By on November 23, 2012

So you think you need to carry seven people in comfort with decent economy but you don’t want to buy a minivan? Enter the three-row crossover. Thanks to stronger fuel economy regulations there are plenty of three-row CUVs to choose from, but you want something with a better brand name under 55-large, what does that do to the playing field? You’re left with the Lincoln MKT, Acura MDX, Volvo XC90, Buick Enclave and the newcomer in this phone booth sized segment: the 2013 Infiniti JX35. The new soft-roader Infiniti is already off to a good start coming in third in sales to the Enclave and MDX despite sales starting in April of this year. What’s it like to live with for a week and how does it stack up? Click through the jump to find out.

Before we dive into the JX, let’s look at the competition. The Volvo XC90 arguably started this segment in 2003 by jacking an S80 up a few inches and adding a third row. In 2006 Acura followed their lead by adding a third row to the Accord-based MDX. Buick got in on the party with their minivan-like Enclave in 2008 and Lincoln with their seemingly hearse-themed MKT in 2010. What do these CUVs have in common? They all have six cylinder engines under the hood and they are all front wheel drive vehicles with optional all wheel locomotion. Before Audi fans start flaming me, I left the Q7 out due to its SUV-like design, RWD biased Quattro system,  larger price tag, and  decidedly SUV-like 5,600lb curb weight.

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Exterior

Infiniti’s bulbous styling may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but it is a distinctive island in a sea of me-too crossovers. This new take on Infiniti’s “box fish” style isn’t as striking (or polarizing) as when the M debuted in 2010. On the bright side,  now that the design has aged, general opinion in my informal lunch group was overwhelmingly positive. Something I couldn’t say about the 2010 M. Despite heavy parts sharing with the new Pathfinder, the JX is better distinguished than the former generation QX/Armada was and indeed better differentiated than the Chevy Traverse and Buick Enclave. The MKT looks just looks downright peculiar front the front with the new Lincoln grille grafted on and the side profile just reminds me of an old station wagon based hearse from the 1970s. The MDX is quite possibly the best looking Acura available at the moment despite the rather prominent Acura beak on the grille. Meanwhile the XC90 is the only vehicle in this bunch that’s not based on a mass market vehicle or platform. While that does mean there isn’t anything on the road that looks related, the design is only modern when parked by itself. I still have a soft spot for the XC90’s upright grille and sexy Swedish hips, but this is one warhorse that should have been sent to the glue factory 5 years ago.

Interior

The JX35’s cabin is covered in soft-touch plastics, leather and acres of highly polished wood trim, just as you expect from Infiniti. In this segment, if you want an interior that doesn’t share parts with a mass-market brand, you’re again limited to the XC90 as every other design team had access to a corporate parts bin. Keeping this in mind, Nissan/Infiniti’s parts bin is a nicer place to spend time than GM’s button-bank. The new Enclave has a very competitive interior, but some of the parts choices fail to blend while the JX is a sea of harmony. Indeed one might say the Pathfinder borrows Infiniti parts and not the other way around. This top-down parts sharing is good for Pathfinder shoppers, but only time will tell if there is enough differentiation to make Infiniti shoppers happy. The XC90’s interior is still competitive thanks to continual tweaks over the past ten years, but that can’t forgive the lack of even a modest refresh from the Swedes.

As with the Pathfinder, JX seat comfort declines the further right and rearward you go. The front passenger seat lacks the power lumbar adjustment of the driver’s seat. The second row seats are comfortable, but not as padded as the front seats with cushions designed for children or shorter passengers. If third row comfort is critical, go back to looking at that QX56 or Escalade, as with most three-row crossovers the JX’s last row should be reserved for coworkers you hate or your mother-in-law. If you regularly carry passengers and progeny in child seats, the JX shares the sliding middle seat design with the Pathfinder allowing a child seat to stay strapped in while passengers climb into the third row.

Infotainment & Gadgets

The standard 7-inch infotainment screen does everything but navigation. iDevice/USB integration is of course standard as is Bluetooth and a 6-speaker audio system with a single disc CD player and XM radio. Opting for the $4,950 “premium package” gets you Infiniti’s easy to use navigation system with a high-resolution 8-inch touchscreen, a 13-speaker Bose sound system, voice control, and Infiniti’s slick all-around camera system. The system uses four cameras and some trick processing to stitch images together to form an “aerial view” making easy work of tight parking situations.

