303-horsepower 3.5-liter V6, while the FX50 features a 390-hp 5.0-liter V8. All-wheel drive is standard on the FX50, available on the FX35. Fuel economy for the FX35 is an EPA-estimated 16/23 mpg City/Highway; the FX35 AWD is rated 16/21 mpg, and the FX50 AWD is rated 14/20 mpg.
The FX is a crossover SUV designed for performance and style, so it avoids the boxy proportions of traditional SUVs. It offers some usable cargo space, but not as much back-seat room and cargo space as the boxier SUVs in spite of its large size. The FX offers some exclusivity: It's unlikely one of your neighbors will own one. And we find the wild styling appealing. Certainly, it's not bland.
High style is maintained inside as well. Premium Package and V8 cabins feature fine details, nicely stitched leather, wonderfully stained Maple wood, and matte-finish surfaces that provide a nice respite from the chrome-plated plastic in many other vehicles. While the exterior styling of the FX is polarizing, its interior earns approval from most.
Technology abounds, including the Around View Monitor, which displays images of everything around the FX on the navigation display. Smart cruise control, voice-recognition navigation with real-time weather and traffic, rear-seat entertainment systems, and a host of electronics are available.
The Infiniti FX was all-new for 2009, with new styling, new engines, and new transmissions for the second generation of this performance crossover SUV from Nissan's luxury division. Based on the same platform as the Nissan 300ZX and Infiniti G37 sports cars, the Infiniti FX uses rear-wheel drive. (The FX has nothing in common with the Nissan Murano, which is a front-wheel-drive vehicle built on an entirely different platform.) Primary competition for the Infiniti FX line comes from the rear-wheel-drive BMW X6, which comes at a higher price point.
For 2010, changes are limited to technology features and packaging. Bluetooth hands-free phone connectivity is standard on 2010 Infiniti FX models, as is a USB audio port and interface for iPods. Models without navigation (and its attendant 9.3GB hard drive) now come with a smaller, 2.0GB Music Box all their own. And when you do order navigation, you now get Bluetooth streaming audio, an in-dash DVD audio/video drive, XM NavWeather and NavTraffic, and the Zagat restaurant guide.
The 2010 Infiniti FX is available in three models, differentiated by engine, driveline, and equipment content. The FX35 is powered by a 303-hp V6 and comes with rear-wheel drive or all-wheel drive (AWD). The FX50 has a 390-hp V8 and AWD. All three come with a seven-speed automatic transmission.
The Infiniti FX35 ($42,400) and FX35 AWD ($43,850) come with power leather seats, leather shifter and leather-wrapped manual tilt/telescoping steering wheel with audio controls, dual-zone automatic climate control, split-folding and reclining rear seats, moonroof, power heated folding mirrors with puddle lights, power door locks and windows, power hatch closure, automatic bi-xenon headlamps, fog lamps, rear privacy glass, dark chrome grille, Intelligent key, visors with illuminated mirrors and extensions, stainless scuff plates with the Infiniti logo, HomeLink, rear-view monitor, variable/fixed intermittent front/rear wipers, trip computer, and P265/60VR18 all-season tires on 18-inch alloy wheels. Even the standard stereo is an 11-speaker Bose extravaganza (300 watts, dual subwoofers, CD/MP3/XM); with a USB port, iPod interface, 2.0-GB Music Box hard drive (replacing last year's 6CD changer) and Bluetooth phone connectivity added for 2010.
The FX35 Premium Package ($2,000) adds quilted leather upholstery, climate-controlled front seats; two-position memory for the driver's seat, outside mirrors that tilt down in reverse, power tilt and telescoping steering wheel, and roof rails finished in what Infiniti calls sand blasted aluminum. The Navigation Package ($2,800) upgrades to a 9.3-GB Music Box hard drive, plus voice recognition for both audio and navigation functions, eight-inch color display, XM NavTraffic and XM NavWeather, Zagat restaurant guide, Bluetooth streaming audio, in-dash DVD audio/video player, front and rear park-assist sonar, Around View Monitor. The Deluxe Touring Package ($2,650) upgrades with maple interior accents, aluminum pedals, a cargo cover, and P265/50VR20 all-season tires on high-luster 20-inch alloy wheels.
