Five-passenger performance crossover is ready for take-off

2012, Infiniti, Infiniti FX50 AWD

Imagine a panther on steroids. Think about the size of his haunches and his paws. Would you care about how much food it takes to keep this panther full and happy? I doubt it.

This is why I don't particularly care that the new Infiniti FX performance crossover is a bit fuel thirsty. As any endurance athlete knows, it's important to feed the beast. And considering what the vehicle is capable of, 17.8 miles-per-gallon isn't too bad.

The FX50's V-8 engine develops almost 400 horsepower and 369 foot-pounds of torque. Accelerating from zero-to-sixty feels like bungee jumping off a cliff.

Mammoth wheel arches house the crossover's standard 21-inch alloy wheels. Other performance highlights include a seven-speed automatic transmission with manual gear selection and downshift rev matching, four-piston front calipers, speed sensitive steering and dual exhausts. The exhaust note during hard acceleration is symphonic.

The five-liter V-8 is one of two available engines for the Infiniti FX. Buyers of a more practical bent can opt for the 3.5-liter V-6, which comes with the same transmission.

Base price for the FX50 all-wheel drive model is $59,350, excluding the $895 delivery charge. There are three options on the test car: a technology package which adds intelligent cruise control, lane departure warning, adaptive front lighting and rain-sensing windshield wipers ($2900); illuminated kick plates ($300); and a sport package including real-time damping control, rear active steer, front sport seats, a driver's seat with power bolster adjustment and some unique exterior trim ($3100). MSRP is $66,545.

Versatility for active families

Given its price, the FX50 will be, in many cases, a driver's only car. Knowing this, engineers imbued the car with technology leading safety features such as forward collision warning, an around-view monitor with front and rear sonar, lane departure and forward collision warning.

The around-view monitor in particular is ideal for parents with small children. Four small cameras monitor objects in the perimeter. When the driver shifts into reverse, he sees both rearview and 360-degree images, showing any obstacles around the car. Audible alarms warn the driver if he gets too close to an obstacle.

Lane departure warning sounds a chime if the driver veers outside of the lane lines without signaling, while accelerator pedal feedback warns him if the vehicle in front is braking suddenly. I found the forward collision warning useful in dense freeway traffic which can slow from 70 miles-per-hour to a crawl in a matter of seconds.

Unlike some intelligent cruise control systems which disengage at low speeds, Infiniti's works all the way down to zero, making it possible to engage the cruise control and leave it on in stop-and-go traffic.

All-wheel drive on the test car adds better stopping power in wet weather. Because it sends engine power to the wheels with the best traction, it also enhances performance on challenging roads. Rear active steer utilizes an electric motor to turn the rear wheels up to one degree in order to give them better bite on winding roads.

Test drive in the Superstitions

I spent a couple of days driving the FX on surface streets and highways around Phoenix before heading east into the Superstition wilderness. Driving around town, the FX is quite civilized: quiet and responsive. My only complaint is that the technology package doesn't include blind spot monitoring, which makes it much easier to monitor traffic in the adjacent lanes.

The engine and seven-speed transmission offer seamless performance, with crisp, smooth shifting. The car's abundance of low-end torque as well as horsepower makes merging into high-speed traffic and passing other vehicles at speed a non-issue.

I kept the transmission in fully-automatic mode while driving around town, and shifted into manual mode for the two-lane roads in the Superstitions. Formula-style shift paddles on the steering wheel make it easy to run through the gears, and keep the engine in its sweet spot of about 3000 rpm.

Steering feedback is excellent at all speeds. A 36.7-foot turning circle makes U-turns a possibility on wider suburban roads. The standard around-view monitor enhances side and rear visibility while parking on the street. The audible alarm also warns the driver about cross traffic when backing out of vertical parking slots.

A four-wheel independent suspension consists of double wishbones in front and a multi-link setup in the back. Stabilizer bars on both axles keep the chassis flat in the corners. Continuous damping control which comes with the sport package makes real-time adjustments to the suspension, and also enables the driver to adjust suspension stiffness with a separate sport setting.

Engineers did an excellent job of isolating passengers from road and wind noise, so passengers in both rows will have no trouble conversing.

At night adaptive front lighting swivels the headlamps according to steering inputs to light corners in the road. It's a great feature for drivers in dark suburban and rural areas, because the adaptive headlamps light parts of intersections which fixed headlamps miss.

Upscale interior

Luxury buyers expect to be pampered by their cars' interiors. The FX50 lives up to the promise, with elegant leather upholstery, and a thoughtfully-configured center stack which keeps clutter to a minimum. The graphics on the navigation system are among the best I've seen: easy to read in any light. The standard navigation system includes real-time weather and traffic updates, as well as a Zagat restaurant guide and Bluetooth streaming audio.

A mouse device controls many of the basic functions. Both the driver and front passenger can easily reach any of the control buttons.

Both front and rear passengers have access to dual cupholders: in the center console and a fold-down rear armrest. There are no bottle holders in the doors. A locking glovebox, center console bin and small bin in the rear armrest provide additional storage.

The car's huge wheel arches limit access and egress to the back seats, because the rear doors need to be small. Once inside, passengers should find plenty of head, leg and hip room. A tall floor tunnel limits legroom in the center position.

The rear seats fold flat in a 60/40 pattern to extend the cargo floor for larger items. Standard roof rails make it easy to add a top carrier as well.

Standard safety

The Infiniti FX50 comes with front, side and side curtain airbags, four channel antilock brakes, stability and traction control. Infiniti's factory warranty includes complimentary roadside assistance and free loaner cars when the owner's vehicle comes in for service.

Likes: Infiniti's high-performance crossover enables families with active lifestyles to combine sports-car ride and handling with seating for five and a versatile cargo area. Innovative safety features should put the FX50 on the short list for buyers who regularly commute in urban traffic.

Dislike: Small rear doors limit access and egress to the second-row seats.

Quick facts:

Make: Infiniti Model: FX50 AWD Year: 2012 Base price: $59, 350 As tested: $66, 545 Horsepower: 390 Hp @ 6500 rpm Torque: 369 lbs.-ft. @ 4400 rpm Zero-to-sixty: N/A Antilock brakes: Standard Side curtain airbags: Standard First aid kit: N/A Bicycle friendly: Yes Off-road: No Towing: Yes Fuel economy: 14/20 mpg city/highway

By Nina Russin

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Images of the 2012, Infiniti Infiniti FX50 AWD

2012 Infiniti FX50 AWD
2012 Infiniti FX50 AWD
Upscale Interior
Upscale Interior
2012 Infiniti FX50 AWD Side View
2012 Infiniti FX50 AWD Side View
2012 Infiniti FX50 AWD Rear View
2012 Infiniti FX50 AWD Rear View