The QOTD Answer: The FX is the Best Infiniti Ever
Our recent QOTD post asked for your thoughts on the best Infiniti model ever. Therein, I promised a follow-up post with my answer to that very important question. So let’s get right down to it: I think the first generation FX was the best Infiniti ever.
Were you expecting the G35 to appear here? No way! The first-generation FX is a less obvious but better answer. Available from 2003 to 2008, the rear-drive FX was based on the same platform as the G and (later) M, the 350Z, and indeed the JDM Skyline (which by then was a version of the G). But why was it so good? Allow me to explain.
Those days were the formative times of the luxury crossover. Lexus did it first with the RX in 1998, and everyone else promptly followed suit with their own takes. Infiniti could’ve gone front-drive with something based on the I35 (Maxima), but instead targeted performance and handling. The base model FX35 used Nissan’s 3.5-liter VQ V6, which produced 280 horsepower at that point. Those interested in more serious figures went for the FX45 and its 4.5-liter V8 taken directly from the Q45 flagship sedan.
That heavy-duty (VK45) mill made a more impressive 320 horsepower. It also had a block made of aluminum alloy, specially finished camshafts, titanium intake and exhaust valves, and lightweight pistons. Paired to a five-speed automatic, both FX35 and FX45 were available in rear-drive or all-wheel drive.
The FX rode a 112.2-inch wheelbase, exactly the same as the new G35 sedan. With an overall length of 189.1 inches and a width of 75.8 inches, it was slightly shorter but decently wider than its most natural competitor, the second-generation Lexus RX which debuted in 2004. FX was rightly sized for the very spicy two-row crossover segment around the turn of the century.
FX was developed on a short timeline and was one of the first projects started by new Renault-Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn. Initiated in 1999, the design for the FX was called “Bionic Cheetah” at Nissan. No, I don’t know what that means either. The FX name debuted in January 2001 at NAIAS, where Infiniti showed off its FX 45 Concept (seen above).
Design direction was still open for discussion at that time, as (thankfully) the production FX did not look similar to the tall hatchback concept. However, Acura would put such a shape into production a few years later with their ZDX. By the middle of 2001, Infiniti had scrapped the FX Concept - perhaps due to a poor reception - and started a new design.
The sketch selected as a foundation of the actual FX was first shown in November 2001. With a much clearer idea of the design direction of their first real SUV (Pathfinder-QX4 didn’t count), Take Two of the FX concept was mocked up as a full-size model and debuted in January 2002, again at NAIAS. The bronze-colored shape was about 98 percent ready for production at that time. There are slight differences in the door mirror, door handles, and the front lower valance, but that’s about all.
Infiniti took another year to finalize the FX and get it ready for production. In 2003, Infiniti returned to Detroit for a third time, again to NAIAS. On that occasion, they presented the production FX SUV. It was already in production in Japan and went on sale a couple of weeks later on January 24th, 2003. That day was a Friday, and your author missed the news completely on account of being a junior in high school.
The design of the FX resisted the Renault-adjacent styling that was about to take over Nissan in the early 2000s and went for a purposeful, restrained look that was vaguely similar to other Infinitis. The most notable similarity to its brand siblings was the rectangular grille with horizontal slats design and mesh-like detailing.
The FX debuted at a very interesting time for Infiniti, as the company had three exciting new products, and Nissan had a new interest in taking its luxury brand more seriously. On their last legs were the Maxima-based I35 and Pathfinder-based QX4. FX, G35 (coupe and sedan), and M45 were all new that year. Additionally, the much-needed but not successful full-size QX56 was a year away. The Q45 was also on sale, but it had weird styling like a big Altima and nobody bought it. Back to my point.
Of its new offerings, the FX charted its own performance SUV course. Rear-drive, real performance credentials, and a great basis like the G35 on the FM platform. It looked cutting edge when it debuted with its sharp lines and LED lighting, but didn’t fall for the typical design gimmicks of the late Nineties and early 2000s.
The rest of the FX’s styling was architectural but organic, largely with smooth lines. Crucially (and unlike older Infiniti offerings), there was no Nissan equivalent of the FX. It wasn’t a Murano in a fancy suit, though I’m sure some assumed that connection. It looked muscular and purposeful and had an unusual feature: A very aggressive angle to the roofline that began at the rear doors.
That made the FX look sporty, but also limited rear headroom and cargo hauling capacity. Like its front end, the rear of the FX shared little with other Infiniti models. It was tied to the rest of the lineup via curved chrome trim above and below the license plate, the former with shared INFINITI block lettering. The FX had an early implementation of LED tail lamps, but used red lenses and avoided the clear “Altezza” styling that swept Japanese cars at the time. Said lighting was updated to that look in 2005, however.
Inside, FX used the same general “modern architect” design theme of the G35 but did not share that many parts with its sedan sibling. The interior was a melange of some upscale materials, the steering wheel from a 350Z, and other Nissan parts bin stuff. Said interior was available in nice colors like an orange-brown and featured a flip-down DVD screen for rear passengers. Perhaps to distract them from their lack of headroom.
Speaking of headroom, the FX was accidentally the first four-door coupe SUV. With its truncated roof line and abrupt rear end, it had less cargo room and less “utility” than the typical SUV. Even though reviews lauded its excellent handling, powerful engines, and risk-taking styling, FX was punished for its coupe-like roof treatment. Buyers headed elsewhere to options that were softer, less performance-oriented, and had more rear head and cargo room. For example, in 2005 Infiniti sold 28,786 examples of the FX. Lexus sold 108,775 copies of the RX, and Acura moved 57,948 units of the MDX.
Today the FX would be lauded for such styling, and be in the company of more upscale performance Mercedes and BMW “coupe SUVs.” In general I think said category is kind of bullshit, and defeats the original purpose of both the SUV and the crossover in general. But what I think doesn’t matter.
Customers are quite willing to pony up for a BMW X6 “Sports Activity Coupe.” It’s on the same platform as the X5, is the same size as the X5, and has four doors. But it holds much less cargo and is about $10,000 more expensive. It’s also much more hideous than the X5, but I digress. The FX created the coupe SUV segment, which Infiniti reminded everyone of with the new QX55 “coupe” version of the sales flop QX50. Less utility, more expensive ($10,000 more, to be precise).
The FX35 and 45 dared to be different from the competition and created a future sub-segment of a segment that was still in its relative infancy. And that’s why the first-gen FX is the best Infiniti ever made. Thanks for coming to QOTD Answer Time.
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