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Review and photos by Grant Yoxon

Charleston, SC – Kiawah Island, south of Charleston, looks like a really nice place to live. Large, comfortable homes sit mostly hidden amongst the island’s lush foliage surrounded by wildlife — including alligators — and five of South Carolina’s best golf courses, including the spectacular Ocean Course, which will host the 2012 PGA Championship in August.

With ten holes alongside the Atlantic and another eight running parallel, the Ocean Course has more seaside holes than any other golf course in the northern hemisphere and offers golfers stunning ocean views from anywhere on the course. Remarkably, the course is not reserved for the privileged residents of Kiawah Island. It is a public course, meaning even I could play there — for $360 and a reservation made three months in advance.

As I drove along the quiet roads of Kiawah Island in Infiniti’s new seven-passenger mid-size crossover, the JX, I couldn’t help but think this would be a nice place to live, if you could afford it, and a nice place to raise a family, although I would want to keep an eye on the kids with those alligators around.

Separated from the mainland by a short causeway, Kiawah Island is definitely a two-car-family community. And the people who live here are exactly the people that the 2013 Infiniti JX has been designed and built for.

At a press conference earlier in the day, Infiniti Canada’s Senior Manager for Product Planning, Tim Franklin, noted that the typical JX buyer would own a luxury sedan as well as a family hauler like the JX. The principal driver would likely be a woman. Potential buyers would likely cross shop other luxury-brand seven-seaters like the Audi Q7, Lincoln MKT, or Acura MDX, although they might also be tempted to buy down market to get the space they need.

Infiniti knows this market well and has designed a vehicle that meets the needs of the target buyer with stylish design, class-leading interior space, luxurious appointments, a quiet ride, confident handling, and family-friendly features and technology.

The exterior design draws from the Infiniti Essence concept that debuted at the 2009 Geneva Motor Show. Most noticeable is the curvy “D” pillar design and Infiniti’s signature “double arch” grille. Add to this a “wave” hood, bulging front fenders, a curved belt line and other twists and turns and the overall look seems a bit busy to me.

The JX’s interior space can’t be beat without moving up to a much larger full-size SUV like the Infiniti QX56. But I expect most families could make do with the three rows of seats and nearly 450 L of luggage space behind the third row. This row is comfortable and relatively easy to access even for two adults thanks to a second row that can slide forward 14 cm (5.5 in.). If the third row isn’t needed, cargo space grows to as much as 1,339 L (47 cu. ft.). There is also a deep bin under the cargo area floor, eight cup holders, and six bottle holders.

Third-row access is a one-touch operation that slides the second-row seat forward against the front-row seat. Even with a child seat installed in the outboard position of the 60/40 split-folding second row, one can still access the rear seat, something that JX competitors cannot claim.

Practical it may be, but the JX’s interior is also sumptuous and refined with large, comfortable front seats, soft leather throughout, and gauges and controls oriented to the driver.

The JX instrument panel is highlighted by a new Infiniti Intelligent-View display in the centre gauge cluster, along with large, easy-to-read Fine Vision electroluminescent gauges, and standard seven-inch colour vehicle information display.

Leather-appointed seating is standard, along with heated front seats, eight-way power driver’s seat, heated steering wheel, and six-way power front passenger’s seat.

With a starting price of $44,900, the Infiniti JX may have a much broader appeal than Infiniti expects. Standard equipment in the base model also includes such amenities as power sliding moonroof, leather-wrapped and heated steering wheel with illuminated audio and cruise controls and power tilt and telescopic adjustment, six-speaker audio system with AM/FM/CD, MP3 playback capability, USB and auxiliary inputs and satellite radio, tri-zone automatic climate control, power windows with one touch up and down for all windows, smart key with keyless access and pushbutton start, and Bluetooth hands-free phone system.

It is a level of luxury one might expect the well-to-do residents of Kiawah Island would want, but one does not have to live on Kiawah Island to afford one.

Naturally, you can bump up the price quite a bit with option packages. Infiniti expects the majority of buyers will outfit their JX with the Premium Package, priced at $5,000. This package adds a navigation system, Bose 13-speaker premium audio system, dual memory (for the driver’s seat, steering wheel position, and outside mirrors), auto-dimming rear-view mirror with Homelink, Infiniti Connection Plus Services, and “Around View” monitor (AVM) with moving object detection.