The Infiniti FX50 ($58,400) comes with all of the above plus the V8 engine and AWD, larger brakes, and 21-inch Enkei metallic-finish alloy wheels. Real chrome replaces silver paint for the lower bodyside accents, and the aluminum roof rails are polished. The FX50 also adds an automatic entry-exit feature to the power steering column and features Infiniti's Advanced Climate Control System (ACCS) with Plasmacluster air purifier, auto-recirculation, and a grape-seed polyphenol filter. The FX50 Sport Package ($3,000) features an adaptive Continuous Damping Control (CDC) suspension; active rear steering; upgraded sport seats up front; magnesium shift paddles; and dark tinted headlights, side air vents and lower side trim. P265/45WR21 summer-rated tires are available with the Sport Package for no additional charge.
The Technology Package ($2,900) bundles advanced safety systems including Intelligent Brake Assist with Forward Collision Warning; Lane Departure Prevention; Lane Departure Warning; Front Pre-Crash Seat Belts; Intelligent Cruise Control; Distance Control Assist; rain-sensing front windshield wipers; Adaptive Front lighting System (AFS); and auto-leveling headlights. Port-installed options include an aero kit ($2,070), DVD monitors in the rear headrests ($1,510), a tow package ($680) consisting of Class II hardware and a four-pin harness, aluminum roof rail crossbars ($325), a cargo organizer ($225).
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. Available all-wheel drive can enhance safety in adverse conditions.
The Infiniti FX was nicknamed the bionic cheetah when it was launched (as a 2003 model) and this second generation (introduced for 2009) hasn't strayed far from the concept. One could argue the FX was the progenitor of the fashion-trumps-function style that spawned the BMW X6 and similar vehicles. The FX is sort of a four-door coupe SUV.
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 engine 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 and a half more wheelbase, and is about eight inches longer, four inches wider, and ten inches taller. 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 bright strip below the doors, and everything else is curved. Projector headlamps lend some animal characteristic, a touch of the cheetah, to the front, 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. No one loves a bland car and the FX is not bland.
Behind the huge front wheels are chrome, arched vertical vents for ducting engine compartment air out and reducing front lift by 5 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 as the bodywork curves inward toward the rear.
The spoiler atop the rear glass is integral with the hatch, void of the seams more common tacked-on pieces have; it may aid downforce and wind noise, too. Large swaths of chrome set off the license plate recess, and a stainless bumper top cover is available to avoid paint scuffs.
If you look carefully you will find a camera above the license plate, on the bottom of each rear-view mirror, and one at the top of the grille.
The Infiniti FX cabin is very nicely finished. The FX35 interior in Graphite presents well. The available diamond-quilted leather brings to mind fine British or Italian coachbuilding. Ordered with the available vertically grained Maple wood trim, hand-stained for darker edges, with matte-finish silver appointments, and the FX is 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, trimmed at the edges in chrome. Soft-touch surfaces are everywhere, with hard plastic only on the lower center pillars and the 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. The optional 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 navigation system recognizes voice for climate, audio, phone, and, yes, navigation, this last run by a hard-disc drive and offering XM real-time traffic (and now weather) 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 shifter into neutral. Behind the shifter are the seat temperature controls and suspension control switch, followed by a dual cupholder with wood cover, and dual-bin storage with iPod connection under the armrest.
The front seats of the FX are comfortable and well-designed to match the cornering capability of the car without feeling overly restrained. On the FX50 driver memory and seat heat and cooling is standard, though the coolers are a bit noisy at their max setting. The optional sport seats on the FX50 offer all the usual adjustments plus thigh extensions and, for the driver, powered side bolsters for legs and torso; they're really good, and with that diamond-quilt pattern are as close to a Bentley Continental or Italian exotic as you'll get in a crossover.
By SUV standards you sit fairly low in the FX, and the front tunnel/hump around the running gear takes away a bit of foot wiggle room. But there is a lot of travel in the seat tracks, 44 inches of legroom and a floor-hinged gas pedal so it won't be a deal-breaker.
The rear cabin matches the front for woodwork and finish, and the reclining seats are comfortable but it's better to use the center armrest rather than seat third person on the firm middle cushion with limited foot room and a fixed headrest. Here the stylish proportions of the FX become noticeable because shoulder room matches the front but headroom's a bit less, and legroom loses 10 inches from the front. It isn't exactly tight but it isn't roomy either.
