I don't like to be forced to defend my favorites. I would prefer that my friends simply accept my pronouncements, and leave it at that. But recently, my argumentative friend Andy challenged my affection for the 2012 Infiniti FX35 AWD. Granted, Andy will argue about just about anything. We've spent the past few weeks debating the relative merits of each Beatles album -- he claims that the "White Album" is more disjointed than "Let It Be," if you can believe that. I was willing to admit that I was wrong about "Magical Mystery Tour" (much better songs than I remembered), but Andy will not back down about the FX35. The 2012 Infiniti FX35 AWD Limited Edition has a list price of $51,550 ($52,445 as tested), and comes with a 4-year/60,000-mile basic warranty, a 6-year/70,000-mile powertrain warranty and EPA fuel economy estimates of 16 mpg city/21 mpg highway. Let's drive.
First Glance: You Say You Want a Revolution
I'm touchy about the FX. Ever since the first generation vehicle (2003 - 2008), I've been a fan. The current (second) generation was an evolutionary improvement, and receives a few tweaks for 2012. There are four flavors of FX: FX35 (starting at $43,450); FX35 AWD (starting at $44,900); FX50 AWD (starting at $59,350); and FX35 AWD Limited Edition ($51,550), like my test vehicle. The big difference between the models is under the hood -- more about that later.
The big change for 2012 is a new front grille and fascia. The grille retains its same basic shape, but goes back to a simpler inset with four straight bars and a floating chrome Infiniti badge. The previous grille had these weird bumps on it, like emerging molars. I approve the return to simplicity.
Andy and I disagree about the general form of the FX. I think it looks like an overgrown sports car, with organic, muscular bulges and elegant curves. Andy thinks it looks just like every other midsize crossover. I point out the big front wheel arches, amplified by fenders that bulge upward like they've been lifting weights. I lovingly caress the rounded hood that looks like it can barely contain the beastly engine within. I draw Andy's attention to the gently rounded roofline, and the powerful rear fenders, and the way that the taillamps wrap around to the liftgate, where a pair of chrome bars echo the shape of the grille enclosure on the front of the vehicle.
My Limited Edition test vehicle arrived wearing a gorgeous coat of Iridium Blue paint, along with a set of 21" ten-spoke wheels that look like the intake on a jet engine. I just loved it.
Andy doesn't see the same uniqueness of design that I do -- though he does concede that the FX is beautifully painted and is constructed incredibly well. Andy's argumentative -- but he's not stupid.
In the Driver's Seat: Picture Yourself In a Boat On a River
I figured that jumping inside the cabin would convince Andy of the FX's qualities. Au contraire, mon frere. He took one look at the FX's dashboard, and proclaimed it "not luxury." I strongly disagreed. I pointed out the aviation-inspired driver's cockpit. I then pointed out how the passenger's side of the dash also gave a sense of containment, while at the same time maximizing the knee and legroom. I love the way that Infiniti puts the navigation and telematics controls on an incline, like a keyboard, instead of just pasting them vertically on the center stack. I showed Andy the gnurled metal control knobs and levers, a visual and tactile treat.
Next, I directed Andy's attention to the FX's leather seating surfaces. I've always felt that Infiniti has some of the best seats in the business. The second row is also well appointed and comfortable, with more headroom than the exterior appearance would hint. Behind the second row, there's room for 24.8 cubic feet of luggage. Fold the second row flat, and there's a generous 62.0 cubic feet of cargo space. I tried to convince Andy that FX would have sufficient utility for 98% of my needs, or his.
After all the evidence was presented, Andy pronounced the FX's interior "thrown together." Like his stance on the Beatles' albums, Andy has planted his heels, and will not be moved by facts.
On the Road: Baby, You Can Drive My Car
I figured that a brisk ride would change Andy's tune. I found some room to romp, and opened up the throttle on the FX35's 3.5-liter V6 engine, letting the 303 horses out to roam, not to mention the 262 lb-ft of torque. Though I'm not sure that torque can "roam," FX35's seven-speed automatic transmission and my test vehicle's all-wheel drive system delivered the power in a linear fashion. I was kind of surprised that the FX35 didn't come with paddle shifters. They are available only as an option on the FX50 as part of the Sport Package. Not that I missed them. The transmission was excellent in automatic mode, and manual shift is still accessible by pulling the center console-mounted gear selector to the left.
Andy had no complaints about the engine or transmission, reluctantly admitting that the FX can really scoot. But he did take issue with the suspension's stiffness, which I equated with a sporty ride. He agreed that from a driver's point of view the ride might be sporty, but as a passenger, he wanted more smoothness. To Andy, "smooth" equals "luxurious." I reminded him that every suspension setup is a compromise, and that I would not want to sacrifice road feel and responsiveness for more "luxury." Once again, we must agree to disagree.
Journey's End: It's Only Love
I really do listen to Andy's opinions, if only because they force me to examine my own. Some of what Andy criticizes as weaknesses in the FX35, I see as strengths. That said, I can see ways that FX35 can be better. For starters, as fun as FX35 is to drive, FX50 is even more fun. That's because FX50 gets a 390 hp 5.0-liter V8 engine that moves the FX from "sporty" to "rip-snorting" (a technical term that indicates ridiculous amounts of power). Starting at $59,350, the FX50 AWD would constantly loom in mind if I settled for an FX35.
There are several other sporty mid-size SUVs to consider if you're looking at the FX. The Porsche Cayenne is the current King of the Hill, starting out at 303 hp for $48,200 and going all the way up to $107,100 for the 500 hp Turbo. The Land Rover Range Rover Sport (starting at $60,495) has a similar range, capped with a $75,395 Supercharged model that hits 510 hp. Mercedes-Benz's M-class (starting at $48,990) and AMG ML63 ($92,590) run on the same terrain.
I'm pretty sure that Andy could find fault with each and every one of FX's competitors. He's talented that way. But there's something about the taut, muscular appearance of the FX, the boatload of included standard equipment, and the sportscar-like performance that connects with my core, just like the Beatles' White Album speaks to my soul. I wouldn't object to a Magical Mystery Tour with the Cayenne, but I'm still drawn back to the FX.