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The Infiniti JX marks the fourth SUV or crossover for the brand, slotting between the FX sporty crossover and the gargantuan QX56. According to Infiniti, the brand had nothing to stem the flow of customers who were dabbling outside the brand when it came time for a three-row luxury crossover. Instead of letting their clients go off and get an Acura MDX or Audi Q7, Infiniti took the underpinnings of the 2013 Nissan Pathfinder and co-opted them for a luxury vehicle.

The 2013 Pathfinder won’t be out until later in 2012, but the peanut gallery that ceaselessly criticized the car’s abandonment of a body-on-frame chassis for a front-drive based, CVT-equipped package will be eating a buffet of crow if the Pathfinder turns out to be as nice as the JX. Even though power is down compared to rivals – the JX makes 265 horsepower at 6,400 rpm and 248 lb-ft at 4,440 rpm, compared to 300 for the MDX and 280 horsepower for the base Q7 – the JX is substantially lighter than the Q7 (872 lbs) and a little trimmer than the MDX (182 lbs). Despite the lack of instrumented testing on hand, the JX’s straight line performance is more than adequate. Infiniti’s Sean McNamara told me that the product team wanted to make sure that the JX could “get out of its own way”, as that was the primary concern of their customers rather than bragging rights, and in this area, they’ve exceeded all expectations.

The CVT gearbox’s calibration carefully mimics an automatic gearbox in most situations. Puttering around town, the revs stay in the low end of the rpm range, but when the throttle is pinned, they don’t drop down in quite the same way as a traditional automatic would allow for. The CVT is appropriate in this application, and Nissan’s CVT technology has come a long way since the early Muranos and their motorboat gearboxes. Worth noting is that the JX can be configured in either FWD or AWD. Fuel economy is 18 mpg around town for both. Highway and combined figures are 24 mpg and 21 mpg for the FWD, and 23/20 for the AWD.

While the mechanical bits may be related to the Pathfinder, the cabin is all Infiniti. Sumptuous leather and wood are featured throughout, and the layout of the dash is a near perfect copy of the Infiniti M. The materials are all beautiful, but buttons abound as a means of controlling the absurd amount of acronym-addled technology features. Right before I embarked on my drive, an Infiniti PR rep came over and pressed a button on the steering wheel. “We’re going to activate the LDW, LDP and BSI systems and we ask that you opt-in to that.” What he meant was that the Lane Departure Warning, Lane Departure Prevention (that provides physical feedback to prevent the driver from drifting out of a lane, rather than just chirping incessantly) and the Blind Spot Intervention system would all be active during our drive. It’s a wonder we even needed to bother staying awake and driving the car ourselves.

Rather than feeling monstrous like the QX, the JX is “right-sized”, with far more comfort and usable space than the FX or EX. The ride is smooth and quiet rather than sporty or engaging, and the JX feels like a very good synthesis of the MDX and the Q7. Our test route outside of Charleston, South Carolina, was composed of flat, straight arterial roads and highways – the kind of driving that Infiniti customers are prone to do, but a poor place to accurately gauge the quality of the ride and handling over different (and poor quality) ride surfaces. Parking the car for a few moments allows for a better examination of the JX’s more practical features. Getting into the third row is made easier by the trick second row seats that slide forward and have hinged bottom cushions that allow for a fairly wide opening into the third row. Infiniti has famously been touting that the second row can fold without having to remove a child seat – there was no demo unit on hand, but we’ll take their word for it based on our own seat folding activities. Fold the third row down and the cargo area grows substantially.

Our JX AWD tester came loaded to the gills with every feature possible; voice activation for the audio and navigation controls, the aforementioned drive assistance features, a rear seat entertainment system, intelligent cruise control, an automatic-braking system for front end collisions and a dual sunroof are just a few of the options (and their associated packages) that took our JX from a base price of $41,550 to $54,800, including destination. Buyers will have to determine whether the $12,300 in frankly excessive options are worth it. Gizmos aside, the JX is a great luxury crossover on its own merits – we barely scratched the surface of all of the vehicle’s technology and still came away impressed. Infiniti should have no trouble making the JX as ubiquitous as the G lineup has become, especially given the short attention spans of novelty-seeking luxury buyers who are likely bored of their four-ringed monsters after a few years of leasing. The FX and EX, for all the performance they possessed, had little practical use and were essentially compromised sports cars. The JX takes things in the opposite direction, sacrificing performance for practicality – something that the target demographic cares about more than acceleration times or rear-drive handling dynamics.
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