2011 INFINITI FX Driving Impressions

With a high-revving V6 that pulls well past 7000 rpm, the INFINITI FX35 will reach 60 mph in a shade more than 6 seconds, even with all-wheel drive. The romping V8 FX50 will cover it in a bit more than 5 seconds.

Both engines spin freely and make more horsepower than torque (and run on premium unleaded), but the V8 is the smoother of the two and with the 7-speed automatics one is never at a loss for propulsion. The competing X6's 3-liter twin-turbo inline-6 is quicker, more flexible and smoother than the FX35 and we expect the twin-turbo V8 X6 will outrun the FX50. However, you will rarely get to use the full performance of any of them on most roads, and the X6 costs more.

The 7-speed automatics do everything they should, with quick gear changes up or down that have a reassuring firmness when you're in a hurry and more muted silkiness at slower speeds. They offer downshift rev-matching for smoothness and reduced wear on car and occupants, a Snow mode, and two overdrive ratios for relaxed highway cruising (and fuel mileage that's generally better than in the previous-generation FX, in spite of added power.) When run in Manual mode, nether transmission will downshift automatically, even if you floor the throttle in top gear.

The available all-wheel-drive system works without any driver input or feedback; it puts power to the ground in the most efficient manner, and if that isn't enough the traction control helps out. Though they have 7 inches of ground clearance, these machines are not designed for off-road travel and anything more than a damp beach is asking a lot.

Towing is not the forte of the FX. The FX50 is rated to tow up to 3500 pounds, while the FX35 AWD is rated for just 2000 pounds, a very lightweight trailer. Towing is not recommended for the rear-drive FX35. We don't recommend FX models as tow vehicles.

If most of your driving is commuting, we'd suggest the V6 for its better mileage, less aggressive throttle tip-in and softer riding tires.

Brakes are four-wheel discs, and on the FX50 they are stout 14-inch rotors with silver-painted multipiston calipers at both ends. Combine these with the performance summer tires, and the FX50 can stop in a hurry and has no issues with fade in repeated applications. INFINITI claims the 21-inch wheels offered on the FX50 are as light as competitors' 18-inch wheels, which helps explain why the 750-pound heavier FX50 stops almost as well as the G37S coupe, which has essentially the same brakes but narrower tires.

Underneath, the FX is essentially a car with more ground clearance; the front axle shafts actually go up from the gearbox to the wheels. The majority of the suspension pieces and subframes are aluminum, and the lightness thereby imparted makes it easier to tune a good ride/handling compromise. The basics are coil springs, large stabilizer bars, relatively neutral weight distribution, and 265mm-wide tires regardless of model; it's just the sidewall height that changes, or the tread/compound in the case of the performance tires available on the V8.

The FX rides firmly, more like a sport sedan than a crossover; the only other SUVs or crossovers that have the same bias to performance over softness are the Acura RDX, BMW X3, X5 and X6 sports, and anything with an AMG badge on it. Fortunately the FX has a very stiff structure to build from so the ride isn't jarring or stiff unless it's on a really bad road.

Despite a full-size sedan's wheelbase, the low, stiff sidewalls and performance suspension still allow some fore-and-aft pitching, and putting this much weight over a speed bump on such a setup is not done gracefully. But get to a winding road and the impressive grip of the tires, nicely weighted steering, firm roll stiffness and near-neutral balance make for a fun ride with lots of ability for a hefty box.

The FX50 sport package adds continuous damping control (CDC) suspension and active rear steering. Unless you're on a race track, the CDC is best left on Automatic where it blends comfort and precise response so well that the Sport mode rarely lets you go much quicker. The active rear steering is an electronically controlled rack mounted low and behind the rear differential that changes rear wheel angle up to one degree to aid stability in very brisk maneuvers and transitions. The BMW X6 with its sport package puts up better maximum numbers in outright grip and braking, but we've found the X6 doesn't feel as fun, smooth or happy doing it.

Besides a ride not suited to some Midwest urban infrastructure the other drawback is potential tire and road noise coming in. On some highway surfaces the rear tires sing, though it can be easily drowned out by the audio system at low listening levels.

The Technology Package brings the occasional bell, ping or other warning sound, signal and sensation. With a cruise control system that can follow a vehicle and use brakes automatically to maintain distance, it also warns you of impending collision when you aren't watching where you're going. The Lane Departure Warning system isn't mistake-proof, once seeming to mistake splashed water for leaving an unmarked lane. And it is on every time you start the car; you must press the button to stop false alarms.

Seeing out forward isn't an issue unless you are short and the big mirror and door post/pillar combination block forward side vision, or you need to squeeze through a narrow opening because the front body edges are undefined and just out there somewhere. To the rear, the canopy pillars, minimal glass and rear headrests conspire against you, although the rear wiper clears most of the glass you can see. INFINITI has a fix for this called the Around View Monitor: With the rear camera view display on the left side of the dash screen, the right side presents an aerial image of the car and its surroundings on the right screen digitized from the side, front and rear camera input. It's a better setup than the self-parking Lexus.

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