Should you desire the latest in nannies, Infiniti is happy to oblige with radar cruise control, collision warning and prevention, lane departure warning and prevention and an accelerator pedal that fights back. The accelerator pedal is perhaps the nanny that people find the most fault with, despite crossovers not being “driver’s cars.” The feature can be disabled, but left on it will fight your right foot, forcing the pedal back at you if you’re driving uneconomically, if it thinks you are getting too close to a car, or if it feels like it needs to stop the car NOW. While I dislike the thought of a car that drives for me, honestly at least half the drivers on the road need this pedal stat. Not that I condone distracted driving, but if you feel the need to text and drive, the JX helps you accomplish the feat more safely.

Lincoln’s MKT slots in just behind the Infiniti on the gadget tally thanks to Ford’s bevy of collision avoidance options, inflating seatbelts, and the slow but feature-rich MyLincon Touch system. Meanwhile the Enclave’s new Intellilink touchscreen system is sharp, responsive and has more natural voice commands than SYNC. Better yet, Buick’s system is standard on all Enclave models. The MDX puts on a good fight, but Acura’s tech suffers from old school graphics and a confusing control joystick despite being the only other entry to offer voice commands for your USB/iDevice music player. The XC90 has finally been updated to offer the basic infotainment features you would expect from a luxury vehicle including Bluetooth, USB/iDevice integration and blind spot notification, but that’s where the goodies stop. The XC90 still uses Volvo’s “olde” pop-up navigation system from 1999 and cannot be had with radar cruise control, pedestrian and obstacle detection, and a myriad of other features found in the smaller XC60.

Drivetrain

The JX shares its 3.5L VQ-series V6 with the Pathfinder and everything from the Altima to the Quest. In the JX, the engine puts out 265HP at 6,400RPM and 248lb-ft at 4,400RPM, a mild bump over the Pathfinder but notably lower than the Maxima’s 290HP/261lb-ft tune. Like the Pathfinder, the JX sends power either the front wheels or to all four via a Haldex-style AWD system, but this is where the similarities end. While the Pathfinder uses an all-new heavy-duty continuously variable transmission (CVT) with a chain, the JX35 still uses the second-generation Xtronic CVT shared with the Muran0.

When it comes to towing, transmissions choices are important, but so are chassis and suspension design. In the case of the JX, we can logically infer the lack of the Pathfinder’s heavy-duty CVT is the reason for the reduced 3,500lb towing capacity. Meanwhile the Enclave and MKT will haul 4,500lbs while the XC90 and MDX tie at 5,000lbs. Of course, I seem to be the only one who ever tows with a mid-size SUV so this is probably the least important part of this review. That being said, the XC90 despite being down on power would be my towing partner of choice because it has an available load leveling rear suspension.

Drive

Out on the road the JX35 is as nimble as a tall 4,500lb vehicle can be. While the handling crown in this segment still goes to the MDX, thanks to Acura’s SH-AWD system, the JX can handle winding roads faster than your third row passengers will tolerate. The JX’s steering is moderately quick, fairly firm and as numb as any of the other luxury crossovers. Should you be on your own after the school run, the JX’s well sorted suspension will soak up the ruts should you decide that gravel road shortcut you like.

Front wheel drive JX models suffer from mild torque steer from a stand still but once underway the pulling stops and the JX settles down. Opting for the AWD system quells the torque steer daemon and is a further differentiator from the Pathfinder cousin. The Pathfinder’s AWD system allows the driver to lock the system in FWD mode for better economy, lock the center coupling for better grip, or allow the system to decide when to send power to the rear. Instead the AWD system in the JX always operates in Auto mode, which is just as well since I suspect no luxury SUV or CUV shopper will ever notice the difference.

The biggest difference between the other luxury CUVs and the JX35 is the transmission. The effective ratio spread on the JX35’s transmission isn’t as broad as the 6-speed units used in the competition and seemed to be skewed to the higher end of the ratio spectrum for fuel economy. This is most obvious when you look at the JX35’s relatively slow 3.7-second 0-30 time, but thanks to the infinite ratios the JX catches up to the rest of the pack crossing 60MPH in 7 seconds even. Despite the 0-30 sloth, my  real-world fuel economy tests seem to be kind to CVT equipped vehicles with the JX besting its 20MPG combined EPA score by 7/10ths of an MPG over a week. Meanwhile the other CUVs averaged 1-2MPG below their combined figures for me. So many publications spout their MPG figures as gospel, but as with 0-60 times, observed fuel economy is only as good as the driver, driving style and commute.

