DEL MAR, Calif. -- Stretching long and decorated with a raked face flashing a chrome-ringed grille and speed-strafed projector-type headlamps on front corners plus curvaceous fender blisters bulging over tall alloy wheels, the new FX crossover utility vehicle (CUV) from Infiniti looks dramatically different from the typically boxy sport utility vehicle (SUV).
The lower body seems substantial and strong like a SUV yet the upper section including a narrow wrap of windows with a broad windshield cocked back at an extreme angle and the trailing tapered roofline seems more akin to some racy sports car or a rakish GT-style coupe.
It's taut and obviously athletic in a sculptural shape, but also smooth and sleek, even sensuous -- and clearly a departure from the two-box school of SUV styling. But stylists at Infiniti designed the FX wagons to act differently from the SUV bunch.
Riding on a stiff rear-wheel-drive (RWD) platform rigged with a taut suspension, long list of high-tech electronically controlled hardware aboard and a muscular new V8 or optional V6 engine, the FX amounts to a CUV which functions like a SUV yet handles more like a sports car.
Infiniti rolled out the original FX wagons as 2004 models, but in the 2009 line new versions emerge to mark a second generation for FX. FX for 2009 is available with either RWD or all-wheel-drive (AWD) organization for a pair of powertrain variations which tie each model to nomenclature describing the displacement of the engine.
FX35 packs Nissan's VQ-series 3.5-liter V6 used by the spirited G35 sedan, with options for the RWD or AWD traction. FX50 goes further with a new 5.0-liter V8 and it stocks AWD equipment exclusively plus super-scale alloy wheels by Enkei ringed by 21-inch P265/45R21 summer tires.
The VQ35HR V6 in FX35, with dual cams on top and four valves in each cylinder plus an electronically-controlled drive-by-wire throttle, produces 303 hp at 6800 rpm, with torque pumping up to 262 lb-ft at 4800 rpm. It also gets a new valve controller -- dubbed VVEL (Variable Valve Event and Lift).
That new VQ50VE V8 for FX50 also comes with dual overhead cams and four valves per cylinder with the VVEL controls. Output climbs to 390 hp at 6500 rpm as the torque soars to 369 lb-ft at 4400 rpm.
Both the V6 and V8 engines link exclusively to a new seven-speed electronic automatic transmission featuring downshift rev matching and Adaptive Shift Control (ASC) with manual shift mode and optional solid magnesium paddle shifters perched on the steering wheel for hands-on-wheel shifting manipulations.
FX's 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.
A chance to drive all three of the 2009 FX wagons occurs in California with a romp across San Diego County on roads ranging from pancake flats in the low Anza Borrego Desert to wiggly two-lane traces winding through the Vallecito Mountains and some flat-out surges on multi-lanes of the I-8 freeway pointing westwardly toward San Diego.
From this seat-time experience we find that the FX35 feels absolutely fine with its frisky acceleration and sure-footed agility, yet the FX50 seems like a step beyond the necessary and into the realm of adrenal-spiked thrill-on-wheels which makes an aggressive driver look for excuses to push the pedal to the floor and hang on tightly.
FX's rigid platform is called FM, for Front Midship, which describes the engine's position on the chassis. The front wheels sit 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 car turns into a curve. Add acceleration coming out of that curve and the result translates into optimum weight balance which enables the driver to carve one corner after another in the FX with keen confidence.
The suspension is totally independent with lightweight aluminum components. Up front is a new double wishbone design featuring high camber stiffness and the back is a multi-link arrangement. 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 all tie by computerized links to the anti-lock brake system (ABS) with electronic brake assist (EBA) and electronic brake force distribution (EBD). Further, all FX models carry Infiniti's vehicle dynamic control (VDC) device which automatically checks 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. FX'S cabin turns into a creative exercise of form following function in an innovative design with form-fitting seats and a wagonload of high-tech electronic gizmos.
There are three zones tailored to the person using it.
The driver's zone is cockpit space with all of the right controls plus power-everything. A comfort zone maximizes cushy fittings for the front passenger, while a play zone for backseat riders brings reclining seats, a center armrest with tray and storage space plus optional entertainment equipment like a DVD player with wireless headphones and a ceiling-mounted video screen.
Options on FX wagons cluster in packages. FX35 shows a Premium Package, Navigation Package, Technology Package, DVD Mobile Entertainment Package and a Deluxe Touring Package. FX50 stocks as standard the Premium and Navigation packages, but then offers a Sports Package, the Technology Package and DVD Mobile Entertainment Package. Infiniti structures the price chart for new FX wagons upward from the entry MSRP of $40,950.