Pavlov had his bell. Now Infiniti is chiming in with its.
The first made a dog slobber; the second makes you a better driver.
Infiniti's all-new EX35 has quite the collection of new and unusual gizmos to go with its well-mannered ride and reasonable luxury price in the low-$30,000s. The Lane Departure Prevention System, for example, gently teaches drivers a few manners when they drift over the line.
If the bing, bing, bing isn't enough to sway you back, then the EX35 has the ability to be less subtle.
Start yapping on your cell phone along some stretch of highway, taking that bend a little too tight and the crossover will decelerate slightly but noticeably. It uses the anti-lock brakes to shudder the steering wheel, gently nudging you back to your correct path.
Here's a re-enactment:
Scott (on his cell):"Should I pick up anything on my way home?"
EX35: Bing, bing, bing.
Scott: "What the ...?"
At first, the LDP annoyed me. Then it made me mad, and as I let this sleek crossover drift over the line, I held the steering wheel through the illegal lane change. How dare a car try to keep me on the straight and narrow. Eventually, I complied, the bell rang and I became just another pooch waiting for pork chops and I stayed in my lane. Want the chimes to end? All you need is your turn signal, which overrides it. (You can also switch off the more aggressive mode with a touch of a button on the steering wheel.)
In essence, the LDP retrained me to use my blinker instead of just cutting into another lane. A lot more drivers need this kind of training.
Gadgets will impress
There are all kinds of gadgets inside the EX35 that impress. My favorite was the Around View Monitor. When backing up, a split screen appears on a 7-inch display in the dash. One picture comes from the back up camera, the other shows a bird's eye view of the EX35. Using four cameras (one under each side mirror, one in front and one in the back), the EX35 shows everything around it, making you the star of your own surreal video game.
The around view only works when backing up. Most of the techno-friendly devices inside work all of the time. There's Bluetooth connectivity for your phone; an intelligent key that allows for a push-button start; intelligent cruise control that will adjust your speed automatically if the car in front is going slower; and XM Satellite Radio that can crank music through a Bose Premium Audio System with 11 speakers and two subwoofers.
But none of those futuristic conveniences mean much if the car doesn't measure up. A luxury five-passenger crossover needs to create the same mouth-watering experiences for the driver and everyone he passes. It's Pavlovian conditioning for car consumers. You drive by, they drool. You drive faster, and you need a bib.
Just a few years ago, Infiniti, Nissan's luxury brand, was as flavorful as distilled water. It lacked the right combination of allure, performance and passion. Now, Infiniti is hitting all the right buttons and the EX35 -- built on the same platform as the super sleek G35 -- has nailed it.
While the EX35 adopts many of the crossover exterior cues -- sloping roof and slightly higher driving position -- it creates its own identity. The long hood pushes out much farther than most crossovers and with the wheels placed toward the edges (giving it a 110.2-inch wheelbase) it looks very sporty. The L-shaped headlights stretch the hood's length and LED tail lamps add to the sophisticated look.
The roof bubbles out of the steep windshield and then gently down the back to the hatch. It's compact, curvy and cute.
Feels like sporty sedan
And there's nothing dainty about its performance. The 3.5-liter V-6 hits 297 horsepower at 6,800 rpm. For a 3,700-pound crossover, that's more than enough power -- and 32 more horses than the 2008 Lincoln MKX and 27 more than the 2008 Lexus RX 350. It feels like a sporty sedan on the road.
The new V-6 -- the same engine is found in the G35 -- includes continuous variable valve timing and an electronically controlled throttle system. The five-speed automatic transmission can also be shifted manually and is smooth in both configurations or when set on sport mode. Infiniti also includes downshifting rev matches to provide less heads lurching forward on downshifts.
Driving around Detroit, I found the ride very comfortable and quiet. More importantly, it's fun.
The EX35 rides on 17- or 18-inch wheels. The suspension includes a double-wishbone front and independent multi-link rear that rode comfortably at highway speeds or around pothole-ridden Detroit. During fast cornering, there was little body roll and the speed sensitive power-steering system felt well-weighted on the highway but too loose on the city streets with a poor return to center.
Inside the EX35, the seats were a little too firm but luxurious in the optional leather. I tried to adjust the eight-way power seat but could never get it just right. There's loads of legroom in the front (44.3 inches) and very little legroom in the second row (28.5 inches). When we loaded it up to cruise around town, my 5-foot-4-inch sister in back stretched her legs into the foot well across from her to sit comfortably.
Two adults and two kids would enjoy a long haul in the EX35; four adults on the same trek would quickly start asking "are we there yet?" With 24 mpg, the EX35 can manage a long trip without too many stops.
Infiniti calls the cabin "wave-inspired." I see where they get that. There's a nice flow inside the EX35 and black lacquer or optional wood trim adds tastefully to the interior. The double wave instrument gauge is easy to read and most of the controls are intuitive. The navigation control at the top of the dash, right below the nav screen, takes a little getting used to but I still managed without getting out the owner's manual.
There are three vertical creases along the dash in front of the passenger and if you stare at them long enough, you'll start to see baby triplets laying side-by-side-by-side waiting for fresh diapers. I'm guessing that designers wanted to use the pleats to break up the open space, but instead created three distinctive cracks.
Most importantly, the EX35 lives up to the car-like ride while providing true utility. The second row includes a 60/40 power-folding seats but the space behind the seats is limited, when compared with similar vehicles.
There's still lots to like about the EX35. Even its paint is high tech. Infiniti calls it self healing -- meaning it can repair tiny scratches just by sitting in the sun. Known as Scratch Shield, the clear coat paint uses an elastic resin to reform over a scratch. It won't fix the hood from teens "ghost-riding the whip" (if you don't know what that is, Google it and learn how stupid some teens have become) but it will help those smaller ones.
Many of the EX35's bells and whistles may sound like showing off, but that's what luxury brings. With a starting price of $32,715 it's not even that expensive, compared with similar vehicles that start at prices thousands of dollars more.
Technology may add some comfort, make you safer and even clean up your bad driving. But it's the car's performance, comfort and price that should win you over. This Infiniti has it all. And if you hear the lane departure prevention system chime in, just act like Robert Jordan and know for whom the bell tolls.
Overall: *** 1/2
Exterior: Good. Clean lines and sloping roof give the EX35 a smaller exterior profile than expected.
Interior: Good. Roomy up front and lots of great driver-friendly technology.
Performance: Excellent. Good power at launch and plenty of pep on the highway. Performs like a car but has the utility of a small SUV.
Safety: Excellent. Full compliment of front and side airbags. Electronic stability control and traction control is standard.
Pros: Fun to drive and very luxurious. Price undercuts the competition by thousands of dollars.
Cons: Cramped space in the second row may make it too small for four adults.
2008 Infiniti EX35
Type: Five-passenger rear-wheel drive crossover. All-wheel drive is available.
Engine: 3.5-liter V-6
Power: 297-hp; 253-pound-feet torque
Transmission: 5-speed automatic with manual override.
RWD: 17 mpg city / 24 mpg
Scott Burgess is the auto critic for The Detroit News. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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