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Ponder this for a moment: Neither Infiniti, nor its parent company, Nissan, has a 7-passenger midsize crossover SUV. It's an obvious hole in both automakers' lineups and one that will be addressed in calendar 2012.

Due at dealerships in the coming weeks is the focus of this report: The 2013 Infiniti JX. Nissan will re-imagine its iconic Pathfinder using a similar basic design, and that vehicle should come online later this summer.

JX fills the gap in Infiniti's lineup between the midsize, 5-passenger FX crossover and the premium-large, 7-seat QX56. The former is a sportier SUV, offering the choice of a V6 or high-output V8 engine. The latter is a heavy-duty model boasting a robust V8 and the ability to tow more than 8,000 pounds.

Infiniti's marketing team is hoping the JX will draw buyers away from the likes of the Acura MDX, Audi Q7 (which we consider a premium-large SUV), and Volvo XC90. We'll throw the similar-purpose Buick Enclave into this mix as well.

How do they intend to do it? By offering more technology and luxury at a price that's comparable or undercuts those rivals.

Dimensionally speaking, JX is taller and narrower than either the MDX or Q7. In overall length, the Infiniti falls almost exactly between those two (shorter than the Audi, longer than the Acura). Within those confines, the Infiniti boasts the most interior volume, a whopping 16 cubic feet more than the Q7. Under the hood, you won't find the excellent 3.7-liter V6 engine from Infiniti's G and M midsize cars. Rather, it's the comparatively underwhelming 3.5-liter V6 borrowed from the Nissan Murano. In the JX, it produces 265 horsepower and 248 pound-feet of torque. This puts JX at a 20-70 horsepower disadvantage versus the Enclave, MDX, and Q7. The Infiniti weighs up to 500 pounds less than its competitors, and that difference should equate to "extra horsepower."

Buyers get the choice of front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive. In a first for Infiniti, the JX gets power to the ground by way of a continuously variable transmission (CVT) that behaves much like an automatic. Rather than just dropping the Murano's CVT into the JX, engineers are giving it special attention with lower-friction parts and wider gear ratios designed to impart a sportier feel.

Standard Infiniti Drive Select includes a console knob that adjusts throttle and transmission behavior among "Standard", "Sport", "Eco", and "Snow" modes. The Sport setting provides the sensation of the transmission changing gears, which is something that's lost with a CVT. A manual override allows for simulated gear changes as well. Note that the "Snow" setting is present on both front- and AWD variants.

Standard luxury amenities include leather upholstery, heated power front seats, power tilt and telescopic steering wheel, keyless entry/engine start, and a power tailgate. JX's tri-zone automatic climate control includes independent temperature settings for the driver, front passenger, and rear seating area. Unlike many similar SUVs, 3rd-row passengers get their own air vents, so those in the 2nd row won't freeze or overheat just to make the rearmost occupants comfortable.

Few standalone options exist outside of exterior and interior trim bits. Per Infiniti tradition, most extra-cost features come in packages.

The "gateway" group is the Premium Package ($4,550), which is required if you want to order any of the other available packages. It includes front- and rear-obstacle detection, navigation system, driver-seat memory, a Bose audio system, and Infiniti's Around View Monitor, which uses a series of cameras to display a bird's eye image of the vehicle and its immediate surroundings. Infiniti Connection assistance has many features similar to General Motors' OnStar system, including automatic collision notification, emergency calling, stolen vehicle alert, and remote lock/unlock.

Infiniti's setup goes a few steps farther with "My Schedule" that works in conjunction with Google Calendar. Owners can set reminders on their computers or smartphones and have them sent directly to the vehicle. The car then can input the destination into the navigation system and start guidance from there.

That's just the basic service. Connection Plus adds destination assistance, along with what Infiniti calls Drive Zone, Valet Alert, and Speed Alert. Through a special online portal, owners can designate a maximum speed and driving radius. If the JX exceeds that speed or wanders outside the specified area, the owner will receive an e-mail, text message, and/or phone call notification.

The final service is Infiniti Personal Assistance, which is basically a 24/7 concierge service. Owners can call from their phones or directly from the navigation system and request pretty much any piece of information, from restaurant reservations to airport conditions and flight statuses. Connection and Connection Plus are free for the first year of ownership, while the Personal Assistance is included for four years.

