We're hammering the 2008 Infiniti EX35 on Mulholland Highway in the mountains of darkest Malibu where the movie people live and we've just passed the Rock Store where bikers profile on weekends. Ahead lies the snakiest mile of the whole road.
So we drive even faster. The hard-edged 297-horsepower 3.5-liter V6 spins a little quicker while the front suspension occasionally chatters a little in the hairpins, and a short time later we get to the top in the kind of a rush that makes a whole day of driving worthwhile.
Then we look over our shoulder and realize that there's a whole backseat behind us, plus the big cargo compartment and we realize again that we've just done the whole Mulholland drive in some kind of crossover-utility thingy.
It's a little unseemly. Who knows what the locals thought? Probably figured we were some kind of Malibu catering service running a party platter to some screenwriters.
But of course the 2008 Infiniti EX35 really isn't any kind of crossover at all.
Morphing the Sport-Utility
Now that we're decades into the whole sport-utility deal, we sometimes fail to remember the way utility vehicles have morphed into so many shapes and then filled all the little niches in the market where plain old cars used to live.
With the 2008 Infiniti EX35, Infiniti tells us that it's personalizing the sport-utility concept, creating a practical vehicle that has a fine sense of luxury and goes about its business like a personal coupe. But there's no talk of crossovers or station wagons from the guys at Infiniti. And since they like to portray the EX35 from a low angle, the vehicle seems to loom above you in pictures as if it were the size of a Nissan Pathfinder.
But once you're standing next to the Infiniti EX35, you realize it's not a crossover or even some kind of utility thingy. It's really just a tall wagon, more like a Volvo XC70 than a BMW X3. This explains everything about the EX35's combination of practical luxury and the kind of driving dynamics you'd expect for express delivery of a party platter in the mountains above Malibu.
Look, There's a G35 Sedan Under Here!
The Infiniti EX35's speed secret lies in the platform of the Infiniti G35 that lies beneath the utility-oriented sheet metal.
The wheelbase of the G35 platform has been stretched 2.0 inches to 112.2 inches, while the body is 4.7 inches longer than a G35 sedan at 187.0 inches. The EX's sculptured form looks substantial next to the G35 mostly due to an increase in height of 4.7 inches over the sedan, although 1.2 inches of this comes from the EX's higher ride height.
All the serious hardware is as familiar as the G35 sedan. This version of the Nissan 3.5-liter V6 puts 297 hp at your command, and it's always a pleasure to rev it to 6,800 rpm to get every last bit of it. There are 253 pound-feet of torque at 4,800 rpm, yet this can't begin to capture the exhilarating rush this engine delivers as the tach needle sweeps all the way across the dial, a mechanical vitality that makes the personality of this V6 different from any other.
The EX35 does business with the road through a front suspension that duplicates the G35's, but the rear suspension is derived from the Infiniti FX's, a measure to accommodate the 16.8 cubic feet of cargo room behind the second-row seat. Good thing, too, because a BMW X3 can still haul twice as much.
Naturally there are some consequences with the EX's new shape when it comes to weight, but the 3,752-pound version of the rear-wheel-drive model is just 255 pounds heavier than a rear-wheel-drive G35, and the fully equipped 5,029-pound all-wheel-drive EX35 AWD is just 241 pounds heavier than an all-wheel-drive G35x. Even the weight distribution is only fractionally different, but the rear-wheel-drive model is predictably a bit sharper and quicker than the all-wheel-drive model.
Hurry to the Store
There's not meant to be a lot of hurry in something like the EX35, mostly short trips around town while you wave to people on the sidewalk at the gourmet grocery. It's a utility vehicle, but not like some giant box-on-wheels that you'd back up to the loading dock at Home Depot.
The EX35 adapts to this sort of thing with far more grace than any other Infiniti, and it rides city streets with brilliantly sophisticated composure, using plenty of its suspension travel yet without feeling tall and tippy in the way many crossovers do. The five-speed automatic transmission shifts smoothly, and the V6 gives back 17 mpg in the city and 24 mpg on the highway. (We recorded 17.0 mpg in our mixed usage.) All the rough edges of the G35 sedan's personality have been smoothed down, and the EX feels deliciously deliberate in comparison.
