Handier than a Car, Nicer than an SUV
Steve Schaefer, Wed, 4 Feb 2009 08:00:00 PDT
The Infiniti EX35 is a clever and appealing answer to a major automotive marketing dilemma of the 2000's. How do you combine the SUV functionality that buyers loved in the 1990s with car level comfort while still retaining enough individuality to distinguish your product from its competitors?
Infiniti sticks close to the car side of the spectrum and bases its new crossover on its successful sedans, both in appearance and performance.
"The new Infiniti EX35 is a breathtaking design and a breath of fresh air in the segment, with its sculpted elegance, engaging interior and exciting performance," says Mark Igo, vice president and general manager, Infiniti Division, Nissan North America, Inc.
While some brands are adding environmental responsibility to their crossovers, that's not Infiniti's choice with the EX. This car is a true performer, sharing its potent 3.5-liter dual-overhead-cam V6 with its G35 sedan sibling. This lively engine churns out 297 horsepower and 253 lb.-ft. of torque, which moves the 3,800-pound vehicle along authoritatively.
Careful tuning and lots of high-tech cleverness has gone into this powerplant. Continuously variable valve timing and drive by wire throttle help increase efficiency and maximize performance during all types of driving. The exhaust system has been carefully constructed for improved engine breathing, and its sound is tuned for the driver's aural pleasure.
The engine's bountiful power flows through a five-speed automatic with manual shift mode. For extra smoothness, the transmission provides automatic rev matching.
"The EX35's tuning strategy features a refined balance of quick acceleration that builds continuously to the redline," says Igo. "It's a deepening pleasure that keeps getting better as you drive "
Official fuel economy numbers are 17 City, 24 Highway; I averaged right in the middle 20.2 mpg. EPA Green Vehicle Guide numbers are 6 for Air Pollution and 5 for Greenhouse Gas, about average.
Much of the pleasure of any car, besides its looks, power and handling prowess, is how it feels when you're sitting inside it, interacting with its controls and accommodations. In the EX, you feel both coddled and involved. The surfaces are elegantly finished, you can even order genuine maple trim, which my test car featured.
The EX35 feels smaller and cozier than you might expect. The thick, padded, leather-wrapped steering wheel is your hands' interface with the car, while your eyes travel over a "double wave" dash that bristles with buttons and provides easy-to-read high-contrast gauges. The overall effect is very relaxing and makes short work of any trip.
The EX35 comes in crossover shape only, in two levels, the "regular" version with cloth seats, and the Journey level with numerous upgrades. Either level can be ordered in rear-wheel-drive or optional all-wheel-drive configuration. The all-wheel-drive system uses active torque distribution management with an active center clutch to provide smooth starts and better traction and maneuverability on snowy roads. This isn't a big bonus in most of California, but skiers will be happy to have it.
The Journey level, like my Liquid Platinum test car, adds a power moonroof, leather-covered seating, auto dimming inside mirror with compass, a front and rear sonar system for parking assistance, and power-folding second-row seats.
Infiniti wasn't content to pack this car with the usual upscale equipment. As part of the Technology Package, you can have the Around View Monitor (AVM) system, which uses four strategically placed cameras to give the driver a complete view of what's outside of the car during parking maneuvers. The EX35 is the first production car to offer it.
Another high tech goodie in the Technology Package is the Lane Departure Prevention (LDP) system. This goes beyond the company's Lane Departure Warning system, which monitors lane markers and sounds a beep and flashes a light if your car wanders across one. The LDP system uses the car's vehicle dynamic control system to gently brake a particular wheel to ease the car back into the lane for you. It can be deactivated in case you don't want this free assistance.
Prices for the EX35 start at $31,300 for the rear-wheel-drive standard car, and range up to $36,250 for the Journey model with all-wheel drive. Add $815 for delivery and pick your options. My tester had several packages that improved the audio system, added power controls, upgraded the climate control, bumped the wheels up to 18-inchers, installed a navigation system, and more. My sample car came to $43,815.
If you want a highly functional, fun-to-drive luxury sports sedan, the EX35 is a good choice, and these days, deals surely can be had.