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By Chris Shunk

Vital Stats:

Engine: 3.5L V6
Power: 265 HP / 248 LB-FT
Transmission: CVT
Drivetrain: All-Wheel Drive
Curb Weight: 4,419 LBS
Towing: 3,500 LBS
Seating: 2+3+2
Cargo: 15.8 / 76.5 CU-FT
MPG: 18 City / 23 HWY
MSRP: $54,800 as tested

Three-row crossovers are a bit like accounting departments in that every automaker has one, and there isn't much else about them that's exciting. But while most every automaker offers a crossover with seating for seven or eight, there surprisingly aren't many options in the luxury space. The Audi Q7 doesn't really count since it weighs an SUV-like 5,200 pounds. Lincoln offers the MKT, but few buyers have taken Ford's luxury marque up on that offer. And then there is the Buick Enclave, which sells well but suffers from that "not quite a Cadillac" feeling. That's it... every other three-row luxury vehicle falls squarely in the body-on-frame SUV category, until now.

Infiniti is looking to spice up the larger luxury space with its JX35, which is built on next-generation Nissan Pathfinder hardware, but with more expressive sheet metal and a spruced-up cabin compared to its mainstream counterpart. Since the field is wide open for Infiniti, the luxury brand appears ready to blaze its own trail with a reasonable $40,000 price of entry and an impressive suite of available features.

It's impressive that Infiniti is offering a large luxury utility with a $40,450 entry price, but it's also important to target buyers that value a rich mixture of options. Our Diamond Slate tester was nowhere near 40-large. Instead, this JX was loaded with All-Wheel Drive ($1,100) and just about every feature Infiniti offers. Our test model featured the $4,950 Premium Package, which includes navigation with voice recognition, Lane Guidance with 3-D graphics and NavTraffic and NavWeather. If that sounds like a technology package, it's not. We know because Infiniti offers a separate Technology Package ($3,100) that features Blind Spot Intervention, adaptive cruise, 15-speaker Bose sound, a heated steering wheel, remote start – (deep breath) – and Back-Up Collision Intervention. Finally, the options were rounded out with the addition of the Theater Package ($1,700), which adds a pair of smallish seven-inch screens to the back of the front headrests. This JX, which is as feature-packed as any vehicle we've seen, came in at more than $55,000.

An options list as long as the this vehicle's 196.4-inch frame does little to elicit interest if the sheet metal doesn't make an immediate impact, and this is one area where Infiniti's second-largest vehicle doesn't disappoint. The exterior aesthetic garners the most attention up front, where the crossover's hooked beak looks more form-fitted than it does on the overwrought QX. The JX also features a pair of appealing character lines that lead to an interesting profile view. The top crease is more pronounced, stretching from the front door past the rear wheel well. The lower line travels all the way from the front headlight assembly to the taillights. Even the D-pillar features a bit of flare that looks like a curvy mountain road doused in chrome. The JX also gets a visual boost in the form of 20-inch wheels that add more pop to an already presentable profile.

The sheet metal looks good, but we're well aware of the fact that we're looking at a three-row crossover. That means the most important design features should be discovered within a spacious cabin. Our tester was upholstered with acres of creamy Wheat Leather surfacing contrasted by darker tones on the top dash and center console. Visually the ivory interior really pulls off the shock and awe treatment, but the tactile nature of those materials are a bit of a mixed bag. For example, the steering wheel was swathed in rich leather, but the shift knob felt a bit like hyde that spent too much time in Death Valley and the top dash was rock hard. Still, most dash materials that are likely to come in contact with human hands were plush and pleasing to the touch.

Functionally the JX cabin is at the top of its game. Even though it isn't as big as some other CUVs on the market like the Honda Pilot and aforementioned Enclave, it still manages to feature an impressive amount of room for first and second row passengers. In fact, the second row contains 41.7 inches of leg room, or five more inches than the Enclave. With the passenger compartment stowed, the JX allows for 76 cubic feet of your stuff, and a solid 15.6 cubes with the second and third rows in use. The only compromise comes in the form of a third row seat that should read "kids only," but in most cases that's exactly what third rows are used for.

Second and third row passengers are also treated to an expansive panoramic glass roof, which makes a view of the night sky more interesting than anything you could play on the seven-inch LCD screens. But while the glass ceiling over the back two rows of seating is giant, the sunroof over the driver and front-seat passenger is lilliputian in comparison. We're talking about an opening that can't be more than eight or nine inches front to back. We were so baffled by this horizontally challenged opening that we made it the subject of our Short Cut video. You'll have to excuse the use of our size 10 Sketchers as a means for illustrating scale; it's the only prop we had at the time.

The tech gadgets that proliferate the JX's interior are large in quantity and boast impressive quality. The navigation system features a clear, bright eight-inch screen and simple commands that can be quickly executed without much practice. The Around View Monitor camera system is simply brilliant when backing up; we are convinced there is no better system on the market today. The adaptive cruise control system is also at best-in-class levels. We were most pleased with the silky manner with which the system slows down the 4,280-pound JX when a car ahead decelerates. It's a very smooth and natural motion, as opposed to some systems that stab at the brakes until the desired speed is reached. One area that needs improved is the blind spot detection lights, which blended in with the light tones of our tester's pale color palate.

Infiniti went all-in with standard and available features, but the story isn't quite so compelling when venturing under the hood. The JX dons Nissan's modest VQ35DE 3.5-liter V6 with 265 horsepower at 6,400 RPM and 248 pound-feet of torque at 4,400 RPM mated to a continuously variable transmission. The CVT just seems to remove the natural flow of driving, as expected shift points are replaced with a relentless drone of mechanical din. And while 265 ponies is nothing to scoff at, consider that the much smaller Infiniti EX switched to using Nissan's larger VQ37VHR 3.7-liter V6 for the 2013 model year, and that engine produces a prodigious 325 hp, and many non-luxury competitors also leave the JX looking a bit peaked in the power department.

Even with very average engine specs, the JX still managed to feel competent in a straight line exhibiting solid acceleration and amicable passing power. And it appears that Infiniti is wagering luxury car shoppers won't mind a ride that is set to "marshmallow." This CUV floats above pits and bumps like they don't even exist, and don't expect the JX to firm up when the roads get curvy. Instead, body roll rules the day, and the steering is dialed in somewhere between light and feather. These attributes tend to turn off enthusiast drivers, but many luxury crossovers buyers will identify them as signs of progress.

The JX does come equipped with its standard Drive Mode Selector, which provides choices of Standard, Sport, Snow or Eco modes. This system controls throttle responses and transmission mapping, and the result is a slightly more engaging driving experience when in Sport mode. We weren't big fans of the Eco mode, which makes the JX feel even more unresponsive when taking off from a stop.

We've already mentioned this, but now is another good time to mention our aversion to the CVT. Our feelings "shifted" from tragedy to comedy when we tested the manual shift mode in the JX. The transmission provides simulated shifts that feel utterly inauthentic, which makes us wonder why engineers keep bothering to include these faux shift programs. The CVT should, however, lead to improved fuel efficiency. The EPA estimates that the all-wheel-drive JX will average 17 miles per gallon in the city and 23 mpg on the highway, or exactly the same numbers as a 2013 Ford Flex AWD. We averaged a less impressive 18.7 mpg during our time with the JX, despite spending the majority of our time at highway speeds.

After spending a week with the JX35, we found this newest Infiniti to be more polarizing than we expected. The JX scored high marks for its attractive exterior and interior design, loads of high-tech options and a very reasonable price tag. At the other end of the spectrum, this luxury CUV is let down by its uninspiring powertrain, average fuel economy and pontoon boat handling. Normally that might translate into a vehicle that's not worth recommending, but we bet luxury CUV buyers will value the positives of the JX far more than enthusiasts will mind the negatives. Therefore, Infiniti deserves credit for delivering an attractive three-row luxury crossover for a reasonable price, and luxury shoppers looking for a vehicle this size will take note.

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