Test Drive: 2011 Infiniti FX 35 AWD

There are lots of entrants in the ever-popular luxury crossover/SUV arena.  Infiniti jumped in several years ago with their first generation FX series.  Built on the same platform as the G37 coupe and sedan, as well as the smaller EX35 crossover, the FX35’s second iteration retains its sporty demeanor and love-it-or-hate-it styling.  Read on for my impressions during my test drive.

The FX series hits all the high points of a crossover, with most of the functionality of a mid-sized SUV.  It’s fairly tall, fairly large, and has a fair amount of cargo space.  Notice the use of the word “fair” in the preceding sentence.  While not the tall, boxy SUV it competes against, it also doesn’t have the commodious boot SUVs are known for.  While groceries and a week’s worth of luggage for two may fit in the cargo area, if you add more passengers, you may want to make it a couples weekend, and closer to home than you might want.  Taller drivers may have trouble, depending upon their seating position.  I’m 5’8″ tall, and only had about 3″ or so of head room.

Speaking of passengers, the rear seat area is fair for a night out on the town, but long distances may make you rethink your purchase.  While not a snug fit, don’t expect three to sit abreast in the back without hearing about it.

The FX’s claim to fame isn’t in the back anyway.  The driver is the central focus, with all the pertinent controls close at hand, especially the all-important gas pedal.  Equipped with the all-wheel drive system, passing acceleration can be downright sluggish, but as the system breaks in, I expect it to get better (the vehicle I test drove had a scant 8 miles on its odometer).  Meanwhile, from a stop, the 303-horsepower 3.5-liter V6 under the hood gives the FX plenty of scoot.  I didn’t have a chance to take the FX off-road, but I expect it will do well in a light to medium snowfall due to its ground clearance, which is ample but not too tall.

While you’re inside the FX, take a look around.  What you see is almost all soft-touch plastic, leather, or wood.  A very pleasing interior, worth the $53,000+ MSRP.  While the driver’s seat didn’t have as much thigh support as I would have preferred, it was definitely comfortable.  The armrests on the doors are perfectly positioned for long-term comfort as well.  The center stack should look familiar for anyone who has read my review of the 2010 Nissan Maxima, or many other Nissan and Infiniti owners, as many of the controls are shared between the Maxima and several Infiniti vehicles.  A highlight here is the Infiniti “around view” camera, which stitches together the picture from several strategically-positioned cameras on the FX, giving a complete 360-degree view of what’s around you.  The system worked well, if not as clear or crisp as I’d expected from the experience I’ve had behind the wheel of my Maxima, which features a backup camera only.

Moving back to the outside, there are plenty of curves to attract the eye, which can’t be mistaken for anything but an Infiniti.  Bulging fenders, a couple-like fastback which incorporates the rear doors and the rear liftgate, and a swept-back windshield all make for an attractive (to some) exterior.  Slightly overwrought, yes, but very pleasing at the same time.

Since the FX35 shares its engine with that of my 2010 Nissan Maxima, it was interesting to see what an AWD setup and several hundred pounds do to a mostly unmodified engine.  While the FX’s acceleration was not brisk, as in my Maxima, it was adequate.  The FX and Maxima also share a lot of parts, from the center console and its built-in navigation and HVAC controls to the steering wheel and even window switches.  The FX almost feels like a mid-level Maxima that’s been lifted up.

Overall, the FX35 has plenty of get-up-and-go, handles well for a tallish vehicle, and has the techno-wizardry a buyer could ask for.  Those looking for more oomph should opt for the faster (and quite a bit more expensive) FX50.  The only thing it’s missing is real utility, which it tries and mostly makes up for with power and handling.  Definitely worth a test drive for a married couple or younger family.  Those with more than two children or a need for more cargo-carrying ability should look at larger SUVs or wagons.

by John Suit

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