The Truth About Cars » Infiniti http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Wed, 23 Apr 2014 13:30:05 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.8.1 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars no The Truth About Cars editors@ttac.com editors@ttac.com (The Truth About Cars) 2006-2009 The Truth About Cars The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars » Infiniti http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/wp-content/themes/ttac-theme/images/logo.gif http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/category/reviews/infiniti/ New York 2014: 2015 Infiniti Q70 Revealed http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/04/new-york-2014-2015-infiniti-q70-revealed/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/04/new-york-2014-2015-infiniti-q70-revealed/#comments Thu, 17 Apr 2014 22:14:18 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=803746 2015-Infiniti-Q70-01

Appearing alongside the 2015 Infiniti QX80 at the 2014 New York Auto Show, the 2015 Q70 takes dead aim at the German performance and large sedan markets.

Though the Q70 takes its looks from the Q50, it won’t have the latter’s steer-by-wire system, nor Infiniti’s newest two-screen infotainment system. What it will have is a long-wheelbase variant dubbed the Q70L, which will boast 5.9 inches of rear-seat legroom and a choice of either the 3.7-liter V6 good for 330 horsepower or the 5.6-liter V8 pushing 416 horsepower; the standard model will have four more horsepower from the V8, as well as a hybrid option not available to the newer addition.

Safety systems for both models include lane-departure prevention, Predictive Forward Collision Warning, and Backup Collision Intervention.

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New York 2014: 2015 Infiniti QX80 Unveiled http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/04/new-york-2014-2015-infiniti-qx80-unveiled/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/04/new-york-2014-2015-infiniti-qx80-unveiled/#comments Thu, 17 Apr 2014 22:00:48 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=803666 2015-Infiniti-QX80-side-angle

The 2015 Infiniti QX80 joined the 2015 Q70 on stage for its unveiling at the 2014 New York Auto Show.

Under the massive hood lies a 5.6-liter V8 delivering 400 horsepower and 413 lb-ft to all four corners through a seven-speed automatic, while safety tech such as automatic-dipping headlights and Predictive Front Collision Warning System aim to deliver all inside safely to the office.

For those wanting something more exclusive, the QX80 Limited ups the game with 22-inch wheels and ash wood trim to the self-described “man cave,” in addition to the standard entertainment system, high-grade leather and adjustable seating.

No word on how many Limiteds will be built, let alone for how much one will sell, but for the rest of us, the base price may be higher than the $63,695 for the outgoing model when the new SUVs arrive in U.S. showrooms this fall.

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Japanese Automakers Find New Export Base, Opportunity In Mexico http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/03/japanese-automakers-find-new-export-base-opportunity-in-mexico/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/03/japanese-automakers-find-new-export-base-opportunity-in-mexico/#comments Tue, 11 Mar 2014 14:45:26 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=769626 Mazda3s Loading Onto Three-Tiered Train Car

Within four months of each other, Honda, Mazda and Nissan have opened new factories in Mexico, taking advantage of the opportunities within the nation’s automotive industry to grow a new export base into the United States, Latin America and Europe while also gaining ground in the rapidly expanding local market, all in direct challenge to the Detroit Three and other automakers on both sides of the border.

Automotive News reports Mexico will become the No. 1 exporting nation to the U.S. by 2015 at the earliest in large part due to the 605,000 units per year added by the three Japanese automakers. Meanwhile, Toyota will begin production in 2015 at Mazda’s newly opened Salamanca plant prior to deciding whether or not to build a new factory of their own. Nissan’s premium brand, Infiniti, may also set-up shop in Mexico.

In turn, the Japanese will see benefits from the move, from mitigating losses from a weaker yen in exports from home and greater profit due to cheap labor, to no tariffs on exports to the U.S. due to the North American Free Trade Agreement and improved product availability resulting from shorter distances between markets.

Speaking of free-trade agreements, Japanese automakers will also have access to some 44 countries and up to 40 million sales annually as a result of Mexico’s many agreements, allowing them to take on competitors in Latin America and Europe.

Finally, the Japanese have taken market share away from the Detroit Three in Mexico’s own automotive market, holding a collective 42 percent over Detroit’s 35 percent in 2013, when just four years earlier Detroit dominated with 57 percent of the market over Japan’s 23 percent.

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Capsule Comparison: Infiniti M35h vs. Lexus GS450h http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/01/capsule-comparison-infiniti-m35h-vs-lexus-gs450h/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/01/capsule-comparison-infiniti-m35h-vs-lexus-gs450h/#comments Mon, 20 Jan 2014 14:00:20 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=702946 GS450h_01

Both Infiniti and Lexus know how to ruin a car. The Lexus GS 450h and the Infiniti M Hybrid are what results from taking a fundamentally good car and adding a bustle full of batteries. It’s more galling now because of what’s happened to these two. For years, both the M and the GS were mildly interesting also-rans that couldn’t compete with the established segment leaders on any measure but price/value. But now, you’ve got an Eastern Jaguar and a crisp Arleigh-Burke class sedan that are mounting a more credible challenge against the benchmark Germans. The M and GS have learned how to control dynamics to deliver the Patris, fillii et Spiritius Sancti of performance, handling and luxury. Hybrid versions of these cars seriously blunt the excellence, and it’s a damn shame.

First, holy crap are they expensive! Cars that cost like a Cayenne and don’t deliver on their promise of increased performance are offensive. For all that extra blood and treasure, you get a GS 450h and an M Hybrid that are as satisfying as non-fat bacon. The very thing Lexus and Infiniti charge a premium for is what totally mars the driving experience.

M35H_01

The M35 Hybrid is an example of Infiniti aping more than just Jaguar’s styling. This sedan that’s all swoops and haunches comes in at a Coventry-worthy $54,750 base price. The Malbec Black M35 Hybrid I drove a few months back was certainly good looking. The wine-inspired color looks black in most conditions but blooms a subtle deep purple in bright sunlight. It’s pretty, and Infiniti does great interiors, especially this car with its Deluxe Touring Package upgrades. There was buttery leather all over the place, and the light-colored Stone upholstery contrasted handsomely with the dark exterior. Glossy wood accents and organic forms round out the cabin in the Infiniti, all to beautiful, expensive-feeling effect. That’s good, because who wants to spend the $67,000 for the M Hybrid I tried and get a cheaped-out interior?

M35H_17

To get from the $55K base price to $67,000 takes just three steps. The Stone interior with White Ash silver-powdered wood trim requires the addition of the $4,200 Premium Package and its Deluxe Touring Package cohort, a $3,900 sidekick. That $8,100 spiff buys you navigation, Bose audio, heated steering wheel, climate-controlled seats, and rear sonar in the Premium Package. The Deluxe Touring Package side of the packing sheet is how you get the silvered wood and deeper-dyed semi-aniline leather, more soft-touch materials, stitched meter hood and suede-like headliner. Wonder what it would take to get an actual suede ceiling. You get surround sound too, silly in an automotive interior, especially for content that’s largely *not* surround-encoded, but whatever. None of this has anything to do with the enthusiast’s definition of touring, deluxe or otherwise.

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The final push to $67,000 for the M Hybrid came courtesy of the $3,050 Technology Package, chock-full of crap to annoy you if you’re accustomed to the act of actively driving. That’s three grand better spent on driving courses. Or, if you like paying more to be aggravated, that sum buys a lot of current pop music that you can listen to on the horribly-phasey surround sound rig (it sounds fine in stereo mode.)

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The Lexus GS 450h may not have the outward expressiveness or interior decorator flair of the M Hybrid, but it’s no ugly duckling. Attractive in a more conservative way, the GS has straighter lines in its styling and that polarizing Spindle Grille up front. The interior of the GS 450h follows the same pattern. Well-assembled, high-quality, an overall solid effort that doesn’t try to break new artistic ground.

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Looking at the GS and M Hybrids next to each other, you might get distracted by the glitz of the Infiniti and think it costs more, but the GS 450h was the pricing heavyweight in this matchup. What I drove was $70,252 worth of disappointing cha-ching. In general, I’m not as over the moon for the GS model line as I am for the excellent new IS that slots in below it, but part of the mission of this model was to reinvigorate the Lexus/Toyota lineup with more passion and enthusiast-pleasing dynamics. It succeeds on those points except as a hybrid.

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As with the Infiniti, the Lexus GS 450h can push into territory that seems absurd, though I suspect there’d be less squawking if we were talking Roundels or Stars. The GS 450h starts at $59,600 promising V8-like thrust and fuel economy and emissions figures that look more like what you’d expect from a 2.0 liter. That’s two extremes of hyperbolic bullshit for the price of…both extremes. 338 total horsepower is not V8 level power anymore, and 2.0 liter engines do better than 34 mpg highway. A Corvette now comes close to that. The GS 450h is well-equipped out of the gate, with perforated leather seats, 10-way power adjustable with heating and ventilation for driver and front seat passenger, handsome matte-finish bamboo wood accents offering the Lexus counterpoint to Infiniti’s glossy wood, power window sunshades, a host of automatic features like rain sensing wipers, auto-dimming mirrors, climate control, power tilt and telescopic steering column, and premium audio.

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A spreadsheet comparing the GS and M hybrids is going to have lots of tit-for-tat checkmarks. These are closely-matched cars. The options and packages side of the GS 450h is a bit more a-la-carte than the way Infiniti does things with high-content (and high cost) packages. The biggest optional extra on this GS 450h was the $5,255 Luxury Package, which added power-folding self-dimming exterior mirrors, a power moonroof, 19” wheels, roof rails, memory for the driver’s seat, mirror and steering wheel settings and LED headlights. Adding navigation to make full use of the 12.3” LCD costs $1,735, and the heads-up display (a feature I adore and want to be mandatory in all cars) is $900. Blind Spot Monitoring runs $700, and the power trunk will empty another $400 out of your wallet. Intuitive Park Assist piles on with its own $500 surcharge, too.

GS450h_10

 

Both of these cars feature a farcical knob to adjust driving dynamics. Oh, it has an effect – selecting the sport settings on either will sharpen responsiveness and twiddle damper settings with noticeable results. It’s just that these are both still turkeys when it comes to being performance sedans. Low rolling resistance tires, the weight of a bunch of extra hardware and weird powertrain handoffs between electric motor, gas engine, regeneration and friction braking and numbed-up steering completely ruins it. There is no fun to be had here.

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The GS undergoes a more dramatic shift when you call up the sportiest of sport modes. The steering, which is actually nicely weighted, gets appropriately heavier, but there’s still nothing tactile at all about it. What is tactile is the way the powertrain bumps and flails around between electric-only, gas and electric and gas-only propulsion. There’s good chassis discipline, though, even on the horrible tires that are probably the biggest contributor to the disappointment. The M Hybrid, with its more gruff engine note and even more pronounced sensations is worse, though it’s more willing to run farther and faster in EV mode. The M will sail along on the highway and readily kill the V6, something the GS is a lot more reluctant to do at 60-something MPH. Total M Hybrid power is a more robust 360 hp, too. Going hybrid with either of these cars is  an unsatisfyingly weird way to go about the business of being a premium sedan with some performance capability.

M35H_05

Against the most refined hybrids in the business, Toyota/Lexus, the Infiniti almost feels like a prototype. That doesn’t mean the GS got off scot-free. Lexus has done its best to isolate the occupants from the mechanicals, but that’s hard to do when the car is supposed to have some extra enthusiast appeal, where a palpable connection to the hardware is considered a feature. In both cars there’s a noticeable shudder when the gas engine is fired, and it also creates a surge, however subtle, in acceleration. On several occasions, the Lexus became very confused about what to do during steady-state cruising and set up its own odd and annoying throttle oscillation. Engaging the somnambulant Eco mode quashed that one.

 

Let’s talk braking. Regenerative brakes are de rigeur for hybrids, and they’re awesome at capturing kinetic energy and putting it back into the battery. They’re even now pretty good at the transitional handoff to the friction brakes, but they’re not perfect. In both these cars, the low-traction tires and regenerative brakes conspire to deliver less braking than you think you’re getting, leading to a couple days of “oh crap!” hard stops before you acclimate. The systems also sometimes didn’t know when to hand off, and would vacillate between a stab at the hydraulic stoppers and a dollop of regen, otherwise known as stopping like your Uncle Morty in his ‘78 St Regis. Barf.

Let’s be clear, I am a fan of hybrids. There are some vehicles like the Prius C, that I get a tremendous kick out of. That little hatchback, with its battery supply of automotive TPN, is a great time. It gets stellar mileage, it’s even entertaining to drive. The GS 450h and M 35 hybrid, do return improved mileage over their gas only counterparts, but the difference isn’t that large. The Lexus returned me about 29 miles per gallon average over 600 miles. That’s pretty good for a vehicle its size, and it’s right on the 29 mpg city number, but my driving was 60 percent highway, and so should have been closer to the 34 mpg highway number. The Infiniti M Hybrid is supposed to return 27/32, and I saw about 28.5 mpg average, though the experience lagged even that of the excessively-compromised Lexus.

M35H_10

So let’s address the inevitable “you’re missing the point, these are hybrids! They’re boulevardiers!” If that were true, would Infiniti be marketing the M Hybrid as the “fastest accelerating full hybrid on the planet?” Would Lexus be trying to make hay out of the GS 450h’s 5.6 second 0-60 time? Would there be a “Sport” mode in each of these? No, the point both Lexus and Infiniti are trying to make is that you can have your cake and eat it, too. That’s just not true. You’re right, though, these cars are boulevardiers. Good ones. There’s plenty of trunk space in each, the interiors are sumptuous, both cars look good in their own way. The overheated marketing must help them move iron by giving people who will never clip an apex a bunch of facts and figures to rattle off. Kinda like GTO in Two Lane Blacktop, without the GTO.

This can’t come down to a draw, there has to be a winner, and I think first place goes to the Infiniti M Hybrid. There is no official scoring, just an informed opinion and time behind the wheel. The Infiniti is more powerful, it’s more expressively styled, and it’s less expensive. Another plus is the Infiniti has easier to use tech. The Lexus does have more features and capabilities with its infotainment and driver-assistance features, but they’re not as easy to use. That opens the door for the years-older Infiniti system to better the much newer Lexus software and control. The Lexus system may be new, but it immediately feels dated and is more cumbersome to use. It will, however, read text messages to you, and when your friends find out, they’ll send you all sorts of amusingly vile phrases for Lexus-voice-lady to read.

The outcome would be different if we were talking gas-only, as there’s a better chassis and platform underpinning the Lexus GS. Since neither of these cars can come anywhere close to using their underlying potential, it comes down to which is less annoying to drive. That goes to the Infiniti M Hybrid. The fact that you can widen the price gulf further in the Infiniti’s favor by leaving off the Technology Package (again, it’s filled with stuff I immediately disabled and left disabled for my entire time with the car) makes it pull away from the GS even more.

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The biggest takeaway from this comparison test for me is the fact that the next generation of both these cars will probably be really fantastic. I’m looking forward to the day these things go down the road seamlessly. Or, if you don’t want to wait for hybrids to get that good, get a Tesla now and be extra-smug.

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Skyline Sedan to Wear Infiniti Badge, Not Much Else http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/11/skyline-sedan-to-wear-infiniti-badge-not-much-else/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/11/skyline-sedan-to-wear-infiniti-badge-not-much-else/#comments Wed, 13 Nov 2013 14:22:38 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=650114 Infiniti Q50 - Skyline

While Nissan plans to resurrect Datsun to battle Toyota’s scions in North America, the automaker is bringing Infiniti back home to Japan by delicately mounting its badge just so upon the grill of what will be the Skyline sedan. Just the badge, though.

Not only will the new Skyline — based off the Q50 — not be dubbed an Infiniti, it also won’t be dubbed a Nissan, instead going by the full name of Skyline, by Nissan Motor Co. The new identity is an attempt to tie the new Skyline back into the Japanese imperial family, whose Emperor Akihito lent his then-title to Prince Motor Co. in 1952; the first Skyline debuted three years later.

With this strategy, Nissan is entering into a (very) soft launch of the Infiniti brand in its native Japan by doing more to separate the two lines; as a further example, Infiniti’s headquarters were recently relocated to Hong Kong, with their C-suite focused solely upon the luxury brand.

Expectations for the Skyline include 200 sedans sold to local customers per month, increasing to 500 sales/month a year after its launch. Nissan will also price the Skyline accordingly to match their German competitors in BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Audi.

Should the experiment prove fruitful, Infiniti could make its debut in Japan sooner than later to aid in the capture of 10 percent of the global premium car market by 2020 as part of CEO Carlos Ghosn’s Power 88 plan.

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Vendition Juxtaposition: 2013 Infiniti JX35 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/02/vendition-juxtaposition-2013-infiniti-jx35/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/02/vendition-juxtaposition-2013-infiniti-jx35/#comments Wed, 06 Feb 2013 14:00:53 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=475824

 

Matthew Guy is a seasoned car buying professional who is fond of making money while offering loud opinions. Years of experience casting his critical eye across crapcans and luxury vehicles alike have left him critical of bad machines and appreciative of fine ones. Mark Stevenson, on the other hand, has an automotive history that would make an AMC Gremlin Owners Club member blush. From early-90s J-Bodies to somewhat respectful yet plebeian family cars, Mark’s purchasing patterns are reminiscent of a disease, for which there is no 12-step program nor neighbourhood support group. Fortunately for TTAC readers, they live in the same town and get to drive the same cars. This is Vendition Juxtaposition.

Our inaugural Vendition Juxtaposition is Infiniti’s soon-to-be renamed JX35. The 7-passenger luxury crossover slots between the current EX and FX models – even though it is larger than both – giving it a future designation of QX60. This murderously competitive segment is littered with sales-success examples that trumpet luxury and all-weather capability in equal measures. An opportunity, then, to test Infiniti’s assertion they can play with the best of them.

Styling

Matt: Three-row offerings in this genre range from the krill-hungry MKT to the teutonic Audi Q7. In this, the JX stands out, drawing a line at the intersection of bulbous and fluid. I think it looks like a Murano with breasts, and well developed co-ed ones at that. Spanning a vast nine inches, the belt buckle of an Infiniti badge dominates the front, drawing stares and the occasional crass comment from unwashed proletariat. In an effort to stand out, the side windows are terminated at the rear with an odd kink and slash, reminiscent of an inverted Z left by Zorro. Having used breast, co-ed, kink, and slash all in the same paragraph, I believe I’ll halt my assessment right now.

Mark: The competition in this segment and at this price point is pretty odd. The MKT and Q7 mentioned above are, as Matt eloquently stated, at completely opposite ends of the spectrum. The JX seems to be able to hit that middle ground sweet spot: not terribly forgettable like the Audi Q7 but it won’t make your kids lose their government approved school lunches when you pull up to the front door at the end of the day like the Lincoln MKT. While I would be remiss to call the JX sexy, it definitely has the right curves in the proper places, like an over-sexed female biology teacher with a strict workout regimen and a winky eye. You know it is wrong to like her, but you still do, even 15 years after she taught you the reproductive rituals of chimpanzees.

