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Expert Reviews 1 of 11
By Joe Wiesenfelder
April 16, 2008
The new Infiniti EX35 seemed too good to be true: a sporty five-seat crossover SUV to compete with the Acura RDX, BMW X3 and Land Rover LR2 — bargain priced and available with what seemed the coolest feature to come along in years: Around View Monitor. While testing the EX, I realized its small size and lack of towing capability make it compete as much if not more with wagons like the Audi A4 Avant, BMW 328 and Volvo V50 T5. It compares favorably with these models, but the price difference isn't as jaw-dropping among these peers as it is versus the X3 and LR2.
And yes, the Around View Monitor option, which uses multiple cameras to let you see all the way around the EX35, turns out to be the coolest and most useful feature I've seen in years. Exterior & Styling The EX35 is indeed a tall sport wagon/crossover/SUV, and it's clearly an Infiniti, with the brand's signature grille, and headlights that creep up the tops of the fenders. Our test car had roof rails, which come standard on the Journey trim level. (Cross-bars are an option to complete the roof rack.) The base EX35, which isn't eligible for any factory options, has a streamlined look because the side roof rails aren't standard. The rear end recalls Infiniti's larger FX model, for better and for worse. The look is sporty and stylish, but it makes for a relatively tight cargo area. Though the EX is similar in size to the compact Rogue SUV from parent company Nissan, the platforms are different. The Rogue offers front- or all-wheel drive where the EX comes with rear- or all-wheel drive.
Here's how the EX measures up against crossover SUVs:
Dimensions: Small Luxury Crossovers
Land Rover LR2
Turning diameter (ft.)
*AWD model; RWD turning diameter is 34.8 ft. Source: Manufacturer data
The EX is longer but narrower than crossovers and sits a bit lower. It has the tightest turning circle.
Dimensions: Compact Luxury Wagons
Audi A4 Avant (wagon)
BMW 328i wagon
Volvo V50 (wagon)
Turning diameter (ft.)
*RWD model; AWD turning diameter is 38.8 ft. **RWD model; AWD turning diameter is 36.0 ft. Source: Manufacturer data
Among compact luxury wagons, the EX35 is again the longest and is comparable in width but sits higher, riding the line between wagon and SUV. In this company, the rear-wheel-drive version's turning circle is on the tighter side, but it's unremarkable with AWD, which widens the turning diameter. The Audi is the only one of the four models compared that doesn't offer two-wheel-drive. (The Volvo does, but both versions share the same turning measurement.)
A feature I thought it best not to test was the Scratch Shield clearcoat paint, which Infiniti says can heal itself of light scratches over the course of a week. You'll have to wait until the 2010 model year for a liquid-metal EX35 that morphs into a bad cop and tries to terminate John Connor. Ride & Handling The ride quality is firm but comfortable — more like a sport sedan than an SUV. Our roads are well-cratered after a harsh winter, and there were times when I wished my car had the standard 17-inch wheels rather than the optional 18s. The standard higher-series tires measure P225/60R17, which means they'd have a slightly higher sidewall than the optional P225/55R18 versions — not a huge difference, but I'd take any help I could get. Both sizes are all-season tires.
Based as it is on the same rear-drive platform as Infiniti's G and M sedans, the EX35 offers spirited handling with excellent dynamics. The rear-drive version's weight distribution is 52.5/47.5 (front/rear), and AWD makes it 54.6/45.4. When you push it hard into corners, the accelerator helps you achieve the right balance, even in the AWD version, thanks to its ability to send more torque to the rear wheels. The EX is no SUV, but I definitely felt the extra height relative to a conventional wagon like the 328i. Though the body itself is narrow, the EX's wheels have a wide stance and it feels grounded, and a standard electronic stability system keeps it going where pointed in low-traction situations. Going & Stopping The standard drivetrain is a 3.5-liter V-6 engine with a five-speed automatic transmission and rear-wheel drive. Two-wheel drive is another feature that's common among the wagons but rare in the SUVs. In the EX, the AWD option adds $1,400 and subtracts 1 mpg. At 17/24 mpg with rear-wheel- and 16/23 mpg with all-wheel drive, the EX's mileage is typical of small luxury SUVs but a bit lower than the sport wagon average. Premium gasoline is recommended for optimal performance and mileage but isn't required. It's highly unlikely that regular gas will decrease your fuel economy enough to negate the money saved over premium gas.
As it is in so many Nissan and Infiniti models, the responsive engine is a high point, with more than adequate oomph over the rev range, and competent passing power. The transmission shifts smoothly in normal circumstances — and smartly and efficiently when in a hurry. The clutchless-manual operation — activated by sliding the shifter to the left from the Drive position, and then forward and back to upshift and downshift — also responds quickly. Some shoppers are sure to bemoan the lack of steering-wheel-mounted shift paddles, but I seldom find a use for such things away from the racetrack. The Inside The interior is appointed like other Infiniti models, which is to say nicely, with modern, high-quality materials and design. Aluminum trim appears sparingly and is effective, as is the black-lacquer bezel on the center console and control panel. Standard equipment includes eight-way-power driver's and four-way-power front passenger's seats with cloth upholstery and a manual tilt/telescoping steering wheel. Leather upholstery, heated seats and side mirrors, power lumbar adjustment, driver's seat-position and side-mirror memory and an eight-way power passenger seat are all available as options, but only on the Journey, which costs $3,550 more to begin with.
The EX35's greatest interior shortcoming is the size of its backseat, which is especially frustrating, because the lack of space seems unnecessary. Take a look at the front and backseat legroom versus the competition, and the EX seems unbalanced.
Interior Dimensions Compared
Legroom (front/rear, in.)