Nor is the cargo area particularly generous, offering 25 cubic feet behind the back seat and 62 cubic feet with it folded. It isn't a big trunk and we found it didn't fit a pair of big roller suitcases under the cover. Lift-over height is a relatively high 31 inches, meaning you'll have to lift your cargo high to load it in back.
The rear seats are easily folded from the door or hatch; the narrow seat is behind the driver. There are four light-duty tie-down points, a 12-volt power point and light, and the cover that rides on chrome rails folds in three sections. A metal threshold plate includes a spring-loaded cover around the latch, and the space saver spare rides underfloor with a subwoofer resting within it.
With a high-revving V6 that pulls well past 7000 rpm, the Infiniti 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 the 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, and the X6 tends to run $10,000-15,000 more than the FX.
Both seven-speed automatics do everything they 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. They offer downshift rev-matching for smoothness and reduced wear on car and occupants, a snow mode, and two overdrive ratios for relaxed highway cruising (and fuel mileage that's generally better than in the previous-generation FX, in spite of added power.) When run in manual mode, nether transmission will 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.
Towing is not the forte of the FX. The FX50 is rated to tow up to 3500 pounds, while the FX35 AWD is rated for just 2000 pounds, a very lightweight trailer. Towing is not recommended for the rear-drive FX35.
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 rotors with silver-painted multipiston calipers at both ends. Combine these with the performance summer tires, and the FX50 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 750-pound heavier FX50 stops almost as well as the G37S coupe, which has 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 265mm-wide tires regardless of model; it's just the sidewall height that changes, or the tread/compound in the case of the performance tires available on the V8.
The FX rides firmly, more like a sport sedan than a crossover; the only other SUVs 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 on a really bad road.
Despite a full-size sedan's wheelbase, the low, stiff sidewalls and performance suspension 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 of the tires, nicely weighted steering, firm roll stiffness and near-neutral balance make for a fun ride with lots of ability for a hefty box.
The FX50 sport package adds continuous damping control (CDC) suspension and active rear steering. Unless you're on a race track, the CDC is best left on Automatic where it blends comfort and precise response so well that the Sport mode rarely lets you go much quicker. The active rear steering is an electronically controlled rack mounted low and behind the rear differential that changes rear wheel angle up to one degree to aid stability in very brisk maneuvers and transitions. The BMW X6 with its sport package puts up better maximum numbers in outright grip and braking, but we've found the X6 doesn't feel as fun, smooth or happy doing it.
Besides a ride not suited to some Midwest infrastructure the other drawback is potential tire and road noise coming in. On some highway surfaces the rear tires sing, though it can be easily drowned out by the audio system at low listening levels.
The Technology Package brings the occasional bell, ping or other warning sound, signal and sensation. With a cruise control system that can follow a vehicle and use brakes automatically to maintain distance, it also warns you of impending collision when you aren't watching where you're going. The Lane Departure Warning system isn't mistake-proof, once seeming to mistake splashed water for leaving an unmarked lane. And it is on every time you start the car; you must press the button to stop false alarms.
Seeing out forward isn't an issue unless you are short and the big mirror and door post/pillar combination block forward side vision, or you need to squeeze through a narrow opening because the front body edges are undefined and just out there somewhere. To the rear, the canopy pillars, minimal glass and rear headrests conspire against you, although the rear wiper clears most of the glass you can see. Infiniti has a fix for this called the Around View Monitor: With the rear camera view display on the left side of the dash screen, the right side presents an aerial image of the car and its surroundings on the right screen digitized from the side, front and rear camera input. It's a better setup than the self-parking Lexus.
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 going fast 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 ($42,400); FX35 AWD ($43,850); FX50 AWD ($58,400).
Options As Tested
Technology Package ($2900) includes Lane Departure Warning, Lane Departure Prevention, Intelligent Brake Assist, Forward Collision Warning, intelligent cruise control, Distance Control Assist, pre-crash belts, rain-sensing wipers, adaptive and self-leveling headlamps; Sport Package ($3000) includes dark-tint headlamps and exterior trim, active rear steering, sport seats, shift paddles, CDC suspension; 265/45WR21 performance tires (N/C with Sport Package); tow package ($680).
Infiniti FX50 AWD ($58,400).
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