In late January 2003, Nissan's luxury division began shipping a pair of remarkably sleek, brand-new "crossover" sport utility vehicles to dealerships. The Infiniti FX35 has a V-6 engine and comes with either rear- or all-wheel drive. The more powerful FX45 has a V-8 engine and comes only with all-wheel drive.
Both models have a four-wheel-independent suspension and a five-speed-automatic transmission that incorporates a manual-shift mode. The FX35's 3.5-liter V-6 produces 280 horsepower, while the 4.5-liter V-8 in the FX45 produces 315 hp. Other than the engines and a few standard-equipment differences, the two models are nearly identical.
Safety enhancements for 2005 include standard roof-mounted side curtain-type airbags. A newly available Lane Departure Warning system alerts the driver if the vehicle is drifting out of its current traffic lane. Infiniti says this is the first automotive use of such a system in North America.
The FX models are more boldly styled than most SUVs. They have a wide stance, a relatively long wheelbase and a long hood. A tapered back end defies the customary SUV look. Infiniti promotes the "aggressive" FX image by noting that the exterior suggests the shape of sports cars. The cabin has long doors.
Standard alloy wheels hold 18-inch tires, and 20-inch tires are optional. Built on a 112.2-inch wheelbase, the FX35 measures 189.1 inches long overall and 65 inches tall. Ground clearance is 7.6 inches, and roof rails are optional.
As many as five occupants can fit inside the FX35, which features a wraparound-style cockpit with aluminum accents. The steering wheel and gauges move up and down as a unit. 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 seat is folded. Options include a DVD-based navigation system, rearview monitor, DVD-based entertainment system and "intelligent" cruise control.
Under the Hood
The 3.5-liter V-6 produces 280 hp and 270 pounds-feet of torque. The five-speed-automatic transmission features a manual-shift provision.
All-disc antilock brakes, Vehicle Dynamic Control, side curtain-type airbags, electronic brake-force distribution and brake assist are standard.
You need just a few minutes behind the wheel of the FX35 to realize that Nissan's claim of near-sports-car handling is virtually true. The FX35 holds the pavement far better than most SUVs and maintains 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 sleek profile suggests.
The FX35 also exhibits masterful performance, taut handling and a satisfying ride; the suspension manages to absorb a healthy share of roughness. Acceleration is so eager that one begins to question the need for a V-8.