Infiniti has characteristically taken the path less travelled. The original Q45 was styled to express Japanese culture (rather than imitate the Germans), tuned for drivers, and infamously advertised with video of rocks and trees. The brand finally hit its stride thirteen years later with the compact rear-wheel-drive G35. It jumped on the crossover bandwagon with a pair of cozy cabined, firmly suspended, VQ-propelled eggs. Those seeking space for their family and their family’s stuff had a choice between the massive truck-based QX56 and something that wasn’t an Infiniti (often an Acura MDX). Market and dealer pressure to offer something much closer to the norm was no doubt intense. So, for 2013, we have the Infiniti JX35 (originally reviewed by Derek Kreindler). Has the brand’s character been overly compromised, or is this the crossover Infiniti should have offered from the start?
Recent Infinitis have been curvaceous, even bulbous. You won’t find fuller forms on any other new car lot. With the JX35, Infiniti clearly struggled with an inherent conflict between this design language and the need to offer competitive interior space. The JX’s exterior is an incompletely resolved combination of a curvy M-like front end (dominated by an over-sized grille and emblem) and a space-maximizing box. A “crescent-shaped” D-pillar is distinctive, but there’s probably an aesthetic reason that explains why it’s never been done before. Expect it to spread to other Infinitis as they are redesigned.
Inside the JX35, Infiniti has also backed off its usual tendencies in order to cater to the typical large crossover buyer. The interior is styled to resemble those in other Infinitis, so it’s easy on the eyes, but the forms are much different. The instrument panel and console are less curvy and less intrusive. The seats are flatter, nearly bolster-free, and less cushy. As a result, the JX feels less “tailored to fit” (or, for larger people, not fit) than other Infinitis. The appeal isn’t as deep, but it’s much broader.
Infiniti is very proud of the way the JX’s second-row split bench folds forward. With no child seat in it, the cushion folds up tightly against the backrest GM Lambda-style to open up a very wide path to the third row. Infiniti’s innovation: unlike in the Lambdas, if you strap in a child seat the bench can still slide forward enough to permit people to squeeze through. There’s no need to order captain’s chairs (that aren’t offered) to maintain access to the third row with child seats in the second row.
In other respects the JX’s rear passenger accommodations are nothing special. As in most crossovers (Ford’s being the major exception), the seats are flat and are mounted too low to the floor to provide adults with thigh support. And as in too many luxury vehicles, there isn’t any space under the front seats for the toes of second-row passengers, essentially reducing second-row legroom by about four inches. There’s still plenty of legroom in the second row if the bench is shifted fully rearward along its five inches of travel. But, again all too typically, if the second row is all the way back there’s very little legroom in the third row. Ultimately, there’s just enough space to fit average-sized men in all three rows if everyone limits their legroom to the amount they absolutely need. To Infiniti’s credit, the third row is better ventilated than most, so the kids won’t bake back there. Behind the third row you’ll find 15.8 cubic feet of cargo volume, about the same as in an Acura MDX. My five-person family’s luggage wouldn’t fit without folding at least half of the third row.
There’s considerably more space for both people and cargo inside a Buick Enclave. But Infiniti’s marketing people never mention the Enclave as a competitor. They prefer to talk about the Acura MDX and Audi Q7, both of which have tighter third rows than the JX and both of which have gone six years since a thorough redesign. But, in terms of specs and configuration, the Buick is actually the JX’s closest competitor. Inside, the Buick wins on quantity, the Infiniti on quality (unless GM has worked wonders with the 2013 refresh).
With a powertrain and chassis derived from the Nissan Murano (and shared with the upcoming 2013 Pathfinder), the JX35’s performance neither delights nor disappoints. Even with all-wheel-drive curb weight is a very reasonable 4,419 pounds, so the 3.5-liter V6’s 265 horsepower are sufficient. The mandatory CVT assists by holding the engine in its power band when this is required. I personally didn’t mind the behavior of the CVT. If you do, select sport mode and it mimics a conventional six-speed automatic. Go WOT with front-wheel-drive and there’s some torque steer and front-end float, but not nearly enough to by themselves justify all-wheel-drive. Unlike in the MDX, which has an oversteer-inducing rear differential, the JX’s all-wheel-drive system doesn’t significantly enhance the driving experience on dry roads.