First Drive: 2013 Infiniti JX35

The concept of a brand is a funny thing. There’s a starting point, where a new brand begins to find its way. From there, it evolves and morphs into a position that is appreciated by a certain group or audience. Over time, the people behind the brand will work hard to maintain its position with the core audience that’s grown to love whatever it is the brand stands for, but there still needs to be a continual evolution to reach new buyers or fans.

There’s no doubt that it’s tricky work pushing a brand to grow. Sometimes it can turn out exciting new products, while other times it might lead to a divergence from the core values. This concept is easily seen in the world of automakers and their wares.

The 2013 Infiniti JX35 is the latest product from Nissan’s luxury arm, and it has to hit a few major points if the automaker wants to make sure fans of the brand will recognize it as a true part of the family they’ve come to love. Quite simply, the JX35 needs to be a stand-out in the style department, provide a level of luxury and tech features that make sure the Germans are paying attention, and offer up an engaging experience for the driver that puts key fob in the pocket of their upper-class-income jeans.

Will two out of three cut it? Keep reading to learn more…

If you wanted an Infiniti crossover or sport utility vehicle, you had three options. The EX, which is aimed at well-to-do singles. The FX, a sporty crossover targeted at couples with a need for speed. Finally, you have the QX, which is a large SUV designed for families that want to tow. Now, however, Infiniti is ready to provide a vehicle that slots in between the FX and QX; a seven-passenger crossover that has its eyes set on attracting the family that’s just starting to grow.

The 2013 Infiniti JX35 is the automakers first offering in this segment, and it can’t come soon enough if you ask Infiniti dealers and fans of the brand. At least, that’s what Infiniti is telling us as we stare at the PowerPoint presentation unfolding before our jet-lagged eyes. Sean Mcnamara, senior manager of product planning, is running down a list of what his company believes makes up the  type of couple that’s looking to spend their hard-earned coin on the all-new JX35.

We’re looking for folks in their 40’s, with at least two kids and a high income. These folks are cross-shopping the JX against the Acura MDX and Audi Q7. That makes sense, because we’re inclined to believe the average Infiniti buyer feels smarter than the average BMW shopper, yet may be intimidated by the bright lights of the closest Mercedes-Benz dealership. The MDX and Q7 represent smart choices in this segment, and it a smart buyer is wise to look at the newest Asian kid on the block.

Speaking of looks, it’s clear we’re staring at an Infiniti product here. The JX35 manages to mesh lines scene in concept vehicles like the Essence and Etherea with production lines found in the likes of the M sedan, FX, and G coupe. Up front is the signature “double-arch grille” treatment, which is mimicked in the license plate surround out back. A new “signature” look joins the styling party in the form of the crescent-shaped D-pillar. That bent skin will wind up in future products down the road.

There’s a branding disconnect, however, when we’re talking about the JX and how it relates to the current group of Infiniti products. One trait shared by each family member of the Nissan Luxury tree is an engaging or enjoyable driving experience. From the G and EX up through the M and FX, you have a vehicle that enjoys being pushed around, yet still remains pleasant at all speeds. Even the QX boasts a “fun to drive” quality thanks to its raspy engine note and horsepower and torque figures that crest the 400 mark. 

All you two-children, high-income forty somethings should officially abandon hope that the 2013 JX35 is ready to deliver the same experience.

Body roll is the name of the game here, and it’s offered up in surprising abundance when behind the wheel. This is not the composed, sporty ride found elsewhere in the Infiniti lineup. What’s even more surprising is that the JX35 manages to pull off a successful impression of an Italian cruise ship  while also coming in at with a relatively low curb weight of 4,280 pounds for the front-wheel-drive model (the AWD example weighs 4,419 pounds). Don’t freak out Miata lovers, we said “relatively”. For example, the aforementioned MDX at around 4,600 pounds and the positively portly Q7 heads to the commercial scales so we can find out it runs between 5,200 and 5,600 pounds (depending on engine and trim). Combine the (again, relatively) low weight with the available 18 or 20 inch wheels, and we’re expecting a driving experience that’s more closely related to Zoom-Zoom, not one that’s giving us a core workout as we push to remain upright through the bends.

It’s not just the handling that contributes to the oddly anti-Infiniti sensations felt from the primary seat. The automaker has saddled the 3.5-liter V6, which was a perennial World’s Best award winner but now seems to be aging a bit. Especially when it arrives under hood with just 265 horsepower and 248 pound-feet of torque. The engine is … not exciting. We’re missing the rumble felt all the way across the family, and even EX35 owners will be looking down their noses at this lack of growl.

