Nissan’s upscale Infiniti brand had a pretty large hole in its lineup. Namely, no three-row crossover sport utility vehicle. You could either get the rather massive QX56 with its truck frame and thirsty V8 engine, or the sporty FX which only has room for 4 or 5 people.
Infiniti’s problem has been solved for the 2013 model year with the introduction of the all-new JX35, a mid-size crossover SUV with three rows of seats and lots of features. For those who looked at the Infiniti brand but passed on their other offerings, this one stakes out new ground for them.
Styling-wise, it’s a bit of a mixed bag. From the rear three-quarter view the JX35 shows a handsome side, with a nicely sculpted kink of bright metal that surrounds the rear-most side glass, sitting above a curvy rear fender section.
But move your gaze to the front, and it’s not so cohesive. The rather bulbous nose and signature Infiniti grill seem a bit out of place, reminding me slightly of the final version of the GM minivans from the mid-2000s.
Cast the exterior design aside and step into the comfy driver’s seat, and all can be forgiven. The interior is quite striking, with a sweeping dashboard and center control arrangement. Materials are first-rate, and the JX is very quiet at speed.
The overall feeling I got was like being in a very nice minivan, but don’t take that as a negative. In terms of interior space and driving position, minivans are actually hard to beat. This is not a true minivan, but if you can’t get over the I’ve-settled-down-and-have-a-family stigma of one, it’s all the pluses without the minuses.
There’s only one engine choice for the JX, a 3.5 liter V6 that’s appeared in many other Nissan and Infiniti products over the years, and in this case produces 265 horsepower. Power is sent through a CVT (continuously variable transmission) automatic either driving the front or all four wheels, depending on whether you choose the all wheel drive model.
The engine and transmission work very well together, with the CVT not giving off that vague, slipping feeling that early examples of the technology had some years ago when they were new. Engine power is adequate, though I only drove the JX with two people inside and not loaded to capacity. In that latter case, more power might be wished for.
You couldn’t wish for any better chassis manners, however. The engineers working on this vehicle absolutely nailed the balance between ride and handling. I found it to be nimble (as vehicles in its size and weight class go), and my radio co-host took one over a very broken and bumpy section of freeway that he uses for vehicle evaluation. He reported that the JX35 soaked up the bumps in an amazing fashion.
And as in other Infiniti products, safety and convenience technology abound. My favorite feature is the optional Around View Monitor, which places cameras in the front and back of the vehicle as well as in the bottom of each side view mirror. They combine their images to project an overall view of the whole car onto the center screen, making parking much less of a chore.
On the safety front, the latest version of Infiniti’s Lane Departure Warning system alerts you if you’re about to change lanes into the path of a vehicle that may be in your blind spot. That option, along with others that do everything from making it safer to back out of a parking space to helping you find a restaurant, are options as well.
Base price for the 2013 Infiniti JX35 is $40,450. My front wheel drive test vehicle had most of the safety options plus a gorgeous set of polished 20” wheels and checked in at just over $51,000. Adding other niceties would send the sticker price north of $55,000 pretty easily.
If Goldilocks from the children’s story were looking for the perfect Infiniti SUV, she might find that the FX is too small, but the QX is too big. But alas, the new JX might be the one that she calls “just right.”
I’ll see you down the road.
Dave Kunz is the automotive reporter at KABC-TV Channel 7 and can be heard on “The Car Show” Saturdays at 9 a.m. on KPFK, 90.7 FM. E-mail Dave at TVCarz @ pacbell.net Twitter: @dave_kunz, Facebook: ABC7Dave.