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Driven: Infiniti FX is a premium SUV wildcard

Special FX: Love it or hate it, the imposing exterior of the Infiniti FX stands out from the crowd.

Polarising petrol-powered Infiniti FX range a surprisingly dynamic handler


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6 Jun 2012


INFINITI will seek to stand out from the crowd in Australia’s growing luxury SUV market with the FX, a crossover designed to offer the low-slung proportions and dynamic prowess of a sportscar.

The debutante brand from Japan (if we ignore the Nissan-sold Q45 large sedan of the mid-1990s) has pitched the FX as an alternative to taller SUVs like the BMW X5, believing it will appeal to early adopters and those who wish to set themselves apart from the crowd.

The company expects the FX to account for more than eighty per cent of its overall sales when it launches here in August alongside the M sedan and – from December – the G coupe and cabriolet.

Kicking off the range Down Under will be the FX37, powered by a 3.7-litre V6 shared with the Nissan 370Z that produces 235kW of power at a high-revving 7000rpm and 360Nm of torque.

While the company is yet to confirm local pricing, a figure somewhere around $80,000 is likely for the FX37.

Pitched at around the same price point will be the oil-burning FX30d, powered by a Renault-sourced turbo-diesel V6 that produces 175kW and 550Nm while consuming around 8.5 litres per 100km on the UK combined cycle.

The flagship of the range – and by extension the flagship of the company in Australia – will be the FX50S, powered by a thumping 5.0-litre V8 petrol engine producing 287kW and 500Nm, and set to sport a pricetag above $100,000.

All variants will use a seven-speed semi-automatic (with tactile solid magnesium paddle shifters) derived from the unit in the brawny 370Z coupe, with an all-wheel-drive system that naturally favours the rear axle but can divert up to fifty per cent of torque to the front.

GoAuto ventured to the challenging roads of New Zealand’s South Island to briefly sample both petrol versions of the FX ahead of the company’s launch in Australia. Both were UK-spec vehicles, but closely reflect the ones we will see here.

We will have to wait for the local launch to sample the diesel, which is likely to account for the biggest proportion of sales judging by local trends for these sorts of SUVs in Australia.

Approaching the FX, it’s clear that Infiniti is serious about emphasising its outsider image – the car has dramatic looks and an imposing presence all its own, with a long and curvaceous bonnet, in-your-face grille, a high waistline with a low roof, big wheels and chrome air vents behind the front wheelarches.

Infiniti claims that Nissan’s global chief, Carlos Ghosn, instructed its designers to come up with deliberately polarising product that didn’t appeal to everyone, and to our eyes the company has hit the nail on the head.

The cabin in both variants was well-equipped, but Infiniti has overdone its raid on the Nissan parts bin. The audio and navigation controls, climate-control unit, starter button and key fob are straight out of cars like the Murano and Maxima, and are not befitting a premium car.

That is not to say the interior is of poor quality – far from it, as everything feels solid and nice to the touch while the leather seats are a lesson to others – but the design is now more than three years old (the FX debuted overseas in 2009), and it shows.

Our first experience behind the wheel came at the helm of the FX37, with the beefy Nissan V6 easily handling the SUV’s extra weight over the Z and exhibiting strong mid-range oomph that was let down only by its gruff and uninspired exhaust note.

Indeed, the FX doesn’t really feel like an SUV at all, with a much lower and less-commanding driving position than most rivals, and the sort of steering response and composure in the bends that generally typifies premium sporty sedans and passenger wagons.

Somewhat damning for the overtly sporty Infiniti M35h high-performance sedan, the FX is actually the better driver’s car, with more assured and communicative electric steering.

The excellent all-wheel-drive system is unobtrusive with its allocation of engine power and keeps the low-profile rubber firmly fixed to the desired line. Give it the boot mid-corner and it will even let the tail slide out ever-so-slightly before the electronics snatch it back into line.

The ride, while BMW-firm, is acceptable for this sort of vehicle and admirably soaked up the corrugations along a wet gravel road.

The downside of the low-profile tyres (the FX37 has 20-inch alloys as standard, while the FX50S has 21s) is the amount of road noise that seeps into the cabin, which is unbecoming of what is ultimately a luxury vehicle.

The transmission, while smooth and unobtrusive on the go, can also be caught out hunting for the right gear on quicker take-offs.

Officially, the FX37 can dash from zero to 100km/h in 6.8 seconds, a figure that we found to be about right.

While the V8 version is a full second quicker, it doesn’t really feel much punchier than the six-cylinder through the gears, although our fuel use for both was around the same at 13.5L/100km (when driven aggressively), indicating that the bigger engine handled the strain with less effort.

Our FX50S was also fitted with Infiniti’s excellent Active Rear Steering system – the first such system on an SUV – that uses an electric motor to turn the rear wheels up to one degree, resulting in even sharper dynamics than the lighter FX37.

Standard features on our test cars included radar-guided cruise control, distance-control warning, a lane-departure warning system that beeped with such regularity that we eventually switched it off, a premium Bose sound system, satellite navigation, a rear-view camera and lashings of leather trim.

Leg and shoulder room is good for up to five passengers – there is no seven-seat option – and headroom is surprisingly adequate despite the low roofline and fitment of a sunroof.

Infiniti has set out to add some dash to the burgeoning luxury SUV market with the FX, and on brief first impression has largely been successful – at least when it comes to polarising looks and dynamic road manners.

Still, much of it will depend on price, and for that we will have to wait. Judging by the slightly sub-standard interior presentation, we think it needs to be at the sharper end of the premium segment to really make the sort of waves Infiniti expects.

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