2013 Infiniti JX35
Starting MSRP $40,450–$41,550
Don't you ever wish car companies would get with the program and hire a real expert? Not some stuffy pinstriped suit but rather a parent, like yourself, who has the same automotive needs, wants and wishes? Someone who knows what a pain it is to get into a third-row seat if you have child-safety seats installed in the second row?
If you're looking for a car that solves many family-car woes, check out the new 2013 Infiniti JX35, whose product manager is just like you — a busy parent.
While I'm grateful for product manager Sean McNamara's input into the JX35, the real heroes behind the scenes are his 9-year-old daughter Georgia, 11-year-old son Riley and, especially, his wife of 19 years, Barbara.
Because Georgia and Riley are still in booster seats (reluctantly), Sean and Barbara know what a pain it is to access the third row. This sentiment was echoed loudly during Infiniti's in-house study of how other busy families use their cars. The result? A sleek new crossover in which your kids and your carpool can still get into the third row, even if you have child seats installed in the second row.
The JX's sleek design is decidedly Infiniti, echoing many of the same design cues as every other car in the luxury brand's product lineup. It's sleek and modern, with exterior dimensions that make it look leaner than its competitors, the Acura MDX, Audi Q7 and Lincoln MKT, though it manages to pack in more cargo space and legroom than the MDX and Q7. It looks as if it's been practicing traditional Ashtanga yoga for years. (See all three models compared.)
The JX35 I test-drove was clad in a gorgeous Emerald Graphite color, thanks to Barbara's input. She was bold enough to let Sean know how "predictable" (i.e., boring) the original color lineup was. She pushed for this Emerald Graphite color to add character to Infiniti's premium image, and it works. While it's neither overtly feminine nor trendy, it is subtle, classy and just different enough to stand out from the crowd.
You won't be embarrassed to valet this car when you leave the kids with the sitter and meet some friends out at that hot new foodie spot in town. How, you ask, will you get reservations? Your friendly personal assistant — available 24/7 courtesy of Infiniti for four years after making your purchase — might be able to pull a string or two. The assistant can also provide driving directions, which might be handy for buyers of the base FX35, which doesn't include a navigation system. It comes in the optional Premium Package.
The JX is all about having your cake and eating it, too. Want family-friendly features in your car but don't want to sacrifice style or drivability? The JX mostly accomplishes both. The interior of the JX I drove was dipped in a decadent java-colored leather, another input from Barbara, that would definitely wear well regardless of how many kids and their grimy shoes you load into it.
The second-row seat can slide forward for access to the third row even with a child seat installed in it (although you have to remove your baby from the seat first). While I love the thoughtfulness that went into this feature, it's only on the passenger side of the second-row bench. That may work well for some families, but I would prefer the flexibility of optional captain's chairs in the second row. Not only do they offer a great buffer zone between fighting siblings, they're better at accommodating Grandma and Grandpa. Seating my 70-year-old parents in captain's chairs just seems more grown-up and luxurious than making them share a bench seat like children.
With the sliding second row pushed all the way back, there's more legroom than in both the MDX and the Q7, though roughly the same as the MKT. I could stretch my legs out comfortably and still had space to spare. The JX also trumps its two main competitors in cargo space with 15.8 cubic feet behind the third row and 76.4 cubic feet of cargo space with all the rear seats folded. The MKT has 17.9 cubic feet behind the third row, but its maximum cargo space of 75.9 cubic feet maximum is edged out by the JX35.
Kids in the back can stay thoroughly entertained on long road trips with dual 7-inch DVD screens built into the front-seat head restraints so as not to obstruct the driver's rear view. In the McNamara family, Riley stays content watching "Star Wars: The Clone Wars," while Georgia rolls her eyes — ugh, boys — then turns on a Barbie movie. Sean and Barbara relax up front in peace and quiet, or they tune in to their favorite XM station.
