2013 Infiniti JX35 Road Test Review

Simon Hill - CAP staff
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From an automaker's perspective, having a well-defined brand ethos can be both a blessing and a curse. It's certainly a blessing when introducing a new model that fits the mould, because it helps buyers understand, sight unseen, exactly where the vehicle fits within the marketplace. But when introducing something just a little different, that same well-defined ethos can become background noise, distracting from the new vehicle's purpose.

Infiniti's new JX35 is a good example of this: a luxury-oriented full-size seven-passenger crossover designed to optimize efficiency and comfort, but coming from a marque built on a brand ethos of "Inspired Performance." At the end of the day, no matter how you try to spin it, it just doesn't quite compute, and it's guaranteed to whip a certain faction of performance-inspired brand loyalists into frenzied accusations of sell-out.

So I suggest that the best way to understand the new Infinity JX35 is to forget that it's an Infiniti at all (indeed you could just forget its name entirely, because next year it's going to be called the QX60 as part of Infiniti's global nomenclature realignment), and think of it only in terms of what it is: a luxury-oriented full-size seven-passenger crossover. In this uncluttered context it's a pretty impressive machine, offering good value for the money.

In base trim the JX35 is a genuinely luxurious vehicle with plenty of standard kit and all sorts of practical touches. Standard features include intelligent all-wheel drive, tri-zone automatic climate control, leather upholstery with heated power-adjustable front seats, a power moonroof, intelligent key with pushbutton start, a heated leather-wrapped steering wheel, seven-inch colour display with rearview monitor, automatic HID headlights, cruise control, a power tailgate and rear privacy glass. Of course basic functions such as locks and windows are all power-operated, and there's a six-speaker AM/FM/XM/CD/MP3 audio system with Bluetooth phone connectivity and USB input. Interior materials are nicely textured and good-looking, and while there is some hard plastic here and there it doesn't stand out visually, and soft-touch materials are used wherever you're likely to lay a hand or elbow. A nice touch if you're parked after dark is sequential welcome lighting that senses the smart key and illuminates the door handles as you approach.

Practical touches include second-row seats that can tip forward in a sort of disappearing origami configuration to provide exceptionally easy access to the third row, or can tip forward in a more standard manner to allow slightly more restricted access even when there's a child seat buckled in place (so you don't need to remove the child seat, though needless to say you'd want to make sure it's unoccupied first). Also rather practical is the space available in the aft two rows - provided the middle row isn't cranked all the way aft there's decent room for my 5'11" frame even in the third row. My teenagers, who are approaching my own height these days, had nothing but praise for the second-row seats.

Value-wise, the base JX35 starts at $46,895 (including destination fees) with all the features mentioned above, which compares very favourably to other luxury-oriented 7-passenger competitors out there, which include the Lincoln MKT starting at $52,150, the Acura MDX at $55,135, the Volvo XC90 at $50,615 and the Buick Enclave at $51,185 when similarly equipped with leather and all-wheel drive (if those features aren't important to you the Enclave can be had for $43,025 with front-wheel drive, but in that trim it's not really playing in the same league).

Of course one person's idea of luxury is often another's idea of barebones, so for those with bigger budgets the JX35 can be ordered up with a wide array of optional equipment. My test car was equipped with the $5,000 Premium Package which includes very nice maple woodgrain trim, hard-drive navigation with voice recognition, an AroundView monitor, upgraded Bose 13-speaker audio system with Bluetooth streaming audio, driver's seat memory and more. It also had a $2,300 Theatre Package with seven-inch colour monitors for the second row (mounted in the front seat headrests), $1,700 worth of 20-inch forged alloy wheels, and a $2,200 Driver Assistance Package which adds blind-spot warning, remote engine start, intelligent cruise control, forward collision warning, backup collision prevention, distance control assist and an efficiency-assisting "Eco Pedal" (more on that later).

Other available packages include a $2,700 Deluxe Touring Package (which includes the 20-inch wheels, heated rear seats, climate-controlled front seats, panoramic sunroof and more) and a $3,500 Technology Package (which includes everything in the Driver Assistance Package plus lane departure warning, lane departure intervention, and blind spot intervention … a fair start towards having a self-driving car, really). Of course, add enough packages and the price can enter a neighbourhood with new competitors (hello, Audi Q7).

Mechanically, the JX35's powertrain is based on the same efficient and well-regarded setup used in the Nissan Murano: a 24-valve 3.5-litre V6 engine mated to an automatic CVT (continuously variable transmission). For the JX35, Infiniti's engineers tweaked the engine to get a few more horsepower (265 horsepower versus 260 in the Murano) and a bit more torque (248 lb-ft versus 240 in the Murano), and they also "sport tuned" the CVT and equipped it with a mode selector switch to allow operation in sport, standard, eco and snow modes (the latter of which dulls throttle response to avoid spinning tires in the snow).

In practice, I found the driving mode selector has a much more profound effect on the JX35's character than I've experienced with most other mode selectors. In sport mode the CVT does a reasonable job of imitating a conventional automatic, "kicking down" and locking in programmed virtual gears. In standard mode it behaves as expected for a CVT, revving to the optimum RPMs depending on how hard you step on the gas and then holding the revs steady at that speed as the vehicle accelerates to catch up. In eco mode the transmission and throttle cooperate to take an active role in promoting good driving habits, and the engine revs fall off quickly once the vehicle is off the line so that you can be gently accelerating with the engine revs actually going the other way, slowing down until the engine is spinning about 1,500 rpm. Push too hard on the throttle in eco mode and the Eco Pedal will actively resist you, pushing back with a gentle but insistent force (you can overcome it easily enough, but it takes a deliberate effort). It's as if the drivetrain components are saying "Easy there sport, we're working on it," and it's slightly uncanny but also pretty cool once you get used to it. Infiniti says the Eco Pedal improves real-world fuel economy by five to 10 percent, but if you'd rather not be prodded into driving efficiently you can always turn it off by selecting the standard or sport driving modes. Transport Canada gives the JX35 city/highway fuel economy ratings of 11.5 / 8.5 L/100km, and my real world results were quite close to this.

The JX35's ride is composed and comfortable, which should help it win the hearts of its target customers, even if the resulting slightly soft handling doesn't really whisper "Inspired Performance" like Infiniti's other models do. Braking performance is good for a 2,005-kg crossover, and overall I found that when driven in a normal manner the JX35 inspired confidence in a solid, quiet and predictable sort of way.

Speaking of confidence-inspiring, the AroundView backup camera inspires parking confidence thanks to the comprehensive view it provides of the vehicle's surroundings, but I found the view tended to be awfully blurry in the rain and not much good in the dark. When trying to park against a curved curb in a dimly-lit park on a rainy night, I managed to get it wrong three times and would've loved to have been able to see a little better out the rear windows instead! I also found the power tailgate to be frustratingly slow, but it takes Herculean effort to override it so you just have to remain patient as it noisily beeps its way open and closed (the warning chime can be a bit embarrassing in a quiet residential neighbourhood at 11:00 p.m. in the evening, too).

These two minor annoyances aside, the JX35 made an eminently useful and comfortable conveyance during the week my family had it in the driveway. For families looking for an alternative to the ubiquitous minivan, the JX35's luxurious interior, three-row crossover practicality and comprehensive list of standard and available features might prove just the ticket.

©(Copyright Canadian Auto Press)

Topics: Crossover, Infiniti, 2013, JX35, $40,000 - $49,999, $50,000 - $74,999,

Organizations: Infiniti

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