The Infiniti FX was something of a revelation when it made its 2003 debut. At the time, there were few sporty SUVs on the market — unless your definition of sport is the rugged, off-road type rather than the quick, nimble, on-road variety.
The refreshed 2012 Infiniti FX35 is essentially the same sporty performer it’s always been, but its balky transmission and the evolving crossover/SUV market make its appeal narrower all the time.
Unlike most SUVs of its time, the 2003 FX35 was based on an enlarged car platform, yet it retained the rear-wheel drive that other models in the nascent crossover movement had abandoned. In a sense, it was an overgrown — and admittedly heavy — version of the G35 sedan and coupe, complete with reasonably balanced weight distribution and good dynamics. It also had ride quality sponsored by the American Dental Association, especially in the V-8-powered FX45 version. With the exception of gradual refinement and some styling changes, including a full redesign for 2009, the FX follows the same formula today. (See all the 2012 FX versions.)
New for 2012
Always a polarizing design, the FX has changed incrementally, again, for 2012, with a new grille that one of our editors thinks is an improvement. To me, it’s a step back. (For a while, Infiniti grilles were always different and interesting from one model to the next. Alas, they’re growing similar across the lineup.) Also new for 2012 is the all-wheel-drive Infiniti FX35 Limited Edition, the version we tested. It introduces Iridium Blue paint — a crowd-pleaser — and includes 21-inch alloy wheels and supposedly dark-tinted headlights and side vents, though they don’t look very dark to me.
Thankfully, the Limited Edition also adds some otherwise optional features to justify — or perhaps just explain — why it costs $52,000, which is $6,850 more than the base FX35 with optional AWD: A navigation system, the terrific Around View Monitor, aluminum pedals, floormats with blue piping, and a full roof rack are all included. For 2012, all FX models have white gauge backlighting, replacing the previous generation’s orange lights.
As always, the FX handles well, in league with the likes of BMW’s X5 and Porsche’s Cayenne — specifically the X5 xDrive35i and the base Cayenne, if you’re comparing price and powertrains. These competitors also have rear-wheel drive or rear-biased AWD for a sporty feel. Though the FX’s ride quality has been smoothed out somewhat over the years, our test model’s 21-inch wheels appropriately evoked the model’s salad days, as we found ourselves tossed about like hapless romaine.
Slight differences in tire series aren’t always dramatic, but you can expect a more compliant ride with the FX’s base 18-inch wheels. Unfortunately, an adaptive suspension is available only on the FX50, as an option.
Hurry Up? Wait.
The main problem I had with the Infiniti FX35 was its seven-speed automatic transmission, which was added in 2009. It hesitates so much when you call for more power that I have a hard time calling this SUV sporty. I’m not even sure I can call it acceptable. I had a similar complaint about the seven-speed in the Infiniti M sedan, but didn’t object to it in the G37. This seven-speed replaced a five-speed. More isn’t always better.
The Infiniti FX35’s 303-horsepower, 3.5-liter V-6 is no slouch and should satisfy most drivers, even in models saddled with the weight of AWD. However, an upgrade to Infiniti’s newer 3.7-liter engine (and presumably a renamed FX37) might improve the transmission performance: More power almost always makes an automatic transmission’s behavior less of an issue, as it does in the FX50, which has a 390-hp, 5.0-liter V-8 and standard AWD.
| EPA-Estimated MPG
(city/highway — combined)
|2012 FX35 4×2||2012 FX35 4×4||2012 FX50 4×4|
|16/23 — 19||16/21 — 18||14/20 — 16|
The FX’s mileage is uninspiring, but the same can be said of comparable luxury SUVs, for which 19 mpg combined is the norm in base versions. Likewise, 16 or 17 mpg is common among the more powerful trim levels. All these models call for premium gasoline.
Once I’d called into question the FX’s sportiness, I found it harder to justify its drawbacks. Always a bold design statement, the FX’s sleek shape takes a toll on interior space. Thankfully, the supportive, comfortable front seats have generous legroom, 44.7 inches. The backseat is snug, and the legroom measurement of 34.6 inches is small even among sporty competitors like the Cayenne and X5. In practice, however, the ample front-seat legroom means there’s some flexibility. We even found that a rear-facing infant seat (always a difficult test) left the front passenger plenty of room. (See the Cars.com Car Seat Check.)
Perhaps the boldly styled BMW X6 is the most appropriate model to compare, with 1.3 inches more backseat legroom but 1.3 inches less headroom. Like the FX, the X6 sacrifices cargo volume, totaling 20.1 cubic feet behind the backseat and 51.2 cubic feet with the seat folded. The FX has 24.8 and 62 cubic feet, respectively, which is within roughly 1 cubic foot of the Cayenne in both figures. The more conservatively styled X5 improves on them all, with 35.8 and 75.2 cubic feet. (See them compared.) Without a doubt, the hatchback design and a total of five seats provide a usable cargo area in all these models, but once you compare them with typical crossovers, the shortcomings are clear.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety reports its highest rating, Good, for the FX in a frontal crash test, but it hasn’t tested it for side impact or roof strength. The FX hasn’t been tested by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
In addition to frontal and front-seat-mounted side-impact airbags, the FX has curtain airbags to protect front and rear occupants in a side impact. The front seats have active head restraints. As is required of all new vehicles beginning with the 2012 model year, the FX has standard antilock brakes and an electronic stability system with traction control. See all the standard safety features here.
Active-safety options include precrash seat belts, forward collision warning, lane departure warning and prevention, and adaptive headlights.
FX in the Market
Off-road SUVs proliferated before their numbers thinned, leaving healthy demand for stalwarts like Jeep. Conversely, SUVs designed primarily for on-road sport, like the FX, didn’t become a significant subsegment. Does that mean the FX will remain a niche favorite, or will it lose its appeal? As drivability improves among more versatile crossover models — including Infiniti’s new JX model, a seven-seater — the Infiniti FX35’s limitations seem greater. They might even be greater than whatever performance advantages it brings — especially if you object to the transmission’s behavior.
We at Cars.com frequently criticize vehicles that exhibit accelerator hesitation — certainly more than most review sources do. Why there isn’t more outcry baffles us. It’s possible you could drive an FX happily and never object to its behavior, but you should be sure to pay attention when testing it. It’s easy to miss important attributes in the excitement and sensory overload of a test drive.
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