Q or Not Q

2013 Infiniti JX35 32013 Infiniti JX35 AWD. All Photos by Randy Stern

A Victory & Reseda review of the 2013 Infiniti JX35

One of the greatest cars I ever driven in my lifetime – it might surprise you to know what it is.

In 1993, I took a test drive in an Infiniti Q45. I was a fan of Nissan's then-flagship since it blew away convention in the face of German, British and American competition. Not to mention, being the complete opposite of the original Lexus LS.

The Q45 represented a different kind of luxury. It was a big, powerful machine that had more than enough leather, tech and engineering to make us think about the big luxury sedan. It was sporty compared to a BMW 7-Series or Mercedes-Benz S-Class of the era. With 276 horsepower and a perfect suspension set-up, the Q45 drove like anything I ever set foot in.

It has been a while since I drove an Infiniti. A FX35 in the mid-to-late 2000s was OK, but it confused me. The soul of the first Q45 was present, but somehow I did not feel the same as I did during that drive 19 years ago. I needed proof that the original mission of Infiniti was still there.

Perhaps this new JX crossover would provide me an answer to this quest.

The JX is Infiniti's entry into a competitive segment of premium three-row crossovers. Mercedes-Benz claims they own the segment with its massive GL – as feted by Motor Trend's SUV of The Year award – but the Audi Q7 offers the counterpoint of being the original. You would also include the Lincoln MKT, Acura MDX and the Buick Enclave in the mix. Though volumes are not as huge as its lower priced competitors, families looking for luxury have a real choice without climbing on board something supersized and expensive such as the Cadillac Escalade or the JX's stablemate – the QX56.

How is the JX, you ask? Does it satisfy the memory of that old Q45?

For starters, it would not be fair to compare a mid-sized crossover to a 23-year-old flagship sedan. However, you will find some similarities on the outside. The JX begins with a sculptured profile with shapes and textures that signify Infiniti's design tenets. The large grille announces the JX’s arrival anywhere, but flanked with some small-ish headlamps. The rest of the profile continues in the usual manner with large doors and accessible liftgate.

The key attraction to the JX is the swath of glass framed by a chrome crown. The D pillar features a curving sweep that scales back to the rear – the JX's signature. Though this model wore twenty-inch medium gray satin finished wheels, the medium profile Bridgestone Dueler tires finish off the look by balancing the JX's overall look between aggressive, poised and elegant.

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Infiniti has always crafted automobile with an emphasis on elegance. The interior continues this theme with the same amount of round shapes wherever you look and touch. There is a bit of purple tint in the instrumentation when lit denoting the brand’s official color. Included in the instrumentation binnacle is the Intelligent-View display giving a clear picture of what is going on with the JX at all times.

On top of the center stack is a big screen, that house in the infotainment suite – including a very good navigation system. There are some issues with some switches as they range from fiddly to solid. Other switches are shared with other Nissan models, some of which are merely OK for an Infiniti. For the most part, interior quality is high with fine textures and finishes.

The driver and front passenger are treated to a pair of thrones. These seats are not only big, but they are very comfortable. There is enough bolstering and cushion to keep the driver locked behind the wheel. Second row passengers are treated to three-across seating with a lack of a center hump. Not only the split second row seats recline, they are also adjustable for rake. In this example, the second row passengers have two screens on the back of the front seat headrests to watch their favorite video programming – all part of the Theater Package with wireless headphones and other accompaniments.

Considering this is a three-row crossover, there are concerns about using the back row. There are really two positions for the third row – either one for children with the second row moved towards the front or just simply folded away. If you are considering seating seven adults, this may not be a comfortable alternative. In my case, I folded the rear seat and moved the second row to its furthest back position. That way, adult room is accomplished.

Sound is channeled through a Bose's Cabin Surround sound system. You get AM, FM and SiriusXM radio along with Bluetooth connectivity with your phone and the remaining components to the video screens for the second row passengers as part of the Theater Package. The flip side of the Bluetooth connection is with music files where there was inconsistency in control, readout and playback. Otherwise, sound quality through the 13 Bose speakers was simply great.

