When you make the market’s most un-SUV-like SUV– a large, fast, expensive, thirsty, luggage and mud-aversive vehicle– what do you do for an encore? If you’re Infiniti, you make a virtually identical smaller version that’s slightly more fuel efficient. And how do you convince consumers to buy this $40k FX35 mini-me? You cram it with enough electronics to keep an AWACS crew busy for hours. Strangely, that’s not the best reason to buy an EX35. Hell, it’s not even a good reason. But I’m getting ahead of myself here…
Visually, the difference between the FX and EX is no more profound than the disparity between Sarah Connor in the first and second Terminator movies. The “coupe inspired” EX is a bit more compact and a lot more cut than the FX. And that's it. To this reviewer’s eyes, the FX’ zoftig curves are far more appealing than the Bimmer-aping character lines bisecting the EX’ prow and flanks. The EX’ rear window treatment is especially over-wrought; a mish-mash of shapes assembled for the sole purpose of not being an FX.
The EX’ back end lacks the FX’ way cool integrated coffee can exhausts, but the smaller sib’s helm leaves no doubt to which letter in SUV it aspires. The Japanese cute ute’s steering wheel is meaty enough to inspire a vegetarian backlash. That said, the EX’ designers clearly decided that G comes before Z in their aesthetic alphabet. To justify the Lexus-like price tag, Infiniti’s designers have once again benchmarked Audi. From the climate controls to the red-faced LCD trip computer nestled between the gauges, the EX grasps for Ingolstadt's four rings.
And misses the marque. The EX’ dash may be as handsome as Poggenpohl kitchen, but the gauges’ violet inner rings and oversized font stick out like an oil can of Fosters in a wicker wine cradle. The EX’ leather seats may look elegantly sumptuous, but they feel as plasticky as your grandmother's vinyl couch covers. The EX’ rotary controller is suitably Starck, but sits dorkily on the dashtop, like a nerd's polyester trousers grazing his nipples. While I can appreciate the oil-dampened glide of a glovebox door as much as the next OCD pistonhead, the EX’ cabin proves than lackluster imitation is the sincerest form of bad branding.
If Infiniti has a "thing," it's gizmos. We're talking voice recognition, an Intelligent Key (that couldn't answer the simplest trivia questions), Intelligent Cruise Control (that kept Tom away), an "Around View" parking monitor (in case you need to park sideways), a brake-actuating Lane Departure Prevention system, Sat Nav (with real time traffic info), Bluetooth, Bose blasting (with 24-bit DAC, 11 speakers, two subwoofers, six CD player, iPod connectivity and a 9.3GB hard drive), remote rear seat release (and motorized retraction) and the usual luxury everything. Wait. No power liftgate? Nope.
But power it's got. The EX’ fourth gen VQ engine stumps-up 297hp and 253 ft.-lbs. of torque. As max shove clocks-in at a relatively high rpm, sporting drivers must give the EX’ go-pedal a proper pasting to satisfy their accelerative urges. So motorvated, the 3752lbs. EX heads for the hills like you TASERed its tailpipes. The dash from rest to 60mph takes a shade under six seconds. Provided you use the EX’ five-speed autobox’ manual override to hold onto tight to your revs, the SUV will pass long lines of traffic in a single bound.
On the downside, EX lacks the similarly speedy FX35's operatic mellifluousness under wide open throttle. What's worse, the silence allows the EX' tire roar to come to the fore (damn those fat all-season shoes). The EX35's prodigious thirst is another inconvenient truth. Ambling around town, the accommodation and cargo-challenged SUV gulps gas at the astonishing rate of 16mpg. Drive the EX like you stole it and the fuel bills will make you wish you had.
Still, if you had to evade the long arm of the law in an SUV (closed course, fake arm), you could hardly do better than pilot an EX equipped with ATTESA ET-S (Advanced Total Traction Engineering System with Electronic Torque Split). If you ignore the FX-donated crashy rear suspension, and the EX' unsettling tendency to porpoise over undulations, the all wheel-drive Infiniti can perform the same stupid truck tricks that help Porsche Cayenne S owners justify their bizarre whip to incredulous mainstream motorists– only faster.
Yes but– you can’t drive an EX35 off road. Or tow anything. Or carry four adults in comfort. Or their luggage. Yes, the Infiniti EX35 is the fastest, best handling of all the luxury cute utes. But who cares? How many people have been hankering for a really expensive jacked-up two-plus-two sports coupe with a billion megabits of electro-mechanical mishaps just waiting to happen, produced by an automaker whose street cred hovers in that near luxury no-man’s land once occupied by Buick, currently home to Acura?
In fact, the Infiniti’s EX' EXtreme lack of utility consigns this so-called SUV to an EXtremely rarified niche: drivers who want a less practical G35 sedan with a better view; or customers looking for a smaller, cheaper FX35. Otherwise, well, what was the point?