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An Infiniti for Mrs. Mainstream

Infiniti has a gender problem. A severe gender problem. For the most part, its products are bought by guys, while all the girls are across the street buying Acuras and Lexuses. If Infiniti is going to grow, it needs to attract more women to the brand.

That's where the all-new 2013 Infiniti JX comes in. It's for the ladies.

This is the first Infiniti in a long while that puts comfort and practicality way ahead of performance and fun to drive on its list of attributes. That makes it the perfect counterpoint to Infiniti's other crossovers, like the five-seat FX, which is more about performance than utility, and the full-size QX that packs enough V8 power to pull a small yacht.

Compared to those beasts, the JX is a very different animal. With its comfortable ride, three rows of seats and strong fuel mileage, the JX is also a real alternative to upper-middle-class mom favorites like the Acura MDX and Lexus RX 350.

Nissan Roots
It's based on the architecture of Nissan's Murano, which makes this the first front-wheel-drive Infiniti since the Maxima-based I35 sedan mercifully hit the bricks in 2004. Our test car was all-wheel drive, which adds $1,100 to the bottom line and 139 pounds of bulk.

But the JX, which is on sale now, is more than just a Murano swathed in Infiniti luxury and with a third-row seat. In fact, the Murano and JX are sized quite differently. With its 114.2 inches wheelbase, the JX puts down a considerably larger footprint than the Murano by a full 3 inches. And to fit that proper third-row seat, the JX dwarfs its Murano donor by some 6.5 inches in overall length, 196.4 versus 189.9 inches, while the JX is also a bit over 3 inches wider.

Fact is, the JX will actually have more in common with the 2013 Nissan Pathfinder, which will also be Murano-based, but will share its dimensions and seating capacity with the JX. It was introduced at the Detroit auto show in concept form and will hit dealers by the end of this year.

Inside Matters
Plop yourself onto the JX's firm but comfortable front seat (easy to do, by the way, with its near-perfect step-in height), and you're ensconced in a well-designed and well-made Infiniti cabin. The center stack and center console appear to be ripped right from the M sedan...and that's a good thing. The Infiniti controller knob makes navigating around the display screen easy, and we like the way the whole design waterfalls off the dash.

The interior has a good mixture of leather and wood and metal, although it's a bit surprising that the dash, while nicely grained, is hard plastic. But most controls have a well-damped feel. There's quality here.

There's also a ton of room, 149.8 cubic feet, in fact, which Infiniti says is best-in-class interior volume. And with that room comes one of the most usable third-row seats we've yet to encounter in a crossover. There's actually enough headroom for sub-6-foot adults, although the seat's low placement means that your knees are up into your chest a bit, eliminating any long stints back there. The second row can also slide fore and aft a full 5.5 inches to open up even more room in the third row. Both the second- and third-row seatbacks also recline, so Infiniti covered all the bases.

If you have young kids, you'll appreciate the thought that went into the way the second-row seats tilt and slide forward as well. It not only allows adults to hop in the third row without the need for the usual contortionist maneuvers, it also gives access to the third row without your having to unlatch a child seat from the second row.

Safety Isn't Free
Just about every safety feature you can think of is available on the JX35 — for a price. This includes the world's first back-up collision intervention system, which will automatically hit the brakes to avoid a collision when the JX is in reverse. There's also the totally cool Around View Monitor, which shows a virtual 360-degree image of the area around the JX on the dash's 8-inch screen and detects (and audibly warns) the driver of moving objects within the displayed image.

Want more? Lane Departure Warning, Lane Departure Prevention, Distance Control Assist (applies brakes in slowing traffic if you don't), Blind Spot Warning, Blind Spot Intervention, Forward Collision Warning and an intelligent cruise control are all available optionally. Soon, these cars won't even need us; they'll just drive themselves.

The gadgets add up, though, as our fully loaded JX35 AWD was sporting an as-tested price of $54,800.

VQ Yes, CVT No
Like the Murano, the JX35 uses Nissan's VQ35DE 3.5-liter V6 with variable intake timing, putting out 265 horsepower at 6,400 rpm and 248 pound-feet of torque at 4,400 rpm. While we can't fault Infiniti's engine choice, as the VQ V6 puts out enough smooth power to adequately move this 4,537-pounder in most situations, we can fault Infiniti for borrowing the Murano's continuously variable transmission (CVT). Although it works well enough for some people, the CVT doesn't have the level of refinement you would expect from a vehicle in this class.

We suspect that Infiniti used the CVT to deliver more competitive fuel economy numbers. In that respect, the CVT makes sense, as the EPA rates the JX35 AWD at 18 city/23 highway/20 combined mpg (the front-drive model returns 18 city/24 highway/21 combined). Acura's MDX is rated at 16/21/18, while the Lexus RX 350 AWD comes in at 18/24/20. We noted observed mileage of 17.8 mpg during our time with the JX35 AWD.

That fuel mileage comes at the expense of performance. Straight-line testing at the track certainly proved the CVT wasn't chosen for throw-you-into-the-seatback acceleration. The JX could only muster zero to 60 mph in 8.3 seconds (8.0 seconds with a 1-foot rollout like at a drag strip). For comparison, the last 2011 Acura MDX we tested hit 60 in 7.3 seconds and the 2011 Lexus RX 350 AWD took just 7.1 seconds.

So the performance isn't really there, despite an Infiniti exec trying to spin us. "We didn't just want to build a school bus," he said. "We wanted to build an Infiniti."

Rolls Like a Spanish Galleon
His words overstate the JX's agility as well. One run through the slalom and a couple of points become obvious. First, the JX is all about a plush, quiet ride. Conversely, it plows the front end almost as soon as you bend it into any kind of a turn, and the steering is overboosted and rather unfeeling.

The other problem (specific to the slalom test) is the stability control's low intervention point, at which time it stabs the brakes alarmingly. Worse, it can't be fully defeated. As such, the JX could only manage a fairly pathetic 58.9 mph around the cones. Did we notice the ESC intervention in real-world driving? Not once.

The inordinate amount of body roll plus low-grip Bridgestone Dueler H/P Sport all-season tires, size 235/55R20 at all four corners, accounted for a skid pad result of just 0.78g. So basically, the JX is about what most people would expect from a crossover in this category: a compliant, comfortable ride and nothing more.

The Mainstream Infiniti
For enthusiasts used to Infiniti's performance-oriented vehicles, it'll be hard to muster much excitement for the JX. This is justified. The JX is a sharp left turn for Infiniti, which has been building cars and crossovers almost exclusively for enthusiasts since the G35 hit dealers a decade ago.

But times change and brands evolve. And the JX is going to light up Infiniti's sales charts like an M56 sedan lights up its rear tires.

No, it's not a "driver's" car. But the JX, with its clever rear seat design, supremely comfortable interior and cool safety technology, is perfectly aimed at the heart of the luxury crossover segment. And its starting price is right where it needs to be. At $41,400 (including $950 destination) for the front-wheel-drive JX35, and $42,500 for the all-wheel-drive version we tested, the seven-passenger JX has a value story to tell. Remember, it's larger than the MDX ($43,815), and the RX ($41,350 with AWD) only seats five.

America's moms will come.
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