Pros: Inviting interior, powerful V6; low step-in height; sleek styling

Cons: Small back seat; smaller cargo hold; high pricing on the Journey model; RWD not as good in snow as FWD

If you like the look of the Infiniti FX but find the cost and size are a bit more than you need, take a look at the smaller Infiniti EX35. With the EX, you'll get the same curvaceous exterior that makes the FX so appealing but in a package that is smaller, lower to the ground and much easier to maneuver. The EX35's powerful V6 engine won't disappoint, although its small rear seat and cargo capacity might. If you regularly ferry four passengers, the EX may not be the best choice.

We could go on about this technical point or that horsepower advantage, but these things aren't what make the EX shine. Aside from mechanical brilliance and electronic gadgetry, the EX possesses an interior that is truly stunning. It's a place you'll want to spend time, wrapped in elegant shapes, rich colors and vibrant detail. This, in our opinion, is what constitutes a luxury vehicle. Anyone can tack on a fancy navigation system or a complex set of electronic hand holders (and the EX has its fair share), but to design an interior like the one inside the EX35 is the true calling card of a luxury brand.

Comfort & Utility

As long as you're sitting up front, the 2012 Infiniti EX35 is one of the most comfortable small luxury SUVs. The front seats are marvelously contoured, providing good lower back and thigh support and just enough side bolstering to hold the body without confining it. The rear seat area, on the other hand, is notably cramped in headroom and legroom. There's more space in the back of a Hyundai Elantra than in the EX, which also suffers from a rather small cargo hold. If no one is riding in back, the 60/40 split folding seats can be put down to create a large loading floor, and there's even an optional power fold-up feature.

If you can see past the EX's tight confines, you'll find a premium interior available in a choice of black, wheat or dark chestnut leathers with a choice of maple or black lacquer and aluminum accents. What strikes us most about the EX's interior color palette is that the colors aren't just inserts on the door and seats; they cover every part of the interior from the dash to the doors to the console. It really is a lovely visual.

The EX's controls are logically arranged and tightly packed together, making it easy to find and operate the heating and cooling as well as the audio. The optional navigation is also intuitive, with a big bright LCD screen mounted atop the center stack and a large joystick-like controller.

Standard equipment for the EX35 includes keyless entry and start, an eight-way power driver's seat, leather interior, 18-inch alloy wheels, dual-zone automatic climate control, a rear-view camera and USB/iPod integration. Stepping up, the Journey trim adds more features such as Bluetooth, a power sunroof, a power tilting and telescoping steering wheel and heated front seats. Choosing the Journey also opens the door to a number of option packages that bring more luxury and technology to the EX, but also a higher price. Among the notable items are active HID headlamps, an AroundView Monitor, hard-drive navigation, Bose 11-speaker audio and a clever extendable coat hanger that drops down from behind the driver's head restraint.

Both base and Journey versions are powered by their rear wheels but can be equipped with Infiniti's Intelligent All-Wheel Drive.

Technology

Among the EX's most impressive technology is its aptly named Technology package, which includes Intelligent Cruise Control (to maintain a safe distance between the EX and upcoming traffic), Lane Departure Warning and Lane Departure Prevention, and blind spot and forward collision warning systems. The Premium package adds helpful features such as the AroundView monitor, which displays a 360-degree view outside the vehicle, and a seven-inch LCD hard drive navigation system with voice recognition and 3D graphics. Also included in the package are front and rear sonar and Infiniti's Advanced Climate Control. The Deluxe Touring package adds adaptive HID headlamps, tilt-down side-view mirrors, a driver's-side headrest coat hook and driver's seat power lumbar support.

Performance & Fuel Economy

The EX35 is powered by a smooth and refined 3.5-liter V6 engine that makes 297 horsepower and 253 lb-ft of torque. This V6 has power to spare, and the seven-speed automatic transmission knows just how and when to apply it, although it was sometimes a bit slow to downshift during aggressive driving. The seven-speed uses Adaptive Shift Control technology to learn the driver's habits and adapt to them, while its manual mode allows the driver to change gears manually, aided by a Downshift Rev Matching feature that blips the throttle before downshifts.

Fuel economy ratings for both rear-wheel-drive and AWD models are 17 mpg city and 24 mpg highway.

Safety

Traditional safety equipment includes standard four-wheel ABS, electronic traction and stability control and a full complement of airbags, including front side impact and front and rear side curtain airbags. Optional safety equipment includes a pre-brake feature on the Intelligent Cruise Control that can detect rapidly slowing traffic ahead and prep the brakes for an emergency stop. The Lane Departure Warning System uses cameras to monitor the space between the car and the center dividing line. If the vehicle veers too close to the line, the system will alert the driver via an audible warning and lightly apply selected brakes to help bring the car back into its lane.

The independent Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gave the 2012 Infiniti EX35 top marks in all of its crash tests and awarded the EX35 a Top Safety Pick rating.

Driving Impressions

Because the EX shares much of its chassis and suspension with the G37 sedan, one might guess that it rides and drives very much like its sleek four-door cousin-and one would be correct. Although not as powerful or quick off the line as the G37, the EX35 is no slouch, and it handles quick merging maneuvers as easily as it rounds sharp bends. The Intelligent AWD system adds traction when needed but then sends the majority of the engine's power back to the rear wheels, which is exactly what enthusiast drivers love.

On side streets and long stretches of highway, the EX's ride is fairly compliant and its cabin nearly isolated from wind and road noise. The steering is heavily but not arduously weighted, and the brakes feel strong and confident even after repeated hard stops. The one place the EX might be fairly criticized is on rough surfaces. The base car's 18-inch wheels and low-profile tires pick up and transmit road distortions too easily; toss on the Deluxe Touring package's 19-inch setup, and the ride can become downright rude.

Other Cars to Consider

BMW X3 - The X3's exterior is more angular and its driving dynamics more sporty, plus it has a larger rear seat. But the EX's interior is far more plush. and a comparably equipped model is less expensive.

Mercedes-Benz GLK - The GLK's styling is more angular and its interior larger, but the EX35 has better fuel economy.

Audi Q5 - The Q5's interior is as attractive as the EX35's, but it has more rear legroom and cargo space, and its 2.0-liter turbocharged engine gets better fuel economy. However, equip the Q5 with its optional V6, and the price jumps well above the EX35 although it doesn't match the EX in horsepower or torque.

AutoTrader Recommends

We'd go with the RWD Journey equipped with the Premium package. You can get the same color and fabrics in the base EX35 as in the Journey, but you can't order the option packages that really belong on a luxury model. The Technology package is not necessary, but it's nice if you like lots of driving assistance, and the Touring package's 19-inch wheels make the EX's ride too stiff.

author photo

Joe Tralongo started in the industry writing competitive comparison books for a number of manufacturers, before moving on in 2000 to become a freelance automotive journalist. He's well regarded for his keen eye for detail, as well as his ability to communicate complex mechanical terminology into user-friendly explanations.

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