2011 Infiniti FX50 Expert Review:New Car Test Drive
New Car Test Drive
Big crossover with sports appeal.
The Infiniti FX is a big crossover with sporty handling and responsive engines. Designed for performance and style, 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.
We find the wild styling appealing. Certainly, it's not bland.
And it runs like a bionic cheetah. The FX is based on the same platform as the Nissan Z and Infiniti G sports cars. All-wheel drive is available, but it's a rear-wheel-drive platform, meaning sporty. (Note the FX has nothing in common with the Nissan Murano, which is a front-wheel-drive vehicle built on an entirely different platform, a common misperception.) Primary competition for the Infiniti FX line comes from the rear-wheel-drive BMW X6, which comes at a higher price point.
The Infiniti FX35 comes with a 303-horsepower 3.5-liter V6, while the FX50 features a 390-hp 5.0-liter V8. 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.
While the exterior styling of the FX is polarizing, its interior earns approval from most. Touring Package cars 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.
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.
For 2011, changes are minor. A power rear liftgate is standard and the FX50 comes with 20-inch wheels and black lacquer cabin trim. The 21-inch wheels and Maple wood trim previously standard on FX50 are now optional, but even including them the price is about $400 lower. We think both of those moves are in the right direction. The Infiniti FX was all-new for 2009.
The 2011 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 models come with a 7-speed automatic transmission.
The Infiniti FX35 ($41,600) and FX35 AWD ($43,050) 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, aluminum pedal covers, 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.
The FX35 Premium Package ($4,800) 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, roof rails finished in what Infiniti calls sand blasted aluminum and navigation (includes 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, Around View Monitor), front and rear park-assist sonar, Around View Monitor. The Deluxe Touring Package ($2,750) 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 ($56,400) comes with all the FX35 AWD with Premium package plus the V8 engine and AWD, larger brakes, and 20-inch 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. Both Sport and Technology packages require the Touring package.
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. A Deluxe Touring package ($1,650) adds Maple cabin trim, 21-inch wheels and tires, and aluminum pedal accents. 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), and 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 called a bionic cheetah when it was launched (as a 2003 model) and this second generation (introduced for 2009) didn't stray 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. If such a term existed the FX would be labeled 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 20-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, 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. 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/LDW (forward collision and lane departure warnings), 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 a 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 waist-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.
Both engines spin freely and make more horsepower than torque (and run on premium unleaded), but the V8 is the smoother of the two and with the 7-speed automatics one is never at a loss for propulsion. The competing X6's 3-liter twin-turbo inline-6 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 costs more.
The 7-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. We don't recommend FX models as tow vehicles.
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 wheels offered 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 urban 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 California.
Infiniti FX35 ($41,600); FX35 AWD ($43,050); FX50 AWD ($56,400).
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; deluxe touring package ($1,650); tow package ($680).
Infiniti FX50 ($56,400).
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