Friday, May 18, 2012

I once worked for an editor who banned the use of the term “crossover utility vehicle” in our magazine.
He had a point in that “crossover utility” is pretty much a made-up marketing term that allows manufacturers from labels like “station wagon” or hatchback or event “sports utility,” which is a favorite target of environmentalists.
But marketing term or not, “crossover utility” has become a pretty much accepted term today to describe a vehicle that has the looks of an SUV but is built on a typical car platform featuring unibody construction and independent rear suspension for a smoother, more livelier ride than truck-based SUVs typically deliver.
Like Infiniti’s FX35.
The luxury component of the Japanese automaker Nissan introduced the FX models in 2003 in two versions, the FX35 with a 3.5-liter V6 under the hood and the FX45 with a 4.5-liter V8.
The FX45 has since grown to become the FX50 with a 5.0-liter V8 powerplant, but the FX35 has stayed with the 3.5-liter V6.
The company did give both a redesign in 2009, and there aren’t a lot of changes for the 2012 model year overall -- a new front grille and front fascia design are two -- but the company did add a new trim level with the introduction of the FX35 Limited Edition.
It features all-wheel drive (also standard on the FX50) over the front-wheel configuration in the base model and has 21-inch wheels as standard over the 18 (standard) and 20 (optional) on the base model.
It also has as standard all the features found in the Premium Package -- optional for the base FX35 -- including navigation, an “around view” monitor, voice recognition for audio and navigation, Zagat Survey Restaurant Guide, and more.
That comes at a cost, of course. The base FX35 with FWD starts at $43,700 and with AWD at $45,150. The AWD Limited Edition starts at an even $52,000.
Both, however, are comfortably under the FX50’s starting price of $59,800.
Possibly the biggest thing the FX has going for it is that it uses the same underpinnings as that found on the company’s popular G37, one of the most enjoyable sport sedans on the market today.
Combine that with the 303 horsepower and 262 pound-feet of torque the V6 delivers, plus a seven-speed automatic transmission with manual gear selection capability (instead of the CVT Nissan has become enamored with), and you have a vehicle that provides an A-1 driving experience, such as the one we recently enjoyed in the FX35 Limited.
Our time in the car included a weekend roundtrip covering nearly 600 miles, and the ride was more than pleasant. Though some critics see the tighter suspension as detracting from the overall comfort, that wasn’t the case with us.
And the power in the V6 is adequate for most tastes. Passing slower vehicles on two-lane stretches of road was accomplished with ease, though the increased engine revs when the accelerator was floored did cause some consternation with my passenger.
With a gas tank that holds nearly 24 gallons and with us matching the mileage figures shown on the sticker (16 mpg city, 21 highway), we needed only one fuel stop over the three days. The only downer is that premium fuel is required, but hey! If you’re going to buy a vehicle that runs you $50,000 or so, why quibble about an extra 20 cents or quarter a gallon?
The designers have done a nice job of making the technology easy to operate. There are buttons and knobs to operate the radio and climate control, and some features are operated off the navigation screen. You also can program in the proper settings to get information about the car, such as tire pressure, updated fuel mileage, etc., from readings on the screen.
The cabin has the customary leather, wood, and soft-to-the-touch materials you expect from this class, and the seats are comfortable for the long haul. I would liked to have been able to adjust the lumbar support on the driver’s seat just a tad more, but that’s not a big point. Legroom in the back, however, is a bit on the tight side, especially for taller passengers.
Stowage space, even with the rear seats folded, is not as great as some of its competitors either, but is adequate for most routine chores. This isn’t a cargo hauler, after all. And the FX does not offer third-row seating, which is a feature Infiniti is offering in its new 2013 JX crossover.
Despite the crossover utility label, the FX is more about style, performance, and technology than it is about utility. In those categories, it deserves high marks.
WHAT I LIKE ABOUT THE FX35 Limited: The 360-degree camera gives you a look all around the vehicle to ease maneuvering in tight spots. When the car is in reverse, the camera automatically provides the view out the back. When the car is in park/drive/neutral, you can also get a view out the front by pushing the “camera” button. Why would you need a camera when you can look out the windshield? Well, if, say, a kid’s bicycle was lying in front of you, you probably couldn’t see it over the hood. The camera could save you from the headache of running over it. Other views allow you to check to see if you are properly aligned in a parking space or of there is a small object to your side that you could hit while making a sharp turn.
WHAT I DIDN’T LIKE ABOUT THE FX35 Limited: Not a whole lot to dislike, really. It would be nice to have an electronic parking brake and simply be able to push a button to set it rather than have to press the foot lever on the driver’s left side. Several luxury models are going in that direction. Though not having that feature wouldn’t be a deal breaker, it might behoove Infiniti to look into it. Like keyless start, it is rapidly becoming an expected item in this class.

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