TORREY PINES, Calif. -- We're poised on a parking lot in the San Diego suburb of Torrey Pines preceding some drive tests in a 2010 EX35 crossover utility vehicle (CUV) from the Infiniti ultra brand derived from Nissan of Japan.
EX 2010 unites a powerful V6 engine with sculptural bodywork and a spacious five-place passenger compartment filled with a carload of comfort gear as well as high-tech electronic gadgets.
Stretching long and decorated with a raked face flashing a chrome-ringed grille and speed-strafed projector-type headlamps on front corners, the EX has a windswept shape with muscular shoulders and flat flanks plus curvaceous fender blisters bulging over alloy wheels.
Infiniti says the EX possesses the soul of a nimble sports coupe, but then it packs the hardware of a sporty car.
Its rear-wheel-drive (RWD) platform -- called FM, for Front Midship, which describes the motor's position on the chassis -- is the same underpinning Infiniti's G35 sports sedan, the G37 sports coupe plus Nissan's no-nonsense 370Z fastback coupe.
On the platform the front wheels set way forward and the engine is positioned so that its center of gravity falls behind the front axles. This placement results in a weight distribution biased slightly in favor of front wheels.
Yet the front wheels are slightly heavier by design of the suspension geometry to pre-load them with more weight when the wagon turns into a curve. Add acceleration coming out of that curve and the result translates into optimum weight balance which enables the aggressive driver to carve one corner after another in the EX35 with keen confidence.
The suspension is totally independent with lightweight aluminum components. Up front is a double wishbone mounted on a subframe and the back is a multi-link arrangement with stabilizer bars plus high-performance dual-flow pass shock absorbers fore and aft.
Steering, through a quick-to-respond rack and pinion mechanism, feels firm despite the assist from a vehicle-speed-sensitive power boost.
A vented disc brake stands at every wheel and each ties by computerized links to the anti-lock brake system (ABS) with electronic brake assist (EBA) and electronic brake force distribution (EBD).
Further, all EX models carry Infiniti's vehicle dynamic control (VDC) device and traction control system (TCS) which automatically check lateral skidding on slippery pavement.
Also, there are plenty of air bags concealed in the passenger compartment. The collection includes dual-stage frontal air bags plus side-impact air bags for front seats and curtain-style air bags mounted in the roof above front and rear outboard seats.
EX for 2010 is available with either RWD or all-wheel-drive (AWD) organization and Nissan's VQ-series dual-cam V6 engine mounted longitudinally and tied to an electronically-controlled drive-by-wire throttle.
The plant displaces 3.5 liters and features a ladder-frame construction of the aluminum-alloy block with continuous valve timing control (CVTC), a high rev limit (7600 rpm) and tall compression ratio (10.6:1).
These engine modifications produce lots of muscle, of course, as the VQ35HR V6 generates 297 hp at 6800 rpm with torque rising to 253 lb-ft at 4800 rpm.
Hang on for a wild ride because EX35 romps -- it's quick off the stoplight line but also quick to accelerate at highway speed and, as our drive tests reveal, downright fun to drive.
EX35 supports only one transmission, a five-speed electronic automatic with manual shift mode (MSM), downshift rev matching (DRM) and adaptive shift control (ASC).
EX's optional electronically controlled AWD equipment carries an obtuse moniker of "Advanced Total Traction Engineering System for All Electronic Torque Split."
It sounds better when crimped to the run-on acronym of ATTESA E-TS.
The smart equipment is able to distribute the engine's torque in amounts which vary with the pavement conditions (smooth or rough, wet or dry) and a particular driver's intensity. That torque division could be 50:50 (front/rear) to assure good tire grip on dirt or slippery snow, or a split of 0:100 (front/rear) for optimum acceleration on dry pavement from a standing start.
Aluminum alloy 17-inch wheels are standard issue for the EX35 with 225/60R17 tires, but the upscale Journey edition adds optional 18-inch alloys and 225/55R18 treads.
The cabin for EX35, with form-fitting seats and lots of electronic gizmos, is an artful design trimming in premium leather with textured aluminum accents.
On the second row a bench is designed to seat two comfortably but hold three riders if necessary. The seatback splits 60/40 and folds flat to expand the cargo area, and convenient power controls to return the seatback upright appear as an optional feature.
The rear cargo area is generous at 18.6 cubic feet but with rear seatbacks folded it expands to 55.7 cubic feet.
EX35 RWD and EX35 AWD carry stock gear like leather upholstery and aluminum trim, dual-zone automatic climate controls, eight-way power for driver's seat and four-way power for the passenger's seat, power for windows and door locks and exterior mirrors, leather-wrapped steering wheel, automatic headlights, RearView Monitor, remote keyless entry, six-speaker AM/FM/CD stereo and XM satellite radio.
EX35 Journey models (RWD and AWD) add a power glass moonroof, maple wood cabin trim, auto-dimming interior mirror with digital compass, Bluetooth hands-free phone system, power tilt/telescopic steering column and heated front seats.
The Premium Package includes a leather-look meter hood, power remote up-folding second-row seats and xenon auto-leveling headlights with adaptive front lighting system (AFS).
The Navigation Package brings the Infiniti Hard Drive Navigation System plus a 9.3-GB Music Box hard drive and in-dash DVD audio/video drive.
And a Technology Package features lane departure warning (LDW), lane departure prevention (LDP), intelligent cruise control (ICC), distance control assist (DCA), intelligent brake assist (IBA) with forward collision warning (FCW), and the clever Around View Monitor (AVM) delivering a 360-degree view of the vehicle via four small cameras.
Infiniti structures the price chart for the 2010 EX35 CUV upward from the entry MSRP of $33,800.