Infiniti Shakes Up the Status Quo

Njuguna Kabugi | 6/5/2013, 4 p.m.
While old-school truck-based SUVs are still the default choice for towing and rugged off-road adventure, the car-based crossover is winning ...
Infiniti's JX35 crossover is the better-endowed sibling of the Nissan Pathfinder with which it shares the basic underpinnings. (Courtesy of Nissan USA)

You might have noticed a recent development in American’s ongoing infatuation with SUVs – that the car-based crossover is gradually taking over the market for everyday use utility vehicles. While old-school truck-based SUVs are still the default choice for towing and rugged off-road adventure, the car-based crossover is winning American buyers with its carlike comfort and fuel economy.

Buyers expecting a combination of seven passenger space, world class comfort and modern technology have transformed standouts such as the Acura MDX and Audi Q7 to category sales leaders. The MDX, our class favorite, excels with its array of high-tech electronic features, solid performance from its 300-hp 3.7-liter V6 and meticulous quality of its interior. Mix in Acura's reputation for unbeatable reliability and resale value and you will see why competitors such as the recently introduced Infiniti JX35 have a lot to prove. The JX35 is powered by a 3.5-liter V6, rated at 265 horsepower and 248 pound-feet of torque. That's a relatively modest output compared to the MDX, however, it gives better gas mileage than the Acura.

The JX35 fills the gap between the five-seat FX and the king-sized QX. Priced at just above $41,000 ($54,800 as tested), the JX emphasizes space, practicality and economy (18 mpg city, 23-24 mpg highway) and may be the right vehicle at the right time since the Nissan-owned luxury nameplate has been losing a steady stream of buyers who needed something bigger than the 5-seat FX, but didn’t want a behemoth like the boat-towing QX56.

Nissan executive say they have purposefully designed the JX35 to appeal to families with children – the type who may need a mini-van but would rather have something much cooler. Available in front or all-wheel-drive format, the 7-passenger JX35 is a bold alternative to the many flavors of passenger haulers currently dominating the luxury market.

Just as you would expect in a mini-van, the JX35 is huge inside, including its rearmost row of seats, which can handle adults comfortably and is accessed via a clever new seat-tilt design that allows child seats strapped in the second row to remain in place. With rich leather upholstery and a beautifully finished cabin, the Infiniti offers one of the most comfortable interiors in the class. It also offers a poised highway ride and a hushed interior.

Infiniti has been a leader in so-called driver assist features aimed at compensating for inattention on the part of the driver and unexpected antics on the part of other drivers. I loved the many electronic features installed in this vehicle including the Around-View Monitor, a 360-degree exterior camera, and its unique Back-Up Collision Intervention system, which can bring the SUV to a halt if it senses an obstacle in its path while reversing. Similar to a forward-working system on Volvo models, the Infiniti version will detect objects behind the car and even objects approaching from the sides. Designed to work at low speeds, like when you’re creeping out of your driveway or a mall parking space, audible warning beeps as well as visual cues on the back-up camera will alert the driver to brake.

As parent of a teenage driver, I was quite thrilled to see an innovation which allows parents to monitor young drivers' vehicle usage. Infiniti Connection will send a notification via text, e-mail or phone if a pre-set boundary has been crossed or the speed limit is exceeded. In addition, owners can route road trips with a Journey Planner and personalize news, sports and stock reports via Mobile Information Services.

If you live in the suburbs and haul kids daily, the JX35 should be on your list of vehicles to test first before buying that pricey mini-van. Also if you use a van on longer commutes, driving in stop-and-go traffic every day, I would recommend at least a test drive.