The JX represents an interesting move for the brand I like to think of as “the Japanese BMW.” But putting practicality and economy before performance they have created a most un-Infiniti crossover. The combination of a nearly perfect interior, smooth CVT and 32% better fuel economy than Infiniti’s QX SUV make a compelling argument for the JX35. While the Enclave plays to a slightly different demographic, MDX shoppers would do well to put the JX on their short list as it is quite possibly the best three-row luxury crossover in America.

 

Infiniti provided the vehicle, insurance and one tank of gas for this review.

Specifications as tested

0-30: 3.7 Seconds

0-60: 7 Seconds

1/4 Mile: 16.4 @ 90 MPH

 Average Fuel Economy: 20.7 MPG over 765 miles

 

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38 Comments on “Review: 2013 Infiniti JX35 (Video)...”


  • avatar
    SqueakyVue

    Another advertisement for Nissan. Aside from all of the crap I will take for that last statement can any one of us honestly praise a CVT? Would you plunk down 50k for one?

    • 0 avatar
      -Cole-

      Watch no crap come your way, because your question is worthless and your comment boring.

    • 0 avatar

      NEVER

      I’d personally go for a new Durango.

      • 0 avatar
        Alex L. Dykes

        I would personally have to buy a Durango, but that is only because I actually tow 7,000lbs at least once a month with my mid-size SUV. It’s a question of priorities however. If you want efficiency with a great interior, get the JX. If you want towing, get something else.

    • 0 avatar
      Alex L. Dykes

      I actually like CVTs, of any flavor. I like Honda’s new CVT in the Accord (it is the best CVT on the market right now), I like the CVT in the Sentra, Versa and Altima, I even live the eCVTs in the Toyota/Lexus/Ford hybrids. CVTs aren’t for everyone, but by Nissan and Toyota’s sales figures the majority of the mass-market buying public doesn’t care. Do I want one on my G37? Probably not, but a G25? Sure.

    • 0 avatar
      SunnyvaleCA

      Aside from reliability issues, what is the downside compared to a conventional automatic? Although the CVTs I’ve driven had a lag immediately after stabs at the throttle, the lag had two mitigating factors: it’s smooth while it does its “shifting” thing, and it’s much more consistent than a conventional automatic where you don’t know if a stab at the pedal will downshift 1 or 2 or 3 gears before it gets going.

      I’d rather be driving a stick shift for entertainment value, but if I’m forced to specify an automatic, it might as well be the one that is consistent in operation, smooth as butter under acceleration and deceleration, and gives an advantage in fuel economy and acceleration (at least in theory).

      Are the most recent crop of CVTs still considered to have durability problems? I suspect that this technology is improving rapidly. With fewer moving parts, perhaps they will become more reliable than consumer-grade automatics.

      • 0 avatar
        Alex L. Dykes

        If you believe Consumer Reports, there have been no widespread complaints about CVTs and they tend to rank essentially the same as regular automatics. It is likely too early to really tell what the longevity will be on a CVT since this generation of Nissan designs hasn’t been around all that long. But the same thing can be said of any new transmission design.

      • 0 avatar
        TTACFanatic

        Reliability issues were rampant with the first generation of Nissan Xtronic … to the point that they all got 10 year warranties. No real reason to complain if you don’t have to pay to fix it yourself.

        The first models with the second generation CVT (the one still used in the JX) should be coming off of their 4 year warranty soon, so we will find out how reliable they really are.

        But the most disappointing to hear that the Infiniti got stuck with the old belt driven CVT instead of the chain driven one in the new Pathfinder. This is a heavy vehicle (and quite expensive) that is meant to be loaded up with (heavy) people and gear. $5 says the 2014 JX35 gets the new transmission, and anyone with the 2013 model pays for it down the line.

  • avatar
    -Cole-

    I’ll never forget the G35 and FX45.

    Ever.

  • avatar
    WaftableTorque

    I’ve been shopping for 7 seat CUV’s for my wife lately, and I’ve considered all the vehicles Alex has mentioned. I would never consider a 2WD car where I live, and appreciate the extra ground clearance during the 7 to 14 days out of the year I need it.

