Early ads for Infiniti's FX45 added a superscript "2" beside the "S" in SUV. You didn't have to remember seventh-grade algebra to get the drift: This SUV was intended to bring "sport" to the second power.
That tagline still rings true. The 2007 FX45 sets the bar low for utility, but its energetic acceleration and sharp handling will leave drivers confused: Is this a 4,400-pound SUV or a king-sized version of Nissan's 350Z sports car?
In the four years since the FX45 debuted, like-minded competitors from BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Audi have reached new heights in design, technology and cabin quality. But the Infiniti doesn't feel a great distance behind, and it performs with the best of them. Factor in its $50,000 starting price — a relative bargain, given the litany of standard features — and it is well worth a look.
Two Parts Sport
Infiniti's acclaimed 4.5-liter V-8 is standard in the FX45. It makes 320 horsepower and 335 pounds-feet of torque and teams with a five-speed automatic transmission. All-wheel drive is standard. The FX35, listed separately in Cars.com's Research section, gets a 275-hp V-6 and rear-wheel drive, with all-wheel drive optional.
The driveline can split power 50/50 between the front and rear axles, but under most conditions it sends more power to the rear. As such, the FX45 feels like a traditional rear-wheel-drive sports car: It pushes, rather than pulls, you forward. The V-8 wastes little time on such efforts, offering fluid bursts of power from a standing start. The transmission is equally agreeable, with wide first and second gears for the engine to rev high and produce even more power. It can do so with just a modest prod on the accelerator — no flooring required.
On the highway, I was able to pass with confidence, pulling briskly from 60 mph to 70 mph without the automatic downshifting. When downshifts are needed, the high-end power becomes downright exhilarating.
Naturally, none of this comes for free. With the big V-8 and all-wheel drive, the FX45 gets just 16 mpg in combined city and highway driving, according to EPA estimates.
The three-spoke steering wheel can be something of a bear around the parking lot, with minimal power assistance and sections of lumpy, unresponsive turning. It straightens itself out at higher speeds, rendering course changes with reasonable precision.
On the highway, the four-wheel-independent suspension imparts a solid feel, with no unsolicited jitters seeping into the cabin. Quick lane changes induce noticeable body roll, but under most situations it's well mitigated. On bumpy roads, the ride becomes a bit rough, as the 20-inch wheels and thin all-season tires don't offer a lot of cushioning. (Eighteen-inch wheels and thicker tires, which presumably offer better ride comfort, are available on the FX35.)
Around corners, the FX45 feels rear-heavy, more so than its 54/46 front-to-rear weight distribution would suggest. Stomp on the accelerator too quickly, and the back end can easily come loose. The standard electronic stability system allows plenty of slippage before intervening, too.
Combined, the rear-biased driveline and hands-off stability system are not optimal for low-traction situations, as I experienced when our Chicago offices got snowed-in. The FX45's center differential employs a viscous coupling to transfer power from the rear wheels to the front. On packed snow, it often let the rear wheels spin for a few moments before sending power up front. The transmission's Snow Mode, activated with a dashboard button, starts things out in second gear. It reduced undue wheelspin but did little to effect quicker all-wheel-drive response.
One Part Utility
While many midsize SUVs have begun to offer three rows of seats, the Infiniti sticks to two. I'm 5-foot-11, and I found headroom and legroom adequate up front. I had the driver's seat an inch from all the way back, though, so taller folks might find the space too tight. In the second row, the outboard seats offer plenty of room thanks to broad footwells and a higher ceiling than the car's outward shape suggests. Foot room for the unfortunate middle passenger is even worse than usual, as there's a tall center hump to accommodate the driveshaft.
Where the FX really falls short is in cargo room. With the second row up, cargo volume in back measures 27.4 cubic feet. That's roughly on par with the BMW X5 and Mercedes-Benz ML500, but far less than the Lexus RX 350 (38.3 cubic feet) and Acura MDX (42.9). In the FX45, folding the second-row seats makes for a nearly flat load floor, which expands maximum luggage room to 64.5 cubic feet — still behind the ML500 (72.4), MDX (83.5) and RX 350 (84.7).
When properly equipped, the FX45 can tow 3,500 pounds. Same story here: It's handily out-towed by the V-8 X5 (6,000 pounds) and even the V-6 MDX (5,000 pounds). To see how the FX45 measures up in full specs against those competitors, as well as the ML500, click here.
Styling & Quality
When the FX debuted for 2003, Infiniti termed the eccentric styling its "Bionic Cheetah" motif. The menacing headlights, huge grille and slung-back passenger compartment gave it a concept car's aura. Even today, after four years' assimilation, the FX45 still looks mildly futuristic.
Inside, elements like orange gauges and a gangly transmission shifter have passed their prime. The premium materials and impressive fit and finish are commendable, however, and the overall feel is reasonably contemporary. It's not the tomorrowland of the redesigned MDX, but neither is it yesterday's leftovers.
Safety & Reliability
In frontal crash tests, both the FX35 and FX45 earned scores of Good from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. IIHS has not tested the car for side impacts.
Standard safety equipment includes dual front airbags, seat-mounted side-impact airbags for the front seats and side curtain airbags for both rows. The front seats have active head restraints. Four-wheel-disc antilock brakes, traction control and an electronic stability system are also standard.
Lane Departure Warning and Intelligent Cruise Control are bundled into the optional Technology Package. Click on the corresponding photos in the right-hand column for more information.
In back, child-seat accommodations include Latch child-seat anchors for outboard positions and ceiling-mounted top-tether anchors for all three positions. Parents should note that the lower anchors are buried deep beneath the seat cushions — not the most user-friendly position.
Long-term ownership is a safe bet. Based on its four years in the market, the FX is rated Above Average for predicted reliability by Consumer Reports. According to Cars.com's Total Cost of Ownership calculator, it would cost an estimated $16,566 to own an FX45 for five years, excluding the purchase price. That's a lot less than it would cost to own an X5 4.8i ($20,617) or ML500 ($33,593). (As of publication, there was no data available for the redesigned MDX.)
The all-wheel-drive FX45 starts at $49,850, excluding the destination charge. It comes well-equipped with an automatic transmission, 20-inch alloy wheels, a keyless startup system, a moonroof, dual-zone automatic climate control, heated leather upholstery and power front seats. A power tilt/telescoping steering wheel, 300-watt Bose stereo and rearview backup camera are also standard.
Options include a navigation system, Intelligent Cruise Control, Lane Departure Warning, a backseat DVD entertainment system and run-flat tires. Curiously, Infiniti does not offer two items common in this class — a power liftgate and an auxiliary audio jack for MP3 players.
FX45 in the Market
Reactions to the FX depend largely on one's definition of an SUV. Luxury traditionalists seeking outright utility will wonder why something costs so much yet does so little. They should avoid the FX for something more useful, like a Lexus RX 350 or Cadillac SRX.
Luckily for Infiniti, though, SUV buyers have proliferated beyond the utility-focused. Now there are those who want a car that's fun to drive but need something roomier than a low-slung coupe, or even a regular sedan. The industry has responded with the FX and similar competitors, many of which have eclipsed Infiniti and taken the spotlight with flashier cabins and high-tech features. Make no mistake, though: The FX45 remains competitive and — feature for feature — it's cheaper than many of the others. In short, it is still very much in the game.
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