Monday, March 30, 2009

Infiniti FX50 is the high-value, high performance SUV

It seems to me that nearly everything in the automotive industry is relative. What do I mean?

Well, I can sit here and tell you that a Ford Mustang is a great performance machine, and I’d be correct.

Compared to the muscle cars of the 1960’s and 1970’s it is faster in a straight line than the majority of the classics, has vastly better handling, and is light years ahead in braking and tire technology.

On the other hand, if you drive a Lamborghini Diablo, hearing someone refer to a Ford Mustang, or any Ford for that matter, as a performance anything is utterly laughable.

If you are wondering what the heck all of this has to do with the Infiniti FX 50, I promise that I’m about to tell you. When I think about the FX 50, or most of the Infiniti lineup, the first thing that comes to mind is value.

This may not be the first thing that you think of due to its status as a luxury vehicle, but take a moment to compare Infinitis with their German counterparts and you might reconsider your position.

Whew…now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, let’s talk about the FX 50. If you’re unfamiliar with it, it’s because it is rebadged for this year. From its introduction back in 2003 to 2008, the FX came in two trims, the FX 35 and the FX 45. As you might expect, the naming nomenclature was, and continues to be, based on the engines.

A lot has changed for this year’s FX. For starters, the exterior appearance is nicely revised. Emphasizing its already muscular lines, the new FX features even more curvaceous lines than the outgoing model. It’s front fender flares are more pronounced than before, which is saying a lot. In fact, from the driver’s seat, they can be a little distracting.

Additionally, the front fascia includes a bigger and more pronounced grill that has oddly-shaped roundish inserts that are similar to the Nissan Murano. Framing the bigger grill are re-shaped headlamps that, while trapezoidal, also have the semi-circle cutouts underneath the bulbs that have become popular lately.

After I completed my preliminary walk around the vehicle, I mosied on inside the vehicle. My tester came equipped with a black leather-swathed interior, and all of the available options. This means that not only did the interior feature lots leather and cherry-looking wood trim, but navigation, dual power seating, 360 degree view backup cameras, and much, much more. The list of convenience and luxury items is pretty impressive.

However, two things bothered me about the FX’s interior, its lane-departure warning beep and a serious lack of space. The most likely to offend others is its lack of space, both in terms of cargo and passengers.

Surprisingly, it does offer more front leg room than the BMW X5 or the Mercedes-Benz ML550 4matic. But, it fails when comparing front shoulder room, rear shoulder and leg room, and especially in the cargo area.

Interestingly enough, the Infiniti media website features a quote from the company's Mark Igo saying that the FX offers enough cargo space for four full-sized golf bags. I can personally attest that this would quite an undertaking considering the fact that I had to fold down one side of the backseat for just two golf bags.

In fact, its cargo area is scarcely able to carry one adult black Labrador. I know this because Dempsey, the dog in question, gave me his best attempt at a thumbs-down motion following our two-hour road trip this past weekend.

Actually, given his lack of opposable thumbs and the thoroughly sour look on his face, he might have been giving me the bird. I can’t be sure. In any case, pack lightly if you plan to take the FX on a road trip.

So, how does she drive? If there has ever been a crossover vehicle specifically made for performance enthusiasts, this is it. From the instant you hear the 5.0-liter V8’s throaty exhaust at idle, the FX scratches the performance itch.

The new V8 powerplant makes an impressive 390 horsepower, which compared with the previously mentioned BMW and Mercedes-Benz, is tops. Of course, I’d never say that any vehicle had too much horsepower.

But, this V8 will absolutely catapult your hind parts around any slow-moving driver in a serious hurry. Consider that it will move you from 0-60 mph in just 5.2 seconds. FYI, that’s the same as a Mustang GT!

What’s more, the engine is mated to an impressively smooth seven-speed transmission, which is available on both the FX 50 and FX 35 models. Some may say that seven gears are too many, but it works in this case quite well.

Up-shifts come quickly and smoothly. And, should you drop the hammer to make a quick highway pass, you don’t have to worry about covering that freshly laundered oxford shirt with your morning coffee.

The only thing better than going fast in a straight line is going fast around a corner. Am I right? Of course I’m right! Clearly, the Infiniti engineers responsible for the cornering department on the FX feel the same way because this crossover will flat out move around the twisties.

To this end, my tester came with AWD, huge 21” Enkei wheels, and Infiniti’s Continuous Damping Control (CDC) suspension system. I think that must be engineering speak for haula-- suspension. In any case, the suspension setup is a double-wishbone front and multi-link rear.

On the other hand, while all of the bits work really well to get the steel around a corner, some ride quality in the city is sacrificed. Remember when I said that the transmission will keep you from wearing your morning coffee?

Well, the suspension has a keener sense of humor. Be careful. One pot-hole and you could be filling your interior with the kind of language to make a pirate blush.

So, let me wrap this up by bringing us back to my original paragraph. Despite everything about the FX 50’s driving attributes, the thing that jumps out at me the most is the value equation. You get such great handling, performance, and luxury for the money.

When I priced a comparably equipped BMW X5, the sticker was around $75,000 compared to $67,000 for the Infiniti. So, while $67,000 is a lot for any vehicle, it’s a relative bargain in this segment. --- Marcus Tapscott


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  2. Awesome, awesome review.

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