The decision to utilize this engine is because of the transverse layout it affords designers and engineers. The 3.7-liter, which we would’ve loved to hear rumbling away, sits longitudinally. On top of that, the 3.5-liter can help the JX35 achieve estimate fuel economy figures of 18 miles per gallon in the city and 24 miles per gallon out on the highway. The all-wheel-drive JX drops just one MPG on the highway, and in combined driving.

Not surprisingly at this point, we’re brought to another very non-Infiniti feature. That 3.5-liter mill is paired with a CVT. Infiniti calls it a sport-tuned CVT, and we’re aware that Nissan happens to utilize some of the only CVT units that don’t drive you insane, but we’re again surprised at this decision. The JX will allow you to select a “Sport” mode, which changes “shift” schedules and throttle sensitivity, but it’s still fairly CVT-bland.

Why did Infiniti opt for the 3.5-liter and the CVT? We’re not betting men… wait, scratch that, we love gambling. Let it ride on “Hybrid model right around the corner!” No, Infiniti would not confirm this, but we’d wager dollars to donuts that the JX35H is just around the bend. We love donuts around here, which means we’re not planning on giving any away.

Just like Infiniti isn’t giving the JX35 away, but it has priced the vehicle quite competitively. The base price is $40,450 for the front driver or $41,550 if you want all wheels suckling away from the engine.  That starting price sits over $1,000 under the base MSRP of an Acura MDX, and a whopping $6,000 below the Q7, which is clearly bloated in other ways. If those numbers intrigue you, don’t start writing that figure into your checkbook just yet. Like most premium and luxury machines, there are options… and they cost lots of money. Once you figure out the package, or packages, you want on your JX35, expect to pay closer to $50,000. That’s still inline or cheaper than the competition though, which bodes well for those shopping in this segment.

The options aren’t boring either, because the JX35 shines in the techno-wizardry and interior comfort and convenience departments.

This is a three-row crossover that realizes actual human beings may occasionally need to sit in the way back. The front row offers up standard levels of Infiniti comfort, and the second row does the same. On top of that, the middle section can be slid 5.5 inches fore and aft. That means more comfort for middle row passengers, and rear riders alike. Additionally, that translates to a third row of seating that can be easily accessed. Infiniti is also offering second and third-row fixed moonroofs with power sliding shades so it doesn’t feel like a dungeon back there.

Beyond the comfort, Infiniti has outfitted the JX35 with boatloads of technology. Most of the current suite of vehicles can be had will all sorts of lane departure, blind spot monitoring, and other intelligent systems designed to keep driver and passengers safe. With the JX35, the automaker now offers the world’s first Back-Up Collision Intervention system, which utilizes radar and sonar sensors to make sure you don’t back out of a parking spot and into another vehicle. Infiniti fully admits this is aimed at the mall, and the system can automatically apply the brakes if conditions calls for it. The driver is given visual and auditory warnings before it comes to that, and all of these systems can be turned off, which is a wonderful feature within the features.

If the tech and comfort aren’t enough to battle it out with the MDX and Q7, Infiniti has another card up its sleeve, and it arrives in the form of the IPA. Those letters stand for Infiniti Personal Assistant, and the service will be offered on all future products. Essentially, you have a 24-hour concierge at your service. Need to be checked in for your flight? Have your IPA take care of that. Forgot flowers on your anniversary? The IPA is at your service. Yes, the three letters reminds of a delicious India Pale Ale too, but you could probably have your IPA order up some excellent IPA, and get it delivered to your door. That’s just good service, friends, and we implore any future Infiniti owner to test this idea.

After your IPA arrives at your door, crack one open and think about the brand that supplied it to you. Infiniti is an automaker that produces luxury vehicles with a sporty edge. An Infiniti G sedan is a delightful alternative to the never-ending sea of BMW 3 Series and Mercedes-Benz C-Class examples that clog the highways. The M56 is a V8-packing rear-driver that looks as good as it hustles, and the FX50 is sport utility vehicle for people on the right kind of drugs. The JX35 looks like an Infiniti, offers up tons of tech and comfort like an Infiniti, but it doesn’t provide the driving experience that the brand faithful have come to love.

The 2013 JX35 is a new divergent point in the family tree. Whether it’s a strong enough branch to support new buyers remains to be seen.

[Disclosure: Infiniti flew us out to Charleston, South Carolina and put us up in the nicest hotel, ever. Seriously, we’ve been lucky enough to experience some sweet accommodation, but this place blows all of them away. On top of that, we had lunch at an amazing golf course (Kiawah), surrounded by a pond with live alligators. Check the gallery, I photographed them… with my zoom lens.]

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