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Under the hood is one of the best engines in the world: Nissan's VQ35. The 3.5litre V6 puts out 265 horsepower with 248 pounds-feet of torque. It is the right engine for the JX as it never felt taxed since this three-row crossover only weighed just over 4,400 pounds. The VQ35 is connected to a continuously variable transmission with power going to all four wheels. Unlike most CVTs, this one did a great job keeping ratios right at the correct revs and responding to the throttle for needed acceleration.

The all-wheel drive system worked very well, especially in Snow mode. There are other settings on the Drive Mode Selector knob in the middle of the center console where you can shift conditions on the fly. Eco mode softens up the vehicle to induce better efficiency, while Sport simply opens up the throttle and keeps the suspension in check through brisk driving moments. Normal mode combines the best of both extremes. For the most part, the JX switched between Snow and Eco modes in-between finding better grip and traction and keeping the crossover moving on drier surfaces.

In driving the JX, one has to remember that it is mid-sized, despite the "huge" feeling from the driver's seat. In this case, "huge" means "solid" and "nimble" – at the same time. To explain, there is a perception of the JX being wide and long. Yet, when you drive it, it actually feels smaller than it is perceived. The ride is solid and absorbent, to begin with. It is also nimble in traffic. Handling is on the soft side, but with minimal roll and lean. Road imperfections are handled well with minimal shock to the cabin.

The steering system on the JX was surprisingly superb. Turns were tighter for a vehicle of its size. Reaction was quick, though a bit loose in feel. When you switch the JX into Snow mode, the steering becomes more weighted to handle maneuvers on caked and iced surfaces. Braking was strong and direct in both normal and panic stops.

To augment the driving experience is a suite of active safety features designed to keep you in line on the road. When you back out, the center screen shows you not only what is behind you, but around you. The Around-View monitor shows you overhead shots of every side of your vehicle when you back out. There is a monitor that senses anything approaching form behind. On the sides of the A-pillar are Blind Spot Warning monitors that work silently – only emitting a yellow light when something is in your zone.

Put on the cruise control and it monitors the distance between you and the car in front – slowing down when the car in front does the same. Having dealt with Lane Departure systems, the one in the JX also works to keep you form going into the other lane rather than warn you when you actually do. The Infiniti approach to active safety is quite tremendous – and, frankly, not entirely annoying to the driver.

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One concern on the JX was fuel economy. You would expect a poor consumption loop in such a big vehicle. Surprisingly, it averaged 18.8MPG – right on target with its competition. According to the owner’s manual, fueling with Premium is recommended for better performance.

When it comes to value, the JX also is positioned right competitively amongst luxury three-row crossovers. Starting price for a front-wheel drive model is $40,650. All-wheel drive models begin at $42,050. However, this fully equipped model with practically every package available rang up the bill to $56,005.

While some may balk at the pricing for the JX, there are a few things to understand here. One, it fulfills the lineage of the Q45 as it stands out on its own with design details inside and out and a swagger in terms of technology used on board. Secondly, if you compare this to its competition, the perceived value of the JX is skewed to include the active safety suite and Infiniti's level of quality is very real. You could spend less on a Buick Enclave, but there any many things the JX has available – that work much, much better. Lastly, this Tennessee-built crossover is a lesson in balance. Though you may not get optimal three-row passenger space, the JX offers much more in terms of technology and traction management.

There is a twist to the whole Q45-JX35 discussion. Recently, Infiniti announced a changing in naming convention starting with the 2014 model year. Therefore, the JX will become the QX60. You may discuss this amongst yourselves…

Has the soul of the original Q45, along with Infiniti's original mission, found its way onto the JX35? Back in 1990, the luxury SUV/crossover was a field only reserved for the few and Infiniti (moreover, Nissan) was not ready to field one. The market has changed and two decades later – Infiniti sells more varieties of crossover/SUVs than regular cars. Somewhere deep inside the JX, I found the Q45. It may not be as absolutely opulent as the original flagship, but if you experienced one at its heyday – you might just sense it somewhere amongst the three rows of the JX.

The JX…or, rather, the QX60…moves the brand forward – that in itself is a win for Infiniti.

DISCLAIMER: Vehicle provided by Nissan North America, Inc.

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