Comfort

Mark: Ride quality should be in the top 5 important things when developing a family hauler. The Infiniti JX is guilty of something done by almost all of its competitors: plaster on oversized wheels so the car will catch the eyes of people walking through the lot. They absolutely ruin ride quality.

The standard 18 inch wheels are large enough for a vehicle like the JX. As soon as you get to the Deluxe Touring package and above, the JX is festooned with gargantuan 20 inch wheels wrapped in 55 series rubber. They are the only thing holding back the soft, pliable suspension from doing its job. If you don’t need anything offered at this trim level, you’re lucky. Otherwise, see if you can get a set of 18 inch “winter” wheels as part of the deal. Your back will thank you as everything else about the ride is absolutely spot on.

Matt:  The driver’s seat is surrounded by great swaths of sumptuous leather, expected for a vehicle commanding 60 large. Soft surfaces abound, even on the leading edge of the centre console, a surface caressed only by the driver’s right leg. Buttons for the power liftgate and heated steering wheel were inexplicably located in a far flung recess of the dash, obscured by the driver’s left knee. In the front, headroom is vast and legroom is ample.

Conversely, this 6’6” author was absolutely miserable in the second row. The seat bottom is low to the floor yet the top of this author’s head was squarely against the glass roof. With the absence of toe room, slouching while splaying my knees only made me want to buy a pair of cowboy boots and tune the XM radio to Prime Country. Memo to Infiniti sales staff: be alert if your customer is greater than six feet tall. Plug them into the front seats. Show them the spacious cargo area. Tackle them to the ground. Anything – anything – to prevent them from experiencing the second row. For tall people, it is a total and utter Deal Breaker.

Performance

Mark: If seeking performance is your modus operandi in purchasing your next 7-passenger creature caravan, the JX is not going to be at the top of the list.

Power comes from the omnipresent VQ35 V6, which has been in everything from the Nissan Quest to the Infiniti G35. While the 3.5L isn’t a bad engine, there are better engines out there, including the 3.6L V6 in the Cadillac SRX. I am not sure on Nissan’s decision to forgo giving the JX the new 3.7L mill, but, I doubt the sales demographic of soccer moms and hockey dads will really care about 20hp.

What prospective buyers will care about is the transmission. Another fixture of Nissan’s offerings has been the availability of continuously variable transmissions. Due to their lack of real gears, CVTs return great fuel economy, keeping their attached power plants at optimal revs for the load demanded by Mr. and Mrs. Driver. What they don’t deliver is exhilarating performance. Instead, your ears are assaulted with a continuously variable whine from the engine, similar to a groan from a black labrador retriever gargling gravel.

Matt:  Journosaurs asserting that the four settings on Infiniti’s Drive Mode Selector offer no difference in behaviour have clearly never driven the vehicle. On powder covered roads that resemble any flat surface in a record producer’s office, Snow and Eco Modes attempt to modulate throttle response, the latter annoyingly pushing back on the gas pedal.  Sensing wheelspin while seeking out maximum traction in the white stuff will save the bacon of ham fisted operators in northern climes but I never cottoned to an actively Eco-hampered throttle.

The Sport setting simulates gears within the CVT while offering appropriate throttle response. Normal Mode offers no distinct features at all and is, in fact, not even labelled. Sales people would do well to find places on their test drive to demonstrate all this. A two day average netted a 4mpg improvement between Eco and Sport Modes, 16mpg vs 20mpg respectively in mixed driving.

Features and Tech

Matt: Targeted at families, Infiniti is proud of the second row’s ability to slide uniquely, allowing access to the third row without needing to remove a full size baby seat. This works well, although it is recommended that one unholster their baby from the seat before doing so. The third row entry space here is understandably scant; the same entry point on the opposite side of the car is much better.

Over 15 cubic feet of cargo space was measured with all seven seats occupied, albeit most of it vertically. There’s a handy four foot wide hidden compartment underneath the cargo floor – a quarter of which is occupied by the optional Bose subwoofer. Storage hooks abound, useful for hanging shopping bags upon or as anchor points for unruly children. The power liftgate, expected in this class, works seamlessly and the button that prompts its operation is notably lit at night. Important Selling Points, all.

Mark: Ever go into a new job, walk into a meeting completely blind on the first day, and have everyone in the conference room use three letter acronyms which are completely indiscernible to you? That pretty much sums up jumping into the JX for the first time. BSW, BSI, LDW, LDP, RSTLNE, LMNOP. Seriously, it is an onslaught of acronyms. After a few days, you figure them all out, but they definitely aren’t intuitive. But, they are great safety features.

Radar guided cruise control is my absolute favourite. Set it and forget it cruise control is the best invention since cruise control itself and makes long journeys on the highway the equivalent of sitting in a luxury train cabin.

The upgraded Bose audio system sounds superb to the layman. Some audiophiles might nitpick. And if you don’t want to listen to the kids listening to The Wiggles right behind your head on the DVD screens, slap some earphones on the little buggers and crank The Wall for yourself.

Value

Matt: This example stickered at $60,695 – a sum which, when revealed to friends and neighbours, reliably caused them to bray in the manner of a sunburned donkey. Infiniti has chosen to stack their option packages like pancakes at IHOP, forcing customers to pony up $5000 for the Premium package before allowing them the privilege of spending $2300 on dual rear seat LCD screens, for example.

Want electronic nannies in the form of Lane Departure Warning and Blind Spot Intervention, Mr. Flush-With-Cash? That requires the $3500 Technology package … only after one has selected the $2700 Deluxe Touring package in addition to the two other packages already mentioned. That adds up to $13,500 – a Kia Rio worth of options. Deal Breakers all, as customers may not want to spend such extravagant sums for the privilege of rear heated seats, a feature notably found standard on mid-level Hyundais. All these prices are in Canadian dollars, taxes and maple syrup not included.

Mark: Matt makes some great points. Want to know the price of entry, though? $44,900. Try to find another luxury badged 7 passenger SUV starting at that price in Canadian pesos.

Yeah, the option packages are a house of cards at best. Remember those big wheels I mentioned earlier being the only thing that ruins the ride? They don’t come on the base model. And, honestly, the JX is well-trimmed in base spec. It isn’t a Nissan Versa sedan with roll up windows and no air.

If you are wanting to get into the entry-level of luxury, this is the best choice, bar none. Add $20,000 to your budget and there are better options in the marketplace.

Selling Points & Deal Breakers

Salespeople are apt to look for Selling Points in a product. They give us unique features on which to focus while crushing the competition. Deal Breakers are product deficiencies which must be counteracted or minimized. Vendition Juxtaposition is proud to identify them.

Selling Points

+ Sumptuous interior trimmings

+ Third row access with a baby seat

+ Driving Modes that actually work

Deal Breakers

- Gets expensive quickly

- Second row not for tall people

- Odd ergonomic quirks

 

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NAIAS 2013: Infiniti Reveals New Q50 – Same V6 As G37, Now With Optional Battery Power http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/01/naias-2013-infiniti-reveals-new-q50-same-v6-as-g37-now-with-optional-battery-power/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/01/naias-2013-infiniti-reveals-new-q50-same-v6-as-g37-now-with-optional-battery-power/#comments Mon, 14 Jan 2013 15:12:24 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=473678

Fresh off a PR campaign to rename every new vehicle in their line-up, Infiniti has shown their new model with the updated Q-numeric model designation: the 2014 Infiniti Q50.

On the surface, the new Infiniti Q50 now shares some more DNA from its brothers and sisters, grabbing the corporate design language and putting it to good use. The front-end lower valance is somewhat similar to new Lexus models, but that isn’t really a bad thing.

Power will again come from the Nissan-Renault 3.7L V6, generating 328hp, that sees ubiquitous use through all of the company’s vehicles. A manual transmission will no longer be an option, with the model offered solely with a 7-speed slushbox powering the rear wheels.

The big news: the Q50 will be available with the same hybrid system currently available in the M35h, good for 354hp, driving either the rear wheels or all four corners. This system relies on the older 3.5L V6 (still used in the Infiniti JX35).

Inside, the gadgetry has received a serious upgrade. Gone is the keyboard-like buttons below the single screen infotainment system. Instead, two screens sitting one atop the other provide the mission control interface for the majority of the tech functions.

Price? Not available. But, if I were a betting man, I’d hunt down the current G37′s MSRP and add 5-7%.

Infiniti-Q50-driving Infiniti-Q50-driving-02 Infiniti-Q50-front-grille Infiniti-Q50-lines Infiniti-Q50-Sedan-interior Infiniti-Q50-Sedan-interior-screens Infiniti-Q50-Sedan-red Infiniti-Q50-wet Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail ]]>
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Review: 2013 Infiniti FX37 (Video) http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/12/review-2013-infiniti-fx37-video/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/12/review-2013-infiniti-fx37-video/#comments Wed, 12 Dec 2012 15:31:42 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=467778

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.

Click here to view the embedded video.

Exterior

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.

Interior

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.

Drivetrain

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.

Drive

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

 

2013 Infiniti FX37, Exterior, Front 3/4, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Infiniti FX37, Exterior,  front, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Infiniti FX37, Exterior,  rear, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Infiniti FX37, Exterior, Rear 3/4, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Infiniti FX37, Exterior,  front 3/4, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Infiniti FX37, Exterior,  front 3/4, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Infiniti FX37, Exterior,  side, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Infiniti FX37, Exterior,  front, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Infiniti FX37, Exterior,  grille, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Infiniti FX37, Exterior, Wheels, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Infiniti FX37, Exterior,  FX37 badge, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Infiniti FX37, Interior, gauges, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Infiniti FX37, Interior, Gauges, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Infiniti FX37, Interior, cargo area, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Infiniti FX37, Interior, front seats, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Infiniti FX37, Interior, Dashboard, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Infiniti FX37, Interior, Driver's Side, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Infiniti FX37, Interior, dashboard, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Infiniti FX37, Interior, center console, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Infiniti FX37, Interior, center console, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Infiniti FX37, Interior, center console, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Infiniti FX37, Interior, rear seats, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Infiniti FX37, Interior, rear seats, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Infiniti FX37, Interior, rear seats, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Infiniti FX37, Engine, 3.7L V6, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Infiniti FX37, Engine, 3.7L V6, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Infiniti FX37 Monroney Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail

 

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Review: 2013 Infiniti JX35 (Video) http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/11/review-2013-infiniti-jx35-video/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/11/review-2013-infiniti-jx35-video/#comments Fri, 23 Nov 2012 19:11:39 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=465635

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.

Click here to view the embedded video.

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

2013 Infiniti JX35, Exterior, side, Picture Courtesy of Infiniti 2013 Infiniti JX35, Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Infiniti 2013 Infiniti JX35, Exterior, side, Picture Courtesy of Infiniti 2013 Infiniti JX35, Exterior, side, Picture Courtesy of Infiniti 2013 Infiniti JX35, Exterior, Rear 3/4, Picture Courtesy of Infiniti 2013 Infiniti JX35, Exterior, front, Picture Courtesy of Infiniti 2013 Infiniti JX35, Interior, Dashboard, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Infiniti JX35, Interior, dashboard, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Infiniti JX35, Interior, dashboard, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Infiniti JX35, Interior, dashboard, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Infiniti JX35, Interior, center console, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Infiniti JX35, Interior, rear controls, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Infiniti JX35, Interior, rear seats, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Infiniti JX35, Interior, third row seats, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Infiniti JX35, Interior, rear seats, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Infiniti JX35, Interior, rear seats, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Infiniti JX35, Interior, gauge cluster, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Infiniti JX35, Interior, gauges, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Infiniti JX35, Interior, Infotainment, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Infiniti JX35, Navigation and Infotainment, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Infiniti JX35, Interior, Infotainment, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Infiniti JX35, Interior, Infotainment, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Infiniti JX35, Interior, Infotainment, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Infiniti JX35, Interior, Cargo Area,  Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Infiniti JX35, Interior, Cargo Area,  Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Infiniti JX35, Engine, 3.5L V6, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Infiniti JX35, Engine, 3.5L V6, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail

 

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Review: 2013 Infiniti JX35 Take Two http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/05/review-2013-infiniti-jx35-take-two/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/05/review-2013-infiniti-jx35-take-two/#comments Mon, 14 May 2012 16:46:08 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=444206

Infiniti has characteristically taken the path less travelled. The original Q45 was styled to express Japanese culture (rather than imitate the Germans), tuned for drivers, and infamously advertised with video of rocks and trees. The brand finally hit its stride thirteen years later with the compact rear-wheel-drive G35. It jumped on the crossover bandwagon with a pair of cozy cabined, firmly suspended, VQ-propelled eggs. Those seeking space for their family and their family’s stuff had a choice between the massive truck-based QX56 and something that wasn’t an Infiniti (often an Acura MDX). Market and dealer pressure to offer something much closer to the norm was no doubt intense. So, for 2013, we have the Infiniti JX35 (originally reviewed by Derek Kreindler). Has the brand’s character been overly compromised, or is this the crossover Infiniti should have offered from the start?

Recent Infinitis have been curvaceous, even bulbous. You won’t find fuller forms on any other new car lot. With the JX35, Infiniti clearly struggled with an inherent conflict between this design language and the need to offer competitive interior space. The JX’s exterior is an incompletely resolved combination of a curvy M-like front end (dominated by an over-sized grille and emblem) and a space-maximizing box. A “crescent-shaped” D-pillar is distinctive, but there’s probably an aesthetic reason that explains why it’s never been done before. Expect it to spread to other Infinitis as they are redesigned.

Inside the JX35, Infiniti has also backed off its usual tendencies in order to cater to the typical large crossover buyer. The interior is styled to resemble those in other Infinitis, so it’s easy on the eyes, but the forms are much different. The instrument panel and console are less curvy and less intrusive. The seats are flatter, nearly bolster-free, and less cushy. As a result, the JX feels less “tailored to fit” (or, for larger people, not fit) than other Infinitis. The appeal isn’t as deep, but it’s much broader.

Infiniti is very proud of the way the JX’s second-row split bench folds forward. With no child seat in it, the cushion folds up tightly against the backrest GM Lambda-style to open up a very wide path to the third row. Infiniti’s innovation: unlike in the Lambdas, if you strap in a child seat the bench can still slide forward enough to permit people to squeeze through. There’s no need to order captain’s chairs (that aren’t offered) to maintain access to the third row with child seats in the second row.

In other respects the JX’s rear passenger accommodations are nothing special. As in most crossovers (Ford’s being the major exception), the seats are flat and are mounted too low to the floor to provide adults with thigh support. And as in too many luxury vehicles, there isn’t any space under the front seats for the toes of second-row passengers, essentially reducing second-row legroom by about four inches. There’s still plenty of legroom in the second row if the bench is shifted fully rearward along its five inches of travel. But, again all too typically, if the second row is all the way back there’s very little legroom in the third row. Ultimately, there’s just enough space to fit average-sized men in all three rows if everyone limits their legroom to the amount they absolutely need. To Infiniti’s credit, the third row is better ventilated than most, so the kids won’t bake back there. Behind the third row you’ll find 15.8 cubic feet of cargo volume, about the same as in an Acura MDX. My five-person family’s luggage wouldn’t fit without folding at least half of the third row.

There’s considerably more space for both people and cargo inside a Buick Enclave. But Infiniti’s marketing people never mention the Enclave as a competitor. They prefer to talk about the Acura MDX and Audi Q7, both of which have tighter third rows than the JX and both of which have gone six years since a thorough redesign. But, in terms of specs and configuration, the Buick is actually the JX’s closest competitor. Inside, the Buick wins on quantity, the Infiniti on quality (unless GM has worked wonders with the 2013 refresh).

With a powertrain and chassis derived from the Nissan Murano (and shared with the upcoming 2013 Pathfinder), the JX35’s performance neither delights nor disappoints. Even with all-wheel-drive curb weight is a very reasonable 4,419 pounds, so the 3.5-liter V6’s 265 horsepower are sufficient. The mandatory CVT assists by holding the engine in its power band when this is required. I personally didn’t mind the behavior of the CVT. If you do, select sport mode and it mimics a conventional six-speed automatic. Go WOT with front-wheel-drive and there’s some torque steer and front-end float, but not nearly enough to by themselves justify all-wheel-drive. Unlike in the MDX, which has an oversteer-inducing rear differential, the JX’s all-wheel-drive system doesn’t significantly enhance the driving experience on dry roads.

Fuel economy according to the EPA is 18 city / 24 highway with front-wheel-drive and 18/23 with all-wheel-drive, similar to the numbers earned by large domestic crossovers. The trip computer reported about 21 on my largely exurban driving route (infrequent stops, speed typically between 40 and 60). Given the vehicle’s relatively low curb weight and CVT, it should be capable of better. Blame the aging VQ V6 engine.

The JX’s ride and handling are similarly sufficient for the vehicle’s intended mission. The steering is light but well-weighted, and even provides some feedback if you’re paying close attention. Body motions and lean are fairly well controlled, but rush the JX and it feels heavy and out of its element, lapsing into a safe, dull plow. Did I really expect otherwise, even with the Technology Package’s “active trace control”? Hope, perhaps. Expect, no. The ride is generally smooth and quiet, though there’s some “head toss” over uneven roads (a by-product of thick stabilizer bars) and some minor jitters over patchy pavement (the standard 18-inch wheels might help–the tested vehicles all had the optional 20s). One “feature” that few people will notice, or be bothered by if they do: the 60 side of the second row often vibrates, as if it’s harmonizing with a frequency in the suspension.

The Infiniti JX starts at $41,400. Add $1,100 for all-wheel-drive. Tick all of the major boxes and the sticker’s bottom line reaches $54,800, which is $540 below a 2012 Acura MDX Advance with Entertainment Package. But the ancient Acura lags in the safety nannies department, while the oh-so-2013 JX has them all (ICC, FCW, BCI, DCA, BSW, BSI, LDW, LDP, XYZ, PDQ, WTF). BCI—Back-up Collision Intervention—is a first: if the system detects that you’re about to back up into something, it automatically stops the vehicle. Between this feature and the around-view monitor Infiniti pioneered a few years ago (I’m a fan), the paint on the JX’s rear bumper should be good for the long haul. Use TrueDelta’s car price comparison tool to assign typical values to these features, adjust the price accordingly, and the JX emerges with a nearly $3,700 price advantage over the MDX. Compared to a loaded 2012 Buick Enclave, a similarly-equipped JX lists for $1,890 less before adjusting for feature differences and about $3,200 less afterwards. Even though the Infiniti can be optioned into the mid-fifties, it’s actually a good value. Willing to forego the fancy bits for a lower price? Nissan has a closely related Pathfinder on the way.

