Infiniti has made a 180 degree turn with its SUV lineup electing to sell for the first time in its quarter-century history a front-wheel drive sport utility vehicle. But that’s not the biggest news. The all-new 2013 JX is not only driven by its front wheels, it’s motivated by a continuously variable transmission (CVT), usually reserved in the luxury ranks for hybrid vehicles.
When we first heard that startling news shortly before the JX was unveiled last fall at the Los Angeles Auto Show we were predisposed not to like Infiniti’s newest crossover. But considering that Infiniti is the luxury arm of Nissan, the company that has staked its future on the CVT, it was inevitable that a vehicle wearing the Infiniti badge would eventually join the gear-less ranks.
After living with the seven-passenger JX35 for a week, we came to like the way it looked and, more importantly, the way it performed and handled. By the time we turned the keys back to Infiniti we had gained an admiration for the JX. The fact it’s front-wheel driven (it can be purchased with all-wheel drive) and does not have a conventional automatic transmission made very little difference.
While the styling is somewhat less futuristic, it’s attractive and modern, fitting in nicely with its cadre of competition. The interior layout is handsome, perhaps better described as elegant, with quality materials befitting its price tag, which starts at $41,640 including destination charge.
The unibody platform JX plugs a big hole in the Infiniti brand. Infiniti needed a family crossover to do battle with such competitors as the Buick Enclave, Lexus RX 350, Lincoln MKT and Acura MDX.
The JX is based on the Nissan Murano platform, but stretched longer (196 inches) and wider to accommodate three rows of passengers. The second row tilts and slides 5.5 inches fore and aft allowing passengers to enter and exit the third row with ease. And the third row offers enough headroom for average-sized adults, not always the case for so-called six-and-seven passenger crossovers.
The sliding second-row seats allow people of virtually all heights to gain just the leg room they need without asking any sacrifices from the front-row folks.
When hauling cargo is the order of the day, the JX can satisfy most needs with 15.8 cubic feet behind the third-row seats. For those who tow weekend toys, the JX has useable tow rating of 3,500 pounds.
Moving the JX, which weighs in at over two tons, is Nissan’s 3.5 liter V-6 making 265 horsepower and 248 pound-feet of torque; a venerable engine that still performs quite well and offers decent gas mileage for the segment.
A people hauler isn’t expected to be the quickest animal on the planet, and for its size and mission in life, the JX has good numbers measured at about 8 seconds from 0-to-60 and 16 seconds at 90 mph in a quarter mile. Gas mileage for the front-driven JX is 18 mpg city and 24 mpg highway. All-wheel drive is rated at 18/23.
The JX is loaded with the newest in safety technology, much of it optional, including the industry’s first back-up collision intervention system, which detects traffic coming from either side and automatically hits the brakes. This includes an Around View Monitor, which shows a virtual 360-degree image of the area around the vehicle and audibly warns the driver of moving objects within the displayed range.
Virtually all the safety technology now on the market is available including Lane Departure Warning, Lane Departure Prevention, Distance Control Assist (applies the brakes in slowing traffic ifyou don’t), Blind Spot Warning, Blind Spot Intervention, Forward Collision Warning, and intelligent cruise control. Our loaded test vehicle carried a bottom line price of $54,700, a whopping $13,060 over the JX base price. The safety package alone was $3,100.
The interior features a good mixture of leather, wood and aluminum. Switches and buttons are intuitive. We like the traditional number (one though six) radio pre-set buttons. Too many vehicles now force the driver to go to the touch screen simply to change the radio station. Likewise, the climate control system can be operated by dashboard buttons without the need for the screen access. When you do want to navigate the display screen — including setting up a destination in navigation — Infiniti’s controller knob makes the job easy.
We think Infiniti has adequately checked all the boxes with its newest SUV highlighted by one of the most passenger-friendly interiors in the segment, a comfortable driving demeanor and some of the most cutting-edge safety equipment in the industry. Early sales figures indicate the JX will be a huge success, and rightly so.
By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman