Just because a car is sporty doesn't mean it's a sports car. Similarly, when automakers claim their crossover has a sports-car driving experience, it usually doesn't mean it's anywhere close to sporty — except when it comes to the 2010 Infiniti FX35.
The FX35 is a genuine sports-car-injected SUV, boasting the looks, sounds and — ultimately — the faults of a traditional sports car.
The thing about sports cars is they typically make sacrifices — seasonal usability, gas mileage or cargo room — in order to be fun to drive. The FX35 inherits some of those traits, especially the seasonal usability aspect. Even with all-wheel drive, the FX wasn't very composed driving in snow.
Power & Handling
Under the base FX35's hood is a 303-horsepower, 3.5-liter six-cylinder engine teamed with a seven-speed automatic transmission. While 303 hp may not sound like a whole lot of power in a 4,299-pound SUV, don't be fooled; this combination is stout. The transmission and all seven of its gears harness the power so well I would have guessed there was much more power under the hood than what's listed.
Infiniti does all it can to make sure folks take note of the engine, giving it a racy exhaust note. Car guys will instantly recognize the sound of a late-generation Nissan Z or even — dare I say — a GT-R coming from the FX35's tailpipes. I find the sound intoxicating, and I rolled down the windows any chance I got just so I could downshift a gear and hear the auto-rev-match blip the throttle.
I haven't driven the V-8 FX50, which has 390 hp, but the V-6 didn't leave me longing for more power to make driving any more enjoyable. Gas mileage isn't very impressive at 16/21 mpg city/highway with all-wheel drive, but it's on par with competition like the BMW X6 xDrive35i, which is rated 15/21 mpg. The V-8 FX50 is rated 14/20 mpg. If gas mileage is a pressing issue, look elsewhere — like at the all-wheel-drive Lexus RX 350 ($39,025, 18/24 mpg).
Other Cars.com editors have tested both the FX35 and FX50, and they agree that the FX35 is plenty competent. According to senior editor David Thomas, "the FX50 seemed overpowered, and I was constantly chirping tires when I didn't want to. There is definitely some added off-the-line power some drivers might desire, but otherwise the FX35 produced plenty of exhilaration."
Along with the FX's excellent engine and transmission combination is an equally impressive suspension and good weight distribution for an SUV. This is where those optional 20-inch wheels and tires stand out, in a good way. The FX35's road-holding ability on dry, curvy roads made for a planted, balanced ride that rarely felt like driving an SUV. BMW's X6 offers a similar handling experience in both models, starting at a hefty $56,500 for the base, turbocharged 3.0-liter X6.
All-wheel drive adds $1,450 to the FX's base price of $42,850, and it's a must-have feature if you live in the snow belt. Even with it, while I never got stranded or stuck on the side of the road, the FX didn't have the most confidence-inspiring roadholding while driving through 2-3 inches of fresh snow.
My test FX's uneasiness was probably thanks to its optional 20-inch-wheel and tire combination. Tires are just as important as all-wheel drive, if not more so, and the FX's 20-inch, all-season tires were wide and contributed to my sliding around on snow-packed roads. Wider tires are great for traction on dry roads, but they don't dig into snow for traction as well as narrower ones.
The SUV's standard electronic stability system worked extra hard to keep the nose pointed straight. With the system turned off, the FX was a handful; the rear end was inclined to slide out through neighborhood corners. Even so, the FX35's chassis is so well-balanced it was easy to counter steer and smoothly bring the tail back in line.
A solution would be to pick up a separate set of winter tires and wheels. Twenty-inch winter tires are rare and expensive, so a smaller wheel combo with taller-sidewall tires may be a good option.
When the FX was redesigned for 2009, its characteristic sleek profile was unchanged. Everything else, though, looks a little more bloated than the previous model's more angular appearance. It does still manage to pull off a sporty, aggressive look, with its long hood and swooping fenders that feel as if they belong on an early 1960s Chevrolet Corvette or Jaguar E-Type. This is especially true from behind the wheel, where the front fenders jut out and are clearly visible in the driver's line of sight.
The FX flows seamlessly from nose to tail, with the exception of one body piece that doesn't quite match the rest of the car, especially in dark-colored models: the side scoop vent, which Infiniti says allows air to escape from the engine compartment and reduces front-end lift. All the scoops are painted with a silver finish, similar to what a 16-year-old would paint on his Honda Civic with a rattle can. The scoop mixes better with lighter exterior colors.
Interior & Cargo
Roominess isn't a strong suit of the FX35 once you get behind the front row. There's not as much rear passenger and cargo room as you'll find in more sedate SUVs, like the Lexus RX. That's a sacrifice you'll have to make for a performer like the FX — and at least it offers more usability than a sports sedan like the Infiniti G37 sedan.
Compared with a direct competitor, the X6, the FX is marginally larger, with room for five people. The X6 has only four seats. I've never quite understood or appreciated the X6's appearance and four-seat configuration, so the added practicality and lower price would sway me toward an FX.
That said, the more-expensive X6 is a leap ahead in terms of interior quality. The FX's light-colored interior showed off some less-than-stellar materials, but I'm not as much a stickler for interior materials as are some others. In darker colors, I don't think it would have been as noticeable. Also, the light-colored seats showed dirt after simple, normal use — of getting in and out while wearing blue jeans. Nothing a little leather cleaner can't fix, but it's a nuisance that darker colors would hide.
FX in the Market
For sports-car owners forced to grow up and buy an SUV, the 2010 Infiniti FX is one of the best options when it comes to combining driving excitement and practicality. It may not be the leader in cargo space, fuel economy or winter drivability, but if you're coming from a sports car or sedan, you'll already be familiar with the downsides of sports-car ownership.
If that's not a compromise you're willing to make for a fun drive, well, there are plenty of less interesting SUVs out there you could buy.
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