In the end, I’m not sure how to answer the question posed by the introduction. In the next few years, I’m going to take my kids on a grand tour of the western national parks from Arizona to Alberta. When I do, I’d like a roomy three-row vehicle with an athletic chassis. I like how Infinitis drive, my wife likes how they look and feel. They might have stuck to their characteristic way of doing things and created our ideal family truckster. But the entire auto industry has realized the pointlessness of catering to fecund driving enthusiasts taking once-in-a-lifetime Rocky Mountain road trips. The Cadillac SRX lost its barely-there third row and shifted to a front-wheel-drive platform. The relatively car-like Mercedes-Benz R-Class was vastly outsold by the clumsier GL. Lexus never delivered a planned driver-focused GS-based crossover, instead peddling the RX, GX and LX. Infiniti paid its car guy dues with the EX and FX; the former has sold poorly, the latter just a bit better. So the JX, which takes the emerging segment norm and dresses it like an Infiniti, is only a surprise in that it didn’t happen years ago. Unless you get off on safety nannies, there’s no wow, and little in the way of driving excitement. But there’s a lot of nice. The big question isn’t whether the JX will sell–it will–but how many other Infinitis will head down the same path.

Infiniti provided a couple of the tested JXs, fuel, insurance, airfare to Charleston, a fancy boutique hotel, and excellent food. Bill French at Suburban Infiniti of Novi provided another JX so I could test the ride on Michigan roads. Bill can be reached at 888-779-2907.

Michael Karesh operates TrueDelta.com, an online source of car reliability and real-world fuel economy information.

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Review: 2013 Infiniti JX http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/03/review-2013-infiniti-jx/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/03/review-2013-infiniti-jx/#comments Tue, 27 Mar 2012 04:01:34 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=436575

The Infiniti JX marks the fourth SUV or crossover for the brand, slotting between the FX sporty crossover and the gargantuan QX56. According to Infiniti, the brand had nothing to stem the flow of customers who were dabbling outside the brand when it came time for a three-row luxury crossover. Instead of letting their clients go off and get an Acura MDX or Audi Q7, Infiniti took the underpinnings of the 2013 Nissan Pathfinder and co-opted them for a luxury vehicle.

The 2013 Pathfinder won’t be out until later in 2012, but the peanut gallery that ceaselessly criticized the car’s abandonment of a body-on-frame chassis for a front-drive based, CVT-equipped package will be eating a buffet of crow if the Pathfinder turns out to be as nice as the JX. Even though power is down compared to rivals – the JX makes 265 horsepower at 6,400 rpm and 248 lb-ft at 4,440 rpm, compared to 300 for the MDX and 280 horsepower for the base Q7 – the JX is substantially lighter than the Q7 (872 lbs) and a little trimmer than the MDX (182 lbs). Despite the lack of instrumented testing on hand, the JX’s straight line performance is more than adequate. Infiniti’s Sean McNamara told me that the product team wanted to make sure that the JX could “get out of its own way”, as that was the primary concern of their customers rather than bragging rights, and in this area, they’ve exceeded all expectations.

The CVT gearbox’s calibration carefully mimics an automatic gearbox in most situations. Puttering around town, the revs stay in the low end of the rpm range, but when the throttle is pinned, they don’t drop down in quite the same way as a traditional automatic would allow for. The CVT is appropriate in this application, and Nissan’s CVT technology has come a long way since the early Muranos and their motorboat gearboxes. Worth noting is that the JX can be configured in either FWD or AWD. Fuel economy is 18 mpg around town for both. Highway and combined figures are 24 mpg and 21 mpg for the FWD, and 23/20 for the AWD.

While the mechanical bits may be related to the Pathfinder, the cabin is all Infiniti. Sumptuous leather and wood are featured throughout, and the layout of the dash is a near perfect copy of the Infiniti M. The materials are all beautiful, but buttons abound as a means of controlling the absurd amount of acronym-addled technology features. Right before I embarked on my drive, an Infiniti PR rep came over and pressed a button on the steering wheel. “We’re going to activate the LDW, LDP and BSI systems and we ask that you opt-in to that.” What he meant was that the Lane Departure Warning, Lane Departure Prevention (that provides physical feedback to prevent the driver from drifting out of a lane, rather than just chirping incessantly) and the Blind Spot Intervention system would all be active during our drive. It’s a wonder we even needed to bother staying awake and driving the car ourselves.

Rather than feeling monstrous like the QX, the JX is “right-sized”, with far more comfort and usable space than the FX or EX. The ride is smooth and quiet rather than sporty or engaging, and the JX feels like a very good synthesis of the MDX and the Q7. Our test route outside of Charleston, South Carolina, was composed of flat, straight arterial roads and highways – the kind of driving that Infiniti customers are prone to do, but a poor place to accurately gauge the quality of the ride and handling over different (and poor quality) ride surfaces. Parking the car for a few moments allows for a better examination of the JX’s more practical features. Getting into the third row is made easier by the trick second row seats that slide forward and have hinged bottom cushions that allow for a fairly wide opening into the third row. Infiniti has famously been touting that the second row can fold without having to remove a child seat – there was no demo unit on hand, but we’ll take their word for it based on our own seat folding activities. Fold the third row down and the cargo area grows substantially.

Our JX AWD tester came loaded to the gills with every feature possible; voice activation for the audio and navigation controls, the aforementioned drive assistance features, a rear seat entertainment system, intelligent cruise control, an automatic-braking system for front end collisions and a dual sunroof are just a few of the options (and their associated packages) that took our JX from a base price of $41,550 to $54,800, including destination.  Buyers will have to determine whether the $12,300 in frankly excessive options are worth it. Gizmos aside, the JX is a great luxury crossover on its own merits – we barely scratched the surface of all of the vehicle’s technology and still came away impressed. Infiniti should have no trouble making the JX as ubiquitous as the G lineup has become, especially given the short attention spans of novelty-seeking luxury buyers who are likely bored of their four-ringed monsters after a few years of leasing. The FX and EX, for all the performance they possessed, had little practical use and were essentially compromised sports cars. The JX takes things in the opposite direction, sacrificing performance for practicality – something that the target demographic cares about more than acceleration times or rear-drive handling dynamics.

Infiniti provided travel, lodging and airfare to the author for this press event.

2013 Infiniti JX. Photo courtesy Derek Kreindler. 2013 Infiniti JX. Photo courtesy Derek Kreindler. 2013 Infiniti JX. Photo courtesy Derek Kreindler. 2013 Infiniti JX. Photo courtesy Derek Kreindler. infinitijx Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail 2013 Infiniti JX. Photo courtesy Derek Kreindler InfinitiJX (1) InfinitiJX (2) InfinitiJX (3) InfinitiJX (4) InfinitiJX (5) InfinitiJX (6) InfinitiJX (7) InfinitiJX (8) InfinitiJX (9) InfinitiJX (10) InfinitiJX (11) InfinitiJX (12) InfinitiJX (13) InfinitiJX (14) InfinitiJX (15) InfinitiJX (16) InfinitiJX (17) InfinitiJX (20) InfinitiJX (21) InfinitiJX (22) ]]>
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Voluptuous Lateral Air Intakes: TTAC Talks To The Father Of The Infiniti EMERG-E, The World’s Sexiest Range Extender http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/03/voluptuous-lateral-air-intakes-ttac-talks-to-the-father-of-the-infiniti-emerg-e-the-worlds-sexiest-range-extrender/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/03/voluptuous-lateral-air-intakes-ttac-talks-to-the-father-of-the-infiniti-emerg-e-the-worlds-sexiest-range-extrender/#comments Tue, 06 Mar 2012 09:30:55 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=433851 “This is Infiniti’s design language for the next 10 years to come,” says Francois Bancon, and points at a laptop that shows pictures and strategy of the INFINITI EMERG-E, a concept car that debuts today in Geneva.

We are in Yokohama, on the fifth floor of Nissan’s corporate world headquarters, while Infiniti’s first range extended mid-ship concept sports car is unveiled in Switzerland. It is there, I am told “to provide a glimpse into Infiniti’s future.” The future is undecided. This car may, or may not come.

The design of the car oozes seductive sex. That, thankfully, will rub off on the whole Infiniti line, I hear.

Will the Emerge lead Nissan to a range extended future? “Not necessarily,” says Bancon, with the best sybillinic smile he can muster.

Bancon’s title is “Division General Manager of Exploratory and Advanced Product.” That is one of the longest titles I have seen in the industry, and Bancon indicates that I haven’t seen all of his titles. Bancon, dressed in a sweat shirt and sporting a two day beard, is a rare combination of an artist, an engineer, and a manager. The graduate of the of École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-arts in Paris had worked as a designer for Renault. It is unusual for a designer to climb that high on the corporate ladder.

Using the artist name Phoebe, Bancon still takes time to produce and show art and photography, and to blog about his work. Once an artist, always an artist. Even if he is one of the few who climbed that high on the corporate ladder.

Bancon has been living in Japan for 12 years. “I came in 1999 with Carlos Ghosn and I am still here,” he says. He has had a number of unusual titles that probably never truly covered what Bancon really did at Nissan. “General Manager, Perceived Quality Department, Global Design Center” was only one of them.

“We call it exploratory planning,” says Bancon when asked what he really does. “We are developing directions the company should follow, long term, mid-term. The EMERG-E is part of this exploration.”

The EMERG-E is the first Infiniti that has been developed in Europe. The design was done at Nissan Design Europe in London. The design itself is Japan seen through the eyes of an American.

After more than 50 proposals from Infiniti studios in Japan, the UK and California were handed in, Bancon and the rest of the brass at Nissan picked the work of California-based Infiniti designer Randy Rodriguez as the winning design. Other designers sketch dream cars. Rodriguez penned an erotic dream car. I learn that the EMERG-E took its design cues from the nape of the neck of Japanese women. I had learned separately that the neck is “considered a primary erotic area in Japanese sexuality.” Even Infiniti’s press kit gets with the X-rated program and talks about “the sensuous, hourglass squeeze” of the cockpit, and the “subtly voluptuous lateral air intakes.” Even the 400 bhp turn an exercise in cross dressing bestilaty. The EMERG-E is, says Francois Bancon, like “400 wild horses in a silky dress.” This is a car that makes us explore sexual fantasies, and I am all for that.

The technology of the EMERG-E was lead-managed by Nissan’s European Technical Centre (NTCE), in Cranfield near London. The decision to have the car developed in England was a practical one. Says Bancon:

“There was some kind of a collaboration with the Technology Strategy Board in the UK. They wanted to promote their technologies, and with Nissan being the number one carmaker in the UK, it was natural for them to collaborate with us and for us to collaborate with them. Collaborating did not save us so much money, but it saved us a lot of time.”

The UK government’s Technology Strategy Board introduced Infiniti to a range of suppliers that would provide innovative hardware and specialized knowledge. One of Nissan’s suppliers of engineering advice is Lotus. Bancon is not worried that they also make cars.

“We have a long relationship with Lotus. We have worked with them a lot on pre-studies. They do their car, we do our car, but we share the heart of the technology.”

Bancon quickly pre-empts foolish ideas that the EMERG-E might just be a Lotus under a sexy silky gown:

“I have never seen the car Lotus did. They have never seen this car. We use their Evora platform to save time. The platform is not crucial for us, we could use our own platform. The key were the electric components, being able to use those was a real timesaver.”

The average buyer of a luxury car is between 50 and 60 years old. “In some markets, the Infiniti buyer is more 60 than 50,” says Bancon. “China is THE exception, the luxury buyers in China are young, 30-35 years. We want to reposition Infiniti, targeting the young buyer.”

The modern affluent buyer may not always have amassed the wealth in a socially harmonious manner, but that buyer wants to have a clean green conscience at least. He wants a “hot, yet clean sports car,” as Bancon condenses it. Infiniti offers guilt-free performance to that rarified demographic. The car promises what Bancon calls “the power of silence.” If that range-extended car is ever sold, it will provide 30 pure electric miles before the ICE is heard from. In the words of Bancon, “you can drive it in London in the congestion charge area without paying, and you can open up on the track.”

Bancon had three choices to deliver that green clean conscience:

“One is battery EV. This has limitations in power and autonomy. Not the best for a sportscar.

Then there is the plug-in hybrid. This is a very promising technology.

The range extender is in competition with the plugin-in hybrid. Basically the same technology. Main difference: The range extender is an EV. There is no connection between the ICE and the wheel. The ICE is just a battery charger.

There are some pros and some cons, the cons being weight and cost. A range extender needs a big battery. Big battery means cost and weight.”

When building the EMERG-E, the engineers fought a constant battle with weight. Bancon remembers:

“If we would build this car the normal way, it would easily weigh 2.2 tonnes (4,850 lbs.) This car weighs 1.6 tonnes (3.500 lbs). How did we do this? The upper body is entirely in carbon fiber. Our objective was 50 percent carbon fiber for the mass production car, and we did it.”

This car being a concept, or what Bancon calls “an exploration,” he doesn’t have to contend with the second problem yet – money. Using carbon fiber to slim down the car does not make it cheaper. If it is ever built, the EMERG-E will remain a toy for the affluent, and that’s o.k. for Bancon. He won’t need big numbers for that car, he already played a leading role during the development and launch of the Leaf.

Will the EMERG-E ever go in production? The answer is yes. Two will be built.

Says Bancon:

“Usually, a concept car is just for the show. This car is not just a styling exercise. We will be building two driving prototypes, one for Europe and one to go around the world, starting in the U.S.“

Come June or July, even I could be behind the wheel of an EMERG-E, promises Bancon. “If Nathalie lets you.”

And he points at Infiniti’s Global Communications Manager Nathalie Greve, who comes in to say that the interview is over.

_____________________________________________________________________________________________

Specifications

Powertrain

Motor type (synchronous), Twin rotor motors, one per rear rear wheel

EVO Electric Synchronous DC Brushless drive

Motor peak power, revs 150kW per motor (300kW total for vehicle) available for 30s or less. Flat distribution of power circa 3000 RPM upwards

Motor peak torque, revs 1000Nm

ICE cylinders, capacity Lotus 3-cylinders, 1.2litre

ICE peak power, revs 35kW at 3500rpm

ICE peak torque, revs 107Nm at 2500rpm

Transmission Xtrac Single-speed (4.588:1 reduction box)

Battery type Lithium-ion phosphate

Battery capacity 300 kW

Peak power 1000 amps

Energy 14.8kW/h (at 25deg)

Recharge time (from 13amps) 10 hours

(6 hours at 16amps)

Fuel tank capacity (litres) 30.6litres

Chassis and Body

Construction Bonded, extruded aluminium chassis, carbon fibre bodywork

Length 4464mm

Width 1954mm

Height 1219mm

Wheelbase 2624mm

Weight 1598 kg

Drag coefficient 0.340 Cd

Suspension, front Forged aluminium double wishbone suspension. Front Anti-roll bar. Bilstein dampers, Eibach springs.

Suspension, rear Forged aluminium double wishbone suspension. Bilstein dampers, Eibach springs.

Brakes, front Ventilated disc, 350mm dia

Brakes, rear Ventilated disc.332mm dia

Steering Rack and pinion

Assistance Electro Hydraulic PAS

Wheels 8J x 19” dia. (Front)

9.5J x 20” dia. (Rear)

Tyres 235/35 r19 (front)

275/30 r20 (rear)

Performance

0-60mph 4.0sec

0-130mph 30.0sec

Max speed 130mph

Range, EV mode 30 miles

Full range 300 miles

CO2 emissions, EV mode Zero

CO2 emissions, r-e mode 55g/km (NEDC cycle)

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Review: 2012 Infiniti M35h Take Two http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/02/2012-infiniti-m35h/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/02/2012-infiniti-m35h/#comments Sun, 05 Feb 2012 18:36:14 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=429420

Most luxury sedans try to do everything fairly well, while taking no risks that might turn off a potential buyer. The typical end result: a car with few memorable characteristics, good or bad. Despite a “have your cake and eat it too” powertrain, the Infiniti M35h is not such a car. You might not like everything about it. But you will remember it.

To begin with, the Infiniti doesn’t look like any of the others. Though the current automotive fashion favors sheer surfaces, straight lines and sharp creases, the M’s big body contains the fullest curves this side of a plus-sized lingerie catalog. Think Jaguar with more brawn and less grace, as if to prove that organic forms don’t have to be feminine. The tall fenders require 20s to properly fill them; unfortunately the factory dubs are only available on conventionally-powered rear-wheel-drive variants. The h gets 18s.

The equally curvaceous interior recaptures the traditional charm that Jaguar abandoned with the XF in a bid to reinvent itself for the new century. Audi might offer stylish interiors, but they’re never this warm and intimate. The $3,900 Deluxe Touring Package’s silver-rubbed white ash trim tastefully dazzles. The brightwork flowing along the door panels and center console is a joy to gaze upon and trace with a fingertip. Another artful touch: the DTP’s diagonally-quilted semi-aniline leather upholstery. Materials are about as good as they get at this price level. And, despite the clear attention to form, function hasn’t been neglected. The center stack’s controls are very close at hand and logically arranged. The large, cushy seats feel as good as they look. Even compared to those in other luxury sedans, the M35h’s cabin is a very pleasant place to spend time. (Of my 50+ press cars, this one has been my wife’s clear favorite.)

The Infiniti M’s driving position is much different than you’ll find elsewhere. As in the related FX crossover, from the driver’s seat you clearly sense that you’re piloting a massive vehicle, yet not an expansive one. Those curvy interior panels detract from roominess up front. Also, the M’s body is considerably narrower above the beltline than below it. The relatively upright A-pillars touch down far inboard. As in the Jaguar XJ, but to an even greater degree, the view forward has overtones of vintage GT. The rear seat is less of an acquired taste, with plenty of room, a comfortably positioned cushion, and an open view forward. The trunk—well, the lithium-ion battery pack reduces its cubes from a competitive 14.9 to a compact 11.3.

The M35h’s hybrid powertrain combines a 3.5-liter V6 with a strong electric motor for a total of 360 peak horsepower, roughly splitting the difference between the M37’s V6 and the M56’s V8. But this isn’t the whole story: at lower rpm the hybrid’s performance is much closer to that of the 417 pound-feet V8, thanks to the electric motor’s 199 pound-feet of torque (on top of the gas engine’s 258). Despite the 280 pounds added by the hybrid bits, the M35h’s 4,129-pound curb weight is barely over that of a BMW 535i. Reasonable curb weight + scads of torque = strong acceleration. Rotate the console-mounted dial to “power” and the throttle can be overly aggressive, easily overpowering the rear tires. (Avoid this setting when the road is wet. For snow there’s “Snow.”) Even in “Eco” the M35h is a far cry from a Prius, you just have to push the throttle closer to the floor to blur the scenery. “Normal” strikes a good balance.

