When car companies need to stretch out a model’s useful lifespan, there are a number of tricks they use. After the first year, new colors are added. The next few year options and trim parts are tweaked. Around year four, a limited edition surfaces followed by a drivetrain revamp in year 5. And so it is with Infiniti’s sporty FX crossover, now entering its fifth model year as the “new” 2013 Infiniti FX37. You guessed it, the only thing new about the FX37 is the engine. Today’s burning question is: does a new engine give a luxury vehicle a lease on life? Or is this thinly disguised crossover life support? Click through the jump to find out.
Infiniti’s latest styling cues have been polarizing to say the least. Our own Michael Karesh was less than smitten by the FX’s bulging proportions and large grille. Much like Infiniti’s M however, my opinion has shifted from believing Infiniti’s signature gaping-maw grill and fender bulges were unattractive to a feeling that the Infiniti products present a unique style to a fairly repetitive segment. With the new “Gillette” grill and functional side vents, the FX is athletic, modern and heavily styles. It is the cross-trainer of the luxury CUV/SUV world compared to the “wingtippy” BMW X5 and Mercedes ML with their “safer” styling.
Compared to the exterior, the interior is elegant and perhaps a hair sedate. Owing to the age of the FX’s trappings, you won’t find a stitched pleather dash, color changing ambient lighting or Alcantara headliners. Instead you will find acres of impeccably finished maple, squishy plastic dash bits and Lexus-like fit and finish. Despite turning five this year the interior of the FX is very competitive with the Germans, a testament to how luxurious it was in 2008.
While my 6-foot frame found the driver’s seat extremely comfortable, shoppers should know the thrones don’t offer the same range of motion as the competition and the front passenger seat lacks adjustable lumbar support. The rear seats are upholstered with the same care as the front buckets but due to the vehicle’s proportions, rear passenger room is limited. From a functional standpoint, the tall dash and high belt-line hamper visibility especially for shorter drivers. The curvaceous side profile and small rear windows impact rearward visibility as well as cargo capacity. While the 24.9 cubic feet of cargo volume sounds competitive with the X5, the severely sloping rear profile made it difficult to squeeze bulky box-store purchases in the FX’s shapely booty.
Infotainment & Gadgets
The FX37 comes with a standard 7-inch infotainment screen that does everything but navigate you. iDevice/USB integration, Bluetooth and an 11-speaker Bose audio system with a single disc CD player and XM radio are standard on all models. Opting for the $4300 “premium package” gets you Infiniti’s easy to use navigation system with a high-resolution 8-inch touchscreen, voice control, Infiniti’s slick all-around camera system (updated to detect moving objects), memory driver’s seat, roof rails and a powered tilt/telescope steering wheel. Regardless of which system you get, Infiniti’s are among the most intuitive systems available. They also allow navigation of the system via a steering wheel toggle so your eyes can stay on the road. The 8-inch system adds touchscreen functionality to the mix giving you three ways to navigate the system: the steering wheel toggle, the rotary joystick in the dash, or just stabbing the screen with your finger. Unfortunately neither system allow for voice commanding your tunes ala the SYNC system in Ford/Lincoln products and neither provides enough power to charge iPads or other high-draw USB devices..
Should you desire the latest in
nannies driving safety, (and have $2,950 to spend on the “technology package”) Infiniti will oblige with headlamps that steer, radar cruise control, collision warning, collision prevention, lane departure warning and lane departure prevention. The system also offers “Distance Control Assist” which (when enabled) pushes the accelerator pedal back at you if it thinks you’re closing on the car in-front of you too quickly. If the car decides that releasing the throttle isn’t enough, it will apply the brakes and can take the vehicle to a complete stop. This shouldn’t be confused with “adaptive cruise control” as DCA can operate at all times and at essentially any speed.
