Special FX 

Infiniti snubs its nose at convention with a dramatically styled FX35

Infiniti snubs its nose at convention with a dramatically styled FX35

Time was when the main reason to buy an SUV was for heading out to the boonies to look at the wildlife. Now, it seems, the SUV is the wildlife—if you take Infiniti press materials at their word, that is. The dramatic styling of the new FX line of sport/utes is the engineering staff’s conscious attempt to design a “bionic cheetah.”

I’ll declare my sentiments right up front: I really like the look of the FX35 that I drove for a week; and I admire Infiniti for daring to bring it into the world. I don’t, however, believe that the FX lineup of SUVs—available as the V6-powered FX35 and a V8-powered FX45—will appeal to all tastes. This is, in fact, an invigorating circumstance. The SUV category is by now so crowded that many less adventurous manufacturers are chasing their own tails to come up with breakthrough new designs.

Infiniti’s FX line, in other words, is an experiment, and a noble one at that. There is much to applaud both on and under the surface of this bionic cheetah. There are, as well, some risible aspects more consistent with a conception of the FX35 as an anabolic armadillo.

“Yeah, I’d call it a cheetah,” chirps the Wife. “It’s jumpy.” Let me cut through her technical jargon: The FX35 has an especially sensitive throttle at the point of tip-in. There are 280 horses underhood just straining to run free, after all. Variable valve timing and twin-cam architecture result in a thoroughbred of a 3.5-liter V6; and like most thoroughbreds, this motor can be impatient to get going. So prepare to lurch a bit when you might rather prefer moving gently forward from a stop.

The FX35 is available with two choices of powertrain: rear-wheel-drive and all-wheel-drive. My tester arrived equipped with the latter. Difficult off-roading is out of the question; but in all-weather circumstances, Infiniti’s AWD system is most competent. There is computerized traction control to nip wheelspin in the bud. There is a Vehicle Dynamic Control (VDC) system to anticipate overall vehicle spins and snap the FX35 back to the straight and narrow. A recent improvement, moreover, now incorporates a Snow Mode switch that stops spinning wheels on slick surfaces before they start—tacit acknowledgement, if ever there were one, that the FX35 is, yes indeed, “jumpy.”

It is also very sporty. For a vehicle standing almost 5-and-a-half feet tall, the FX35 corners admirably flat; and the all-independent suspension tuning is nicely calibrated for responsive handling. All-wheel-drive enhances the Infiniti’s cornering prowess, and yet ride comfort is not sacrificed in the process. With a curb weight of 4,215 lbs., the FX35 is relatively lean and nimble amongst such peers as VW’s 5,028-lb. Touareg or Acura’s 4,510-lb. MDX. Even so, the FX35 is tow-rated for trailers up to 3,500 lbs.

Inside the FX35 is a sumptuous cockpit for five, swathed in my case with optional leather upholstery and brightened with brushed-aluminum trim. Laterally—from one side of the vehicle to the other, in other words—there’s plenty of room. Driver and front passenger are neatly ensconced between the doors and individual center armrests, and three adults fit comfortably in the second row. Beware the forehead, however. All those armadillo curves that make the FX35 such a head-turner from the outside also render it a head-banger from the inside. I’m only 5 feet 6 inches tall; but when I pulled up to a drive-through bank teller in the FX35, I bopped my forehead square into the center of the steeply raked A-pillar as I reached for the pneumatic tube. It knocked my cap off—just deserts for wearing a tweedy flat cap in the first place, I suppose.

There’s more to the FX35’s curves than a self-inflicted head-thump, as it turns out. Despite a wheelbase some 112 in. long, the Infiniti’s cargo capacity ranges from 27.4 cu. ft. with the rear seatback erect to 64.5 cu. ft. with it folded. It’s a nice feature to be able to deploy that seatback with what Infiniti calls a “quick-flip remote fold-down release”; but it’s a shame that those curving dimensions consume so much valuable storage space. By way of comparison, Acura’s MDX perches atop a 106-in. wheelbase, and yet its comparable cargo numbers are 49.6 cu. ft. behind the second row and 81.5 cu. ft. with that row flat. In any event, the FX35’s payload capacity is only slightly more than 1,100 lbs. (including occupants), which translates into a load capacity of about 12 lbs. per cu. ft. with but a driver and single passenger aboard. From a driver’s standpoint, the interior is a very pleasant place to spend one’s time. Great layout of switchgear; great climate control system; great optional Bose audio with six CDs in the dash and 11 speakers all about. Snug and smug behind the wheel, it somehow didn’t occur to me how bold Infiniti’s gamble really is. But my architect brother sized it up at a glance. He’s used to analyzing form and function on the fly, I suppose.

“What’s that?” he asked when he first encountered me in the FX35. “Looks like a one-seater.” Well, no, I replied maybe a bit condescendingly; it’s a five-seater in a red-hot SUV market full of seven-seaters. “Like I said,” he repeated, “a one-seater. A guy who buys that doesn’t give a flip about who else is coming along for the ride.”

Which spells out the matter nicely, I think. In a universe so rapidly succumbing to lookalike SUVs—wherein eventually it will be as fashionable to drive a sport/ute as it is to drive a minivan today—the FX35 is Infiniti’s gamble to “keep it cool” for the guy who yearns to appear independent of a trend that he’s powerless to resist.

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