Helpful readouts include throttle efficiency and battery charge level. But, as in most hybrids, there’s no indication the division of braking between the motor/generator and the conventional brakes, so it’s unclear how to modulate the left pedal for optimal efficiency. An odd (if common) omission as the key benefit of a hybrid is its ability to recoup energy otherwise burned off by the brake rotors.

Based on the seat of the pants, the gas engine, seven-speed automatic transmission, and the electric motor (that takes the place of a torque converter between them) usually work together seamlessly. A notable exception: a hesitation in Eco and (to a lesser extent) Normal modes when you initially put in an order for a decidedly un-eco rate of acceleration, as if the powertrain computer can’t decide what to do. Want to get across the road before those approaching cars arrive? Sit tight, the desired thrust is on its way. The wait can only seem interminable. A second transmission issue: slow reactions to manual inputs. In manual mode anywhere near WOT you’d best request a shift 1,000 rpm short of the redline. Otherwise, “hello rev limiter!”

The ears have a different take the powertrain’s seams. The VQ-Series V6 is more polished than in other applications, but still far from hushed. At half-throttle and up it roars in a very un-hybrid-like manner. This would be okay, perhaps even welcome, except the noise comes and goes. The electric motor is capable of solely powering the vehicle up to 60 miles-per-hour, and frequently does so. The gas engine was off for the entire length of a two-mile 30-mph road. Very peaceful, this ability to glide along in near silence. But at near-highway speeds the engine often cycles several times a minute. So you’ll have a muted VQ rumble, then silence, then the rumble again, over and over. If the engine is going to cycle so frequently, it needs to be much quieter. Other noise levels are low. Aside from some occasional jiggles the ride is that of a luxury sedan, with a sense of solidity and level of encapsulation you won’t find in a mere Nissan.

And fuel economy? For one nine-mile trip where the gas engine was off much of the way the trip computer reported an astounding 39.7 miles-per-gallon. Then 24 on the return trip, despite an equally light right foot. The difference: whether the battery pack was giving or taking. Over longer trips that evened out this variable the car came close to the EPA numbers: 27 in the burbs, 32 on the highway, a significant bump over the M37’s 18/26 and impressive for a performance-oriented luxury sedan. Even a heavy foot sinks the numbers only into the low 20s. Apparently the VQ isn’t incorrigibly thirsty. Infiniti is about to lose its bragging rights, though: the 338-horsepower 2013 Lexus GS 450h ekes out 29/34.

Then there’s the chassis. The M’s moves are as old school as its aesthetics. Charming in some ways, much less so in others, and impairing confidence when it’s most needed. The steering is quick but light and distant. The car’s handling feels sporty, but not tied down or precise. One plus: the battery pack shifts the weight-distribution from 54/46 to 51/49, reducing understeer. But copious body roll in hard turns and a general sense of heft (above and beyond the car’s actual mass) suggest a closer relationship to the FX crossover than the G compact sedan. Worse, body motions aren’t well-controlled, especially out back where the rear end often lags a half-step behind the front. And all this is before adding the throttle to the equation. Like other rear-wheel-drive offshoots of the corporate FM platform, the M35h is prone to snap oversteer. Crack open the throttle with the steering wheel turned even a few degrees and the rear end will step out, even way out, nothing progressive about it. Combine dramatic oversteer with quick steering and subpar body control and you’ve got your hands full. Keep a cool head, don’t overcorrect (very easy to do here), and the rear wheels will again fall in step behind the front ones. The process is just far less intuitive and controllable than it could and should be. Leaving the stability control fully engaged helps, but in a heavy-handed way. Like those in its sibs, the M35h’s system cuts in early and hard. Better systems employ far more finesse, letting you believe you’re a better driver than you actually are. Yet, despite these dynamic faults, perhaps even due to some of them, the M35h is fun to drive. It might lack for talent, but it’s oh so willing.

The M35h starts $6,000 north of the M37, at $54,595. The must-have fancy wood and upgraded leather (plus the nav and 5.1 Bose audio that attend them) bump the tally to $61,945. Fuel savings might earn back the hybrid premium over the course of a decade, sooner if you drive many stop-and-go miles or gas prices shoot up. But also recall that the hybrid accelerates more like the M56, and the V8-powered car costs about $2,000 more. Some people are concerned about the potential long-term costs of hybrids. There’s more stuff that might potentially require replacement, including that lithium-ion battery back. Though it’s far too soon to tell in this specific case, the lower tech NiMH battery pack in the Toyota Prius rarely requires replacement even well north of 100,000 miles, based on TrueDelta’s Car Reliability Survey. If Nissan’s system is nearly as solid (far too soon to tell) its longevity won’t be an issue. The rest of the car? about average so far.

The Infiniti M35h has its shortcomings, especially when called upon to hustle through some tight curves. But the car’s unique combination of strong acceleration, 27/32 fuel economy, distinctive exterior, and beautiful cosseting interior has a certain charm. Want technical perfection? Then get something German. But if you’d prefer a luxury sedan that ignores conventions, that combines myriad noteworthy strengths and weaknesses into a whole that shouldn’t work—a luxurious retro-flavored hybrid where oversteer is a concern—yet somehow does, then take the M35h for a spin. Unlike with the typical hybrid or even far too many performance luxury sedans, there’s never a dull moment where the car seems to be doing all the work and you’re just along for the ride.

Infiniti provided the car with insurance and a tank of gas.

Michael Karesh operates TrueDelta.com, an online provider of car reliability and real-world fuel economy information.

M35h engine, picture courtesy Michael Karesh M35h fancy wood, picture courtesy Michael Karesh M35h front quarter high, picture courtesy Michael Karesh M35h front quarter, picture courtesy Michael Karesh M35h front, picture courtesy Michael Karesh M35h instrument panel, picture courtesy Michael Karesh M35h instruments, picture courtesy Michael Karesh M35h interior, picture courtesy Michael Karesh M35h rear quarter 2, picture courtesy Michael Karesh M35h rear quarter high, picture courtesy Michael Karesh M35h rear quarter, picture courtesy Michael Karesh M35h rear seat, picture courtesy Michael Karesh M35h side, picture courtesy Michael Karesh M35h trunk, picture courtesy Michael Karesh M35h view forward, picture courtesy Michael Karesh ]]>
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Review: 2012 Infiniti QX56 Take Two http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/01/review-2012-infiniti-qx56-take-two/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/01/review-2012-infiniti-qx56-take-two/#comments Mon, 16 Jan 2012 21:58:55 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=425908 If you thought high gas prices and a questionable economy meant the era of big SUVs was over, you’d be wrong; 2011 saw large SUV sales in the US grow 3.7% with a 7.4% growth in the luxury SUV segment. If you are one of those people with six-figure salaries and snow-filled school runs, the Cadillac Escalade is probably on your short list. But what about the person who isn’t ready to look “gangsta” while dropping Jimmy Jr. off at softball practice? Infiniti might just have the answer: the all-new, all-enormous QX56. Michael Karesh snagged a QX56 from a dealer back in March 2011, and in December Infiniti tossed me the keys to a 7-seat QX to see what the behemoth is like to live with for a week.

The luxury SUV formula is simple (and almost universally applied); take a mass-market SUV, add bling, softer leather, and wood trim (real or fake, take your pick). The Cadillac Escalade is the best known example. The Caddy borrows so heavily from the Chevrolet Tahoe and GMC Yukon that it’s hard to tell them apart unless you’re looking at them head-on.  Toyota/Lexus uses the same formula to make the LX570 out of the Toyota Land Cruiser.  If this doesn’t appeal to you, Nissan/Infiniti may have been listening. While Infiniti’s last generation QX was a tarted up Nissan Armada, this time around the QX is a re-badged Nissan Patrol. Same story different names you say? Not quite, the Patrol has never been sold in America, and in all likelihood never will be. You see, the Patrol is not some budget Nissan, it’s Nissan’s flagship SUV in markets where Infiniti doesn’t exist. This sounds strange to the average American buyer, however it is perfectly normal (in many markets) for a single brand to compete in the budget-compact market and the full-size luxury niche at the same time.

Outside, the QX looks big. Really big. Infiniti attempted to put the QX on a visual diet by adding the Infiniti signature grille and “bubbly” hood treatment. The nip/tuck works to some extent and made me believe the QX56 is smaller than the competition, until I parked between an Escalade and GL550. At over 208-inches long and 80-inches wide, the QX56 is 6-inches longer and more than an inch wider than the Escalade (if want an SUV that rivals river-barges, Cadillac’s Escalade ESV is 229-inchs long). The QX is so large that while on the freeway I came too close to a pair of Smart Fortwos and accidentally pulled them into orbit. While I find the quarter-panel “portholes” an awkward styling job, the rest of the slab-sided QX is more attractive in my mind than the sedate LX570, the angular GL or the Escalade.

The super-size theme continues inside with wide, flat-bottomed front seats, a large center console between the front and second row seats (in the 7-seat QX) and large expanses of real wood trim. Anyone who owns or has driven a late model year Infiniti will feel immediately at home inside the QX as Infinit’s interior design department still chants the “same sausage, different sizes” mantra, and I’m OK with that. Parts quality inside the QX is extremely high with all the major touch points lacking the plastic feel the Cadillac is burdened with. Still, budgets are a way of life and back in 2010 when I reviewed the redesigned M56, I loved the “knurled” rings around the speedo and tach, the QX borrows the style but not the 3-D plastic bits opting instead for a painted-on faux knurl. Other than the painted gauge bling, the QX’s cabin is  easily on par with Mercedes’ GL and Lexus’s LX.

Under the QX’s bulbous hood beats but one engine option: the lightly re-worked 5.6-liter direct-injection V8 VK56VD. While the V8 is shared with the M56 sedan, exhaust differences reduce the output by 20HP and 4lb-ft to 400HP at 5,850RPM and 413lb-ft at 4,000RPM. Despite the downgrade in twist, the new engine is more powerful than all of the competition except the Escalade’s 403-horsepower, 417lb-ft 6.2-liter pushrod V8. Despite being down on displacement versus the Caddy, Infiniti’s direct-injection and variable valve timing tech help the QX’s V8 not only deliver its peak torque earlier than the Caddy’s 6.2L V8, but it doesn’t run out of breath as easily either.

As a result of the advantageous torque curve, high horsepower and a well matched 7-speed transmission, the QX56 recorded a faster 0-60 time than the 2011 Infiniti G37 convertible we tested recently. The QX boasts an 8,500lb towing capacity (slightly higher than Escalde), and in a back-to-back test with a friend’s 2011 Caddy and the same trailer, the QX felt far more composed going up steep grades with a 5,000lb trailer. The fast acceleration times and improved towing feel are largely due to the 7-speed automatic which spent less time hunting than GM’s 6-speed. Overall, the QX transmission’s shifts are fast and crisp like other Infiniti products (with rev-matched down-shifts), however the unit is programmed to be up-shift happy for fuel economy reasons. Fear not piston heads; romping the go peal will still trump the EPA. All 400 ponies are routed to the tarmac via the rear wheels or an optional all-time four-wheel-drive system with a two-speed transfer case. Sadly the terrain selection dial (ala Land Rover) from the Nissan Patrol didn’t make it into the QX.

Out on the road, the QX’s 121-inch wheelbase (5-inches longer than Escalade), independent rear suspension and standard 60-series rubber help the QX deliver a fairly compliant ride. Upgrading to the 22-inch wheel package drops the aspect ratio on the tires to 50 but improves the look of the vehicle whiel taking a slight toll on harshness over rough pavement. If handling is a priority for you, look beyond the 22-inch low profile tires and shop the   300lb lighter Mercedes-Benz GL550 or a crossover. Compared to the LX570, the QX delivers better grip than the Lexus, but slots firmly between the base Escalade and the Escalade with GM’s Magnetic Ride Control. Does any of this matter? I say no. Let’s face it – as long as a large SUV handles as well as a 1980s minivan it has succeeded in my book.

While Green Peace will never give a thumbs-up to any full-size SUV, the 5,850lb QX56 manages to win the award for the most fuel efficient “full-size non-hybrid SUV,” delivering 14 city MPG and 20 highway MPG. (The Escalde and GL450 both scrape the bottom at 13 MPG city/18 MPG highway.) During our 640-mile week with the QX56, we averaged a respectable 15.2MPGs in mixed driving and a daily commute over a 2,200ft mountain pass and our best highway mileage of 22MPG was achieved during a 48-mile run on level highway.

 

Lately Infiniti has been taking nanny state to the next level with “prevention systems” rather than just “warning systems.” As much as I may dislike systems that take control at any time (as opposed to systems that take control when you are inattentive), when you are driving a living room sized vehicle aroundm it’s probably a good idea for the nannies to kick in early. Sure, the Lexus LX has a pre-collision system and the Mercedes GL can be had with lane departure warning, but the QX takes electronic prevention to a whole new level. “Lane Departure Prevention” not only tells you when you cross the line without signalling, it will actually use the brakes to “steer” you back in your lane. Similarly, “Blind Spot Avoidance” will act (more drastically) to keep you from side-swiping that motorcycle or Smart car in your blind spot. While the Lane Departure system’s intervention is a gentle tug, the Blind Spot system is more of a shove back in your lane. I can hear HAL now: I’m sorry, Dave. I’m afraid I can’t do that.

Click here to view the embedded video.

Most luxury brands offer radar cruise control as an option, but Infinit’s packs a socialist twist: an accelerator pedal that fights back. The radar cruise control with “Intelligent Brake Assist” will brake for you [even to a complete stop] in many situations. The easiest way to describe the behavior is this: you are following a car on a surface street, the car begins to slow for a red light, if the QX56 sees that you are closing on the car in front of you it will begin pushing the accelerator pedal up at you to indicate your need to act, if you lift off the accelerator and you are close enough to the car in front, the QX will automatically apply the brakes taking you all the way to a complete stop. Once stopped the car will hold the brakes for a few seconds, then beep indicating your need to touch the brake pedal and then release it’s death grip on your stoppers. I will leave the debate over this making QX drivers depend too much on technology to our readers.

The QX56 shares its 8-inch navigation/infotainment system with the rest of the Infiniti lineup and as such provides excellent Bluetooth and iPod/iPhone integration. While the software has not been significantly improved since the former QX, it is fairly competitive with the Lexus and Cadillac systems. With an intuitive interface that combines physical buttons on the dash and steering wheel as well as a touch screen, navigating through your music device or the nav system is easy and can be done primarily via the steering wheel. While the Infiniti system allows voice control of the navigation system and Bluetooth phone dialing, it unfortunately still lacks voice command of your Apple music device ala Ford’s SYNC or Kia’s UVO. The large screen is also used by Infiniti’s “Around Monitor” system which takes images from four different cameras around the car and digitally manipulates the image to give you a bird’s eye view of your surroundings. While this feature is nifty in a mid-size luxury sedan, it’s a matter of wheel-life-or-death on large SUVs and thankfully it is standard on all QX models.

So how much does one of these babies set you back? Logically, full-size SUVs have full-size price tags and the QX56 is no exception. The 2012 Infiniti QX56 starts at $58,700 for the rear wheel drive QX and $61,800 for the four-wheel drive model. Aside from the all-wheel motivation, the $3,100 also buys the driver a windshield de-icer and a 260lb increase in curb weight. Strangely enough the 4WD system does not come standard with a reduction in fuel economy with 2WD and 4WD models scoring the same in the EPA tests (your mileage may vary of course). Our tester was a fully-loaded AWD model retailing for $75,140. Our options list included: the $2,950 “Theater Package” with dual 7-inch headrest monitors for the second row, wireless headphones, second row power-folding heated seats and a built-in 120V AC inverter; the $4,100 “Deluxe Touring Package” with heated and cooled front seats, semi-aniline leather, dynamic body roll control, climate control with air quality management, a Plasmacluster air purifier and burl wood trim; and the $3,000 “Technology Package” which includes all the safety nannies we covered earlier. While $75K sounds steep, the QX56 is actually a “bargain” in the luxo-hauler class. Similarly equipped, the Mercedes GL550 will set you back $89,818, the Cadillac Escalade Platinum  $82,035 and the Lexus X570 will ding you $89,356. It should be noted that despite the Cadillac of price tags, the Escalade lacks many of the advanced active safety features of the QX.

As much as I might like to think of myself as a mild-greenie, I have always had a strangely large place in my heart for large vehicles. You know you like ‘em big too. However politically incorrect it may be to drive a large SUV, and keeping the fact that few people really “need” a full-size SUV, the QX56 is a solid entry in this niche and 2011 sales bear this out with the QX outselling the Lexus LX570 fourfold. Indeed the QX outsells all but the Escalade, and for good reason, with a fresh new look, upscale interior and more electronic doodads than the competition for a lower price point, the QX56 should be at the top of your super-sized list.

 

Statistics
0-30: 2.161 seconds
0-60: 5.61 seconds
1/4 Mile: 14.27 seconds @ 97 MPH

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

2012 Infiniti QX56 Exterior Front, Photography courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Infiniti QX56 Exterior Front, Photography courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Infiniti QX56 Exterior Front 3/4, Photography courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Infiniti QX56 Exterior Front 3/4, Photography courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Infiniti QX56 Exterior Rear, Photography courtesy of Alex L. Dykes I2012 Infiniti QX56 Exterior Rear Side 3/4, Photography courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Infiniti QX56 Exterior Side, Photography courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Infiniti QX56 Engine, Photography courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Infiniti QX56 Engine, Photography courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Infiniti QX56 Exterior Grille, Photography courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Infiniti QX56 Headlamps, Photography courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Infiniti QX56 Exterior, Portholes, Photography courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Infiniti QX56 Exterior, Photography courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Infiniti QX56 Exterior, Photography courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Infiniti QX56 Exterior, Photography courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Infiniti QX56 Interior, Infotainment / Nagivation Screen, Photography courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Infiniti QX56 Interior Gauges, Photography courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Infiniti QX56 Interior Gauges, Photography courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Infiniti QX Audio Controls, Photography courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Infiniti QX Cargo Area, Photography courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Infiniti QX Cargo Area, Photography courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Infiniti QX Cargo Area, Photography courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Infiniti QX56 Exterior, Side. Photography courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Infiniti QX56 Exterior, Side. Photography courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Infiniti QX56 Exterior, Side. Photography courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Infiniti QX56 Exterior, Side, Photography courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Infiniti QX 56 Exterior, Photography courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Infiniti QX56 Exterior, Side. Photography courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Infiniti QX56 Exterior, Side. Photography courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Infiniti QX56 Exterior, Side.Photography courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Infiniti QX56 Exterior, Side. Photography courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Infiniti QX56 Exterior, Side. Photography courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Infiniti QX56 Wheels, Photography courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Infiniti QX56 Interior. Photography courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Infiniti QX56 Interior Dashboard, Photography courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Infiniti QX56 Interior Dashboard, Photography courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Infiniti QX56 Interior Dashboard 2, Photography courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Infiniti QX56 Interior Dashboard 1, Photography courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Infiniti QX56 Interior Second Row, Photography courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Infiniti QX56 Interior Middle Row, Photography courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Infiniti QX56 Interior Third Row, Photography courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Infiniti QX56 Interior Seating - View from cargo area, Photography courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Infiniti QX56 Interior Seating, Photography courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Infiniti QX56 Interior Seating 2, Photography courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Infiniti QX56 Interior Seating, Photography courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Infiniti QX56 Interior Front Door, Photography courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Infiniti QX56 Interior Center Stack, Photography courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Infiniti QX56 Interior AWD Mode Selector, Photography courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Infiniti QX56 Interior AWD Mode Selector, Photography courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Infiniti QX56 Interior, Photography courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Infiniti QX56 Interior, Photography courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Infiniti QX56 Interior, Photography courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Infiniti QX56 Instrument Cluster (gauges), Photography courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Infiniti QX56 Instrument Cluster (gauges), Photography courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Infiniti QX56 Instrument Cluster (gauges), Photography courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Infiniti QX56 All-Around-View, Photography courtesy of Alex L. Dykes infiniti_qx56_thumb ]]>
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2012 Infiniti FX35 Limited Edition http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/01/2012-infiniti-fx35-limited-edition/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/01/2012-infiniti-fx35-limited-edition/#comments Thu, 05 Jan 2012 18:22:02 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=424478

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.

