Infiniti has lost the plot. Or maybe it’s edited it. It depends on your perspective.
Nissan’s luxury brand has introduced its first front-wheel-drive, three-row crossover: the JX35. The family hauler is a sharp contrast to the rear-wheel-drive performance cars the automaker has become known for in recent years in its attempt to emulate and compete with the likes of BMW and Mercedes-Benz.
It’s done well in that endeavor, with strong sales of late. But take a look around your local upper middle class neighborhood; there’s a good chance that every house with three kids and an Infiniti in the driveway also has a Ford Explorer, Buick Enclave or (gasp!) Acura MDX parked right next to it.
This is a very popular type of vehicle, and if Infiniti wants to be anything it is Mr. Popularity.
From the outside there’s not much to indicate anything is amiss. The JX35 features the same voluptuous, windswept, chrome-laden style of the rest of the Infiniti lineup, particularly the M sedan. A shark-nose grille and rear roof pillar with a unique kink toward the front add some aggression and help it stand out from the crossover crowd.
Current Infiniti owners will be just as familiar with the interior design. It’s comprised of organic shapes and rich materials where they matter. The most interesting aspect of the layout is the 60/40 split second row, which slides forward and back to dole out legroom as needed and pulls off a few acrobatic tricks.
To ease access to the third row, the seat bottoms pop up and close like clamshells against the backrests as the chairs slide forward, opening up an extra wide gap behind. Even cleverer, if a child seat is installed you can still tilt and slide the seat to make enough room for someone to squeeze through.
Of course that someone will not likely be very large in the first place. Leg and headroom in the third row are at a premium, although the seat backs do recline. Depending on how far back that second row is positioned, this seven passenger vehicle can quickly become a 5+2.
The base price is a very competitive $41,400, and all-wheel-drive is available for just $1,100, which means pretty much every JX35 will be so equipped, as was my test car. A 3.5-liter six-cylinder delivers 265 hp to the rubber through a shiftless continuously variable transmission that’s one of the best of its type, but pretends to be a six-speed when you switch to Sport mode because some people still like to live the steampunk fantasy that everything must have gears.
However you choose to use it, the JX35 has plenty of power for attacking gaps in traffic and stealing parking spaces from your local Frank Ricard outside Bed Bath and Beyond. It is by no means a sporty car, however, preferring straight boulevards and long highway slogs to anything even vaguely dynamic.
In particular, I found that off-ramps need to be negotiated with some care. The JX35 delivers a wallowy, disconcerting sensation in fast turns. If you ever wondered how they set those advisory speed limits on the yellow signs with pictograph of the truck tipping over, I’m guessing they had something like this in mind.
You’re better off taking it easy and putting it in Eco mode, which uses the electronic accelerator to fight back if you drive too aggressively, forcibly pressing against your foot in an effort to save you from your bad gas guzzling self. With it, the JX35 returns 18 mpg city, 23 mpg highway (24 mpg for the mythical front-wheel-drive version,) no better or worse than the class average.
But that’s not the only form of intervention at hand or under foot. The JX35 can be equipped with a $3,100 technology package that will make up for most of your shortcomings…as a driver, at least. No less than six different systems tap a collection of cameras and remote sensors located around the car to make it nearly impossible to crash into another vehicle.
Turn toward a vehicle sitting in your blind spot? The JX35 will alert you then steer away from it when you ignore the warning.
About to rear end the pickup stopped at a light in front of you as you’re not texting on your smartphone? No worries, the brakes have been already been slammed.
Pesky neighbor kids like to skateboard past your driveway every time you pull out? See above, just in reverse.
Throw in active cruise control and an automated lane departure prevention system and the JX35 essentially wraps you in the electronic version of an inflatable sumo wrestler suit.
A separate $4,950 premium package that includes a navigation system and an absolutely vivid 13-speaker Bose stereo also gives you eyes in the sky. The Around View monitor uses four cameras to offer a virtual bird’s eye perspective of the car on the monitor to help out while you’re parking, and can also track and highlight moving bogies on the screen while you do.
The most surprising thing about all of these features is that they work as advertised. I’d feel pretty safe letting my kids take the JX35 for a spin in a pinch, and they’re in pre-school. If you manage to hit something in this vehicle, especially at around town speeds, you should not only have your license revoked but also your right to use any machine or eating utensil ever again.
Granted, people who think they are the best drivers in the world will tell you that no one actually needs any of these features, and, annoyingly, they are correct. But just as the brave men and women in our armed forces use the most advanced computerized arsenal available to avoid engaging in the hand to hand combat they are trained in, it’s nice to have a buffer.
I imagine that it is also nice for Infiniti salespeople to no longer need to use the phrase, “I’m sorry, we don’t make anything like that, but there’s an Audi Q7 in our used car department.”
The JX35 is already Infiniti’s second best-selling vehicle and the top spot is in sight.
Surely, that was the happy ending they were looking for.
2013 Infiniti JX35 AWD
Base Price: $42,500
As tested: $55,755
Type: 7-passenger, 5-door crossover
Engine: 3.5-liter V6
Power: 265 hp, 248 lb-ft torque
Transmission: CVT automatic
MPG: 18 city, 23 hwy