Reviews

2011 INFINITI FX Walk Around

The INFINITI FX was called a bionic cheetah when it was launched (as a 2003 model) and this second generation (introduced for 2009) didn't stray far from the concept. One could argue the FX was the progenitor of the fashion-trumps-function style that spawned the BMW X6 and similar vehicles. If such a term existed the FX would be labeled a four-door coupe SUV.

For this second-generation FX, the distance between front and rear axles has been increased by almost 1.5 inches, pushing the front tires farther forward and endowing the FX with a hood not unlike a 1980s Corvette: long and horizontal, but not flat as it arches over wheels on the sides and engine in the middle. In profile, the hood looks as long as that on a musclecar or Rolls-Royce, while the roofline appears a canopy pulled down taut over a framework with no straight lines and a nearly semicircular rear window.

Relative to the stylish INFINITI G37 coupe from a similar background (and also endowed with a long hood), the FX has an inch and a half more wheelbase, and is about eight inches longer, four inches wider, and ten inches taller. It's significantly bigger, in other words. So it needs the 20-inch wheels of the FX50 to make it appear a sleek modern conveyance rather than a reinterpretation of the 1975 AMC Pacer made famous in Wayne's World. A lot of SUVs this long have three rows of seats, where the FX is strictly two rows.

Where door meets window glass is a straight line, as is the bright strip below the doors, and everything else is curved. Projector headlamps lend some animal characteristic, a touch of the cheetah, to the front, while the dark chrome grille between has three-dimensional waves rather than two-dimensional slats. In some respects it resembles the old Hyundai Tiburon (aptly named after a shark) and in others the wide swooping grille and multiple layers suggest the lovable tenacity of a drooling bulldog. Whatever you think, you'll get lots of opinion because it doesn't go unnoticed: The fashion statement worked. No one loves a bland car and the FX is not bland.

Behind the huge front wheels are chrome, arched vertical vents for ducting engine compartment air out and reducing front lift by 5 percent; door handles are also chrome while mirrors are paint-matched. The paint applied to the steel, aluminum and resin body panels is called Scratch Shield clearcoat and it is designed to use sunlight to heat the clearcoat and fill in small scratches over a few days.

Like the front lights, the rear LED lamp housings curl around the body sides, and protrude somewhat to offer better visibility and some aerodynamic downforce at high speeds; this and the front vents are more aimed at INFINITI's European customers rather than American driving habits. If you're concerned about seeing the tail lights in the outside mirrors, don't be; the mirror side view ends around the rear door handles as the bodywork curves inward toward the rear.

The spoiler atop the rear glass is integral with the hatch, void of the seams more common tacked-on pieces have; it may aid downforce and wind noise, too. Large swaths of chrome set off the license plate recess, and a stainless bumper top cover is available to avoid paint scuffs.

If you look carefully you will find a camera above the license plate, on the bottom of each rear-view mirror, and one at the top of the grille.

Interior

The INFINITI FX cabin is very nicely finished. The FX35 interior in Graphite presents well. The available diamond-quilted leather brings to mind fine British or Italian coachbuilding. Ordered with the available vertically grained Maple wood trim, hand-stained for darker edges, with matte-finish silver appointments, the FX is as stylish inside and as out. There is no wood on the dash, a good thing as it eliminates reflections, but all doors have big sweeps of wood and the center console has it on three sides, trimmed at the edges in chrome. Soft-touch surfaces are everywhere, with hard plastic only on the lower center pillars and the rear edge of the center console where shoes or diamond-ringed vent adjusters would scuff it.

The driver works with a suitably small-diameter, thick-rim, three-spoke steering wheel with thumb-operated pushbuttons and toggles, and plenty of adjustment in two planes for driving comfort and gauge viewing. The optional shift paddles behind it are among the best around, solid magnesium pieces with leather along the back side for your fingers, and long enough that you can change gears mid-bend; downshifts are left-hand, upshifts are on the right.