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Review: 2012 Infiniti M35h Hybrid http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/09/review-2012-infiniti-m35h-hybrid/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/09/review-2012-infiniti-m35h-hybrid/#comments Wed, 14 Sep 2011 18:15:50 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=410589

Let’s face it, hybrids are boring. They are slow, complicated, come with hard tires and soft suspensions, sloppy handling, and they look weird. We’ve heard the story before: this hybrid is different. First Lexus gave us the GS and RX hybrids claiming V8 performance with V6 fuel economy, but the result was more like V6 performance with V6 economy, not really a great sales pitch. Still, hybrids sell well and with Infiniti marching towards mainstream luxury success they “need” a hybrid. Of course, with Infiniti aiming to be the “Japanese BMW”, performance is obviously a prime concern, so the claim from Infiniti that the M35h will deliver “V8 performance and four-cylinder economy” was expected. But is it another case of leather clad disappointment? Let’s find out.

Not too long ago Infiniti dropped off a new M56x at my doorstep, at that time I didn’t much care for the styling, commenting: “Every time I approached the car I felt as if an enormous box-fish was going to devour me.” While the Infiniti M still looks hungry to me, seeing more of them on the road has perhaps warmed me up to the design and I find the form more attractive than before. As we often point out on TTAC, style is terribly subjective and subject to our own personal leanings, so take my opinion with a grain of salt if you like the look. My informal lunch group’s opinions were mixed with some loving the flowing curves and some preferring sharp creases in their sheet metal alá Cadillac and Mercedes.

Inside the M35h (and much like the M56x) there is little to find fault with. But there is also little to identify this M as the hybrid that saves the world and your testosterone. The only change to the well put together cabin for hybrid duty is the charge/power gauge in the cluster replacing the engine temperature gauge found on other M models. The center stack, nav system and trim are all the same (with the hybrid specific software teaks of course) and there are no blue back-lit hybrid badges, EV mode buttons, or displays with growing leaves to be found. This is the sleeper hybrid if there ever was one.

The lack of hybrid bling does not mean the M35h lacks tech, quite the contrary. The M35h gets the same suite of standard and optional gadgets as the base M37, not a bad list to pull from. The 7-inch standard infotainment screen does everything but navigation, iPod and USB integration with Bluetooth speakerphone is standard as is the 6-speaker Infiniti auto system with a single in dash CD player and XM satellite radio. Opting for the $3,350 “premium package” gets you Infiniti’s easy to use navigation system with a high-resolution 8-inch display, Bose 5.1 channel surround sound system with speakers in the seat backs, voice controlled functions, heated steering wheel and cooled front thrones and active cabin nose canceling.

Should you desire the latest in driving 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 will find the most fault with, especially if you are an aggressive driver. The feature can of course be turned off, but if dialed up to full-on German-au-pair, it will fight you hard, forcing the pedal back at you if you’re driving uneconomically or 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 we condone distracted driving, but if you needed to, this car could help you accomplish the feat more safely.

The hybrid system is where the M35h departs from the regular M or the hither-to-normal hybrid. Until recently if you bought a hybrid in North America, you had one of three systems. Honda’s weak-sauce Integrated Motor Assist system just puts a motor between the engine and transmission and is essentially a start/stop system with some extra oomph. GM/BMW/Mercedes developed a crazy-expensive and crazy-complex 2-mode hybrid system which seems to be dying a slow death in the market [Ed: until CAFE rescued the investment]. And lastly we have the original true hybrid system, the Toyota/Ford system which uses a planetary gearbox to allow the engine, motor or both to drive the vehicle. Infiniti took a different approach to “hybridification” by removing the torque converter from a regular 7-speed automatic transmission and in its place stuffing a slim electric motor with two clutch packs (similar to the Hyundai/Kia hybrid system). These clutch packs are what make the Infiniti system innovative and different from the Honda IMA system.


Starting at the front of the car and working your way back, you first find a Nissan 3.5L V6 engine running on the Atkinson cycle (like most hybrids) putting out 302HP and 258lb-ft of twist. After the engine sits a dry clutch pack that allows the engine to start and run while decoupled from the electric motor. Next up we have a 360V AC motor that’s good for 67HP and 199lb-ft directly coupled to the Nissan 7-speed automatic transmission. Located inside the rear of the transmission is a wet clutch pack that allows the engine and motor to be connected with one another to charge the batteries with the vehicle stationary (it also slips to help make gear changes smoother). Decoupling the V6 reduces mechanical losses boosting the electric drive efficiency; this is an area where Honda’s system suffers. Behind the rear seats a 1.4kW lithium-ion battery, wedged where you’d put the 5th bag of golf clubs (Infiniti says a quartet of golfers can still be accommodated and they kindly print a diagram in the trunk to tell you how to manage it). And the final  change is a tall 2.6:1 final drive ratio allowing the V6 to spin leisurely on the freeway (1,600RPM at 60MPH).

Hybrid systems like Toyota’s Hybrid Synergy Drive combine the motor and engine numbers in a way that is not simple addition (google is you must know why), however Infiniti’s system is easy to figure: the peak number is achieved where the HP and torque curves of the engine and motor meet, making the M35h good for a combined 360HP at 6,500RPM and approximately 410lb-ft at 5200RPM. Note: Our combined torque number is an estimate as Infniti does not officially list a combined rating; the “online” 457lb-ft numbers floating around are not accurate according to Infiniti because when the V6′s 258lb-ft peak does not align with the motor’s 199lb-ft peak.

The high torque of the electric motor from very low RPMs make the M35h far faster than the numbers on paper would imply, we easily recorded 5.2 second runs to 60MPH with our lowest taking only 5.03 seconds. The low 1.9 second sprint to 30MPH (the M56 takes 2.3) is perhaps the most telling number because by the time the spedo crested 100 the M35h had lost its lead on the V8 powered M56 clocking a 13.5 second ¼ mile at 103MPH (vs 13.4 at 106 for the V8). Part of the reason the performance is so good is the weight gain, at only 276lbs heavier than the M37, the M35h manages to be 99-lbs heavier than the M56 and slips in just below the AWD M56x on the scales. (The Lexus GS450h is only five pounds heavier.) Stoplight racers be warned however, that after a few 0-60 runs the battery and motor heat up enough that the control circuitry puts the kibosh on at least a portion of the electric assist and by the 6th back-to-back 0-60 run our times had risen to 6.2 seconds.

If you drive the M35h on a normal commute and not a track day, the EPA claims you’ll achieve 27MPG city, 32 highway and 29 combined. In our 7 days and 820 miles with the M35h we averaged a quite respectable 29.1MPG (excluding our track adventures, photo shoots, etc) in our mixed driving of mostly California freeway and rural mountain highway. Our numbers were no doubt buoyed by moderate traffic and a general inability to exceed 72MPH on the highways in the SF Bay Area. Infiniti claims the system will allow you to drive electric only up to 62MPH but in reality there didn’t seem to be much of an upper limit for the EV functionality provided you were gentle on the go-pedal. This is also a key area where the M35h differs from a Prius, to drive at 65MPH, the Prius has to use the engine because of the design of the transmission, the M35h on the other hand just disconnects the engine from the equation. While on a level highway with the cruise control set to 67MPH the hybrid system would switch in and out of electric only mode fairly often with my daily commute spending some 19% of the time in “EV mode” (22% for the lifetime of the car) as figured by the trip computer.

Since the M37 delivered some 22MPG on the same commute, the efficiency gain is noticeable. Thankfully hypermiling skills were not required to achieve our test numbers, but perhaps more strangely a daily jaunt testing all the hypermiling skills from Prius forums didn’t appreciably bump the numbers either. Since Infiniti opted to keep the grippy all-season tires from the non-hybrid M, and thanks to the nearly perfect weight balance, it was possible to test the economy figures on some of my favorite mountain roads. When driven this way the economy certainly drops like a rock (17MPG for that trip), which may sound bad, but put in perspective the lighter G37 convertible scored 11MPG on the same route.

What’s the M35h’s competition? By my estimation it competes most directly with the Lexus GS450h, a sedan that is not long for this world. Since the 2013 GS450h has yet to be announced officially, a comparison to the current hybrid GS is all I can offer. In this match up the GS offers a suitably swish cabin that has aged well but is a definite step behind the M35h’s silver-dist rubbed goodness (the 2013 GS I was able to preview at Pebble Beach has a competitive cabin, but is not a substantial step above the M35h). The GS is also significantly behind the M when it comes to fuel sipping delivering only 22/25/23 (city/highway/combined) EPA numbers, a substantial 26% lower than the 27/32/29MPG numbers Infiniti scored. If that weren’t enough of a shot across the bow of the company known for their hybrid tech, the M also wears a 20% smaller CO2 footprint, if you care about that sort of thing. Driving pleasure in the GS is limited by the CVT that is the heart of the Lexus Hybrid Sybergy Drive system, but that may be balanced out by the M35′s less polished transitions between gasoline and electric power.

With a base price undercutting Lexus by $5,250 and offering more interior room, a real transmisison and improved economy I’d take the M35h over the GS450 any day. Unfortunately like most hybrid cars the M35h has less of a value proposition when compared to its own non-hybrid brethren. The M37 which is cheaper, delivers 8/10ths the speed, 8/10ths the fuel economy and perhaps 11/10ths the luxury feel due to the sometimes quirky nature of the hybrid clutch packs the M35h uses. At the end of the day the M35h is far from a leather clad disappointment like other luxury hybrids, but as long as the M37 is available for sale, I just don’t see the M35h enjoying a place in my garage.

Not a fan of our Facebook page? Too bad. For out Facebook peeps, here’s what you wanted to know: Jason M: Smugness level is similar to a Prius, 1/2 the economy but 2X the car. Andy A: No paddle shifters. Clay C. I tried, but BlendTech doesn’t carry a car-sized blender. Phillip W: We never reached battery depletion levels, try as we might. This is easier in Toyota hybrids because putting the car in N disconnects the generator, the M will still connect the generator whenever it feels like it, N or not. Mirko R: Yes. Marc C: Mileage depends greatly on how you drive, we did however average 29.1 which is the combined EPA number in mixed driving, moderate speeds, moderate acceleration. Sergio P: No idea what the batteries will sell for, my dealer didn’t know either. J S: Not quite sure why Autoblog thought it was more refined than the Lexus system. Infiniti’s solution is perhaps more interesting, and it is newer, but it isn’t as smooth. Given the choice, I’d take the Infiniti.

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

Specifications as tested
0-30: 1.9 Seconds
0-60: 5.0 Seconds
¼ Mile: 13.5 Seconds @ 103MPH
Average Fuel Economy: 29.1 MPH
Miles Driven: 820

 

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Review: 2011 Infiniti G37 Convertible Limited Edition http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/06/review-2011-infiniti-g37-convertible-limited-edition/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/06/review-2011-infiniti-g37-convertible-limited-edition/#comments Mon, 13 Jun 2011 18:28:49 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=398442

I’m a horrible car guy; I dislike convertibles. It’s not really for the usual reason car buffs dislike going topless, it has nothing to do with the inevitable loss of stiffness or added weight and complexity and everything to do with the reduction in practicality. I realize that a practical convertible is something of an oxymoron, but some are worse than others. It’s no wonder the convertible landscape is littered with has-beens, convertible sales only account for 2% of passenger car sales in North America and premium ‘verts are an even smaller part of the pie. It is therefore no surprise that the G37 convertible is only the second ever Infiniti convertible.

Released back in 2008 as a 2009 model the G37 Convertible was designed from the beginning to be a convertible. Huh? Yes, the G37 convertible is not just a G37 coupé with its top removed, although on the face of things you would be forgiven for thinking so. Although the G37 sedan, coupe and convertible ride on the same Nissan FM platform as everything from the Nissan 350Z to the Infiniti FX and even the GT-R, the Convertibles parts sharing stops at the curvaceous proboscis, overall style and dashboard. The convertible receives a wider track and a modified rear suspension unique to the topless cruiser in addition to the three-part folding hard top designed by Karmann. Fortunately for the public, considerable time was spent making sure the G37 looks as good with the top up as down unlike some topless abominations I could mention.

From the driver’s perspective there is little difference between the convertible and the coupe inside the cabin. The G37’s three-spoke steering wheel, gauge cluster and center stack with 7-inch infotainment/navigation screen and funky rotary-joystick/button tower are all where you expect them to be. Glancing rearwards and the differences become more obvious. The front seats have speakers growing out of the headrests and the B pillar is conspicuously missing. This missing pillar combined with essentially the same seats as the coupe means the seatbelts are mounted to the body of the car looping thru a leather holder fastened with snaps. The belt arrangement is a tad less elegant than some of the competition and makes ingress and egress difficult for rear passengers compared with in-seat safety belts. Speaking of the rear, while leg room is just bearable for a 6-foot rear passenger and a 6-footdriver, head room is severely limited, so keep those foursomes limited to short drives.

Speaking of driving, packed under the curvaceous hood beats he same 3.7L engine as other G variants tuned down slightly by 5HP to 325HP and 267lb-ft. The reduction is apparently due to different exhaust routing, not that 5HP makes much difference when you’re motivating 4,100lbs. Yes, that’s right; the G37 convertible weighs in at over two tons as the folding lid and required structural modifications to the FM platform have added over 450lbs vs the G37 coupe and sedan. Despite the added weight however the convertible seems to retain the vast majority of the driving ability of the coupe due largely to the 52/48 percent weight balance (slightly better than the coupe) and standard 225-width front rubber and 245 out back (the base coupe and sedan have 225s all the way around). As with the coupe and sedan, the convertible routes all 325 horses to the rear wheels via Nissan’s relatively new 7-speed automatic. While the shifts don’t seem quite as fast or as crisp as ZF’s 6-speed, the svelte magnesium paddle shifters mounted to the column rather than the wheel are as close to perfection as it comes and the acompanying rev-matched downshifts are likely to make a few die hard manual fans opt for the ease of the automatic. Unlike many other manual modes, the Nissan setup queues shifts and dispatches them quickly and neatly with zero drama on its way to a measured 5.9 second run to 60.

When the going gets twisty, the G37 shines with handling unquestionably better than the Audi A5 cabriolet and superior poise when pushed compared to the Lexus IS350c. Much like the Lexus however, the Infiniti possess the ride of a GT largely due to the added weight and revised suspension. Still, with road holding ability only a notch below the BMW 335, I’ll take the softer ride any day.

One of the reasons I dislike convertibles (aside from sunstroke in the hot California sun) is the practicality sacrifice. You lose enough cargo room in a soft top, but most hard tops make the sacrifice even more severe. The G37 is no exception to this rule; a 10.3 cu-ft trunk doesn’t sound too bad (considering the tiny 7.4 offered by the G37 coupe) until you see that it drops to an astonishing 1.99 cu-ft with the top down. If two-cubes weren’t small enough, most of that is under a hatch in the trunk floor that can’t really be accessed without raising the top. Literally just two lightweight adult male jackets will fit in the remaining cargo cubby. In comparison, the Volvo C70 offers three-times more schlepping with 6cuft of top-down space (almost equal to the G37 Coupe) and the Volvo’s roof will lift up and out of the way at the press of a button to make access easier. The G37’s main competitor, the 335i convertible, still has room to stow and retrieve a large computer bag with the top down. My prejudice aside, no hard top convertible should ever be thought of as a practical luggage hauler, so on long road trips to a weekend getaway in Napa, your rear seats will act as leather-clad cargo space.

The G37 convertible includes all the heated leather and (optional) red-stained maple wood trim you could ask for. Roofless models also get a slight standard feature boost as compared to the coupe and sedan. Also on the option list you’ll find: cooled thrones, navigation, and Bose audio systems that adapt to the top being up or down. The optional Bose “Open Air Sound System” in our limited edition tester uses 13 speakers including two speakers in each headrest and two 10-inch woofers, and 9.3GB of music storage on the integrated hard drive. As unusual as the headrests may look, they work surprisingly well for the front passengers, but they do make sound for the occasional rear passenger sound strange. (Who cares? They are in the back.) The integrated Bluetooth system even manages to work surprisingly well even with the top down at highway speeds. USB and iPod integration is standard on all G37 convertibles with or without navigation and it works as well as most competitive systems allowing full on-screen access to my iPod and iPhone 4.

The 2011 G37 convertible wears a $45,750 base sticker price and our Limited Edition tester was essentially fully loaded save the radar cruise control with a $58,125 price tag. While the top-end pricing of the G37 may raise eyebrows, the rest of the luxury import convertible market is similarly priced. Compared to the Lexus IS350C which would be the G37’s most direct competition, the IS350C enjoys a larger trunk, but its interior suffers from the same thing the IS350 AWD we reviewed recently: age. From Europe the RWD competition comes in the form of the 335i and the new W212 Mercedes E350 cabriolet. The E350 wears the largest base price in the class at $56,850 and $63,565 sticker comparably equipped. While the Infiniti may not have the snob value the E350’s tri-star exudes, it does come across as the better performance value. The 335i on the other hand has aged extremely well and the torque curve of the turbo-six helps scoot the 335i to 60 faster with a more linear feel than the Infiniti’s naturally aspirated mill. The G37 fights back with a base of $52,650 and a comparably equipped price of $61,250, scoring big value points in most trim levels.

