Sports cars get drawn up with dramatic sweeping lines, sport utes are blocky and macho. It’s the way things are. Someone though forget to tell the designers at Infiniti. The JX35, a seven passenger crossover, has more twists and turns than an episode of Law & Order. Inside and out, curves rule.
Like it or loath it, the design is distinctive. In my week with the fully loaded AWD JX35, it seems everyone has an opinion with woman liking it more than men in my very informal pole. It looks like it was designed with brush strokes, not straight edges. The back pillar zigs where others… well, they don’t even zag, they just go straight.
Obviously it’s the swoopy shape that’s going to get people talking. But all of that drama overshadows one thing- this vehicle is stuffed to the gills with technology.
For example, cameras on the front, back and side view mirrors combine to simulate a bird’s eye view on the large LCD display. Very handy in tight parking situations (and entertaining to watch newbies try to figure out what helicopter is shooting it).
If you’re backing out of a spot with limited visibility and unexpected traffic comes along, a system called Back-up Collision Intervention not only warns the driver about cross traffic, it automatically stops the car to prevent an accident. And I can assure you it really works (my ego is okay with admitting it). Drive forward toward an unseen object and the image from the grille-mounted camera automatically pops up on the screen to warn you.
Blind spot warning detection has been available for years. The Infiniti uses an active system called Blind Spot Intervention. Try to merge right with someone lurking in the lane and the system beeps, then gently applies the left side brakes to nudge the JX35 back into its lane. It feels like a strong crosswind. Similarly, Lane Departure Warning and Prevention signals the driver when the JX drifts out of its lane without signaling and subtly applies brakes in a way to nudge it back to center.
Radar-assisted cruise control locks onto traffic ahead and matches it’s speed right down to a complete stop, even with a foot on the throttle. It’s a little bit freaky. Finally, to encourage better gas mileage, there’s an Eco mode where the throttle pedal actively pushes back if it thinks your right foot is too heavy.
Put all of these technologies together and there are times this car feels alive. And for those who don’t electronic nannies, you can either turn them off or just not buy them in the first place.
CVT is A-OK
Motivating the JX35 is a 3.5-liter V6. Get it? 35? 3.5? It makes 265 horsepower @ 6,400 rpm and 248 lb-ft of torque @ 4,400 rpm.
While competing vehicles use five, six, seven, even eight-speed transmissions, Infiniti uses a continuously variable unit in the JX. Infinite ratios sound like a good idea but CVTs generally have a rubbery dynamic about them. It’s something I can’t stand. That said, Nissan engineers have gone out of their way to simulate the feel of a traditional automatic right down to a manual shift mode. If you didn’t know the JX35 ran with a CVT, chances are you’d believe it was just a regular automatic tranny.
Throttle response and transmission mapping can be adjusted with a dial mounted next to the transmission lever.
JX isn’t a high performance machine but with 0-60 happening in about 8 seconds, it moves confidently. The optional AWD system is completely automatic. Infiniti is known for crisp athletic handling, this sport ute goes for a more plush, comfortable ride. It doesn’t wallow in corners but there is some body roll and the steering effort is light. It’s like the Nissan engineers were targeting the dynamic of a Lexus RX350, not Audi Q7, BMW X5 or Acura MDX.
Cruising at speed it’s moderately quiet. Fuel economy is EPA rated at 18 city 23 highway.
The interior looks terrific trimmed up in wood and aluminum. The leather seats are stitched up with a wavy pattern to remind you of the lines on the outside. FYI, this rig snared a spot on Ward’s 10 Best Interiors list for 2012. Those who crave soft touch material everywhere might not like the hard stuff used on the top dash panel but come on, it’s seldom touched up there. Everything else that gets pawed is quality stuff right down to the sculpted door release handles. Infiniti offers a choice of using a knob in the center stack OR the touch screen to work the interface. Brilliant.
My tester is a fully loaded ride with heated and cooled front seats, power tilt/telescope heated steering wheel (which is awesome by the way), a premium Bose surround sound system that rocks, and not just one, but two sunroofs. The seat belts don’t just reel back, they’re motorized. With nearly everything getting an electrical assist, it’s surprising to find a manual stomp on, stomp off parking brake.
These rigs are bought for family duty and the middle row gives folks everything they could want. Seats recline, slide forward and aft to increase leg room, and there’s a folding armrest with cupholders. It’s not just comfy seats that give passengers a warm fuzzy feeling, the mid row cushions are heated and there’s a third climate zone for those in back. Each front seat back gets two pockets that could swallow up the contents of your kid’s toy box . My only gripe? Not much foot room under the front seats (there’s plenty of leg room though and a very flat floor).
At $1,700, the spendy Theatre Package has seven-inch screens embedded into the rear of the front headrests and all the connections needed to hook up a game system including a 110v household outlet. Or you could just buy two iPads for half the price.
A buying hint- the light colored interior of my tester sure looks nice but any vehicle pressed into kid duty should sport something in a darker hue. Every speck of dirt shows up. I vacuumed this car twice to keep it suitable for the photo sessions.
Both sides for the middle row slide and fold easily for wide access to row number three and apparently it’s possible to keep a child’s booster seat buckled in and still get into the third row.
Infiniti says there’s more room in the third row than a Cadillac Escalade. That might be true but it’s not exactly roomy back here. Hate to break it to you, but if you’re often hauling around seven people, especially growing teens, you should really think about a minivan.
Slow In the Cargo
In a hurry to get into the cargo hold? Don’t be. The standard powered hatch is not only slow, it reverses direction if you try to hurry it along.
With the back seat up and usable there’s enough room for three bundles of Kirkland brand bath tissue and under the floor a space large enough to hide a laptop computer bag. It’s quick and easy to drop the third row, which creates a cavernous space. 15 packs of the 2-ply is a pretty darn good score. Making the space more useful are bag hooks and a 12-volt power outlet.
Designed to be Different
Infiniti is not going for a mainstream design, the swoopy sheetmetal language is much like their M sedan. If you’re like me, your eye is drawn to the unique bend in the “D” pillar (the back one if you’re not into car lingo). It looks like a brush stroke, not a support beam. I applaud the Infiniti design team for doing something different rather than slavishly aping the European brands. The in-your-face grille is straight of the huge QX56 SUV and perhaps a bit much for this vehicle. It’s surprisingly aerodynamic with a drag coefficient of just 0.34
A base front-wheel drive JX35 starts at $41,400. This loaded model is $55,100. Want cheap? Buy a Kia Rio. Considering all the innovative tech available on the curvaceous Infiniti JX35, it’s a straight up luxury value.