The JX is the first Infiniti to have available Infiniti Connection and Infiniti Connection Plus services. Infiniti Connection services include 24-hour automatic crash notification, emergency call, enhanced roadside assistance, stolen vehicle reporting, remote door lock/unlock, alarm notification, maintenance alert, scheduled maintenance notification via Google Calendar, and in-car scheduler. Infinti Connection will be added to other navigation-equipped Infiniti models in the near future.

The AVM system allows the driver to see a virtual 360-degree image of the area around the JX, while moving object detection provides visual and audible warnings if the system detects something moving within the displayed image – useful when pulling out of a parking spot.

Even better, Infiniti has developed a backup collision intervention (BCI) system that promises to eliminate those parking lot scrapes entirely. BCI not only warns the driver of a vehicle approaching from the left or right when reversing out of a parking spot, it will also stop the car—with inches to spare—if the warnings go unheeded.

BCI is part of a Driver Assistance Package, priced at $2,200 and available on cars that are equipped with the Premium Package. Features include blind-spot warning, intelligent brake assist with forward-collision warning, intelligent cruise control, distance control assist, ECO pedal (a ‘softer’ throttle) and remote engine start.

A $3,500 Technology Package includes all the features of the Driver Assistance Package and adds even more driver aids with lane departure warning (LDW) and prevention (LDP), blind spot intervention (BSI) and front pre-crash seatbelts. The LDW system uses a small camera installed behind the windshield to detect lane markers in front of the vehicle, calculates its position relative to those lane markers, and helps warn the driver of a potential unintended lane departure with a visual indicator and audible buzzer. If the driver does not return the vehicle back toward the center of the travel lane, the LDP system actively assists the driver with a gentle application of the brakes on the opposite side of the drift.

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The BSI system provides selective braking if the vehicle appears to be making a lane change while another vehicle is detected in the blind spot area. BSI only activates if the driver uses a turn signal in that direction.

Buyers can also opt for a Theatre Package with a Premium-equipped JX to keep rear seat passengers entertained. The $2,300 option includes two seven-inch monitors, two wireless headphones, a 120-volt outlet and auxiliary audio/video inputs.

A Deluxe Touring Package, which includes a Bose Cabin Surround 15-speaker sound system with digital 5.1-channel decoding and Acoustic Waveguide bass technology, maple interior accents, 20-inch, split 5-spoke aluminum-alloy wheels with 235/55R20 tires, panoramic moonroof with power rear sunshade, Advanced Climate Control System, climate-controlled front seats (heat and cooling), and heated second row outboard seats, can also be added to cars equipped with the Premium Package for $2,700.

So if you just had to have everything available, the new JX could cost as much as $58,400. That may sound like a lot to most people, but if you are cross shopping the Acura MDX, Lincoln MKT and Audi Q7 it is a bargain.

The JX is the first application of a CVT (continuously variable transmission) in the Infiniti line-up. While common in Nissan vehicles, the company has been reluctant—up until now—to use them with its luxury Infiniti vehicles.

It’s a good fit for the JX. Connected to a 3.5-litre V6 with 265 horsepower and 248 lb-ft of torque, the combination provides good acceleration in all traffic situations while operating quietly and efficiently. The CVT helps the JX achieve 8.5 L/100 km on the highway and 11.5 L/100 km in city driving.

The driver can adjust how the vehicle operates depending on conditions or personal taste. A drive mode selector with Standard, Sport, ECO or Snow settings will adjust throttle response and CVT shift schedules. ECO will reduce throttle response, providing more leisurely acceleration and helping to save fuel. Sport mode increases throttle response and alters the CVT behaviour to mimic the gear changing of a conventional transmission.

Driving the JX is actually relaxing. Despite its size and weight the JX feels light and steers easily. It feels solid on the road and, except for the occasional thwap thwap of the rear tires crossing concrete cracks, provides an exceedingly quiet ride. Handling is not sports car like, of course, but neither is it lumbering like many large SUVs. It corners with confidence, but then we had no real opportunity to push the vehicle toward its limits. It is unlikely the typical JX buyer would either.

Visibility is good in all directions, but with its array of technological driving aids, one could drive this vehicle blind and not hit anything.

Kiawah Island is a place of incredible natural beauty and understated affluence. And driving around the Island in the new Infiniti JX, I feel like I belong here.

While the exterior styling may say “new money” a bit too loudly, the JX has the right combination of space, utility, luxury, technology, and price to win over even the most discerning resident of Kiawah Island and probably many more who could only aspire to live there.

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