Ahead of the steering wheel are electroluminescent gauges lifted from the G37. Fuel and coolant temperature are in lower corners, the primary tachometer and speedometer frame a message center with trip data, scrolling information, and a decent-sized gear indicator you can read at a glance; with seven to choose from you may not always know what gear you're in. Odometers and gauge lighting work through silver ear tabs at the top sides of the pod.

Short-travel column stalks with chrome lips on the twist ends handle the usual chores: signals, lights, and wipers. To the left below the vent is a bank of switches for much of the gadgetry you can get on an FX. These include IBA Off (intelligent brake assist), VDC Off (electronic stability control), DCA (distance control alert), FCW/LDW (forward collision and lane departure warnings), AFS on/off (adaptive headlights that follow the road with steering input), and mirror adjustment and fold switches. Mirrors shouldn't need much adjustment in motion but some of the other buttons will, and buried by your left knee all in white-on-black is not the easiest place to find them. The pushbutton start switch is on the dash to the right in clear view.

Between the center vents is a well-shaded screen, whether you have navigation or not, which offers split-screen views. Below it on a near-horizontal surface is the multifunction control wheel with direct-access keys to the sides. The navigation system recognizes voice for climate, audio, phone, and, yes, navigation, this last run by a hard-disc drive and offering XM real-time traffic (and now weather) data on-screen. We were able to operate this without any owner's manual to consult and got what we wanted with a minimum of missteps, so consider intuitiveness average or better.

The central control panel is finished in piano black. The upper set of audio controls flank an analog clock lit like ice at night and the lower set handle climate operations; in either case the visual details appear on-screen. All these operate in a straightforward manner, though the two round volume/audio knobs and left/right temperature knobs are identical and a quick reach may result in a radio change when you wanted more heat or cooling, or vice versa. At the bottom is a push-open felt-lined bin.

You won't see it, but the FX50 climate control system includes systems that sound derived from space travel. A Plasmacluster ionizer runs in two modes to trap particulate contaminants and make the air crisper and fresher, and a grape seed polyphenol filter neutralizes allergens that get past regular filters.

A small conventional shifter rides center on the console and offers manual mode, but the paddles do better at this and there's no chance you'll accidentally tap the shifter into neutral. Behind the shifter are the seat temperature controls and suspension control switch, followed by a dual cupholder with wood cover, and dual-bin storage with iPod connection under the armrest.

The front seats of the FX are comfortable and well-designed to match the cornering capability of the car without feeling overly restrained. On the FX50 driver memory and seat heat and cooling is standard, though the coolers are a bit noisy at their max setting. The optional sport seats on the FX50 offer all the usual adjustments plus thigh extensions and, for the driver, powered side bolsters for legs and torso; they're really good, and with that diamond-quilt pattern are as close to a Bentley Continental or Italian exotic as you'll get in a crossover.

By SUV standards you sit fairly low in the FX, and the front tunnel/hump around the running gear takes away a bit of foot wiggle room. But there is a lot of travel in the seat tracks, 44 inches of legroom and a floor-hinged gas pedal so it won't be a deal-breaker.

The rear cabin matches the front for woodwork and finish, and the reclining seats are comfortable but it's better to use the center armrest rather than seat a third person on the firm middle cushion with limited foot room and a fixed headrest. Here the stylish proportions of the FX become noticeable because shoulder room matches the front but headroom's a bit less, and legroom loses 10 inches from the front. It isn't exactly tight but it isn't roomy either.

Nor is the cargo area particularly generous, offering 25 cubic feet behind the back seat and 62 cubic feet with it folded. It isn't a big trunk and we found it didn't fit a pair of big roller suitcases under the cover. Lift-over height is a relatively high 31 inches, meaning you'll have to lift your cargo waist-high to load it in back.

The rear seats are easily folded from the door or hatch; the narrow seat is behind the driver. There are four light-duty tie-down points, a 12-volt power point and light, and the cover that rides on chrome rails folds in three sections. A metal threshold plate includes a spring-loaded cover around the latch, and the space saver spare rides underfloor with a subwoofer resting within it.

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