Usually most reviewers seem to stop the comparo after mashing the G37 up against the Germans and the Lexus, but at TTAC we march to a different drummer. Volvo enjoys a similar brand value proposition as Infiniti in the eyes of most American shoppers, both notching below the major players from Germany and Japan. The 227HP C70 convertible is unquestionably slower and less exciting to drive, but with a chic Scandinavian interior and a base price just below 40-large (similarly equipped price of $47,175) and sporting the largest trunk in the group, it’s worth at least a glance from shoppers not interested in drifting while they tan. If you’re looking to import your next convertible from Detroit, the Mustang GT convertible delivers an interesting alternative. Although there is no hard top ‘stang, it will please your aural senses with its 412HP 5.0L V8. Of course cross-shopping is unlikely, but as a comparison, the GT will burn the socks right off the Infiniti.

0-30: 2.3 seconds
0-60: 5.9 seconds
1/4 Mile: 14.3 seconds @ 98 MPH

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

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Review: 2011 Infiniti QX56 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/04/review-2011-infiniti-qx56/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/04/review-2011-infiniti-qx56/#comments Mon, 18 Apr 2011 18:27:51 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=391790

You have your reasons. Gas prices might be high and headed higher, and car-based crossovers handle better, but you want your full-sized, full-lux, body-on-frame conventional SUV. GM and Ford, the segment’s traditional rulers, have had nothing new to offer in five years. But Infiniti has as much faith in the segment’s continued vitality as you do—why else would they have introduced an all-new QX56 for the 2011 model year?

With voluptuously rounded fenders and tight proportions, the QX56 adopts Infiniti’s current design language and appears smaller than it actually is (six inches longer and an inch wider than a Cadillac Escalade). And yet with a huge grille leading a domed hood that rises far above the headlamp clusters the SUV also has the powerful presence expected from this sort of vehicle. I personally find the new QX56’s exterior a major improvement over the previous one, far more attractive than the Lexus LX 570 (not a high hurdle to clear), more tasteful than the excessively chromed but otherwise excessively pedestrian Lincoln Navigator, and more current than the Cadillac Escalade. Still, I can see how some people might perceive the QX56’s exterior as bulbous and prefer the crisper lines of a Cadillac Escalade or Mercedes GL. And the Range Rover’s exterior is a classic that will never go out of style.

Opinions of the QX56’s interior should be less mixed. Like the exterior, it is fully up-to-date in a way that those of its closest competitors are not. Sweeping curves continue into the SUV’s cabin, which between its sensual styling and premium wood and leather is a very nice place to be. The door panels (including the door pulls) and the center console are luxuriously upholstered. Unlike in the Lincoln or Cadillac, there’s no sense of any pickup origins. One issue: sunlight sometimes reflects annoyingly off the chrome trim around the shifter. Among other things, this makes it hard to view the position of the small seat heating-and-cooling knobs buried at the base of the center stack. Hint: if you start feeling uncomfortably warm, the seat heater is on.

Any lingering doubts that the QX56 is a conventional SUV fall away with the considerable climb into the driver seat—the step-in height is nearly two feet. Shorter adults will be thankful for the standard running boards, though even these are well off the ground (fixed, in place, they don’t power down like those on domestic competitors). Once up there, the view over the hood is commanding. Huge mirrors aid rearward visibility. The standard “Around View Monitor” provides a top-down view of the entire perimeter of the vehicle, making it much easier, even fun, to maneuver in tight spaces. Once you try it, you’ll wish your car had it.

The QX56’s large front bucket seats feel very comfortable at first. As the miles accumulate, the cushions don’t seem as cosseting, but still better than most. The second row, which reclines, is notably roomy and comfortable. The third row, despite the packaging advantages of an independent rear suspension (IRS), is not. The seat’s very low to the floor, and there’s hardly more room back there than in a live-axled LX 570 or Escalade. Consider it kids-only for all but short stints.

Cargo volume similarly fails to receive an IRS refund. With just 16.6 cubic feet behind the third row and 95.1 with both rows folded to form a flat but upward-sloping floor, the figures are very conventional SUV. You can stuff another twenty cubes above the lower floor of a Buick Enclave crossover. The third-row seat power folds, but operates so slowly—and you must keep your finger on the button the whole time—that a manual seat would be preferable.

Though a foot longer than the Lexus, the Infiniti weighs about 150 pounds less—which still leaves 5,850. No matter, the 400-horsepower 5.6-liter VVT DOHC V8 backed by a manually-shiftable seven-speed automatic is well up to the task. Infiniti’s V8 might lack the character of Cadillac’s, but is nevertheless easy on the ears. Unlike with the Lexus, all-wheel-drive with a two-speed transfer case isn’t standard, but no doubt most QX56s will be ordered with it. Fuel economy about the burbs might top 14 MPG if you go easy on the gas. Towing capacity: 8,500 lbs. There are some benefits to a conventional SUV.

Handling isn’t one of them. While the QX56 certainly handles with much more balance and composure than the Lexus or Lincoln, its chassis is not as entertaining as the Cadillac’s (though it might post better numbers) and is most definitely an outlier in the Infiniti showroom. The QX56’s steering and handling aren’t nearly as tight or precise as those of an FX50, much less Infinitis that check in well south of 4,500 pounds. Even with the Deluxe Touring Package’s hydraulically cross-linked shocks there’s a fair amount of lean in hard turns. Typical of large SUVs (though the Cadillac does better), the QX56 bobbles and shudders a bit over uneven pavement. It feels every bit as large and heavy as it is.

Equipped with AWD and the Deluxe Touring Package (which requires the dual screen entertainment system), the QX56 lists for an even $71,000. While certainly not cheap, a similarly outfitted LX 570 lists for $14,360 more. Adjusting for the Lexus’s additional features using TrueDelta’s car price comparison tool and comparing invoice prices (Lexus dealers enjoy broader margins) only reduces this difference by half. Compared to the Cadillac Escalade the Infiniti’s advantage is over $14,000 even after such adjustments. The Lincoln Navigator is a little less expensive than the Infiniti, but there’s a reason for this.

Stylish curves and Infiniti brand notwithstanding, the QX56 remains very much a large conventional SUV. If you’re into cars, it’s not going to change your mind about the class even if it does perform somewhat better than others. But if you want a large conventional SUV, the Infiniti seems the one to get, offering the most up-to-date styling, an outstanding interior, a powerful V8, and competent handling at a relatively low price.

Bill French of Suburban Infiniti in Novi, MI, provided the vehicle. He can be reached at 248-427-4712.

Michael Karesh operatesTrueDelta, an online source of automotive pricing and reliability data.

QX56 shiny console QX56 cargo seats up QX56 side Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail QX56 front quarter 2 QX56 third row QX56 cargo seats folded QX56 front quarter QX56 engine QX56 rear quarter QX56 front seats QX56 instruments QX56 second row QX56 instrument panel QX56 view forward QX56 instrument panel angle Daddy's back...

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Review: 2010 Infiniti G37S (A Road Trip Five Years In The Making, Part Two) http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2010/12/review-2010-infiniti-g37s-a-road-trip-five-years-in-the-making-part-two/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2010/12/review-2010-infiniti-g37s-a-road-trip-five-years-in-the-making-part-two/#comments Mon, 20 Dec 2010 20:35:20 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=377990

As recounted last week, I had been wanting for years to meet up with my best friend and both of our fathers in a pair of Mazda RX-8s for a spirited West Virginia road trip. Finally, the appointed day arrived for the drive from Detroit to West Virginia. The car selected for the task: a 2010 Infiniti G37S six-speed coupe.

I requested the G37S because I’ve been curious about the right-sized rear-drive Infiniti ever since it launched back in 2002, but have never spent much time with the three-pedal variant. Also, while I’d personally need the sedan, I’ve never driven the coupe at all. The drive called for a car that would still be comfortable after 6+ hours, but competent on a challenging mountain road. A perfect opportunity to evaluate the G.

Nissan was not willing to let me drive the car all the way to Virginia and back (my original plan). Do other journalists ask the manufacturer if they can drive the car X miles, or do they realize it’s easier to beg forgiveness than to ask permission? Well, I had asked. Fortunately, when I offered to limit the miles to about 800, they relented. The Infiniti would sit in Bridgeport, WV, while we spent a few days in the RX-8s.

Leaving as little as possible to chance—delays happen—I asked Nissan to drop the car off two days early. They dropped the car off on schedule, but when I drove across town that evening to meet up with Edward and Ronnie for the Volt drive, I drove my personal car. After all, every mile spent driving in the Detroit suburbs was a mile I would not be able to drive in Ohio’s fabled Hocking Hills. This was all for the best. All three of us ended up in my car after the event, and even someone of Ronnie’s physical stature would find headroom lacking in the back seat of the G37 coupe.

Friday morning arrives. The temperature is a bit below freezing, and a thin layer of ice coats the coupe. The 2010’s shape is less chiseled than that of the first-gen coupe, but it’s still quite attractive, especially in “Athens blue.” Wheels with an even number of spokes tend to look less dynamic, and I’m generally no fan of multi-spoke designs, but the ten-spoke 19s look great on this car. The G37 coupe’s trunk is about as tight as they come, but I manage to fit a huge duffel containing far more clothes than I could possibly need (packed mindlessly at the last minute), hiking boots, laptop bag, and a box containing a 21.5” LCD panel (I work most efficiently with a pair of full-HD displays).

The road to Ohio is almost unavoidably Interstate. In general the G37 feels like a more refined, more upscale car than a Hyundai Genesis Coupe. As it should, given its significantly higher price. A comfortably cushy driver’s seat includes power adjustable side bolsters to provide lateral support when you need it, and space to relax when you don’t. But the sport-suspended Infiniti doesn’t ride well over expansion joints, tar strips, frost heaves, and the like, reacting with sharp vertical kicks. The more compliant base suspension isn’t available with the stick. Also, road noise on Michigan’s concrete is fairly high. The difference when you cross the state line into Ohio, which employs asphalt, is striking. One nit: the armrest on the driver’s door is too low to use while steering the car. Fuel economy isn’t bad: about 25.4 MPG while averaging 75 MPH.

Usually I hop onto the Ohio Turnpike southeast of Toledo, but wanting to employ the Interstate as little as possible head east on US 20 instead. US 20 is as straight and level as the Interstate—we are in northern Ohio—but though four lanes wide is much more a part of the surrounding terrain, and so (relatively) more interesting to drive. The small towns along the way provide some interesting sights—like the “Korean Karate” studio next to the American Legion post and canteen in Bellevue. You can see these easily: the Infiniti’s cowl is relatively low and its A-pillars are blessedly thin by current standards. The obvious downsides of towns: low speed limits and traffic lights. The latter highlight the heaviness of the Infiniti’s clutch. Farm equipment dealers seem more common than car dealers. I briefly stop at one just west of Norwalk, but with places to go and people to see do not request a test drive. Maybe next time. Aided by the 55 MPH speed limit, the Infiniti averages 27.5 MPG on US 20.

At Norwalk I exit onto US 250, which atypically for a US highway runs diagonally, in this case southeast through Ohio, West Virginia and Virginia. This generally two-lane road is the shortest route to where I’m going, but not the most entertaining, at least not in Ohio. So after twenty miles I hop onto OH 302, a more intimate road that includes the trip’s first entertaining hills and curves. There aren’t many, but they provide a taste of what lies ahead. Though no sports car, the Infiniti handles 302 with aplomb. I don’t feel at one with the machine, but the meatiness of the coupe’s steering and composure of its chassis are reassuring. With the fun up, fuel economy drops into the low 20s. A few miles east of Lattasburg I pass a horse-drawn cart—the Infiniti’s 330 horses easily outpace the cart’s one. We’re now in Amish country.

Which makes the VW dealer on the western outskirts of Wooster, where I rejoin 250, a bit of a shock. On the other side of the small city I pass a “Volvos & More,” with a few pre-Ford Swedes parked out front. I’m intrigued by the “& More,” but don’t stop to investigate. This stretch of US 250 is quite boring and I just want to get through it. After picking up I77 for a few miles I exit onto US 800 just south of Uhrichsville. After 230 miles the real fun can finally begin.

Well, not quite. Back during a college trip to Jamaica some friends bought batch after batch of ‘shrooms. With each batch they’d sit around the table and ask one another, “Feel anything yet?” “I think so…maybe…no.” My best friend Trey (also there) and I didn’t take part, but we certainly enjoyed spectating.

Well, this time I’m the one attempting to feel something, side bolsters cranked tight and seatback adjusted upright in anticipation. For the first 15 miles or so on 800 each curve made me think I had finally reached the promised land, only to exit into another long, boring straight. But the road does become increasingly curvy and hilly, and by Freeport (Chew Mail Pouch Tobacco!) you’re definitely feeling it. And, in the G37, it feels good.

Sounds good, too. The 3.7-liter “VQ” V6 isn’t the most refined engine, but its moderately throaty exhaust is appropriate for this car on this road. Given the big six’s plump, flexible midrange, there’s no need to venture near the redline unless you want to vastly exceed the speed limit. Even so, fuel economy averages 18.5 on OH 800.

Storied OH 26 more-or-less parallels OH 800, running a few miles to the east. But I’m planning to take 26 on my return trip, so I stick to 800 to see how it compares. Bad move. The seven miles between Barnesville and Somerton aren’t all that curvy, but are apparently too curvy to include even a single passing zone. I’m stuck behind a Ford Escort and a Chrysler minivan.

Suggestion for navigation system manufacturers: indicate the location of passing zones and/or the distance to the next one. A further suggestion for the supplier of the Infiniti’s nav system: provide an option to view minor roads even when zoomed out. As it is, zoom in far enough to view minor roads and you can’t see enough of them to learn where they go.

I reach Woodsfield, where 800 and 26 cross. But, given the need to keep the total miles near 800, I take neither. Instead, I head east on OH 78, which proves a thoroughly boring road. Luckily I’m only on it for about ten minutes before turning onto OH 536, which runs through barely populated Round Bottom and proves a match for the best roads I’ve ever driven. For ten miles this zero-traffic narrow two-laner hits curve after curve and hill after hill. My notes sum it up this way: “Awesome.”

Work the VQ, and it drinks to the tune of 16 MPG. The manual shifter, though pleasantly hefty and not overly long of throw, isn’t as willing a partner. Fourth can be especially hard to find in a hurry. The G37 initially understeers, but just a touch of throttle balances the chassis, and the car feels planted throughout, with the sport suspension as appreciated now as it was unappreciated on I75. The six-speed coupe seems less prone to excessive, unprogressive throttle-induced oversteer than the two-pedal G37 sedan I reviewed last July, and its stability control doesn’t cut in as early or as often (when I have it enabled). Also appreciated: the lateral support provided by the driver’s seat, with a tighter hug from the backrest and cushion bolsters always just a tap on a hard-to-reach switches away. I love this feature (the adjustability, not the poorly located switches) and cannot fathom why BMW seems to be phasing it out.

Well, you know what they say about all good things, and 536 terminates at the Ohio River. Six hours and 307 miles into my trip I cross into New Martinsville, West Virginia.

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

Follow Michael’s journey in part three of this piece here.

Michael Karesh owns and operates TrueDelta, an online source of automotive and reliability data

536-curves2 536-curves3 536-curves6 536-curves4 odd-neighbors 800-on-nav Smyrna-barns (All photos courtesy: Michael Karesh. All rights reserved) horse-sign-on-302 red-equipment 536-curves5 excitement-in-northern-Ohio blurry-trunk G37-exterior-start 536-curves1 green-Deere G37-interior-start Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail 536-on-nav junction-800-26 ]]>
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Review: 2011 Infiniti M56x http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2010/08/review-2011-infiniti-m56x/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2010/08/review-2011-infiniti-m56x/#comments Mon, 16 Aug 2010 18:28:22 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=363054

Infiniti was born out of international politics. When the Japanese government caved to US demands that exports from Japan be limited, Honda decided that it would be more profitable to sell high-profit (read: more expensive) variants of the Accord branded as an Acura Legend than an equal number of Civics. Soon Toyota was rumored to be plotting to do one better with their F1 project and Nissan knew they couldn’t be late to the party. Japan’s third brand’s solution was the 1990 Q45, which looked like a Ford Crown Victoria in drag. Sadly its replacement in 1997 wasn’t much better and the total re-design in 2002 was too little, too late. In the end Nissan canned the Q-ship deciding to make the Infiniti M battle the medium to large imports solo.

The 2011 M56x wears all-new sheet metal, but shares the same basic platform with essentially all Infiniti models except the QX, and that’s not a bad thing. The G37 is often praised for its handling and the FX50 is probably the fastest cross-trainer money can buy. Beating under the hood is the new 5.6L VK56VD Nissan V8. Equipped with direct injection and variable valve timing and variable valve lift, this big V8 puts out a respectable 420HP and 417ft-lbs of torque.

It has been said in the past at TTAC that auto reviewers are not graduates of design academies and I am no different. While I may not be qualified to comment on the aesthetics of the M56x, I have to say it doesn’t appeal to me. Every time I approached the car I felt as if an enormous boxfish was going to devour me. “Polarizing” is the best word to use to describe the styling; passengers either loved it or hated it with a passion. Styling aside, the exterior exudes quality: the panel gaps are all perfect, there are plenty of shiny chrome parts to make you feel special and thankfully there is no hint of Crown Victoria to be found.

On the inside the M56 provides much the same experience. All the components are premium in appearance and feel from the pleather dash to the illuminated door sills. Infiniti’s latest commercials boast about the pure silver dust that is rubbed into the wood trim before being epoxy coated. Seriously, silver dust? Aside from bragging rights, I’m not sure pixie dust will turn Infiniti into a mainstream luxury competitor overnight. Much like the outside, style is the in the eye of the beholder when it comes to the interior. One thing is for sure, the shape of the dashboard lends a somewhat claustrophobic feeling to the driving position. Besides being large and in-your-face, the bizzare waterfall of wood has another problem: poor ergonomics. The buttons and knobs are oddly sized, strangely located and since the console sits only a few inches away, I found myself just avoiding the entire stack.

Behind the wheel one has to constantly remember that the M56 is a luxury car, not a sports car. Perhaps it is the extreme styling that lends to this confusion. When I’m piloting an E550 I don’t feel the need to push the car, but not so in the M56. This is a problem, because when pushed in the corners, the M56x feels oddly lethargic compared to the regular M56. The AWD system certainly makes the steering a hair more numb and the whole experience feels “heavy” compared to the M56. When it comes time to merge, the AWD fortunately exacts only a small toll on performance.  With my GTech accelerometer based performance meter, the M56 scoots from 0-60 in 5.4 seconds, which is not far off the 5.2 seconds I clocked in a similarly equipped two wheel drive M56 back-to-back (no rollout). Despite not being as sharp as the M56, I will have to break with auto-journalist tradition and say that I actually prefer the AWD M56x to its RWD brother. The ability to accelerate effortlessly on any road condition is my personal definition of luxury with sporting pretentions. Aside from the .2 seconds the M56x gives up to 60, highway fuel economy takes a 2MPG hit and your pocket book will be $2,500 lighter.

