Behind the Wheel Infiniti’s smart SUV
The new-for-2013 Infiniti JX35 is a nicely sized, well-appointed, luxury crossover sport utility vehicle with impressive room for seven people and combined government fuel economy rating that equals or is better than that of some five-passenger luxury SUVs.
Slotted below Infiniti’s QX56 SUV in price and power, the JX35 also is the rare, seven-seat SUV with a continuously variable transmission. CVTs, which drivers operate as they would automatic transmissions, are designed to maximize fuel economy. But most SUVs, even those with five seats, come with traditional automatic transmissions.
Built in Tennessee, the JX35 has more legroom in its front- and second-row seats than the larger Buick Enclave and truckier Cadillac Escalade. An innovative JX35 second-row tilts and slides forward 5.5 inches, even with a child safety seat attached, to allow easier access to the third row, which has more headroom than a pricier Audi Q7.
The V-6-powered JX35 has federal government fuel economy ratings of 18 miles per gallon in city driving and 24 mpg on the highway for a front-wheel drive model, for a combined fuel mileage of 21 mpg.
Also garnering a combined government fuel mileage rating of 21 mpg is the luxury crossover segment sales leader, the V-6-powered Lexus RX 350, which has seats for only five people.
Infiniti’s aggressive pricing and generous standard features boost the family appeal of the JX35 even more.
Starting manufacturer’s suggested retail price, including destination charge, for a base, front-wheel drive, 2013 JX35 is $41,600.
Standard on every JX35 are keyless entry with push-button start, leather-trimmed seats, sunroof, power liftgate, tri-zone automatic climate control, 18-inch wheels, light-emitting-diode taillamps, bi-xenon headlights, fog lamps, rearview camera, six-speaker audio system with speed-sensitive automatic volume control and power, multi-adjustable and heated driver and front-passenger seats.
The base JX35 is $1,395 more than the starting base retail price of a front-wheel drive, 2013 Lexus RX 350. But the base RX 350 doesn’t include rearview camera, leather-trimmed, heated seats or moonroof.
The lowest starting MSRP, including destination charge, for an all-wheel drive, 2013 JX35 is $43,000.
This compares with the $39,325 MSRP, including destination charge, for a 2012 Buick Enclave with all-wheel drive. But the base Enclave has cloth seats with limited power adjustment on the passenger front seat and does not include standard rearview camera or heated front seats.
The test JX35 looked like an upscale family hauler in Black Obsidian paint with Graphite color interior.
There was no confusing the shiny, silver grille with anything other than an Infiniti, though when I walked up to the JX35 from the front side, the double-wave design of the hood was reminiscent of a Dodge.
The overall size of the JX35, which is 8.6 inches longer from bumper to bumper than an RX 350 but 5.5 inches shorter than an Enclave, is Goldilocks perfect -- neither too big nor too small for three rows of seats.
It also allows a mid-size sedan-like 15.8 cubic feet of cargo space behind the third row seats.
Front-seat headroom of 40.7 inches is better than the 38.6 inches in an Enclave, and the JX35’s 38.3 inches of second-row headroom are better than what’s in the Audi Q7. Certainly, no one felt constrained in the test vehicle.
The two-passenger third row is the most confining, as it is in other SUVs. But the 36.5 inches of headroom was adequate for a 6-foot-tall passenger, and the 30.8 inches of legroom bests the 29.2 inches in the back of the Q7.
The standard sunroof, plus optional second- and third-row moonroof, provided an airy feel inside, and the leather seats looked good and were easy to slide onto and out of. There was a cushy feel to the seats, not a dramatic firmness.
The ride, overall, was more on the plush side -- not wallowy, but not sporty-taut, either. The JX35 body leaned some in long, sweeping curves. Riding on optional 20-inch wheels, the tester sent some road bumps on to passengers, but they were minor.
The JX35’s lone engine --
a 3.5-liter, double overhead cam V-6 -- supplies 265 horsepower and 248 foot-pounds of torque at 4,400 rpm.
Still, the test JX35 with all-wheel drive moved steadily and with some verve when pressed, though the drone of the CVT grew tiring during acceleration. Additionally, activating the Eco mode sapped some energy.
The JX35 comes with a sport mode that mimics a regular automatic with gear shifts, but it wasn’t overly impressive in the tester.
Indeed, despite being in Eco mode most of the time, the tester got just 17.4 mpg in driving that was 70 percent in the city.
The government rating for city driving is 18 mpg in an all-wheel drive JX35. So, the range on the test vehicle was less than 340 miles.
The large display screen atop the center of the dashboard was colorful and easy to read, and large buttons and knobs that were nicely grouped and arranged reduced fumbling for controls.
One safety recall was issued in August, involving a sensor that might not give an accurate reading of the fuel in the gas tank.
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