The Theater Package ($1,700) includes dual-screen rear DVD entertainment and a three-prong 120-volt power outlet so you can plug in a video-game system, laptop, or other high-draw device.

The Driver Assistance Package ($2,200) offers brake assist, forward-collision warning, blind-spot alert and intervention, adaptive cruise control, a heated steering wheel, remote engine start, and Infiniti's Back-Up Collision Intervention. A new addition to the brand's technological alphabet soup, BCI uses radar and a rearview camera to sense objects directly aft or coming toward the rear of the vehicle. If the driver doesn't take action after repeated audible warnings, the system will automatically activate the brakes. It's similar in nature to Volvo's City Safety, only Infiniti's system works in reverse gear.

Ordering the Premium and Theater packages permits access to the Deluxe Touring Package ($2,550). It includes an upgraded climate control system with ionizer, which helps filter out unwanted odors. Also part of this package are heated and cooled front seats, heated 2nd-row seats, rain-sensing wipers, a panoramic glass roof, 20-inch wheels (up from the standard 18s), and new Bose Cabin Surround 15-speaker audio system. This sound system is noteworthy for its "Waveguide" amplifier, which is designed to produce rich sound in a unit about the size of a small tackle box.

The final major option group is the Technology Package ($3,100), and it requires ordering the Premium, Theater, and Deluxe Touring packages first. It includes most of the features in the Driver Assistance Package but adds lane-departure warning and prevention, which can help guide the vehicle back into its lane should it drift.

The lone option package that doesn't require any others be ordered first is the Tow Package ($630), which includes a hitch receiver and appropriate wiring harness.

The 2013 Infiniti JX has a base MSRP of $40,450 with front-wheel drive and $41,550 for AWD. Add $950 for destination.

We took a fully loaded AWD JX (with its nearly $55,000 MSRP) on a tour in and around historic Charleston, South Carolina. Does this upstart have what it takes to knock the Acura MDX off its lofty perch? Here's our initial take.
 

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What's Cool...


The 2013 Infiniti JX impresses with a luxurious interior and new-and-improved available technology. Plush, Inviting Interior For Most Every Shape and Size

One of Infiniti's stated goals for the JX was to give it an appropriately luxurious interior from stem to stern. They've succeeded.

Despite a base price that's in-line with its main rivals, the JX's cabin trumps them for style, functionality, technology, and comfort. Infiniti makes ample use of soft-touch surfaces in all the right places.

We've praised Infiniti vehicles in the past for having some of the simplest control schemes among premium vehicles, and the JX is no different. Audio, climate, and navigation functions are easy to negotiate through the touchscreen and redundant dashboard and steering-wheel buttons.

I sampled the Personal Assistant, connecting to a friendly representative who ably answered inquiries about weather and airport conditions for my trip back to our Chicago home base.

Overall interior room and comfort range from decent in the 2nd and 3rd rows to excellent up front. All seats have good support, though the very tall will likely wish for a bit more bolstering from the bottom cushion. Headroom is great up front, decent in the 2nd row, and a bit cramped in the 3rd. Some of the blame here lies with our test example's panoramic glass roof.

Infiniti is offering a bit of innovation in terms of rear-seat access. A sliding 2nd-row seat is nothing new for these three-row crossovers. Having a lot of movement for the 2nd row by propping up the bottom cushion isn't new either. Where Infiniti stands out is the ability to slide the bench with a child booster seat anchored to it. It somewhat shortens access to the 3rd row, but even in that state, it's still easier to get back there than in an MDX that doesn't have a kiddie seat attached.

Awesome Audio

I'm no audiophile, but I know what sounds good to my ears. I'm also typically not a fan of Bose products of any type, be they car or home audio. It's not that they sound bad, per se, but they don't sound good enough to justify their high asking price.

The JX's Cabin Surround system is a different story. While I didn't have a chance to fully sample a wide range of music, the classic rock provided by the standard satellite radio proved a joy to listen to with unmuddled bass, crisp mids, and not-too-highs.

The only real downside is that you need to buy into a fully loaded JX in order to experience it.

Dynamic Drive

JX hustles better than you might expect from a vehicle of its size. Credit its light-for-the-class curb weight. Steering feel is not-too-light, not-too-heavy. The roads on our preview test drive weren't overly conducive to over-the-top handling maneuvers, but this Infiniti moves well in the urban, suburban, and highway environments where it will most likely be used.

