In academia, the motto is “publish or perish.” In the modern automotive world, with its increasing diversity of products and sophistication among consumers, it is “innovate or languish.”
At Infiniti, the luxury division of Japan’s Nissan, they get it. With the 2013 JX35, the company has produced a two-fer: a new vehicle with saleable elements of originality that also bridges a gap in its product lineup.
At first blush, the new JX—a three-row, four-door, seven-passenger crossover utility vehicle—doesn’t appear much different from a number of similar vehicles. By definition, a crossover is tall wagon with car-like unit-body construction that mimics a sport utility vehicle with an up-high driving position and the option of all-wheel drive. In contrast, SUVs usually are built like trucks, with body-on-frame design.
Infiniti already has a giant SUV—the QX, which has a muscular chassis, can slog around off-road (though few owners probably do) and can tow up to 8,500 pounds. Despite its leviathan dimensions and poor fuel economy, it’s been a profitable survivor, with 13,428 copies sold in 2011.
Infiniti also has two existing crossovers—the compact EX and the sport-oriented FX, which resembles a burly, jacked-up hatchback and emphasizes driving dynamics over utility.
The new JX fits neatly between the FX and the QX. It delivers nearly the same passenger and cargo-carrying capabilities as the QX, with better fuel economy and way more practicality than the FX.
There are a number of similar machines on the market, but few in the luxury category. The Acura MDX is one, along with the Audi Q7, which Infiniti considers its major competitors. Among domestic vehicles, the slightly larger Buick Enclave and GMC Acadia Denali would fit into the competitive set.
What sets the JX apart is its luxury ambiance, along with state-of-the art technology and customer-pleasing features. With its seven-passenger seating (the second row is a split bench seat; no individual captain’s chairs are available), it is family-oriented from the get-go.
That usually means little kids and their car seats. The Infiniti designers devised a creative mechanism that allows a second-row seat, even with an installed child safety seat, to be flipped and folded forward to enable the other kids to scramble into the third row.
However, passengers must compromise. The second row slides fore and aft, and must be shoved all the way forward to give third-row occupants knee room. And despite a nearly flat floor, the second row’s center seating position is a punishing perch.
But the innovation likely to capture the most attention is the JX’s new system that more than doubles the number of onboard sensors to likely prevent accidents and save lives. There are two features: One detects and warns of moving objects from the rear sides, as when a driver is backing out of a space in a parking lot into the path of oncoming vehicles.
The other takes the rear-view camera to the next level. This comes at a time when at least one manufacturer, Honda, says it plans to install rear-view cameras in nearly all of its vehicles, and the federal government is considering requiring the cameras in all new vehicles.
But the Infiniti system already is beyond that. Called “backup collision intervention,” the system detects objects behind the JX. If the driver does not react to visual or aural warnings, the system automatically applies the brakes, perhaps saving the life of a child or pet.
The JX also comes with a host of other standard and optional high-tech safety equipment, including lane-departure and blind-spot warning and intervention. The systems automatically bring the vehicle back in its lane if the driver does not react to warnings.
There’s also an around-view monitor that detects moving objects, forward collision warning and adaptive cruise control, along with customary safety equipment like brake assist, antilock brakes, and traction and stability control.
The JX35—the numerals refer to the 3.5-liter V6 engine, which produces 265 horsepower with 248 foot-pounds of torque, or twisting force, through a continuously variable transmission (CVT) to either the front wheels or all four wheels.
Tested for this review was the front-drive version, which has a starting price of $41,400. If you want or need the added traction and security of all-wheel drive, add $1,100. Otherwise, the two vehicles are identical. Options on the tester brought the suggested sticker to $49,450.
The JX exudes a luxury ambiance and feel. Surroundings include leather upholstery, soft-touch surfaces and expensive-looking materials and workmanship. Generous application of sound-deadening materials keep out most mechanical, road and wind noise to enhance the acoustics of the Bose audio system.
There’s a solid, heavy feel to the steering—the sort of heft many people associate with luxury sedans—that makes the JX feel planted in straight-line highway motoring and capable around curves.
The CVT, an automatic transmission that uses a system of belts and pulleys to multiply the engine’s torque, is seamless in operation. However, the JX’s CVT includes a faux mode, in which the onboard computer inserts shift points to make the CVT feel like a conventional automatic. It also can be shifted manually.
Model: 2013 Infiniti JX35 four-door crossover utility vehicle.
Engine: 3.5-liter V6, 265 horsepower.
Transmission: Continuously variable automatic with manual-shift mode. Front-wheel drive.
Overall length: 16 feet 4 inches.
EPA passenger/cargo volume: 134/16 cubic feet.
Weight: 4,419 pounds.
EPA city/highway fuel consumption: 18/23 miles to the gallon.
Base price, including destination charge: $41,400.
Price as tested: $49,450.
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