The Infiniti EX35 is a genuine driver's crossover: agile and composed, well-appointed and technologically advanced. But it's clear that somewhere in the rush toward putting the sport in sport utility, the EX abandoned the utility. While some competitors prove that the two need not be exclusive, the EX still sacrifices one for the other.
Given those concerns, it may come as a surprise that I'm a fan. Thing is, the EX sits near the top of its segment for sheer driving pleasure, and that has to count for something. If you're smitten by today's sport sedans but need a bit more utility, the EX may be worth a look. Just don't expect it to accommodate every one of your Costco inclinations.
The EX35 was introduced in late 2007 to compete with the BMW X3, Lexus RX and a subsequent conga line of emulators. We review the 2008 EX here, and you can compare it to the '09 here. The crossover comes in rear- or all-wheel drive, and shouldn't be confused with the Rogue crossover from parent company Nissan, which shares a similar shape but is built on a different platform.
Standard in every EX is a 297-horsepower version of Infiniti's 3.5-liter V-6. It's a powerful engine with ample low-end power around town and exhilarating highway passing power, and the gas mileage it returns — 19 mpg in combined city/highway driving — is competitive. The five-speed automatic transmission remains a generation behind the seven-speed autos in Infiniti's latest models, but it's responsive enough, upshifting smoothly and kicking down with little delay when needed. Sport mode holds lower gears longer for swifter response, but there was little need for it, especially considering the gas mileage penalties usually associated with such modes.
The three-spoke steering wheel turns with a light touch at low speeds. It's one of the EX's few driving characteristics that are palpably SUV-like — and appropriately so, as competitors like the X3 require far too much steering effort for simple tasks, like parallel parking. The EX's steering wheel firms up at higher speeds, delivering the secure, well-directed feel you'd expect in a sport sedan. Take an off-ramp aggressively, and the EX digs in and stays on course, with minimal body roll and good grip overall. The brakes — antilock discs with strong, linear response — inspire similar confidence.
Another carlike attribute is the EX's narrow turning circle. At 34.8 feet with rear-wheel drive and 36.0 feet with all-wheel drive, it cleanly beats the competition — in some cases by as much as 3 - 4 feet. Very nice.
There isn't much road or wind noise, but some drivers may decide the EX rides too firmly. The suspension doesn't respond loudly over bumps like the X3's does, but Infiniti otherwise follows BMW's recipe: You feel anything significant — quite sharply, in some cases. The Volvo XC60 has a more forgiving ride, but its suspension is nearly as loud as the X3's. The Land Rover LR2 and most versions of the Audi Q5 ride smoother overall, and the Lexus RX is better still.
Small but well-appointed, the cabin works well for one or two adults; four will find it cramped. The front seats are exceptionally comfortable — and I'm always ready to carp about the slightest seating issues. Leather upholstery is standard this year, and it's a respectable grade for this class. Tall drivers might want a bit more seat travel, however; I'm 5-foot-11 and had the seat just an inch or so shy of all the way back.
Adults should find enough headroom in back, but legroom is limited and the rear seats aren't adjustable. With a high floor and a large hump in the center, foot space is also tight, and my thighs ended up hovering above the cushions. By the numbers, the EX has the least rear legroom of nine major competitors. Numbers don't always tell the whole story, but here they do. It's a squeeze back there.
Cabin materials are respectable, with an upholstery-stitched panel over the gauges and padded surfaces nearly everywhere else. I've never been taken by Infiniti's center controls — the buttons operate smoothly enough, but the dials feel a bit loose — but other areas, from the gearshift to the turn-signal stalks, operate with the weighty precision I'd expect in a luxury car.
A couple high-tech options broke new automotive ground upon their arrival in last year's EX: the Around View Monitor and Lane Departure Prevention. Infiniti subsequently added both to several other models, and you can check out a video of them here. My test car didn't have LDP, but it did have the Around View Monitor. Check out the photos to see it. It's as clever as ever, though it isn't a panacea. For starters, the bird's-eye view on the center display is small, and the perceived distance between your doors and, say, the side of your garage can be deceiving. (Don't worry; no side mirrors were harmed in the making of this review.)
The EX's navigation system is a generation behind those in some of Nissan's and Infiniti's latest models, and its dated graphics show it. In my book, though, its overall intuitiveness still leads the industry: The system combines a touch-screen display with plenty of shortcut buttons and a directional arrow pad — still the best way to scroll a map — and there are plenty of street labels, too. On the downside, the Bose stereo you get with the navigation system doesn't sound up to snuff for an optional audio system in a luxury car.
Though aided by a few tricks — among them optional power-folding rear seats — the EX35's cargo area is small. The steeply angled hatch means you'll have to fold the rear seats to fit taller cargo; indeed, with the seats up, cargo volume is just 18.6 cubic feet. With the seats down, it's 47.4 cubic feet. Both figures are the smallest in this competitive set, though they compare better with small luxury wagons.
|Cargo Volume Compared|
|Behind backseat (cu. ft.)||Backseat folded (cu. ft.)|
|2010 Lexus RX 350||40.0||80.3|
|2010 Lincoln MKX||32.3||68.6|
|2010 Volvo XC60||30.8||67.4|
|2009 BMW X3||30.0||71.0|
|2010 Cadillac SRX||29.2||61.2|
|2010 Audi Q5||29.1||57.3|
|2010 Acura RDX||27.8||60.6|
|2009 Land Rover LR2||26.7||58.9|
|2010 Mercedes-Benz GLK350||23.3||54.7|
|2009 Infiniti EX35||18.6||47.4|
|Source: Automaker data|
Another strike on the utility front: Infiniti says the EX isn't intended to tow anything. Most competitors are rated between 1,500 and 3,500 pounds.
Safety, Reliability & Features
With the top score, Good, in front, side and rear-impact crash tests, the 2009 EX was rated a Top Safety Pick by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. That's not necessarily a competitive advantage — all but three competitors are also Top Safety Picks — but it's commendable all the same. Standard safety features include six airbags, antilock brakes and an electronic stability system. Lane Departure Prevention is optional, as is advanced cruise control with a collision-warning system. Click here for a full list of safety features.
Consumer Reports gives the EX its top score, Much Better Than Average, for overall reliability. Five EX competitors haven't been on the market long enough to rate, but of the four others the publication scored — the RDX, X3, MKX and LR2 — only the MKX did as well. That's impressive.
Available in base and Journey editions, the EX comes standard with leather upholstery, power front seats, a backup camera, push-button start and single-zone automatic climate control. Prices start at $33,800 for a base, rear-wheel-drive EX35; all-wheel drive costs a reasonable $1,400.
The EX35 Journey starts at $36,000 and adds a moonroof, dual-zone climate control, heated seats and more. Other options include the Around View Monitor, Lane Departure Prevention, a navigation system and power-folding rear seats. Load an EX up, and the total runs about $44,000. As this group goes, that's relatively inexpensive: The Acura RDX is a bit less, but if you're liberal with the options it's not hard to spend close to $50,000 on an RX and well past that mark on the German competition.
EX35 in the Market
In a segment dominated by the RX, the EX is still a bit player in terms of sales, on par with the likes of the RDX, XC60 and once-venerable X3. It might be easy to cast off the Infiniti as an also-ran, but that ignores its principle strength: driving fun, plain and simple. It carves a strong identity on that alone, and other essentials — reliability, safety, cabin quality, value — help its cause. In what's shaped up to be the hottest segment since the crossover boom earlier this decade, I suspect those are good cards to hold.
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