As auto enthusiasts, we champion cars that deviate from the soporific segment norm. If we don’t, who will? Most manufacturers offer, at most, one or two such vehicles. Then there’s Nissan and its luxury arm, Infiniti. In the crossover / SUV / minivan arena they field a fiscally insane hodgepodge of deviants: cube, JUKE, Xterra, Quest, EX, FX. Automotive deviants rarely sell well, and (like their human analogues) often die tragically early deaths. Not the Infiniti FX, now in its tenth model year. But will there be a third generation?
The first generation Infiniti FX’s exterior was timeless near-perfection: so clean, and such an intriguing combination of feminine curves with masculine proportions. The second generation, typical of follow-ups to icons, transformed the original into an overstyled cartoon. Revisions for 2012 continue this unfortunate trajectory, adding the grille from the rhino-like QX. Someone clearly felt that some visual punch was lacking, for there’s also a new Limited Edition coated in Iridium Blue and shod with gray turbine-bladed 21-inch alloys that appear oversized even within the FX’s generous curves. So, do you love it or hate it?
Inside there’s also a special blue…on the floormat piping. The 2012 FX’s interior is as tasteful and cosseting as the exterior is outlandish and off-putting, with calming curves, premium materials, and large, comfortable seats. The Infiniti EX35’s interior is infamously tight. Inside the larger FX, the retro-positioned windshield and many curves yield an atmosphere that’s nearly as intimate (along with outstanding ergonomics), but there’s actually enough room for four full-sized adults. Cargo space falls short of the segment norm, as does the lack of a third row, but as the prices of designer’s-wet-dream exteriors go these aren’t bad ones.
The FX’s electronics can be irritating. The Bluetooth system requires too many steps, the voice recognition system often becomes an exercise in frustration, and reactions to button presses are often delayed, so you hit them again, only to have the second push reverse the first. To an even greater extent than the typical system, the nav displays too few street names even when zoomed in. The around-view monitor, on the other hand, makes parking or backing out of a curvy driveway a joy. Want the full array of gadgetry, including adaptive cruise and lane departure warning? Then no Limited Edition for you. The “Technology Package” is only offered on the regular FX.
The Limited Edition isn’t offered with the suitably gonzo 390-horsepower 5.0-liter V8. The mandatory 303-horsepower 3.5-liter V6 moves the ovoid SUV well enough, but induces no adrenaline rush. Being charitable (for once) about the sound of the six we’ll say that its loud, couth-deficient character fits the rest of the vehicle. The seven-speed automatic transmission behaves well, shifting quickly in manual mode (though there are no paddles to assist with this).
The FX35 drives very much like a G37 that’s packed on a quarter-ton (for a curb weight of 4,284 pounds) and been lifted a few inches. Which is essentially what it is. The basic dynamics are the same, just surreally altered. The steering doesn’t feel precise or provide a very direct connection to the front wheels, but the wheel is small, the system is quick to respond, and together with the chassis it yields a surprisingly chuckable chunk of SUV. A touch soggy and unwieldy, but oddly entertaining. The view forward over the long, dramatically undulating hood enhances the experience. Think Corvette, just much higher off the ground.
Though the FX’s feel is distinctly that of a rear-wheel-drive vehicle, all-wheel-drive (mandatory on the Limited Edition) effectively blunts the platform’s inherent tendency to insufficiently linear throttle-induced oversteer. With the V6 it’s only easy to hang the tail out on loose surfaces or at low speeds. But the stability control kicks in too hard and too early anyway. Despite their size—265/45VR21—the tires aren’t very grippy, and lapse into a safe, mushy slide at their limits. Credit the odd choice of tire model: Bridgestone Dueller H/L 400s. Not high-performance rubber, and a sign (along with the lack of the FX50’s Sport Package option) that the FX35 Limited Edition is more about show than go.
The payoff for the ride-oriented rubber and softer suspension tuning than in earlier FXs: livable ride quality. Even with the 21s impacts are only occasionally harsh. My wife, who couldn’t stand the ride in the sport-suspensioned G37, found the FX35 quite comfortable.
The sticker price for all of this sport truck goodness: $52,445. A regular FX35 AWD with Premium Package lists for $2,700 less. Figure $2,500 for the LE’s special blue paint and 21-inch wheels. A similarly-equipped Porsche Cayenne with 20-inch wheels lists for over $12,000 more, about $1,400 of which can be attributed to feature differences according to TrueDelta’s car price comparison tool. Or, if utility truly isn’t needed in your sport utility, the Acura ZDX is $1,040 less before adjusting for feature differences and about $875 less afterwards.
But what if utility matters a lot, as it does for the typical crossover buyer? Infiniti gave the FX ten years to carve out a space for itself. For the 2013 model year they’re caving to market demand and adding a Murano-based minivan substitute to the lineup. Compared to the FX35 LE, the JX35 lists for nearly $5,000 less after adjusting fore feature differences. Forego dubs on both and the gap narrows by a grand. Still, the writing is on the wall. In the JX35 most people will see more room for more people for less money. During 2011 monthly FX sales usually failed to break 1,000 units. Once the JX arrives they could well slow to a trickle. The FX35 might not be perfect, but it delivers a unique driving experience. The automotive landscape would be poorer without it. Want the aggressive egg to survive its impending intramural encounter? It needs your support more than ever.
Michael Karesh operates TrueDelta.com, an online provider of car reliability and real-world fuel economy information.