Electronic gadgets are really what take the M56 from a me-too luxury competitor to something for geeks to lust for. Starting on the inside drivers are treated to all the usual features you expect in a mid-size luxury barge along with “Forest Air” which varies fan speed and which vent the air comes out of to simulate a breeze, an air quality management system with a “plasmacluster” ion generator, Bose active noise cancellation, and surround sound speakers imbedded in the front seat backs. Most of these gadgets worked as advertised with the possible exception of the noise cancelling system. I had passengers press cover the microphones with their fingers and nobody could tell a difference in noise levels (the M is already very quiet), I wish Infiniti would have invested the money they spent on the noise cancellation system in their front seats. The lumbar support is positioned in an odd position and is not height adjustable making the seat somewhat uncomfortable for long car trips.

Nannies in luxury cars are nothing new. Most luxury brands offer reminders to stay in your lane, mind your blind spot, or tell you when to stop and have a cup of coffee. Infiniti takes the nanny state to the next level with prevention systems rather than just warning systems.  Lane Departure Prevention not only monitors your position in your lane and tells you when you cross the line, but if will actually apply the brakes on one side of the car to keep you in your lane. Similarly the Blind Spot Avoidance system will act yet more drastically to keep you from sideswiping that motorcycle in your blind spot. While the Lane Departure system’s intervention is a gentle tug, the Blind Spot system is more of a shove back in your lane.

Infiniti offers the prerequisite radar cruise control, but with another socialist twist: a pedal that fights back. The radar cruise control with Intelligent Brake Assist system will essentially brake for you [to a complete stop] in many situations. The easiest way to describe it is like this: you are following a car on a surface street, the car begins to slow for a red light, if the M56 sees that you are closing on the car in front of you it will begin pushing the accelerator pedal up at you to indicate your need to act, if you lift off the accelerator and you are close enough to the car in front, the M56 will automatically apply the braked taking you all the way to a complete stop. Having your car stop completely for you in a normal traffic situation is a very strange feeling, but once you get used to it, it does become second nature.

Rounding out the nannie list is the ECO Pedal, if green motoring is your thing, you wouldn’t buy a sedan with a 5.6L V8, but if you ever feel guilty, just twist the transmission mode knob to ECO and the pedal will fight back if you drive in an uneconomical manner.

The M56 is quite possibly the closest you can get to a car that drives itself. “I” drove for about 20 miles on I-280 essentially hand-and-foot free; sure the car drove like a drunk, but never the less it stayed in its own lane and didn’t hit anything. Impressive. Here is another moment where I must break from the main-line auto review pack: I loved the electronic nannies. Maybe I have some unrequited control fetish waiting to be released, but I think a car that nags me to be a better driver is the best thing since fuzzy handcuffs. Infinti: when you have a car that will completely steer and park itself, sign me up.

Bottom line: The M56x Infiniti loaned us tipped the scales at $66,850 which sounds expensive, but when you option up the E550 or 550i to similar equipment levels, the M56 offers an almost $9,000 advantage and delivering an interior that is superior to the Mercedes and sporting pretensions similar to the new softer 5-series. Compared to the A6 4.2, the Infiniti brings more power and features to the table for a similar price tag, along with an interior that is just about as good. If Infiniti could market them a better brand image, then the M might just be a better buy than an LS460. At the end of the day while I applaud Infiniti for creating a car that gives the major players a run for their money, the styling is enough for me to say “no thanks.” On the other hand, at least half of the people I ran into love the style, if the looks work for you, you can’t go wrong by putting one in your garage.

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

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Review: 2010 Infiniti G37 Anniversary Edition http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2010/07/review-2010-infiniti-g37-anniversary-edition/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2010/07/review-2010-infiniti-g37-anniversary-edition/#comments Fri, 23 Jul 2010 20:12:44 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=361470

Two decades have elapsed since rocks and trees went on TV to announce the birth of a new, proudly Japanese luxury car brand from Nissan. Infiniti somehow survived that car-free campaign and the (baker’s) dozen years of wandering in the desert that followed to finally enjoy some success with the 2003 G35. Sales might be off lately, but in light of the brand’s first 13 years and the entire industry’s last few years the mere act of survival merits a celebration. And what better way to celebrate than with special editions of the model that saved the brand (and that is currently most in need of a bump), recently renamed G37 to reflect an enlarged V6. Of course, some special editions are more special than others. Just how special is the G37 Anniversary Edition?

Sisters often don’t equally share in a family’s “assets.” In the Infiniti sedan family, the new 2011 M gets all of the lusty curves. Then again, one man’s “plain” might be another’s “clean.” The G37’s exterior is certainly clean, if less crisp than that of the original G35. The grille has avoided Audi’s influence and so remains a reasonable size. Look closely and you might notice a distinctive shape and detailing inspired by Japanese swords. Too subtle when the competition seeks visual differentiation from a thousand feet? Or refreshingly subtle? The G’s “cab rearward” proportions have always been near perfect, with a lengthy dash-to-axle to proclaim that this ain’t no front-driver.

To this exterior the Anniversary Edition (AE henceforce) adds Graphite Shadow paint, nine-spoke alloys, a unique front chin spoiler, and a rear spoiler. Even if the paint was exclusive to this edition—and it’s not—there’s nothing special about dark gray metallic. The wheels, though attractive, have at least two spokes too many to appear sporty. Elegant, perhaps. But the spoilers, clashing with the otherwise clean lines, take the exterior in the other direction.

The interior makes more of a statement, with red leather seats exclusive to the AE. “Shodo” patterned aluminum trim, shared with the regular sedan, subtly maintains Infiniti’s position as the most overtly Japanese luxury car brand. The wood trim optional on other G37s is not available here. One artful touch: streets in the nav display appear hand-drawn. Aside from the red leather, though, the interior is standard G37. So the materials are semi-premium and the lines are more practical than stylish. The lever to manually adjust the driver seat’s lumbar would seem less out of place in a Versa. The new M is a major step up in terms of both materials and style, which does much to justify its higher price.

Not that practical interior design is a bad thing. A major strength of the G37 sedan is that it simply feels right from the driver seat. The windshield isn’t overly distant or overly raked. By current standards the A-pillars are almost thin. The instrument panel, though larger and taller than in the original G35, isn’t overly massive or tall. The instrument cluster moves with the steering wheel, so the steering wheel can be relatively small without obstructing the gauges. The center stack’s controls are logically arranged within easy reach. All common sense, perhaps, but increasingly uncommon.

Car makers struggle over how aggressively to bolster seats. Enthusiasts want lateral support, but non-enthusiasts want ease of entry and exit. People come in different shapes and sizes. The “obvious” but not common solution: adjustable bolsters. Infiniti goes half as far as BMW, fitting modestly sized but firm power-adjustable bolsters to the driver’s seat. If a bolster can be perfectly positioned, it doesn’t have to be terribly large.

Another piece of the G’s winning formula: an exterior length in between compact and intermediate. This permitted a few more inches of rear legroom than in the 2003 BMW 3-Series or Audi A4. The A4 is now nearly the same size, and the next 3 will follow suit, confirming that Infiniti found a happy medium. Want a car sized just large enough that the average adult can fit somewhat comfortably in back? This is it. Want a roomy, comfortable rear seat? Well, that’s another segment. The trunk is similarly “just enough.” A weakness: unlike in the Germans, a folding rear seat is not available.

The tweaked 350-horsepower V6 from the NISMO Z would have been welcome, if only to add some specialness, but the AE receives no powertrain tweaks. Worse, the 6-speed manual available on the regular G37 is not available here. The only powertrain option: a 328-horsepower 3.7-liter V6 paired with a manually-shiftable seven-speed automatic. The aging VQ isn’t the sweetest-sounding six, but its growl, suitably aggressive for this application, and nicely swelling torque curve as revs build encourage trips to the red line. Nissan paid a lot of attention to how this engine feels as revs climb, and it shows. 

Infiniti’s seven-speed automatic isn’t the smoothest shifting, the quickest reacting, or the most intelligent. But this transmission has one clear strength: its first three gears are tightly spaced and significantly shorter than those in competing six-speed slushboxes. Corners taken in second in other cars are taken in third in this one. Unless it’s a tight corner, where other transmissions can fail to offer an appropriate ratio—first too low, second too high—and this one provides a short second. This gearing gives the already strong V6 a big boost at low speeds. There’s no soft spot as the engine gets from idle to its powerband. Thanks to this transmission it’s always already there. The transmission can be manually shifted via the paddles or the lever. But snick the lever to the left to engage sport mode and it generally maintains a sufficiently aggressive ratio all on its own.

The EPA rates the G37 19 city and 27 highway. You’ll match these figures only if you keep your foot out of the throttle, which isn’t easy.

The AE includes the G37’s Sport Package, with larger brake rotors (14.0” front, 13.8” rear), a sport suspension, low-profile performance tires, and a limited-slip rear differential, as standard equipment. The huge brakes fitted with the $370 R-Spec pads feel firm and strong without biting too quickly in casual driving (a problem I’ve experienced with the compact Infiniti in the past). I did not go all Baruth on the brakes, though. No doubt Jack could (and would) fry them.

A possibly unwelcome bonus: the four-wheel-steering system (4WS) that used to be a $1,300 option on the G37 is for the 2010 model year only available, as a standard feature, on the AE. I say “possibly unwelcome” because I haven’t driven a G without this feature recently. Does it help, hurt, or not do much of anything? I’m afraid I cannot say. Owner opinions are, in their usual way, split. But including this system certainly bumps up the base price.

The standard G37’s steering ratio is a fairly quick 16.4:1. The Sport Package quickens this to 14.7:1. In addition to steering the rear wheels up to one degree in phase with the fronts, the 4WS includes an active variable steering ratio that ranges from 11.9:1 to 14.3:1. So the AE’s steering feels ultra-quick, right? No, not really. It feels quick and firm compared to the relaxed systems in domestic cars, but you’ll find quicker- and sharper-feeling steering in front-drivers like the Nissan Maxima and Acura TL—and in a 3-Series fitted with active steering. The 4WS might be a factor, since steering the rear wheels can effectively slow the steering ratio to 20:1. BMW’s active steering encompasses a similar range without involving the rear wheels, and its variation feels much more dramatic (not necessarily a good thing).

Whatever the cause, even with 4WS the G37 Infiniti steers close to conventional German steering systems, which avoid ultra-sharp steering reactions as they might lead to unplanned lane changes on the Autobahn. The G37 AE’s highway tracking is certainly relaxed, so 4WS seems to provide a benefit here. But in aggressive driving at moderate speeds the steering doesn’t quicken up and sharpen up as much as I’d personally prefer. The steering in the best German cars provides clearer feedback and makes corner carving more intuitive. With the G37, you receive more feedback through the seat of your pant than through your fingertips. The G37 also feels a little larger and heavier than the original G35, no doubt because it is a little larger and heavier, but also because of the usual sacrifices made in pursuit of refinement. Overall the G37’s steering is good but not great.

Even though the engine is positioned well rearward in a “front-mid” configuration, the G37’s weight distribution is a somewhat nose-heavy 54/46. This comes through in the handling, which is certainly more balanced than in a front-driver but retains a touch of understeer. Unless you get on the gas, in which case the car quickly transitions to severe oversteer. The limited-slip differential might play a role. Being able to steer a car with the throttle is a major benefit of rear-wheel-drive, but optimally the transition into oversteer can be gradually dialed in. Turn the G37’s stability control system off and you’d best be very careful as your right foot works its way up a definite learning curve.

Why turn the G37’s stability control system off? These days most such systems are virtually transparent in their operation. This isn’t one of them. The G37’s stability control cuts in early and aggressively. You don’t need the warning light to know when the safety nanny is cutting in. Why is this happening in a 2010 premium sedan? One suspicion: a quick-and-dirty fix for the tendency to sudden oversteer despite the fact that they’ve had years to sort the chassis out. Driving on unpaved roads suggests that winter driving would be…entertaining. It should go without saying that, for snow and ice, the standard summer tires should be replaced with winter treads.

The AE’s standard sport suspension is very firm, with the usual plusses and minuses. Body control is very good, with no slop in transitions, and the car is quite fun when rocketing along a curvy road. But settle back for a long, casual drive, and the suspension does not relax with you. There’s no bobbling about, but bumps tend to effect sharp vertical movements. The ride is often busy, and can lapse into harsh. Most enthusiasts will be willing to pay the price. Others will be unhappy.

Price has always been part of the appeal with the G. It has edged up over the last seven years, but remains considerably lower than the German competition. The AE might push some limits nevertheless. The Premium, Navigation, and Sport Packages are all standard, along with the spoilers and the 4WS. Infiniti has knocked off a few hundred dollars compared to where a G37 would normally be with this level of equipment, but this still leaves $44,585. Whether or not this represents a good value depends on whether you’d check off the same boxes if you had a choice.

Ultimately, there’s one compelling reason to hunt down a remaining Anniversary Edition: the red leather. Want a manual transmission, or a more livable ride, or the lower price that attends fewer features? Perhaps the 4WS (which adds about $1,300) or the spoilers (which add nearly a grand) aren’t your cup of tea? Then that red leather will carry too high a price. Narrow market? Clearly, but then Infiniti only made 350 AE sedans.

Aside from the red leather, this special edition isn’t any more special than the regular G37. But then the G37 is a special car. The G35 saved Infiniti by combining a strong V6 and right-wheel-drive with the right size, the right price, and the promise of sub-Euro maintenance costs. Though the size and price have crept up a little with the G37, the G formula remains highly appealing.

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

Michael Karesh owns and operates TrueDelta, an online source of automotive pricing and reliability data

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Capsule Review: 1994 Infiniti J30 and the Magic Lease http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2010/06/capsule-review-1994-infiniti-j30-and-the-magic-lease/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2010/06/capsule-review-1994-infiniti-j30-and-the-magic-lease/#comments Sat, 05 Jun 2010 20:16:48 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=358250

“We need young, college-educated people like you,” the man said, “because the old way of selling cars is dead and gone. That’s why I was hired — to bring the dealership into the present day.” And with those thoroughly self-deceived words, the new sales manager at “Infiniti Of Columbus” welcomed to me to the team in March of 1994. It was the end of winter in Ohio, but it was just the middle of Infiniti’s long winter of discontent. We had three products. There was a facelifted Q45 which precisely nobody wanted. There was a facelifted G20 which cost nearly as much as a Lexus ES300 while closely resembling a Nissan Sentra inside and out. Note, however, that the G20 shared nothing but the engine with the aforementioned Sentra. On any given month, we would sell two G20s and no Q45s. In fact, during my entire six months’ tenure at the store, we only sold two Q45s, one of them to a salesman who was quitting to go work for Merrill Lynch.

It was the new-for-1993 J30 that kept the lights on and paid our meager draws against commission. The jellybean-shaped, rear-wheel-drive sedan was available as a J30 or J30t. Neither car had any options available: in an amazing reductio ad absurdum of the Japanese export philosophy, the equipment list was the same for every single car that came off the boat. The “t” model added HICAS four-wheel-steering, a rear spoiler that truly spoiled the otherwise interesting design, and some cross-spoke wheels. They were hideously expensive — $37,995 and up in an era where an LS400 could be had for fifty grand or less — and they were both controversial-looking and suspiciously similar to a Nissan Altima at a distance. (Jerry Hirschberg designed ‘em both.)

It didn’t matter. We rarely sold any outright, but more than 20 would leave the lot every month thanks to the Magic Lease.

The head honchos at Nissan USA knew the car was overpriced, and badly so. Their solution was elegant. The oh-so-English Jonathan Pryce was hired to do a series of advertisements about “the astonishing J30″, and a genuinely astonishing lease program was put into place. $1500 down, $399 a month, 36 months, 36,000 miles. Extra miles were cheap and the dealership management always just threw the down payment away, so most people paid about $450 a month, tax included, for a 45,000 mile contract with nothing out of pocket. “t” models were $15 a month more.

The numbers were ridiculous. The cars were “capped” — sold to Nissan Financial — for about $34,000. The three-year residual was expected to be about $29,000. Ha! We had six-month-old buyer’s-remorse specials on the lot that wouldn’t fetch $29K. Nissan was just sending its problems into the future. Who cares? At that price, we could make them disappear.

Still, plenty of buyers could think of reasons to look this gift horse in the mouth. Almost nobody liked the looks. The trunk was minuscule and the rear seats didn’t fold. The sunroof was steel, not glass. The car was noisy and cramped inside. Although it was essentially a four-seat 300ZX, it wasn’t a four-seat 300ZX Turbo, which meant it was slow. (JDM variants got a 4.1L V8 and a turbo 2.5V6, as I recall.) Infiniti had virtually no brand equity, to put it mildly. We all learned that our best chance to move the iron was to convince unaccompanied spouses to sign before the better half could show up and say, “$399 is a lot for an Altima.”

The irony was that there was plenty to love about the J30. It was put together like a Zenith El Primero. The materials quality shamed both Lexus and ze Chermans. The “t” was a little spooky at high speeds, since the HICAS never seemed to give the same response twice in third-gear corners, but that was part of the fun. The stereo was damned good. It really felt like a high-quality piece.

My new boss was new to the auto industry. This was good, because he didn’t do anything that sales managers typically did, such as scream incoherently for no reason. He let us take weekends off. Most importantly, he didn’t understand the NADA Guide and therefore he always paid Dealer Retail for trade-ins. Once I understood that, I called my father and he dragged his boat-anchor Audi 100LS into the shop, crossing his fingers that the transmission didn’t perform its usual gearchange gymnastics during the test drive. His wish was granted and he left with two $399/month J30s. One was triple black, the other was blue with a cream interior. Most importantly, they were 1994 models. The 1995 car was chock-full of cost-cutting and it was obvious when you sat in one.

Our no-hassle sales philosophy and enlightened approach to customer satisfaction didn’t help us sell used cars at Dealer Retail plus a few grand. The lot filled up. The floorplan overflowed. One day the dealership principal showed up at the building. It was before noon and he was sober. These were bad signs. The sales manager was escorted out of the building. The replacement was a fat, oily Macedonian fellow from a Hyundai shop in the iffy part of Columbus. His first official act was to wholesale most of the used lot at a six-figure loss. His second official act was to fire the sullen-looking college kid who parked his Kawasaki Ninja on the showroom floor in the evenings. Thus released, I walked the earth like Caine, or at least rode it like a douchebag, until my next dealership job. It was there that I witnessed a salesperson exchange sex for a chance to sell a Thunderbird, but that’s another story.

