So you think you need to carry seven people in comfort with decent economy but you don’t want to buy a minivan? Enter the three-row crossover. Thanks to stronger fuel economy regulations there are plenty of three-row CUVs to choose from, but you want something with a better brand name under 55-large, what does that do to the playing field? You’re left with the Lincoln MKT, Acura MDX, Volvo XC90, Buick Enclave and the newcomer in this phone booth sized segment: the 2013 Infiniti JX35. The new soft-roader Infiniti is already off to a good start coming in third in sales to the Enclave and MDX despite sales starting in April of this year. What’s it like to live with for a week and how doe sit stack up? Click through the jump to find out.
Before we dive into the JX, let’s look at the competition. The Volvo XC90 arguably started this segment in 2003 by jacking an S80 up a few inches and adding a third row. In 2006 Acura followed their lead by adding a third row to the Accord-based MDX. Buick got in on the party with their minivan-like Enclave in 2008 and Lincoln with their seemingly hearse-themed MKT in 2010. What do these CUVs have in common? They all have six cylinder engines under the hood and they are all front wheel drive vehicles with optional all wheel locomotion. Before Audi fans start flaming me, I left the Q7 out due to its SUV-like design, RWD biased Quattro system, larger price tag, and decidedly SUV-like 5,600lb curb weight.
Infiniti’s bulbous styling may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but it is a distinctive island in a sea of me-too crossovers. This new take on Infiniti’s “box fish” style isn’t as striking (or polarizing) as when the M debuted in 2010. On the bright side, now that the design has aged, general opinion in my informal lunch group was overwhelmingly positive. Something I couldn’t say about the 2010 M. Despite heavy parts sharing with the new Pathfinder, the JX is better distinguished than the former generation QX/Armada was and indeed better differentiated than the Chevy Traverse and Buick Enclave. The MKT looks just looks downright peculiar front the front with the new Lincoln grille grafted on and the side profile just reminds me of an old station wagon based hearse from the 1970s. The MDX is quite possibly the best looking Acura available at the moment despite the rather prominent Acura beak on the grille. Meanwhile the XC90 is the only vehicle in this bunch that’s not based on a mass market vehicle or platform. While that does mean there isn’t anything on the road that looks related, the design is only modern when parked by itself. I still have a soft spot for the XC90′s upright grille and sexy Swedish hips, but this is one warhorse that should have been sent to the glue factory 5 years ago.
The JX35′s cabin is covered in soft-touch plastics, leather and acres of highly polished wood trim, just as you expect from Infiniti. In this segment, if you want an interior that doesn’t share parts with a mass-market brand, you’re again limited to the XC90 as every other design team had access to a corporate parts bin. Keeping this in mind, Nissan/Infiniti’s parts bin is a nicer place to spend time than GM’s button-bank. The new Enclave has a very competitive interior, but some of the parts choices fail to blend while the JX is a sea of harmony. Indeed one might say the Pathfinder borrows Infiniti parts and not the other way around. This top-down parts sharing is good for Pathfinder shoppers, but only time will tell if there is enough differentiation to make Infiniti shoppers happy. The XC90′s interior is still competitive thanks to continual tweaks over the past ten years, but that can’t forgive the lack of even a modest refresh from the Swedes.
As with the Pathfinder, JX seat comfort declines the further right and rearward you go. The front passenger seat lacks the power lumbar adjustment of the driver’s seat. The second row seats are comfortable, but not as padded as the front seats with cushions designed for children or shorter passengers. If third row comfort is critical, go back to looking at that QX56 or Escalade, as with most three-row crossovers the JX’s last row should be reserved for coworkers you hate or your mother-in-law. If you regularly carry passengers and progeny in child seats, the JX shares the sliding middle seat design with the Pathfinder allowing a child seat to stay strapped in while passengers climb into the third row.
Infotainment & Gadgets
The standard 7-inch infotainment screen does everything but navigation. iDevice/USB integration is of course standard as is Bluetooth and a 6-speaker audio system with a single disc CD player and XM radio. Opting for the $4,950 “premium package” gets you Infiniti’s easy to use navigation system with a high-resolution 8-inch touchscreen, a 13-speaker Bose sound system, voice control, and Infiniti’s slick all-around camera system. The system uses four cameras and some trick processing to stitch images together to form an “aerial view” making easy work of tight parking situations.
Should you desire the latest in nannies, Infiniti is happy to oblige with radar cruise control, collision warning and prevention, lane departure warning and prevention and an accelerator pedal that fights back. The accelerator pedal is perhaps the nanny that people find the most fault with, despite crossovers not being “driver’s cars.” The feature can be disabled, but left on it will fight your right foot, forcing the pedal back at you if you’re driving uneconomically, if it thinks you are getting too close to a car, or if it feels like it needs to stop the car NOW. While I dislike the thought of a car that drives for me, honestly at least half the drivers on the road need this pedal stat. Not that I condone distracted driving, but if you feel the need to text and drive, the JX helps you accomplish the feat more safely.
Lincoln’s MKT slots in just behind the Infiniti on the gadget tally thanks to Ford’s bevy of collision avoidance options, inflating seatbelts, and the slow but feature-rich MyLincon Touch system. Meanwhile the Enclave’s new Intellilink touchscreen system is sharp, responsive and has more natural voice commands than SYNC. Better yet, Buick’s system is standard on all Enclave models. The MDX puts on a good fight, but Acura’s tech suffers from old school graphics and a confusing control joystick despite being the only other entry to offer voice commands for your USB/iDevice music player. The XC90 has finally been updated to offer the basic infotainment features you would expect from a luxury vehicle including Bluetooth, USB/iDevice integration and blind spot notification, but that’s where the goodies stop. The XC90 still uses Volvo’s “olde” pop-up navigation system from 1999 and cannot be had with radar cruise control, pedestrian and obstacle detection, and a myriad of other features found in the smaller XC60.