But when you're looking for a little bit of hurry from the EX35, it's there for you. It leaves in a decent amount of haste from a stop, getting to 60 mph in 6.3 seconds and then passing through the quarter-mile in 14.6 seconds at 96 mph. A BMW X3 is left far behind.
When it's really important, this 3,820-pound rear-wheel-drive EX also comes to a halt from 60 mph in 118 feet, an excellent performance from the G35-spec brakes and Dunlop SP Sport 7000 tires.
Of course there comes a time when you have to make peace with the increased overall height of the EX, and you can find it in quick transitions. Yet the EX35 still weaves through the slalom at 66 mph, reassuring you with its feel of control and stability. After all, this is a G35 sedan at heart, and good body control and those P225/55VR18 all-season tires help deliver 0.82g of cornering grip on the skid pad with a fine balance that can be adjusted with throttle input. Again, the last X3 we tested would have trouble keeping up.
Maybe the Infiniti EX35 is meant for more than shopping.
Infiniti Discovers Luxury at Last
You can't help but expect performance from the EX35 since it's always been the nature of the G35 sedan. The surprise comes in all the little things that the EX does. Of course, you have to step up to the consequences on the price sticker, because the estimated $33,000 base price of the rear-wheel-drive EX forces you to endure the same generic interior trim that has disappointed us in the past. Once you add all the good stuff, expect a price tag above $40K.
Once you start checking off the option boxes, you find yourself surrounded by African rosewood trim and upgraded leather, which makes it possible to believe the Infiniti designers have finally visited a store that sells fine leather goods. With an 11-speaker Bose audio system, a navigation system based on a 9.3GB hard drive (with enough room left over for MP3 music storage) and all the usual lights and flashes, this is the complete premium Infiniti experience, more like the now-departed Q45 luxury sedan than some kind of crossover thingy.
The Infiniti EX35 also goes the extra distance with a few bits of cleverness you'd expect in a vehicle that puts utility and luxury in the same sentence. The power-operated 60/40-folding split-back rear seat can be triggered from the cargo area. (Buttons between the front seats enable you to flip them upright again.) There's a lane-departure warning system, and it lightly engages the stability control to bring you back into your lane, although you can turn it off if you like. And the EX35 introduces "Around View Monitor," a system of four small cameras that give you an overhead view of the whole vehicle in order to simplify parking.
The only thing the EX35 can't give you is extra passenger space. Although the EX provides 107.1 cubic feet of passenger volume, an increase of 8.1 cubic feet over the G35 sedan, it's still not easy to clamber into the rear seat through the small doors and there's less headroom than you'd like.
What's the Difference? It's Fast
The 2008 Infiniti EX35 doesn't really fit our idea of a crossover. It goes down the highway like a luxury sedan, but the tiny tremble from the wide tires tells you there's a high-performance sedan lurking beneath. It steers crisply through the corners. In short, it's one of the most satisfying examples of a vehicle with "utility" in its job description that you'll find anywhere.
Yet the best news might be the way the EX35 adapts to the role of luxury transportation. Premium furnishings, a composed ride and the ability to adapt to all kinds of weather, all kinds of driving and all kinds of adventures makes this Infiniti's best choice for real-world driving.
We've been waiting for something that really delivers on the whole promise that the Infiniti brand makes, and the EX35 is it. Just pack light.
The manufacturer provided Edmunds this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.
Vehicle Testing Assistant Mike Magrath says:
Don't let the name fool you. The EX35 is little more than a G35 hatchback. And with it, Infiniti has finally appeased a very dedicated, highly specialized, ultralow-volume niche market. Me.
The type of buyer who hates the illogical storage options and tired looks of three-box design, even if the boxes are very swoopy. The type of buyer who's going to have the rear seats folded down far more often than he will have them occupied by third or fourth passengers. The city driver whose ground clearance issues revolve more around potholes, curbs and the occasional pigeon than with stumps, rocks and river crossings. The type of guy with no wife and no kids, but a really cool bike and some snowboard gear to lug around.
The type of guy who doesn't want utility to interfere with comfort, on-road performance or styling.
What's that, you say? The EX35 is Infiniti's first car designed for and marketed to women? D'oh!