Third-row passengers weren't forgotten in the JX. They have their own air vents to cool off quickly in the summer heat, and an optional panoramic moonroof over the second- and third-row seats lets the light in, keeping the third row from feeling like a dungeon. Here again, the JX boasts more legroom than in the MDX and Q7, but less than the MKT. Conversely, third-row headroom is more than a half inch less than in the Acura and Audi, but a good 1.5 inches greater than the MKT's third row.
IT'S THE LITTLE THINGS THAT COUNT
Storage Compartments (Puny, Fair, Ample, Galore): Ample
Cargo/Trunk Space (Puny, Fair, Ample, Galore): Ample
SENSE AND STYLE
Family Friendly (Not Really, Fair, Great, Excellent): Excellent
Fun-Factor (None, Some, Good Times, Groove-On): Good Times
BEHIND THE WHEEL
The JX felt surprisingly light to drive. I can usually feel the size of any three-row vehicle when accelerating, but the 265-horsepower, 3.5-liter V-6 engine took next to no effort to get the JX up to speed. Using the drive mode selector, I switched out of Normal and into Sport mode to get the continuously variable automatic transmission to feel as if it were shifting through the gears, a sensation I prefer. Eco and Snow modes are there to play around with, as well as a manual-shift mode, which I would definitely use in my normal life traveling up and down mountain passes.
The other impressive feat is the JX35's ability to hug the road like a car when cornering, rather than tilting and rolling as you'd expect from an SUV or large crossover.
The standard front-wheel-drive JX35 (rated an estimated 18/24 mpg city/highway and 21 mpg combined) can be upgraded to all-wheel drive (dropping to 23 mpg highway and 20 mpg combined) for a mere $1,100, a feature I would take advantage of if purchasing one in my neck of the Rocky Mountain woods.
Crash tests have yet to be conducted on the all-new JX. As required of all new cars starting with the 2012 model year, the Infiniti JX has standard antilock brakes, an electronic stability system and traction control.
There are two sets of Latch connectors in the JX's outboard second-row seats. Sean fought for the third row's top-tether anchor, just in case you wanted to install a child-safety seat with the seat belt back there. I don't think he should have stopped there, however. The Q7 has four total Latch systems, two of which are in the third row.
The JX is chockfull of fascinating and advanced active-safety features, but you'll have to pay extra for them, and in some cases, "opt into" them every single time you drive, thanks to Infiniti's lawyers. I suspect many people will miss out on some of the safety features in this car simply by forgetting to opt in by pressing the button on the steering wheel every time they start the car.
Infiniti was the first to introduce the very helpful Around View Monitor, which uses several cameras around the vehicle to give you a complete 360-degree view around the immediate vicinity of the car. The JX adds to the feature Moving Object Detection. If someone, or something, is moving around the car — say, a child or the neighbor's cat that uses your garden as a litter box — visual and audible warnings will let you know where the moving object is so you can wait for it to clear before you move.
Infiniti's backup collision intervention system on the JX uses sonar and radar to watch 180 degrees behind your car. When you're backing out of a parking spot, the JX will scan for any other cars that might be driving at 15 mph or slower into your path of travel. It will let you know with visual and audible warnings, and if you don't respond, the gas pedal will press back against your foot to tell you to stop. If you still don't stop, it will stop for you, giving you a second to catch up and put your foot on the brake. As Sean says, "this system isn't there to let you be a total idiot; it's there to allow you to just be human." Nicely put, Sean.
Other optional safety features are lane departure warning and prevention system that gently beeps at you when it sees you're starting to veer out of your lane, and then gently corrects your steering to keep you in your own lane. The blind spot warning and intervention system watches your blind spots, gives you a visual warning if there's another car in your blind spot, and adds an audible warning if you activate the turn signal. If you ignore the warning and try to change lanes anyhow, it will give you a gentle correction to keep you from veering into another car.
See all the standard safety features listed here.