2003 Infiniti FX35 and FX45 First Drive

  • Full Review
  • Pricing & Specs
  • Road Tests (1)
  • Comparison
  • Long-Term

2003 Infiniti FX35 SUV

(3.5L V6 5-speed Automatic)

Infiniti Hits the Ground Running

Infiniti lost its way some years ago, and at the same time never really seemed to have a clear path established. Models such as the I30/I35, J30 and G20 never really had a place within a brand that sold a car as cool and advanced as the flagship Q45. Thankfully, those days are gone and Infiniti is now building luxury cars that emphasize performance, technology and edgy styling. The company is on its way to becoming the anti-Lexus, and the FX is the latest offering from a company that has grown tired of playing it safe.

The FX is an all-new vehicle from the ground up. The FX45 is so named because it comes with a 4.5-liter V8, while the FX35 is equipped with a 3.5-liter V6. No, the FX is not a rebadged Nissan Murano and in fact shares no major components with that vehicle. Rather, it has more in common with the G35 and the new Z than any other car. That being said, it's obvious where Infiniti is trying to take this crossover idea — sports-car handling with SUV convenience. The FX35/45 is intended to compete against vehicles like the Porsche Cayenne, Acura MDX and BMW X5.

The FX rides on an enhanced version of Nissan's FM platform and, like the G35 and Z that share that platform, is a rear-wheel-drive vehicle. All-wheel drive is an option on the V6-powered FX35 and is standard equipment on the V8-powered FX45. Even on all-wheel-drive vehicles, though, the bias is toward rear-drive as the front wheels begin to grab only when the rear wheels begin to lose traction.

Exterior styling is always subjective, but at the very least, the FX's appearance will be polarizing. It looks like someone fused a sports coupe upper body to an SUV lower body. Infiniti refers to the FX as a "bionic cheetah," and from certain front angles it does have the muscular guise of this feline. For an SUV-type vehicle, there are precious few straight lines on this car — this is not just another boxy SUV. Especially unique is the angled C-pillar, which gives the illusion that the roof had to be stretched to cover the rear glass.

Intended as a premium crossover SUV, the FX35/45 offers some of the best qualities of a car and an SUV all in one package and with little compromise. Luxury is abundant and both vehicles come standard with reclining rear seats, power front seats, ABS with BrakeAssist, dual-zone climate control, HID headlights (both high and low beam) and an in-dash six-disc CD changer. The FX45 adds heated outside mirrors, driver memory system, one-touch up and down windows for all four positions and 20-inch wheels (the FX35 comes with 18s).

The base vehicles offer plenty of luxury, but the optional equipment packages are where the real fun stuff is found. The V8 Premium Package adds an 11-speaker and 320-watt Bose audio system, steering wheel-mounted controls, Homelink and a cargo net. Add the Technology Package and you get a navigation system, DVD entertainment system, rearview monitor, tire-pressure monitor and an ultracool Intelligent Key system that uses only an electronic signal instead of the traditional metal key. The same packages are available on the V6 model, but that car has an additional Sport Package, which includes 20-inch wheels, sport-tuned suspension and aluminum pedals.

On the winding mountain roads just outside of Palm Springs, the FX45 proved its worth as a genuinely sporty SUV. The vehicle is amazingly well-balanced, and the body exhibits little roll. Massive 265/50 Goodyear Eagles mounted on 20-inch alloy wheels provide more grip than some sports cars. When asked how they were able to offer the production car with 20-inch wheels (just like the concept car), Eijiro Fukai, chief product specialist, said, "The engineers wanted to save money by using smaller wheels, but on this point I would not compromise. [The] FX45 must offer excellent performance on the road for it to be successful." The only drawback to all this canyon-carving performance is that the ride quality can suffer a bit when the road is anything less than smooth.

The 4.5-liter motor is good for 315 horsepower and delivers effortless acceleration. Luckily, all that horsepower can be heard as well as felt. Large chrome dual exhaust pipes resonate with a nice subtle rumble at idle and sound aggressive at launch. The cabin remains quiet, but we found ourselves rolling the rear window down for no other reason than to hear the V8's exhaust note. The 3.5-liter V6 makes 280 hp and produces a higher-pitched exhaust note, which is almost as pleasing as the V8's rumble.

Inside the FX45, there are high-quality materials and contrasting tones that give it an upscale ambience. But it's not just about looks; the interior of the FX is a very comfortable place to pass the time. The eight-way power driver seat can be raised or lowered a full three inches, and the seats themselves have a luxurious feel without being overly soft. Instead of the money-saving silver-colored plastic many companies are using on the dash area, Infiniti put real aluminum on the center console. Just behind the shifter is an opening that can be used as a dual cupholder, or simply a storage box, and even the door for that box is covered with aluminum. The optional 11-speaker Bose stereo sounds incredible and may be one of the few factory-installed systems to rival the Mark Levinson systems offered in many Lexus models.

From behind the wheel, the FX has a noticeably wide stance, and the bulge in the hood gives the driver an authoritative feel. Due to the "sport coupe" look of the roof line, rear visibility suffers a bit. Traditional boxy SUVs offer superior outward visibility in almost every way.

A reasonably equipped FX35 will be priced around $36,000, while fully loaded FX45s will top out at well over $50,000.

The FX35 and FX45 are clearly different and show that Infiniti is willing to take a "no compromises" approach to building high-quality cars that move people emotionally. A blending of sports car and SUV, the FX leans more toward on-road prowess than off-road ability or minivanlike people hauling. At the end of the day, the FX35/45 is exactly what Infiniti claims, a premium crossover SUV. Too bad the word "sport" is hidden in "sport-utility vehicle," because that seems to be where the FX really shines.

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