    I really like the JX’s ability to keep a car seat attached when entering the 3rd row. Too bad they’re on on my list of boycotted companies because of their screw-the-customer attitude. Just try anonymously downloading a PDF brochure from Infiniti’s US or Canadian website, and see if you want this company to burn in hell.

    I personally like the design of the MKT, but I really don’t find the interior plastics to be competitive. I don’t like the look of the MDX, but it has Honda’s promise of reliability. And the Enclave is still in consideration, as long as it comes with the navigation system.

    So far, I’m leaning towards the Tesla Model X. Pay more, get more. No swing out doors, a body that won’t rust, all of the benefits of a minivan and CUV combined into one, and can possibly smoke an SRT8 Grand Cherokee or Cayenne Turbo. I might even let my wife drive.

  • avatar
    tatracitroensaab

    Did anyone nominate the XC90 for a TWAT? It might be a good car but the neglect is criminal. I feel like Volvo is over stretched. They either need massive product investment and get a German style line up, or they need to focus on fewer things (but doing those few things very well) and go home.

  • avatar
    graham

    That sure looks like a minivan to me.

  • avatar
    daveainchina

    “What’s it like to live with for a week and how doe sit stack up?”

    I’m usually not a spelling nit-picker but this one just bothered me.

    doe sit stack up?

    Spell checker’s don’t replace good old fashioned proof reading. I’m not perfect, but I do occasionally find things like this.

  • avatar
    JGlanton

    I would have named it the JU35.

    For Just Ugly.

    But that’s usually what I feel about anything Infiniti makes that’s not a car.

  • avatar
    mik101

    Qwest eh? That’s a teleco, not a car. QUEST.

  • avatar
    Mandalorian

    If Infiniti were to drop a 5.6L V8 in this I would have bought one in a heartbeat, instead, I got a Supercharged Q7.

    Minus, the power-train, this Infiniti is really a very nice car.

  • avatar

    I feel like the Acura MDX–which is my favorite vehicle out of all the ones you’ve mentioned–occupies a unique category. Unlike the Enclave, JX, MKT or XC90, it’s not particularly long, and no one would mind if it didn’t include a third-row at all (although the redesigned 2014 model looks to be substantially longer in the rear quarters). Moreover the MDX is quite a bit sportier. I would actually put this car–despite its FWD bias and lack of a V8 offering–in the same category as the Audi Q7, BMW X5 and Porsche Cayenne. The MDX is not a people-carrier.

    The other thing that I think is interesting is the company that’s missing from this category: Lexus. Lexus’ only crossover SUV is the RX. The GX and LX are both body-on-frame trucks, with matching characteristics. The GX is large and heavy, but it’s old-school, from an era where seating space was not a priority. Space in the second and third rows is tight, and it would never work as a people-carrier. I think that the GX, despite my love for that model, is quickly becoming an irrelevant product. Plus I don’t see how on earth Lexus is going to graft that new spindle-grille treatment on the GX. Lexus should scrap the current 4Runner-based vehicle and make the GX a large crossover, but one that still has some semblance of rugged capability, rather than being as soft as the “vanilla” RX. It could even be like the Mercedes-Benz GL or the Range Rover, which are technically crossovers, but are very rugged.

    Just a couple of thoughts…

    • 0 avatar
      baggins

      You make some interesting points, but one note

      Acura MDX 191.6 inches long
      XC90 189.3 inches long

    • 0 avatar
      needsdecaf

      Agreed.

      We own a 2007 MDX with the SHAWD. My wife and I have taken turns sharing it as “our car”. I agree 100% with your assessment of this group.

      The MDX suffers from being a bit of a mommy mobile. I would dare say it’s capabilities are lost on probably 75% of it’s audience, if not more. For one, the steering is full of feeling for such a nose heavy car. You always know what the tires are doing. Second, SHAWD is, quite simply, extraordinary. Even now, how many cars have torque vectoring differentials both front and rear? The X5 doesn’t, that requires the X6. Third, it’s very nimble. Despite it’s width, it’s length is actually no longer than the F10 5 series, despite the (somewhat habitable) third row. Fourth, despite it’s lack of size, it’s got a ton, and I mean a TON, of cargo room. You’ll have to go to the GM Enclave / Acadia / Traverse triplets to get more. Even full sized body on frame utes like the Tahoe and QX56 fail to stack up.

