With standard AWD, a CVT gearbox to help sip fuel, a battery of techno-nannies and room for seven, Infiniti takes the fight to the luxe crossover segment
Disclaimer: Travel to South Carolina as well as accommodations, food, and drinks were provided to the writer by the automaker.
By Shawn Molnar
At last year's Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance, Infiniti debuted a concept that promised seven passenger accommodation, family friendly design, and sexy, sophisticated looks. That concept has made its way to production, and we're driving it: Infiniti's new JX luxury crossover.
Nissan's luxury arm has built its reputation on the cornerstones of quality, performance, and - to our eyes at least - beauty by design. Of course, wading into unknown waters is always a nail-biter for car companies no matter their past successes, and with the launch of the JX, Infiniti's jumping into the deep-end of the full-size luxury crossover segment for the first time (the existing QX56 is proper pickup-based truck…). Has it measured up against formidable competition like the Acura MDX and Audi Q7?
The JX is a car that rewards, well, relaxed driving. Its Continuously Variable Transmission - a first for Infiniti - keeps the cabin quiet and vibration free. We usually detest CVTs, but admittedly Nissan's are the least offensive available. It also aids the JX in achieving best-in-class fuel efficiency among competitors with AWD - serving up 11.5 L/100 km city and 8.5 highway.
Infiniti's familiar 3.5-litre V6 powers the JX, providing plenty of go with 265 horsepower and 248 lb-ft of torque. It'll accelerate the crossover through passing maneuvers with confidence. That said, crack the whip down a back road and the JX feels stable with neutral steering, but definitely not as sporting as the competition. Even the Acura MDX, for example, will deliver more thrills with its more aggressive suspension tuning, a shorter wheelbase, and - key here - a quick shifting, traditional six-speed automatic.
Depending on your views towards sportiness in a premium family ride, this isn't necessarily an 'X' against the JX. After all, it was designed with a focus on luxury over sport, and trumps the Acura with its superior comfort during normal, everyday driving.
During steady-state highway driving, the standard (for the Canadian market) AWD system sends all power through the front wheels to improve fuel economy. Otherwise, power's split even-steven front to rear, unless some wheel slip's detected.
Much like the wheel, the 'crossover' genus of vehicle is difficult to reinvent. Given the same basic proportions we've seen many times before, Infiniti faced the challenge of delivering more from the same space. It's succeeded, offering what is probably the most practical and family-friendly entrant in the segment.
For starters, the slide-and-lift second row seats allow ease of ingress/egress to the third row seats. But Infiniti took things one step further, building the world's first vehicle to have third row access without removing a child seat if mounted in the second row. Parents rejoice!
Passengers over six-foot will fit comfortably in the second row, and will manage a short trip in the third row without feeling overly cramped for space. Tri-zone climate control will keep all passengers comfortable while the rear moon roof offers everyone a great skyward view - even in the third row.
With an eye for detail, Infiniti's appointed the interior with excellent quality leathers, soft-touch plastics and glossy wood trim. All buttons and dials click and spin with satisfying precision. Visible tolerances are minimal - a nod to excellent build quality. After a full day of driving, the seats remained comfortable and supportive. Heated and cooled seats (an option for the second row) kept us temperate while enjoying the journey. In short, we want to drive one to Disney.
Those who've previously owned or are considering a minivan for family chauffeuring duties would do well to consider the Infinity JX - if your budget will allow. Fold-flat second and third row seats transform the JX into a purposeful utility vehicle, offering best-in-class interior volume. Still need to bring along more stuff? The standard tow hitch will allow the JX to bring a decent 3,500 lbs. of whatever you need along for the trip.
Keeping rear seat occupants entertained will not be much of a challenge thanks to seat-mounted DVD screens. The optional Bose 15-speaker sound system features "Waveguide" technology in the rear floor-mounted subwoofer - but the resulting sound replication is good, not great. The standard system may be a smarter choice unless, you're an audiophile.
A plethora of in-car technologies improve safety and comfort while driving the JX. We made it a point to test out Infiniti's rear blind spot monitoring and intervention system - a first to market. Unlike competitive systems that merely monitor rear blind spots, show a camera image and - if you're about to hit something - go "beep," Infiniti's system will actually apply the brakes and bring the vehicle to a stop without driver input. We practiced on a set of garbage cans. No Rubbermaids - or auto writers - were hurt. Impressive. In the common, "child runs behind car while reversing" scenario, this technology could literally save lives.
We also tested the "Intelligent Brake Assist" and "Distance Control Assist" technology that allows the JX to follow the vehicle ahead at a predetermined distance, without any driver intervention. The active cruise control passed our examination with flying colours following a car to a red light. Self-driving cars are so close now...
A lane departure warning system and blind spot monitoring system also improve driving safety with nudges and chimes from the brain of the JX. During solo driving these technologies can seem like overkill, but when sleep deprived or distracted by, say, six children, these safety enhancing technologies could prove their worth.
Infiniti specifically named the Acura MDX and Audi Q7 as JX competition. With a base price of $44,900 ($51,850 with premium package), the Infiniti undercuts both by several thousand dollars. We're a little cool on the performance of crossover's CVT transmission and its love 'em or hate 'em looks, but can't deny the on-board technologies - one of them a world-first - and the seating for seven in a vehicle that feels much smaller.
The JX then, is worthy of some attention in a very, very crowded crossover segment.