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Review: 2011 Infiniti M37 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2010/05/review-2011-infiniti-m37/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2010/05/review-2011-infiniti-m37/#comments Fri, 28 May 2010 17:38:57 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=357533

With the 2006-2010 Infiniti M, a highly competent luxury performance sedan was hidden beneath utterly forgettable sheetmetal. Before my father bought his 2008 Cadillac CTS I suggested that he also check out the M. One glance at the car’s exterior was all he needed to summarily reject it. Well, for 2011 Infiniti has totally redesigned the M to address this shortcoming. The question now: does the rest of the car measure up to the new come-hither exterior?

Ads feature the new Infiniti M with the optional sport package and its 20-inch alloys, and the car so equipped is striking. Maserati-influenced curves are a stark contrast to the relatively conventional three-box shape of both the previous M and the current competition. Curves always lend a feminine aspect to a car, but the forms in this case are massive enough that no one will think the M strictly a “woman’s car” (not that there’s anything wrong with that). In comparison, even Jaguar’s current styling direction seems overly stiff and straight of line.

Why bring up the ads? Because I’ve yet to see a car with the 20s in the metal. Here in Michigan the dealers only order all-wheel-drive cars, and for some reason Infiniti does not offer the sport package with all-wheel-drive. Yes, this package does include summer tires, but surely all-season tires in the same size are feasible.

The non-sport wheels are 18s. Not so long ago 18s seemed HUGE. Well, they’re lost within the new M’s massive fenders and supersized wheel openings. Bereft of the 20s it was clearly designed for, the exterior that looks so graceful in the ads appears stubby and stout in person, if still a refreshing break from the usual. Infiniti needs to find a way to offer the 20s more widely.

Inside you’ll find Infiniti’s best interior to date. Nearly all of the various surfaces and switchgear bits look and feel worthy of the $55,000+ price. And the interior styling is warm, classically inviting, and gorgeous. Most notable: the sporty double bump of the instrument cover and the teardrop shape of the door panel trim. The British and Italians, clearly sources of inspiration, have rarely done it better. The interiors of competing sedans are unimaginative and boring in comparison. And, unlike in many highly styled interiors, the controls on the new M’s center stack are all logically arranged within easy reach.

Yet some people will not be happy with the new Infiniti M’s interior. Though not to the same extent as that in the EX35 compact crossover, the new M’s interior fits closely around you. It was clearly designed to feel sporty and intimate, not spacious. I generally like this ambiance, but the A-pillars are too intrusive even for my taste, as they extend unusually far inward. From the driver’s seat the M doesn’t feel quite midsize despite its generous exterior dimensions.

The driver’s seat itself is larger and broader than that in the half-size-smaller G37 sedan. Adults who frequent neither the gym nor the buffet line might find them, unlike the interior as a whole, a little loose-fitting and short on lateral support. I recall cushier, more comfortable seats in the previous M, though perhaps my memory is misleading me here? To its credit, Infiniti has avoided the rush to install rock hard headrests that jam forward into the back of your skull.

The rear seat also doesn’t feel spacious, but it is comfortably high off the floor and includes a couple inches more knee room than you’ll find in the G37. The front seatbacks are low enough that they don’t block rear seat passengers’ view forward. The trunk continues the “not spacious” theme and, as in other Asian luxury sedans, the rear seat does not fold to expand it.

The new Infiniti M is offered with a 330-horsepower 3.7-liter V6 and a 420-horsepower 5.6-liter V8. The latter is the clear choice for torque junkies who can never get enough. For nearly everyone else, including most driving enthusiasts, the sampled V6’s noise output will be more of an issue than its power output. This V6 is perhaps the loudest in the segment despite the thoroughly sealed engine compartment. What might be fitting for a sports cars on the open road—and even then a sweeter song would be welcome—can come across as unseemly in a luxury sedan on suburban streets. Your ears will tell you to take it easy lest you attract unwanted attention.

With this six at least the seven-speed automatic is not the best of partners. Downshift to second for a thirty-something MPH turn and the resulting engine noise suggests that you’ve gone a gear too far. But third is too tall. Responses to the manual shifter are sometimes quick, sometimes not, and are not always smooth. To be fair, I didn’t have a lot of seat time in the car. After a few days a better working relationship might well develop as driver and transmission adapt to one another. A head-up display that included the selected gear would help. The attractive instruments are located too low for a quick glance during aggressive driving—good for seeing the road, not good for instantaneously seeing which gear you’re in (which is never nearly as intuitive with an automatic as it is with a manual) or how fast you’re going.

Despite these shortcomings, perhaps even a little because of them, I did enjoy driving the new Infiniti M37 more than nearly any other car in this class, with the BMW 5-Series the only likely exception. The intimate cockpit combines with a balanced chassis and the relatively visceral nature of the car to inspire a close connection and confidence I never felt in the previous M. The all-wheel-drive system includes enough rearward bias that the attitude of the chassis can be adjusted with the throttle. The steering could feel more razor sharp, but it compares well to the numbness of today’s typical system. Pushed, the new M feels smaller and lighter than its 195 inches and two tons, and hustling it through curves quickly becomes second nature.

Ride quality is similarly more polished than that of the previous M, and is generally acceptable for a luxury sedan with sporty pretensions. There’s some jostling about on uneven road surfaces, but no harshness, at least not with the 18s. (The lower profile 20s could be a different story.) Wind noise is low, but road noise on concrete is a bit above the luxury sedan norm. Infiniti continues to have different priorities than Lexus.

No car is perfect. Overall, my criticisms stem from how close the new Infiniti M comes to perfection rather than how far it falls from it. Beautiful exterior—unless you get the standard wheels. Lovely cockpit—except the A-pillars are overly intrusive while the seat bolsters aren’t intrusive enough. Fun to drive—but the V6’s engine note could be of higher quality and lesser quantity. Compare the new M to existing competitors rather than an evasive ideal, and it stacks up very well for anyone who prioritizes the driving experience over silence and spaciousness.

Michael Karesh owns and operates TrueDelta, an online source of automotive pricing and reliability data.

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Review: 2010 Infiniti EX35 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2010/05/review-2010-infiniti-ex35/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2010/05/review-2010-infiniti-ex35/#comments Fri, 14 May 2010 18:30:59 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=356594

Many cars look and drive much like any number of other cars. They’re simply not special in any way. You might as well toss a coin to choose among them. The EX35 is not one of these cars. Infiniti’s compact crossover is unlike anything else in the U.S. market. And you’re either going to love it or, more likely, hate it.

Before the EX arrived for the 2008 model year Infiniti already had one five-seat crossover, the FX. Though the second-generation FX is something of a cartoon compared to the cleaner, future-classic original, it retains a distinctive, coherent, round-yet-macho exterior. Credit the long hood and huge wheels. Compared to the FX, the EX is nine inches less lengthy, five inches narrower, and three inches less tall–all sizable differences. The EX’s largest available wheels are 18s—huge a decade ago, almost small today—and its proportions and lines are a not fully resolved blend between the FX and the G sedan. The EX is not a bad-looking vehicle, but it lacks the FX’s bold stance, coherence, and striking originality.

The interior design is more successful. While other manufacturers seek a futuristic, high-tech ambiance, the EX’s interior has a warmer, more traditional vibe that owes much to the British. The materials are soft to the touch, the curvy surfaces flow smoothly into one another, and both the instrument cluster hood and the door panels are nicely upholstered. Wood rather than some sort of faux metal covers much of the center stack and center console. Logically designed and arranged controls avoid the overwhelming sea of buttons found in too many competitors. Knobs for the primary HVAC and audio system functions are relatively small and have a smooth, quality feel. Everything is close at hand.

Too close, perhaps? Well, it depends. Many, especially the big and the tall, will find the EX35 an overly tight fit. The cabin is quite narrow, the center console is tall, and the center stack is unusually close. Those not so big and not so tall will still find it cozy, but perhaps in a custom-tailored, cosseting way. After stretching to reach the controls in the majority of cars these days, and finding that many fit me about as well as shoes a couple sizes too large, I found the EX35 a welcome relief. This is the way Jaguars used to feel before they bowed to market pressure to provide as much interior room as everyone else. Generously sized windows and a seating position that is high relative to the instrument panel keep claustrophobia at bay.

Thanks to these windows and its tidy exterior dimensions, the EX35 is an inherently easy vehicle to park. You’ll want the optional “around view camera” anyway. By digitally combining the images from four cameras, this system shows a top-down image of the EX and its surroundings on the nav screen. Reversing down a curving driveway or perfectly backing into a parking space is not only easy with this system—it’s flat out fun. Every car needs this. And, with the prices of these camera falling as volumes increase, perhaps every car will eventually get it. But the EX35 had the around view camera system first, and the FX remains the only other vehicle to offer it. Oddly the gadget-laden new M sedan didn’t get it.

The front seats are comfortable, though I prefer the larger, plusher seats in the FX. They provide only a modest amount of lateral support, but no doubt this modest amount is all most crossover drivers will ever need. The rear seat is the most limiting aspect of the EX. Forget cozy—it’s tight for all but the smallest people. Even sitting behind my 5-9 self, my knees graze the backs of the front seats. Larger adults simply won’t fit unless the front seats are nearly all the way forward, and three across would be a very tight squeeze. If the front seats are nearly all the way back, only children will fit behind them.

Cargo space is similarly limited. With the rear seat up, there’s perhaps half as much cargo room as in the typical sedan’s trunk. Folding the rear seat more than doubles the cargo area, but even then there’s only about two-thirds as much as in the typical compact SUV. So it strikes me as odd that a power-folding rear seat is standard. The rear seat is such a short reach, why bother? Especially since it cannot fully fold if the front seats are most of the way back. If you have to move the front seats up before the rear seat can fold, what’s the point of being able to fold the seats using a button in the cargo area? Similar switches in the center console might prove a bit more useful. Rear seat folded and kids need to get into it? Then you can unfold it without leaving the driver’s seat. So it might be of some use in the school’s pick up lane.

While the Infiniti cars have moved on to a 3.7, the EX continues to be powered by the same 3.5-liter DOHC V6 that has powered nearly every other Infiniti in recent memory. In the EX, this engine kicks out 297 horsepower. Factor in that the EX weighs only a couple hundred pounds more than the G (for a total of 3,979 with AWD), and acceleration isn’t far off that of the G. In other words, the EX35 is quick, if not especially so by today’s warped standards. The engine note isn’t the most thrilling. Nissan’s VQ engine has received much praise, but ever since the bump from 3.0 to 3.5 liters it has seemed a bit gruff and unrefined to me. In Europe the EX has already received the 3.7-liter upgrade. If we get the same it will improve acceleration, but not sound quality.

Until the 3.7 arrives with a seven-speed, the automatic in the EX remains a behind-the-times fiver. Beyond the number of gears, this transmission has a somewhat syrupy, old-fashioned feel to it. The lever can be used to manually shift the transmission; no paddles, at least not yet.

Given it’s compact size and relatively low weight, the EX might be expected to venture farther on a gallon of fuel. Alas, perhaps due to the thirsty VQ engine, it does not. The EPA ratings of 16/23 are almost identical to those of the far larger, more powerful Ford Flex EcoBoost. I observed 16 in aggressive driving, and 19-21 in casual suburban driving.

Compared to other compact crossovers and SUVs, the EX handles well, with excellent balance and the sort of feel only a space-inefficient front-mid engine location and rear-drive platform can provide. It’s about as close to a car as a crossover can get without becoming a hatchback. And yet the EX still feels a touch tall to me. Body roll in hard turns and a slight delay in responses to steering inputs let you know you’re in a crossover and not a car. The EX’s steering is moderately quick and provides about as much feedback as any compact ute’s steering does these days. I’d like a quicker, sharper, more direct feel, but judging from what manufacturers offer this must be just me, right? Forgoing the optional all-wheel-drive would probably help. With it, the EX only oversteers readily on loose surfaces. And even on dry pavement the insufficiently sophisticated, overly intrusive stability control intervenes sooner and more often than it should.

The benefit of this moderate chassis tuning: a very livable ride, even with the 18s. Sure, the ride sometimes feels a touch busy, and some bumps register, but there no bobbling about and it’s never punishing the way the FX could be. Noise levels are moderately low, with a sound quality suitable for this class of vehicle. Your ears tell you you’re in a luxury car.

Sounding like an ideal car for the women in your life rather than yourself? Perhaps. For whatever reason, cars have never been sized like clothing. And automakers have generally avoided gender-specific models. But by offering the EX and FX Infiniti goes about as far in these directions as any automaker has gone. Want something bigger and more macho? Then Infiniti will be happy to sell you the FX. For those who, on the other hand, don’t physically require a lot of space and who want a uniquely personal, seemingly tailor-made crossover, the EX is without equal.

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

Michael Karesh owns and operates TrueDelta, an online source of automotive reliability and pricing data

]]> http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2010/05/review-2010-infiniti-ex35/feed/ 69 Import Sport Sedan Comparison: Sixth Place: Infiniti M35x http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2009/10/import-sport-sedan-comparison-sixth-place-infiniti-m35x/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2009/10/import-sport-sedan-comparison-sixth-place-infiniti-m35x/#comments Tue, 20 Oct 2009 15:13:52 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=332564 m35x

Luxury sport sedans have a lot of boxes to tick. In a segment where high price points have not prevented a a crowd of competitors from gathering, every contender must develop a unique identity that sets it apart from the pack. This means a combination of performance, character, quality and feel that makes the car’s priorities evident, and speaks to the tastes of its well-heeled driver. Instead of picking a specific formula, the M35x tried too hard to check all the boxes, leaving it almost completely without distinguishing characteristics. The upside is an almost utilitarian soullessness, an anonymous competence that defines much of the front-drive luxury market. In this group though, we’re looking for more than that. The Infiniti’s driving experience comes across as a pastiche of other, more memorable cars, and this lack of identity drops the M to last place.

At first glance, there’s little to disappoint, but little to excite, either. The M was clearly styled in the Mercedes idiom: more impressive than alluring, particularly dressed in black metallic. The basic shape is blocky and slab-sided, with a pronounced wedge shape and more chrome bling than you’d find on a whole fleet of 5-series BMWs. Overall, the look is aggressive and imposing, and the workmanship impresses, but the M’s styling just doesn’t leave a lasting impression – curious, given that other Infiniti products, particularly the sleek G sedan and coupe, are stylish and overflowing with design personality.

Once inside, the M again makes a decent impression. The dashboard is a two-tiered affair: a dark upper panel and light-colored lower panel separated by a dash-wide swath of unique-looking African rosewood.  Entry and exit are the best in this test, aided by the M’s tall roof line and a system that moves the seat and steering wheel in and out of the driver’s way for ingress and egress. The seats themselves are wide and comfortable, if not terribly supportive. The workmanship is good, but the materials are a mixed bag – the leather and wood trim is of obviously high quality, but many interior materials, such as the door padding, look slightly downmarket at this price.

m35xinteriorThe driver interfaces with a nicely padded wheel, and instrumentation is beautifully rendered and highly legible. Like its German competitors, the M has a multifunction wheel (think iDrive) to control, well, just about everything. These controls can be finicky to use, but at least Infiniti places the controls high on the dashboard, in the driver’s line of sight, mitigating the ergonomic impact of the system. The aesthetics are another matter – all those buttons under the LCD navigation / radio screen make it look as if a miniature laptop computer has been grafted into the dashboard. It’s not a look for all tastes, and this writer found it decidedly awkward.

The equipment level is hard to argue with – the M came fully stocked with toys, including ventilated front seats, a hard drive-based multimedia system, voice-activated audio and climate controls, an excellent Bose sound system, and a DVD audio and video system. Other gadgets were a bit too gimmicky, such as the lane-departure warning system, which beeps at you when you’re straying too far out of your lane. Frustratingly, it can’t be turned off.

Keeping with its utilitarian theme, the M35 excels as a people mover. It offers the largest and most comfortable back seat in this test, and a massive, well-shaped trunk. But then so does an Avalon.

The M35 is powered by the latest iteration of Infiniti’s ever-present 3.5 liter V-6, putting out a class-acceptable 303 horsepower. Like the Lexus, this engine loves to rev, and puts out a fairly aggressive howl, but the M’s curb weight – over 4,000 pounds – and willing but cog-limited 5-speed automatic mean you have to truly flog the engine to drive enthusiastically. Subjectively, the M felt slower than the Mercedes, but the engine felt more eager and made more encouraging noises. The 7-speed transmission, available in the rear-drive M, would help, but what would really make the difference here is the 324-horsepower, direct injected V-6 in the G37 sedan.m35xback

Handling-wise, the M35 fares better. Among the Japanese luxury brands, Infinti has been chasing BMW for quite some time, and this car shows they’ve been learning along the way. The M is not as overtly sporting as the BMW in this test, but a lot of the ingredients are there: direct, communicative steering, solid structure, and a firm but compliant chassis. As a result, the M35 responds eagerly to hard driving, and rewards the driver with an open line of communication with the road. But here’s where the underpowered V-6 undercuts the M35 yet again – as eager and competent as this car is over the road, it never feels effortlessly fast, and that’s a deal killer in this class.

This car is also available with a 325-horsepower V-8 – the M45 – and with that engine, it would have been a better match for the BMW and Audi, but thus equipped, the M was far from revelatory to drive, and wouldn’t have placed any higher than fourth in this test. And if the BMW stretches the price envelope here, the M45 would have blown it away with a sticker pushing $63,000. As tested, the M35 came in at a far more reasonable $54,965, and that seems the more sensible way to go.

And that sensibility explains why the M35 finishes last here. While the Infiniti is undeniably well-rounded, competent, and a solid value, those are common-sense attributes, and when you’re dropping this kind of money on a car, it shouldn’t be a sensible purchase – it should be an extravagance, a treat. A car that, in one way or another, simply blows you away. Each of the cars in this test offer that in their own fashion, each is a unique melange of performance and character that give shape to an identifiable personality. Except the M35, which other than geeky streak, shows almost no personality at all. In this segment, that’s an unforgivable sin.

Performance: 2/5
Engine is willing, but it feels underpowered, and the transmission needs more cogs

Ride: 3/5
Comfortable without being too mushy

Handling: 4/5
Feels eager, with quick, direct steering; too bad the engine intrudes on the fun

Exterior: 3/5
Impressive, but doesn’t really have its own style

Interior: 3/5
Roomiest in test, with some unique stylistic touches, but some subpar materials and the odd center stack do not impress

Fit and Finish: 3/5
Notably well made, but some interior materials are not up to snuff

Toys: 5/5
It’s hard to think of a gadget this car doesn’t have

Desirability: 1/5
Just not much to get excited about here.

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