Marc Stengel, Wed, 3 Aug 2005 08:00:00 PDT
I can't think of two more disparate interpretations of the sport/utilityvehicle and by the same corporate family, no less. On the one hand, there'sNissan's brute Xterra; on the other, Infiniti's svelte FX45. It's as ifthese two hands were wearing, respectively, brass knuckles and a velvetglove. Together, they fairly well represent the broad spectrum along whichsport/utility newcomers have evolved out of car and truck forebears.
In this instructive Nissan/Infiniti pairing, it soon becomes obvious thateach vehicle is very well suited for certain tasks. These tasks, however,are mutually exclusive, which is just another way of saying that "wellrounded" is not a particularly apt description of either one.
Infiniti calls its pair of FX sport/utility vehicles "crossover" models.That's meant, I suppose, to refer to some sort of automotive cross-dressingusing both car and truck apparel. For me, however, the swoopy FX representsa crossover into an entirely new motoring dimension.
My road test was in the larger, V8-powered FX45, which distributes 315 hpand 329 foot-pounds of torque through a full-time all-wheel-drivepowertrain. This twin-cam V8 scoots. The FX45 accelerates quickly yet calmlythrough the five-speed automatic transmission, and the slightly detectablethroatiness of the exhaust note is highly delectable.
The FX45's reflexes are finely tuned for sporty handling, even a bit highstrung perhaps. Big, low-profile tires paw the road, and ride feel is taut,verging on stiff. Dashing about in the FX45, however, is what triggers about of schizophrenia. There are multiple personalities competing for thedriver's attention, and they don't always seem to get along.
For one thing, the FX45 is a style maven. Inside and out, its looks areunparalleled. Simultaneously squat and sleek, the body seems to sit back onits haunches, waiting to pounce. Huge 20-inch wheels dominate the cornerslike so many giant Rolex watches. Nobody doesn't look at the FX45.
Inside, buttery soft, caramel-colored leather enfolds driver and passengers.The jelly-beany roundness of the exterior transforms the interior into asort of luxury bathysphere; and indeed you feel as if you're 20,000 leaguesunder the sea in this thing. Visibility, especially to the rear, suffersfrom stylishness; but the rear-view back-up camera is a welcome, otherwordlycompensation.
Otherworldly, too, are the FX45's qualifications. What, in other words, doesthe FX45 actually do? There's room for five adults; there's sporty handling;there's a big V8 and runway-model good looks. But the two-ton FX45 is tooheavy and round to be a sports car; people-cargo arrangements are only on apar with the Subaru Impreza; payload is a scant 1,100 pounds (that includespassengers); and towing is limited to 3,500 pounds. (Even the V6 Xterraearns a 5,000-pound tow rating.)
So I'm tempted to consider the FX45 as the George Hamilton of motorcars.Both are handsome and fun to be with; but it's never quite clear why,exactly, they're hanging around.
4-door, 5-pass.; 4.5-liter DOHC V8 w/ vvt; AWD, 5-sp. auto; 315 hp/329ft.-lbs.; 15 mpg/city, 19 mpg/hwy w/ regular; cargo: 27.4-64.5 cu. ft.; tow:3,500 lbs.; payload: 1,092 lbs.; std. equipment: 4-wheel ind. suspension &ABS disc brakes, dual-zone climate control, AM/FM/6-CD/cassette, 20-in.wheels, front/front-side/front-head airbags; base price: $45,450; as-tested:$53,510