“Sports Activity Vehicle”. “Crossover Utility Vehicle”. “Sport Touring Vehicle”. These are common euphemisms for sport utility vehicles which have been designed and marketed to show off their on-road prowess more than any off-road capabilities.
Infiniti’s FX line helped to define this segment when it debuted in 2003. Now in its fifth model year, the FX might be expected to be showing its age. However, our test vehicle, a black Infiniti FX45, not only exemplified the “Sport” in SUV, but came equipped with a host of cutting-edge technology. The standard 4.5-liter V8 puts its 320 horsepower to the ground through standard 20-inch wheels wrapped in fat 265/50R20 tires. On the inside, from the 6-disc in-dash CD changer (including MP3 capability of course) to the ‘technology package’, the rear-seat DVD entertainment system, and to the standard Bluetooth hands-free phone system, the FX45 is full of toys for kids of all ages.
All of this fun comes wrapped in a body which was cutting edge when we first saw it on the road in 2003, and continues to look fresh in 2007. Other manufacturers have gone to a more edgy, hard design, but the FX manages to look both modern and sleek with its curves and powerful stance.
Our FX45 had a base price of $49,850 ($50,550 including destination charges), but the technology package ($4,200) , DVD entertainment system ($1,400), cargo cover ($70) and aluminum roof rail crossbars ($350) pushed it to $56,570 out the door. While this is not cheap, it compares very favorably with the Infiniti FX45’s competitors, which include the BMW X5, the Mercedes ML, and the Porsche Cayenne.
There is some heavy competition in this segment of the SUV market. Contenders have to impress discerning and critical buyers with their power, handling, appearance, technology, ergonomics, and comfort. The Infiniti FX45 does not disappoint on any level.
Its road-handling capabilities are among the best in its class, and it easily outperforms many cars we have tested! A stab of the fun pedal provides immediate and intense acceleration, and the V8 produces a rumble from the twin exhausts which many sports cars should desire to mimic. The FX45 impressed us by reaching 60 mph from a standstill in just over 6 seconds. A look at the window sticker shows fuel economy estimates of 14 in the city and 18 on the highway. We actually achieved a little better than that on the highway, but in town we were having so much fun with the right pedal that we didn’t think it would be fair to check our mileage there. We’ll trust the window sticker.
The FX45’s interior is both luxurious and comfortable, yet not soft and cushy. The front seats are among the most supportive and cradling of any SUV we have tested. The side bolsters are not intrusive, yet they extended just enough to hold us comfortably during rapid lane changes and hard cornering.
Speaking of cornering, the Infiniti FX45 manages to inspire enough confidence in its abilities to allow you to throw it into a corner much in the same way you would a sports coupe, yet it maintains the higher seating position and improved visiliby which so many love about SUVs. The sticky 20-inch tires undoubtedly helped with this, but the overall feel of this vehicle speaks volumes to the abilities of Infiniti’s engineering and testing.
If we had to criticize something about the FX45, it would be that some of its electronic systems are not entirely intuitive to use. The navigation system works well and is easier to use than many we have tried, but the radio controls proved to be a little more challenging than we would have liked. Examples of this are a knob that needed to be pushed to change between XM satellite radio ‘genres’ (but it had no label identifying the performing function) and a ‘seek’ button on the steering wheel which didn’t behave in the same manner as the ‘seek’ buttons on the dash. These are minor complaints, however, as even without reading the owner’s manual, we became comfortable with the systems in the FX45 in the few short days we drove it.
The sound system in the FX45 is crafted by Bose, and it provides strong sound with plenty of bass and clear treble through 11 speakers, particularly when fed a clean digital signal from the optional XM radio package our FX45 came with. The heart of the electronic wizardry in the FX45 is a 7″ color LCD screen mounted in easy view of the driver. While we would have preferred that Infiniti include an intuitive touch screen interface, we found their scroll dial and arrow buttons to be more than adequate to operate all imporant functions such as HVAC, sound system, and the navigation system.
When the FX45 is placed into reverse, it automatically activiates a rear view camera, displaying the video it captures on the in-dash screen. While at first this might seem to be a gimmick we now wonder how we can live without it. It made parallel parking a breeze as well as eased navigating in and out of tight mall and nightclub parking spots.
The same technology package that equipped our FX45 with GPS navigation capabilities and XM satellite radio also included something Infiniti calls the “Lane Departure Warning System”. If you drive an Infiniti with this feature without knowing about it, you may from time to time be surprised by a gentle warning beeping. You’ll soon realize that this is triggered by you weaving too close to dividing lines on a highway, or crossing them without signalling. In normal driving, you won’t hear it at all, but if your attention is diverted by any reason, or if you start to nod off and drift too close to the edge of the road your lane, the Infiniti detects this and gently alerts you to return to the center of your lane. This kind of innovation is something we would like to see in more vehicles, as we believe it is a truly useful safety feature.
In summary, the Infiniti FX45 is a pleasure to drive. It offers plenty of room, yet offers the feel of a grand touring sports car from the driver’s seat. Our time in it felt too short, and we would have loved to take it on an extended test. The FX45 has us salivating for some seat time in Infiniti’s upcoming ‘EX concept’. Haven’t heard of that? Just wait; we’ll have the exciting details here soon!