Late in January 2003, Nissans luxury division had a pair of remarkably sleek, brand-new crossover sport utility vehicles ready to ship to dealerships. The Infiniti FX35 has a V-6 engine and comes with either rear-wheel drive or all-wheel drive (AWD). Its higher-powered FX45 companion carries a V-8 engine and is equipped with AWD only.
First seen as a concept car in 2001, the FX45 version appeared in second-generation form at Detroits North American International Auto Show in January 2002. The styling on the second concept continued the Bionic Cheetah theme that marked the original. Infinitis goal was to combine sports-car performance with SUV utility in a vehicle similar to the new Nissan Murano. The notion of a V-6 edition came later.
When the concept FX45 was exhibited, Mark McNabb, Infinitis vice president and general manager, noted that it represents the shape of things to come for our production SUV. It also represents our intention to stand out from the pack of less exciting, less confident vehicles currently in the market. More than some observers may have expected, the production model has retained much of the concepts lush styling and modern technology.
Like the FX45, the FX35 has a four-wheel-independent suspension and a five-speed-automatic transmission that incorporates a manual-shift mode. Borrowed from the G35 coupe and sedan, its 3.5-liter V-6 engine produces 280 horsepower, vs. 315 hp for the FX45s V-8 engine. Except for engines and a few standard-equipment differences, the two models are nearly identical in styling and technology.
More boldly styled than most SUVs, Infinitis twin crossover models have a wide stance and a relatively long wheelbase. Infiniti has promoted the aggressive image of the FX, noting that the exterior suggests sports-car shapes. Set farther to the rear than some, the cabin has long doors. The FX35 features high-intensity-discharge headlights, LED taillights and a unique roof pillar design.
Alloy wheels hold 18-inch tires, but 20-inch tires are optional. Built on a 112.2-inch wheelbase, the FX35 measures 189.1 inches long overall, 75 inches wide and 65 inches tall. Ground clearance is 7.6 inches, and a roof rack is optional. The basic platform is a modification of the one used for Infinitis G35 coupe and sedan.
Five occupants fit inside the FX35, which features a wraparound-style cockpit with aluminum accents. The steering wheel and gauges move up and down, and the driver uses drilled metal pedals. Rear occupants get a 60/40-split, folding bench seat. Cargo volume is 27.4 cubic feet, which expands to 64.5 cubic feet when the rear seats are folded thats smaller than some rival models because they have a squared-off rear end, while the FX models flaunt a carefully tapered back end that evades the customary SUV look.
Automatic dual-zone climate control is standard. An optional 11-speaker, 300-watt Bose audio system is specially tuned for listening to rock n roll. Infiniti offers a Technology Package that includes a DVD-based 3-D Birdview navigation system, a rearview monitor and intelligent cruise control. An available keyless-entry system lets you enter the car and start the engine without the use of a key, provided that you have the remote at hand. A backseat DVD-based entertainment system is also available. Only the front windows have one-touch automatic up/down power operation.
Under the Hood
Mated to a five-speed-automatic transmission with manual-shift capability, the 3.5-liter dual-overhead-cam V-6 engine produces 280 hp and 270 pounds-feet of torque.
All-disc antilock brakes, Vehicle Dynamic Control and roof-mounted side curtain-type airbags are included. Electronic brake-force distribution and Brake Assist are also standard.
Only a few minutes are needed behind the wheel of an FX35 to realize that Nissans claim of near-sports car handling talents is nearly true. Far more than most SUVs, the FX35 grabs hold of the pavement and retains that grip tenaciously, even through demanding mountain curves and grades. Turning the wheel is a pleasure. Unlike some vehicles, the FX35 performs just as masterfully as its luscious looks suggest.
Better yet, its taut handling is accompanied by a satisfying ride, as the suspension manages to absorb a healthy share of roughness. Acceleration is so eager with the V-6 engine that one quickly begins to question the need for an FX45 with its V-8.