Pros: Sleek styling; exhilarating performance; plush interior; lots of electronic goodies

Cons: Poor fuel economy; stiff ride; small rear seat; limited cargo space

There are plenty of mid-size luxury SUVs on the market, but only a select few combine the driving dynamics of a taut sport sedan with the cargo-carrying efficiency of a five-door wagon. Available as a V6-powered FX35 or a V8-powered FX50, the FX appeals to those who want the taller ride height and ground clearance of a larger SUV, but not the poor handling or sluggish performance that often accompany it. Add to the formula an elegant cabin filled with all manner of tactile and electronic luxury touches and a host of sophisticated driver's aids that practically drive the car for you, and the FX becomes very appealing.

With styling far removed from the boxy formula that defines Mercedes-Benz and Lexus SUVs, the FX looks like nothing else on the road, with a fluid, squat body, prominent front fenders and an enormous wheel-and-tire combination. When viewed from the side, the FX almost looks like an elongated coupe, an attribute that gives it strong visual appeal but also limits its rear seat legroom and cargo area.

For 2012, Infiniti has tweaked the FX's styling, removing the cool "rippling water" front grille and replacing it with what we think looks like a rather generic design. Other changes are minor and include the addition of heated seats on all models and a new Limited Edition FX35 AWD.

Comfort & Utility

From the front seats forward, there is almost nothing bad to say about the FX's cockpit. The seats are wide and supportive, not too firm yet far from squishy and covered in high-quality leather in black, beige or java brown. With the Deluxe Touring Package, a set of climate-controlled seats replaces the stock set, complete with lovely quilted stitching that adds even more style to an already stylish setting.

The FX's low seat position, tall dash and high beltline (the line where the side glass meets metal) may have some drivers feeling a bit cocooned. With it, the FX is trying to replicate the effect found in some sports cars.

The FX has better than average headroom in the rear seating area but among the least accommodating legroom figures in its segment. Cargo volume behind the second-row seat is also minimal at 24.8 cubic feet. Compare that with the BMW X5's 35.8 cubic feet or the Lexus RX's 40 cubic feet, and you get the idea that the FX's owner should plan to travel light.

We have mixed feelings about the FX's interior design. The cabin feels cozy yet sporting, but there are big blind spots, especially toward the rear. Thankfully, the FX's available AroundView 360 camera helps avoid guesswork when maneuvering, but the issue is something to consider when you take your test drive.

Space requirements aside, there is plenty to like inside the FX's plush cabin. Standard features for the FX35 include a power rear liftgate, dual-zone automatic climate control, heated front seats, a rear-view camera, Intelligent Key entry with push-button start, Bluetooth, a power sunroof, an eight-way power driver's seat with power lumbar support and an 11-speaker Bose audio system. The FX50 adds all-wheel drive, an AroundView parking monitor, 20-inch wheels, a power tilting and telescoping steering wheel, streaming Bluetooth audio and iPod USB port, heated and cooled front seats and hard-drive-based navigation.

Most of the FX50's standard equipment can be added to the FX35 in a select group of option packages. Unique to the FX50 is the Sport package, which includes active rear steering, electronically controlled dampener (suspension) settings, sport seats with power side bolsters and extendable thigh support, magnesium paddle shifters and adaptive front lighting.

Technology

The FX offers a hard-drive-based navigation system with XM traffic and weather updates, as well as voice activation for locating destinations, popular sites and restaurants through the Zagat guide. The system includes a bright eight-inch touchscreen with bird's-eye perspective and 3D views of the maps.

The Advanced Climate Control system regulates not only temperature, but also air purity. The system automatically shuts outside air vents when exhaust fumes are detected, injects negative ions into the cabin to create a sense of fresh air and uses ionization to reduce unwanted airborne particles.

For the safety of everyone on board, the Technology package offers a host of systems designed to intervene to help avoid an accident. Intelligent Cruise Control maintains a safe distance between you and the traffic ahead, while Distance Control Assist can apply brakes and help maintain a safe distance in close-quarter city driving, sending audible and physical warnings to the driver when the FX is getting too close to the vehicle ahead of it. Lane Departure Warning and Prevention systems help keep you from drifting out of your lane.

Rain-sensing wipers activate after the first few drops hit the windshield, while the Adaptive Front Lighting system swivels the headlamps in the direction the vehicle is aimed.

Performance & Fuel Economy

The FX35 is powered by a 3.5-liter V6 engine that generates 303 horsepower and 262 lb-ft of torque. Power is abundant with this engine, although acceleration can feel taxed when you add the weight of the AWD system. The FX50 gets a 5.0-liter V8 good for 390 hp and 369 lb-ft of torque. For pure performance and unhindered acceleration, this is the engine to get.

Both engines are mated to an advanced seven-speed automatic transmission with Adaptive Shift Control (ASC) and manual shift mode. The ASC technology learns your driving habits and adapts to them, while the manual shift mode allows the driver to manually change gears, aided by a Downshift Rev Matching feature that blips the throttle before downshifts.

Fuel economy for the FX35 is rated at a rather weak 16 mpg city/23 mpg highway; the AWD model is rated even lower at 16/21 mpg. The V8-powered AWD FX50 earns 14/20 mpg. Both models recommend but do not require premium fuel.

Safety

Standard safety equipment includes ABS, electronic traction and stability control, front and front side impact airbags and front and rear side curtain airbags.

The Infiniti FX did exceptionally well in the Institute for Highway Safety's offset and side impact crash testing but was not tested by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

Driving Impressions

If you're lucky enough to test drive an FX on a winding mountain road, you'll learn all you need to know about why this is the driving enthusiast's luxury SUV. The FX's well-balanced chassis, tight turning radius and wide stance allow it to round curves that would have other SUVs teetering on their sidewalls. The seven-speed automatic's paddle shifters and automated rev matching work wonders, allowing us to circumvent the automatic's computer-controlled module that sometimes seems slow to downshift. Of course, our fully loaded FX50 included rear active steering, AWD, 20-inch wheels and active damping. The ride in the FX35 might not feel as well heeled, but we guarantee it won't be boring, either.

Other Cars to Consider

BMW X5 - The X5 delivers a similar exhilarating driving experience, but its handling is not as precise, and it costs a fair bit more when comparably equipped. On the flip side, the X5 has more cargo space than the FX, and there is a diesel model.

Cadillac SRX - The SRX emphasizes luxury over performance. Its interior is stunning and its ride noticeably softer than the FX's, but it doesn't offer the option of a V8.

Lexus RX - The RX can't match the FX's performance credentials, but its softer ride is probably more appealing to most luxury buyers, as is its larger cargo hold.

AutoTrader Recommends

If you're looking for the style and luxury of the FX but are not overly concerned by how quickly you can get from 0 to 60 mph, the RWD FX35 with the Premium Package is the perfect combination. Its smaller wheel and tire package helps give it a smoother ride, and the price and fuel economy are the most reasonable.

On the other hand, if it's a pure adrenaline rush you seek, the FX50 is the clear choice. Just bring your checkbook and keep a lot of cash on hand for the extra gas, because this one doesn't sip the stuff.

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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