      Being an MDX owner and a fan of all things Infiniti, I thought, “hey, a three-row crossover from the ‘Japanese BMW’, how will this stack up?”

      The answer is..poorly. It’s just another bus. A nice one. But the dynamics are in the toilet.

      But the market wont care and they’ll sell a million of them.

      • 0 avatar
        KalapanaBlack

        The Hyundai Santa Fe now has torque vectoring, I believe.

        This is one of those “if a tree falls…” arguments. If Acura de-sported the MDX next year, we’d all care, we’d all hear about it, but how many of “us” own an MDX or would buy one?

        Meanwhile, sales will skyrocket if it’s 10% bigger in the interior and has updated infotainment.

      • 0 avatar
        bikephil

        It’s = it is
        Its – belonging to it.

        Please study this difference and re-write your post when it’s correct.

  • avatar
    rwb

    “… if you feel the need to text and drive, the JX helps you accomplish the feat more safely.”

    This is a problem. I would like to see a system that detects the operator texting, and automatically veers the car into the nearest ditch.

  • avatar
    BigMeats

    This car makes me think there’s a recessive gene for separate fenders always trying to reemerge. Hope it does.

  • avatar
    Spartan

    I wish that towing specs were only mentioned on vehicles where it really matters. Towing with a FWD CUV like this one is asking for traction issues, especially if you’re not using a weight distributing hitch. Nothing like a rainy day, all the weight lifting up the front wheels, less traction, just a nightmare waiting to happen.

    Now that I got that out the way, aside from buying an XC90, there’s not really a bad choice in this class of vehicles. Personally, I’d buy the Enclave/JX/MDX if I had to choose, in that order.

  • avatar
    Rik from Chicago

    MDX facts:
    launched in 2001 (with 3 rows), not 2006
    based on same platform as Pilot/Odyssey and Ridgeline NOT Accord

  • avatar
    schutz63

    “In 2006 Acura followed their lead by adding a third row to the Accord-based MDX.”

    I believe the Mk1 2001 MDX was based on the Odyssey platform and came with three rows of seats at launch….

  • avatar
    Roberto Esponja

    Ugh…Subaru emblems would look appropriate on this thing

  • avatar
    FJ60LandCruiser

    So this thing is essentially a minvan with less space, no sliding doors, higher floor, and more cost.

    The great lengths carmakers will go to give people a product they probably need, but don’t want, is incredible.

    Nobody wanted wagons, so we have cramped, tall wagonoid blob CUVs running around.

    Now nobody wants a minivan, but truck based SUVs waste fuel (shocking how that is), so carmakers de-practicalize a minivan by adding car doors and putting it on stilts.

    What’s the next evolution of stupid, front wheel drive car based pickups?

    • 0 avatar
      DC Bruce

      Having shopped “crossovers,” including the first gen MDX and, later the Enclave and its twins, after I graduated from minivan ownership (kids left home for college, etc.), my wife and I had the same feeling.

      At best, some of these, like the Honda Pilot/MDX and the Toyota Highlander, Lexus RX 350, offer a bit more ground clearance than a minivan.

      Otherwise, if you want to carry more than 4 adults comfortably and don’t own your own oil well, get an Odyssey, which, fully tricked out, is pretty “luxurious.” It will probably suck a little less gas, too.

    • 0 avatar
      CoreyDL

      You know, Mazda did this first, back in the 90s with its AWD block-shaped MPV model. They were ahead of the game.

  • avatar
    rbmojo

    recently drove most everything in this segment (and more) in the 40k-80k price range to replace an ’09 MDX that replaced an ’04 Pilot. I prefer cars and drive a Boxster S, but this is for my wife. Wanted to like the Infinity, but too much like driving a mini van with poor accelleration feel. Too pricy for what I wanted. The bigger Infinity was much too large – might as well buy a Yukon – and others didn’t drive very sharp at all. Wound up buying an ’13 MDX Advance with all the options – and was surprised at the deal made through negotiations. Nice accelleration and handling for for the segment. Had the 3 rows for kids and AWD for peace of mind for my wife. Still surprised, but really didn’t like the others with 60k pricetag.

  • avatar
    CoreyDL

    I like the interior cluster and gauges, and the polished wood. And I like that it’ll probably be reliable.

    But I could never get over the hideous appearance of this beast, and every time I saw the back, I’d think, “Needs a brow lift.”


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