Putting Drive Select in Sport mode quickens throttle response and allows the transmission to feel a bit less like a CVT and more like a traditional automatic.

New, Improved, and Less Annoying Safety Technology

One of our biggest complaints with the Infiniti QX is the overly intrusive nature of its various acronymed safety features. The various buzzers and beeps that can occur on a simple daily commute are enough to drive an otherwise sane person crazy. Many of its systems can be shut off, but they automatically come back on again the moment you restart the vehicle.

Mercifully, Infiniti engineers copped an ear when deploying similar features on the JX. Drivers have near-complete control of the various systems. Some require manual actuation at every restart, others can be turned on and off permanently via buttons on the steering wheel and a screen in the instrument cluster.

As far as some of the new tech, we evaluated Back-Up Collision Intervention at a local golf course parking lot. We slowly backed toward a parked golf cart, observing it via the rearview camera. The hardest part of this test was remembering NOT to brake (which we wouldn't recommend outside a controlled environment). Upon not taking action, BCI kicked in, bringing the JX to a complete halt before disaster struck.

...What's Not


JX's seats have tall 2nd- and 3rd-row headrests, creating poor rear visibility.Big Wheels, Big Toll On Ride

Infiniti marketing folks will tell you that big wheels are one of the brand's trademarks. We're not so sure that's something about which they should be bragging. The FX and QX can be equipped with 21-inch wheels. Our test JX had the optional 20s. While they certainly look good and fill in the wheel arches nicely, they exact a penalty on ride quality. The suspension does its best to absorb whatever road irregularities it encounters, but there is some noticeable crashing. If it's like this on South Carolina's relatively smooth roads, we dread to think how JX will behave when it traverses Chicago's pockmarked streets.

No JX with the standard 18s were made available for our preview drive. The 20s are included as part of the Deluxe Touring Package. This is one feature we really wish Infiniti would make a standalone option, especially since suspension tuning doesn't change with the wheels.

Packages Pack a Premium Price

We fully understand an automaker's desire to reduce component, build, and ordering complexity on a product. Look at the option sheet for a BMW 5-Series, and the number of permutations is staggering. At the same time, it can go too far in the opposite direction.

This isn't an issue unique to the JX, but with Infiniti as a whole. It's not so much the packages themselves that are the problem but the fact that you're required to buy one or more of them in order to get specific features. At the very least, the Driver Assistance Package, which includes worthwhile safety features, should be available without having to spend an additional $4,550 on the Premium Package. Further, some of the high-end option groups shouldn't require both the Premium AND Theater packages. We don’t believe customers should be forced to buy DVD entertainment in order to get that great upgraded Bose audio system.

Visibility

Blame for this one goes to both Infiniti and the National Highway Traffic Safety administration. JX's expressive rear styling makes it tough to see over the shoulder. The problem is exacerbated by the very tall 2nd- and 3rd-row headrests, features that are part of a NHTSA mandate. Partial compensation is available in the form of dropping the 3rd row's headrests, but there's no way to lower those in the 2nd row.

Could Use a Few More Ponies Up Front

JX is light for its size, but that doesn't entirely make up for the fact that it's at a moderate to significant power disadvantage versus its competitors. We suppose it's one of the prices you have to pay in order to obtain best-in-class fuel-economy estimates of 18 mpg city/24 highway with front drive and 18 city/23 highway with AWD.

Not to say the JX is slow, far from it. It's just that the rest of the vehicle is so fundamentally sound, a boost in power would be most welcome.

CG Says:

The 2013 Infiniti JX represents the first all-new product to enter the 7-passenger premium-midsize crossover space in some time. Buyers of these vehicles demand a lot, and the JX delivers. Its well-executed exterior and interior design and engaging driving experience should please the high-earning families whom Infiniti is targeting. It could use a bit more power, and rear visibility isn't the greatest. We also disagree with Infiniti's option package strategy, despite the fact that the JX's price is right in line with its competitors. Those are comparatively minor issues, though. While our final verdict requires a deeper evaluation, the JX's first impression is a very strong one. If any vehicle has the suds to take down the bellweather Acura MDX, this Infiniti is it.


 
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