Cargo volume (behind seats/seats folded, cu. ft.)
Headroom (front/rear, in.)
Shoulder room (front/rear, in.)
Land Rover LR2
Audi A4 Avant (wagon)
BMW 328i wagon
Volvo V50 (wagon)
Source: Manufacturer data
Yes, it has more legroom in front than the other guys, but the backseat suffers. If you're a long-legged driver, this might make the EX more appealing, but it seems to make a sacrifice that disadvantages the masses. Because this is a rear-wheel-drive platform, there's a high center hump in the floor, and that complicates things further. All that being said, be sure to check out any perspective purchase yourself; and bring the family along. Standard interior measurements don't always do the best job representing three-dimensional space. Power-Folding Backseat Among the interesting features is a power-folding backseat, which comes standard in the Journey trim level. We've seen power folding before, but it's plenty unique to find it designed to both raise and lower the seats ... in the second row ... in a vehicle of this size. There's a rocker switch on either side of the cargo area for its corresponding seat, and another pair immediately behind the gear selector for the driver's use. The 60/40-split segments work quickly and effectively, often without any adjustment necessary to the head restraints or front seats. Major gee-whiz points here, but unfortunately the rear seats can't be slid forward and back; given the choice, I'd rather have this capability — to better share space between the cargo area and backseat. The tight backseat might be more of a deal-breaker than the power folding is a deal-maker. Around View Monitor If you believe the advent of the backup camera was a boon for convenience and safety, prepare to be blown away. The idea of cameras all around the car is compelling enough, but you don't get the full impact until you see the dashboard display. The cameras may be on the grille, the liftgate and under each side mirror, but the scene you see on the LCD looks like it's shot from a tree overlooking the EX35. It's just amazing, and extremely useful. Put the transmission in Reverse, and the left part of the screen shows the view behind you, just like a regular backup camera. Included are superimposed lines that indicate where your fenders will be; as with the best systems, the lines curve as you turn the steering wheel. The right-hand side of the display has the overhead view of the car, with four quadrants stitched together to form a complete picture. As you move, you see curbs, parking stripes and other cars corners relative to your own.
There's more: Push a button, and you get a detailed view of the passenger side to help get you close to the curb without scraping your wheels. Though the system doesn't work if you accelerate above a couple mph, you can use it when driving forward, too, by pushing the "Camera" button. In this mode, the backup image on the main frame is replaced by a forward view, complete with curving fender lines here, too. Combine all this with the beeping sonar proximity sensors, and you have one mean parking machine. I don't care if parking is easy — for you or wherever you happen to park. You want this. It's too, too cool, and it prevents scrapes and helps fit you into parking spaces you might otherwise not be comfortable attempting. It'll cost you $1,950, though, in the optional Technology Package — again, offered only with the Journey trim level. It also includes Intelligent Cruise Control — which maintains a set distance from the car in front of you, even if it slows down — and Lane Departure Warning and Prevention. Lane Departure Warning and Prevention Infiniti has offered Lane Departure Warning on some models for a few years, and now they've added Prevention to the name and functionality. Now, in addition to sounding a beep alert if the system detects you straying outside of your lane, it intervenes and nudges the steering wheel to keep you between the lines. As before, the system takes a breather if you use your turn signal, indicating that you intend to cross the line, and it can also be turned off altogether. This is one of those features that pays for itself if it prevents one mishap, and that's worth something, but I personally didn't find it effective enough. The camera — yet another one, mounted high on the windshield — doesn't see well when the streets are wet, and some lane markers are too faint, broken or infrequent to be detected. Consistency isn't critical, but it would be ideal. As for the prevention aspect, the nudge isn't as strong as I think it needs to be — yet I suspect everyone's idea of how strong it should be will differ. The feature doesn't actually steer the car, and it can easily let you leave your lane, especially if the road curves. More than most drivers, I think I'm accustomed and receptive to the idea of computers intervening in the driving experience, but it has to be a worthwhile intervention, and here the action left me cold. For what it is, the warning aspect seems better executed, though I prefer Audi Lane Assist's vibrating steering wheel to the simple beep warning. Safety In Insurance Institute for Highway Safety crash tests, the EX35 is a Top Safety Pick, which means it has earned top-tier scores in the organization's frontal, side-impact and rear-impact crash tests. There are currently eight Top Safety Picks in the luxury SUV class, and the EX comes in third behind two larger models: the Acura MDX and BMW X5.
Standard safety features include antilock brakes and an electronic stability system. The front seats have side-impact airbags and active head restraints. Curtain airbags protect front and backseat occupants in a side impact. Cargo & Towing As mentioned above, the cargo area offers little to get excited about. The cargo volume behind the backseat, at 18.6 cubic feet, is larger than that of the BMW 328 wagon and Volvo V50, but smaller than the SUVs discussed. Also, once you fold the seats flat, all of the SUVs and wagons beat the EX in maximum cargo volume.
Infiniti says the EX35 isn't intended for towing, which again puts it in the company of the wagons, not the SUVs. In this small class, SUVs typically are rated at 1,500 to 3,500 pounds maximum trailer weight. Even the diminutive Volvo V50 wagon is rated to tow up to 2,000 pounds. EX35 in the Market The EX comes along at a good time. SUV and wagon devotees, like all motorists, are looking to save money on gas, and they're more likely to make a move to a smaller or more efficient SUV than to, say, a compact car. We at Cars.com were all impressed with the EX, with the driving experience and, especially, its Around View Monitor. There's more than enough to recommend it. When you scrutinize the utility aspect of it, though, the emphasis clearly is on sport. View it as a sport wagon, and you might find more sport than wagon, too.