Ah, the section we have all been waiting for. The reason we’re looking at the FX again is that engine upgrade. Instead of giving the FX a one-two punch by dropping their 3.7L V6 and 5.6L V8 under the hood, Infiniti upgraded the V6 and left the 5.0L V8 unchanged (maybe next year?) The new six-cylinder engine improves power by 22HP to 325 at a lofty 7,000RPM while torque rises an imperceptible 5lb-ft to 267 at 5,200RPM. Power is still routed to the wheels via a 7-speed JATCO transmission and shoppers can still opt for the $1,450 AWD system. If this sounds familiar, Infiniti has used this engine in the European FX for a while now. Paradoxically with the engine enlargement come improved fuel economy, figures rising 1MPG in both city and highway tests to 17/24. Strangely, the combined number remains the same at 19MPG.
Infiniti based the FX on their G sedan and retained as much of the handling characteristics as they could. The result is a tall crossover with a decidedly RWD bias, sharp steering and a chassis that loves to be thrown into the corners. Think of the FX as the G37’s overweight brother. Out on the winding back-country roads of Northern California you will soon forget about the relative lack of “utility” created by the FX’s athletic proportions and start complaining about a lack of column mounted shift paddles. Infiniti’s gorgeous magnesium paddles are available only as part of a $6,250 option package on the $60,650 FX50 AWD which is a shame because the FX50 doesn’t need them as much as the FX37 does. The reason is in the torque and HP curves of the Nissan VQ engine which Infiniti calls “Acceleration swell” but the rest of us know as “no low-end torque”. Nissan does allow you to “row your own” using the console shifter, but the response from the 7-speed slushbox seems far more sluggish than what is essentially the same drivetrain in the G37 with the paddle shifters.
Infiniti’s has long been known for high revving V6 engines that need to be wound out to the redline to deliver the promised driving excitement. The old 3.5L V6 sounded throaty at 4,000RPM but by the time it reached its HP peak at 6,800 it sounded harsh and long before it reached its 7,500RPM redline you were ready for the song to be over. The 3.7L engine on the other hand is considerably more refined as it calls like a Siren urging you to spend more time at its insane 7,600RPM redline. For the first time in the FX, intoxicating V6 sounds mesh with canyon carving.
If you’re looking for a sure-footed ride and don’t care about being able to hang your SUV’s tail out, or if you want to tow 2,000lbs, the FX37 AWD is the model for you. Infiniti’s strangely named ATTESA E-TS (Advanced Total Traction Engineering System for All Electronic Torque Split) AWD system combines a traditional center differential with a multi-plate clutch that allows for 0-50% of engine power to be sent to the front wheel when the electrically controlled system feels like it (or when a wheel slips). Infiniti has programmed the system to maintain more of a rear-wheel bias than the German competition, making the FX AWD feel more nimble than the X5 or ML. Floor the FX AWD and toss it into a corner and the system will deliver an entertaining AWD power-slide if you can keep from wetting yourself as you slide toward the curb.
For 2013 the FX37 starts at $44,300 with the FX37 AWD checking in at $45,750 without destination or options. The Infiniti undercuts the BMW X5 xDrive35i by nearly $10,000 and even when taking into account the feature content of the two vehicles, the FX represents a nearly $5,000 better value than the Bimmer. While BMW’s drivetrain is more refined and the interior more luxurious, the relatively low-cost of admission, smooth V6 and strong RWD dynamics of the FX37 keep the 5-year-old Infiniti a solid contender for shoppers interested in the “sport” part of the Sport Utility Vehicle equation. Infiniti’s engine upgrade is unlikely to do much for the FX’s recently sagging sales as buyers gravitate towards newer and more fuel-efficient entries (or even Infiniti’s new JX35), but none the less the FX37 succeeds at breathing new life into Infiniti’s CUV warhorse. Will year 6 bring a 412HP fire-breathing 5.6L V8 and RWD? We can only hope.
Infiniti provided the vehicle, insurance and one tank of gas for this review
Specifications as tested
0-30: 2.24 Seconds
0-60: 5.59 Seconds
1/4 Mile: 14 Seconds @ 99.6 MPH