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Posted: February 08, 2012

Executive wheels: Surprising Infiniti FX delivers

But the price is steep

Jeff Rundles

2012 INFINITI FX50 AWD

I've had my issues with Nissan and its luxury division Infiniti in the last few years, mostly over the issue of road and cabin noise. Unfortunately for Nissan, for a long time it has played third fiddle to its Japanese cousins Toyota and Honda (and their luxury lines Lexus and Acura), and as such I always felt that Nissan had to impress me just a little more to make up for the difference in perception.

Well, obviously, things are changing. One of the hottest-selling cars on the planet (and U.S.) right now is the Nissan Altima, while sales of Honda's perennial popular Civic and Accord models have fallen off. Toyota's Camry is still up there, nudging out Altima, but the Toyota Corolla has also fallen off its historic highs. The Altima has been dashing up sales charts for years and creating quite a buzz.

A major part of the Nissan surge is its propensity for innovation. The sharp, sporty GT-R, the edgy Juke, the iconic 370Z, and the amazing and ground-breaking all-electric Leaf, have kept the brand name out in front of the public and in the media, keeping the buzz alive.

Infiniti, of course, is a somewhat different animal. The luxury line was launched about the same time as Lexus in the late-‘80s early ‘90s timeframe, and it was well-liked, especially by me with my favorite the J30. I wouldn't say anything after the J30 was special until the FX came out with the 2003 model year. The FX is, quite clearly, the most distinctive model that Infiniti has ever produced.

The 2012 FX does not suffer from any noise problem, or much of any other problems. I loved driving it. Quiet, bold, comfortable, and in the 50 configuration, very, very powerful. I even drove this AWD model in snowy/icy conditions and I can personally attest that it handles bad conditions wonderfully. They call it Intelligent All Wheel Drive with Snow Mode; as for me, I'll just say it works well and doesn't seem to take away from any performance.

The very first thing you notice about the Infiniti - when it is sitting in front of your house, or next to you on the street - is how cool it looks. Mine had 21-inch spoke wheels, so it sat up high and had an almost devilish look to it. Other vehicles in this class evoke the competition, but the Infiniti doesn't look like anything else. I liked that.

Then what you notice is the technology. It's a luxury vehicle, of course, so it has all the bells and whistles you'd expect - power everything, Bose stereo (wonderful), Bluetooth, hookups for iPods; you know the drill. But here they have taken the now almost clichéd rear-view camera that shows up as a television screen in the dash to what Infiniti calls the Around View Monitor with Front and Rear Sonar System. With four exterior cameras, at each of the corners, you have a virtual 360-degree view that lets you see everywhere around the car.

Another plus was the headlamps. Or rather, Automatic on/off High Intensity Discharge bi-functional xenon headlamps. Don't know what all that means, really, but suffice to say that they are bright, show the way - and they move from side to side with the steering to light you way around turns and curves.

I saw a high tech magazine recently with the front headline: Your next car will drive itself. Infiniti must be among the leaders because this FX was like driving an iPad with 30g. However, even with the high tech, the systems were easy to work and control - and to figure out. Oddly, with all the very modern stuff, Infiniti has decided to keep its old-fashioned analog clock in the dash - and I must say I absolutely love it. It's a nice touch of class.

The vehicle is also quite comfortable and - and this in VERY IMPORTANT - the Infiniti FX 50 was one of the most quiet vehicles I have been in for a few years. The key here is that I am very attuned to noise issues in Nissan/Infiniti vehicles, and so are my wife and son, so the fact that this one impressed us really stood out. If all, Nissan/Infiniti vehicles were like this the brand would leap forward.

The back seat, according to my back-seat consultant (my son), was roomy, comfortable, easy to get in and out of; it was a hit, he said. The rear lift-gate, which operates automatically from the key fob and a button on the gate, is very easy to use, and I found myself getting in there for a ton of things.

Where the FX 50 really comes to the head of the pack, however, is in the performance. The FX 35 comes with a 3.5-liter, 303 hp V6 in a rear-drive model, an AWD model and an AWD Limited model, and then there's this FX50. Available simply in AWD. The engine is a 5.0-liter V8 with a whopping 390 hp that feels more than that, and let me attest personally that this thing is fast and powerful. Off the line it is a screamer; from 30 mph to 60 mph it is a streak, and at 65 mph when you want or need a burst for passing, no problem, not even on Floyd hill or up in the mountains. The FX 50 kicks it.

It is helped in no small part by the extremely smooth 7-speed automatic transmission with what they call Adaptive Shift Control. The huge sunroof is great, and those 21-inch wheels are wonderful for look and driving feel, however, I wouldn't like having to replace them.

About the only downside I can think of is the price. The FX 50 carries a base price of $59,350 and that includes a ton of standards. That price is stiff, however. I try to imagine the vehicle I am driving for the week to be my car, and I must say that I could easily see myself as the owner of an Infiniti FX 50 - I would enjoy having it. The comparable Lexus - the GX 460 Premium - is about the same money, but with a smaller engine (4.6-l V8 with 301 hp), however with 7-passenger seating. The SRX Cadillac only has the V6. The BMW X5 XDrive 50i has a 400 hp 4.4-l V8, 7-passengers and is a little more money ($64,200 base).

The Infiniti FX 50 is a worthy competitor to any of these from a pure driving, technology and performance point of view, but I would have to do some real comparison shopping and driving to satisfy myself that the Infiniti would hold its own in the long run. Still, if this is the marketplace you're looking at, you'd be wrong to leave the Infiniti off the list.

RATING: THREE AND THREE-QUARTERS WHEELS (OUT OF FOUR)

 

Jeff Rundles is a former editor of ColoradoBiz and a regular columnist. Email him at jrundles@cobizmag.com.

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