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Go ahead and say Infiniti’s new JX35 is fat and ungainly and you’ll join a group of online critics who don’t find this particular Infiniti very fetching at all.

But take a longer look at this SUV — or better, drive one — and the beauty of this seven-seater begins to reveal itself. More Kate Middleton than Camilla, the 2013 JX35 might have a snout that resembles a grizzled sand shark, but the body creases, angles and arched hood give the SUV a high degree of elegance. It’s as good looking as any Ford Explorer, Acura MDX, Buick Enclave, Mazda CX-9 or GMC Acadia, all of which fall into the same class but don’t achieve the same level of luxury. The Audi Q7 is a better-looking competitor, but it costs substantially more. Much like the QX56 and most other Infiniti models, the proportions and design of JX35 look quite right to these automobile-addicted eyes.

Inside, the familiar Infiniti layout presents itself with quiet sophistication. The clear and crisp electroluminescent gauges, the switches, buttons and controls are of the highest order, with leather and soft-touch materials outweighing anything plastic. It’s the most attractive interior you’ll find on a vehicle with a starting price of $44,900.

There’s more room than you’d expect, too. The JX won’t supplant a Sienna for cargo carrying but it will easily swallow five gangly teenagers in the back, two of whom aren’t likely to complain about getting saddled in the third row. The 60/40-split middle seats fold and slide forward for good third-row access (from both sides) and the legroom once back there is adequate. There’s also a baby seat mode, and our tester came with heated rear seats, a rear 120V plug, 12V outlet and rear temperature controls; volume controls for the wireless headsets connect to individual 7-inch monitors mounted in the headrests of the front seats.

For those realizing their minivan years are behind them but still want a roomy vehicle for seven, the JX is one of the few vehicles to answer the call. The third row seats fold flat and provide 1,155-1,339 litres of cargo space behind the second row. There’s 447 L of cargo area behind the third row, which according to Infiniti is more than the Acura MDX or the Audi Q7. Eight cup holders, six bottle holders and a standard power lift ensure the JX is suited for moms who are sick and tired of a minivan and can finally afford something with luxury.

While our tester was loaded with every available option, rocketing the price past $58,000, the base JX offers so much standard equipment for $44,900 that Acura MDX salesman everywhere are undoubtedly sweating. Other than optional 20-inch wheels, the base JX offers most of what buyers will want, including a sunroof, xenon lighting, fog lights, courtesy lights, tow package, aluminum trim pieces, heated steering wheel with power tilt and telescoping, rearview monitor, Bluetooth, leather interior, leather wheel, tri-zone auto climate and more, plus LED brake lights and keyless entry. The high level of standard goods pushes the JX to the front of the value equation. A base level Acura MDX starts at $52,690.

Depending on the option package, the JX can come equipped with a “backup collision intervention system.” The system uses sensors in the rear of the JX to detect potential obstacles when backing out of a parking space. If an obstacle is detected, the system gives visual and audible warnings. If that’s not enough to give the driver pause, the system will take over and automatically apply the brakes to help avoid any potential impact. A forward collision warning system acts in a similar way and is ideal in stop and go traffic.

Just as useful is the JX’s standard all-wheel-drive system that normally sends 100 per cent of the power to the front wheels but can react in slippery situations to send as much as 50 per cent to the rear when needed. I’d rather the power go to the rear wheels most of the time, but the target market for the JX (mostly women) is likely to be accustomed to driving FWD vehicles and the set up should easily handle an urban Canadian winter (with proper winter tires).

Equipped with a continuously variable transmission (CVT), the JX was always at attention to deliver up to 248 lb.-ft. of torque from its 3.5-litre V6. Acceleration is snappy enough, and there’s even some attitude from the exhaust at full throttle, though the power band is higher up in the rev range at 4,500 r.p.m. The CVT sours some of the joy in driving quickly, unlike some eight-speed automatics found in German luxury crossovers that deliver a more exciting feel. That’s not to say the JX powertrain is unresponsive — far from it. The V6 and CVT remain ever alert, with good power when passing and strong off-the-line acceleration. Besides, a manual shift mode via the gear lever offers sequential shifts whenever the sporting mood arises.

Fuel economy is on par with most V6-powered minivans, and scores better than the average gasoline-powered SUV (but not Audi’s Q7, which comes in an ultra-efficient diesel.) Official ratings for the JX35 are 11.5 L/100 km city, 8.5 highway and 10.2 combined. Considering the JX weighs a hefty 2,005 kilograms, I averaged a respectable 10.6 L/100 km without paying attention to economy.

Steering, braking and handling all seem well composed and properly weighted, with road noise well contained.

Built in Smyrna, Tennessee, the unibody JX35 fills a gap in the marketplace for midsize, seven-seat luxury SUVs. It’s an absolute MDX killer and one of the best values in the class. It’s also not the least bit unattractive.


Type of vehicle: Midsize luxury SUV

Engine: 3.5-litre V6

Power: 265 hp @ 6,400 rpm; 248 lb.-ft. of torque @ 4,400 rpm

Transmission: Electronically controlled CVT

Brakes: 4-wheel disc with ABS

Tires: 235/65R18 standard, as tested, 235/55R20

Base price/as tested: $44,900/$58,400

Destination charge: $1,995

Fuel economy L/100 km: 11.5 city, 8.5 hwy.

Standard features: All-wheel-drive, auto xenon headlamps, fog lights, LED brake lights, sunroof, power liftgate, front door-handle courtesy lights, power heated mirrors, rear wiper, aluminum front and rear door sills, trailer tow package (good for 3,500 lbs.), intelligent key with pushbutton start/stop, tri-zone auto climate, power windows with one touch and auto reverse, heated steering wheel, rear-seat reading lights, Bluetooth hands free phone, 7-inch colour info screen, rear-view monitor, power tilt and telescoping steering wheel, cruise control, power front seats, leather interior and steering wheel, leather shift knob, XM satellite radio, steering wheel-mounted audio controls, six speaker audio with MP3, USB connection for iPod and other devices.

Options: 20-inch, split 5-spoke aluminum wheels, streaming audio via Bluetooth, hard-drive navigation with colour touch screen, lane guidance and 3D building graphics, voice recognition, XM NavTraffic, AroundView monitor with moving object detection, auto-dimming inside mirror, memory seats, climate-controlled front seats, maple interior accents, blind-spot warning system, forward collision warning, intelligent brake assist, lane departure warning.

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