Like it or not, crossover utility vehicles have become the primary transportation choice for modern day parents. While minivans are more functional, they are still uncool, boring, my-life-is-over minivans. Wagons are awesome; we love them, but bigger cross-overs offer more space, a confidence inspiring raised-seating position, more safety (based on weight alone), and simply more comfort. Just accept these facts which are backed up by sales numbers.
Infiniti’s JX35 is the latest entry into this niche-within-the-cross-over-niche, which is the three-row luxury cross-over. Infiniti makes no secret that it has positioned it to go directly against cars such as the Acura MDX, Audi Q7, as well as the Buick Enclave and GMC Acadia. After watching years of successful sales for the other brands, will this luxury version of the equally new Nissan Pathfinder be a hit?
Perspective from the driver’s seat:
Front and side vision is excellent but headrests obscure rear vision. In a tight situation, Infiniti’s awesome top/around-view display is there to lend a hand, along with sonar beepers. Blind-spot detection helps when switching lanes but all come as a part of a $3100 Technology Package. In that same package is Intelligent Cruise Control which keeps a safe distance from the vehicle in front but I found it way too conservative to be useful.
The infotainment system, while a few years behind the German brands, does most things well. Some addresses and smaller roads, such as resorts around Disney World, were missing from the Nav system’s database. It could also use more POIs and make searching for things such as the nearest Starbucks easier. If Infiniti wants to stay competitive in this market they need to step this up as it’s features like this that sell cars these days, just ask any seasoned OnStar user.
The dash layout is almost the same as any other Infiniti. All gauges are easy to read, but car set-up is distributed between the center cluster and the infotainment display, and therefore somewhat confusing when reaching deep into the settings. A lot of small buttons for HVAC and radio and one has to stretch to reach the main control knob or the touch screen. I am being somewhat picky here but these are the things that should have been perfected in an all-new vehicle which is slated for a very competitive market.
Where the infotainment main knob should be, a la BMW’s iDrive, is a Sport/Normal/Eco/Snow knob that does not do much. It switches between various throttle input and “shift” algorithms, which are ironically served up via a CVT transmission. Keep it in “sport” and you’ll feel guilty about using all the extra fuel, “normal” will leave you wanting more sport, and “Eco” will frustrate you when trying to accelerate. Why does this even exist? It’s a gimmick, which 99% of buyers will set to “normal” or “sport” and never touch again.
Once on the way power comes smoothly and evenly but the JX35 may feel a bit underpowered at times. Its 265hp engine falls a bit short compared to its competition, but the car would need to be really loaded up to notice the powertrains’ short comings. The CVT transmission takes a little more getting used to; it has oddly spaced fake “gears” and those, at times, when combined with the CVT’s feeling of slippage, further makes the engine feel inadequate or at least sound like it. A little more power combined with a conventional six-speed automatic would make for a smoother and quieter ride, such as that in the MDX.
The good news, once you stop being picky about all of the above, is the rest of the car is pretty damn good. The interior is of high quality; all materials are nice to touch and on par with the best of its competition.
The front optionally ventilated seats are comfortable, even on long trips. In a typical luxury fashion they adjust in more ways that I can count, as does the optional heated steering wheel. Middle row seats are split 70:30-ish, recline, and slide which allows either more leg room or more cargo room. That feature is very helpful if you have kids in car seats and you want them either closer or further away from you.
In the middle, the seating has one feature that’s better than anything in its class. It’s the nifty way in which the second row seats slide to allow access to the third row. When the second row seat is slid forward the bottom cushion rises, allowing it to get even closer to the front seats, and thereby maximizing the access space.
The third row, two passenger, seat is surprisingly comfortable. While there is not a lot of leg room, sliding the middle row forward increases that space to where even a six-footer can fit. Those seats, split 50:50, fold flat for increased cargo via simple strings. Behind them is a storage bin, and on top of it is enough room for a folded stroller and some duffle bags.
- Remote start, part of the Technology Package, is perfect on hot days, and the remote works from far away too.
- On the highway I obtained just less than 20mpg in this front-wheel-drive model. The vehicle was loaded with people and things, the A/C was on all the time and it was ridiculously hot outside.
- The power tailgate did not open all the way up, which I noticed by bumping my head on it. Three times. After the third time I learned to give it a little push every time I opened it.
- Wide rear doors make for easy third-row seat access and make it easier on parents who have to put kids into their seats.
- The very bright HID headlights annoyed some drivers on the highway but were otherwise excellent.
- The glove-box is huge, with a special bin for the owner’s manual. The center console storage bin is big too but the placement of the USB/aux connectors could be better.
- Very effective A/C, the whole car cooled down within moments of the engine being turned on.
- Big panoramic moon-roof is nice, but we kept its sunshade closed the whole time while in Florida sun.
With the JX35, Infiniti created a vehicle which it needed for a long time. While all new, it does not bring anything new to the market, nor does it standout in any particular way from its competition. Infiniti played it safe, and the end result is a very nice vehicle which will undoubtedly take a few customers away from the above mentioned, quickly aging, competition. While I think that the JX35 could use a few improvements, the most important thing in this whole review should be the one which I haven’t mentioned yet.
My wife, who did not drive this vehicle but drives an aging Acura MDX everyday, loved everything about it, or at least as much as passenger who sat mostly in the rear seat with two little kids could love.
That, above everything else, is what makes the JX35 an ideal vehicle to me and many other married men out there.
Nissan was kind enough to lend me this JX35 for the purpose of this review while I was in Florida with my family. I drove it around Palm Beach area and on a quick trip to Disney World. I paid for all gas, tolls, parking, etc. I returned the vehicle cleaned, vacuumed and fueled up.