Ask anyone at Infiniti and they’ll tell you the new JX35 three-row luxury crossover is poised to become the brand’s second best seller overnight.
|1. The JX features the world’s first Backup Collision Intervention system that can detect objects behind the car and apply full brakes.
2. Perfect for teen drivers, Infiniti Connection lets owners set speed and distance limits on the car, notifying you by text, email or a call if any “rules” have been broken.
3. A unique 2nd row passenger side seat still allows easy access to the 3rd row, even with a baby seat installed.
4. JX models start at $40,450 or $41,550 for AWD and come well-equipped from $46,350.
Sean McNamera, project manager for the JX, will tell you even more forcefully, commenting that until now the Acura MDX has sat as the segment leader by default, compared to vastly more expensive, truck-based German models like the BMW X5 and Audi Q7.
“We have ticked every box possible with this car,” he says. “There is no reason anyone should go anywhere but JX at this point.”
That’s a lot of confidence, even at a PR-spin press intro, but Infiniti has good reason to be optimistic, especially with the MDX growing old in its product cycle.
A DIFFERENT SORT OF PERFORMANCE
As a brand, Infiniti’s tag line is “Inspired Performance”. “The JX isn’t about 0-60 times or hitting one g of cornering force,” explains McNamara, commenting that conventional buyers for this type of vehicle also usually own a sports sedan. Instead, the JX gets “Inspired Performance for Seven”, including everything from luxury, to technology, to safety, to fuel economy.
Starting under the hood the JX35, as the name suggests, is powered by the brand’s familiar 3.5-liter V6 engine, making a modest 265 hp and 248 lb-ft of torque. For a three-row luxury crossover, it’s not overly heavy and so that power is sufficient, though less than engaging.
A first for the Infiniti brand is a CVT transmission. Known for delivering high fuel economy and a smooth drive, such transmissions are also criticized for numbing the driving sensation. That’s party true here, though the incredible smoothness of a CVT is perfect for a luxury vehicle in this segment and fuel economy is rated at best-in-class 18/24 mpg for the front-drive version and 18/23 mpg for the all-wheel drive model. We saw an average of 19 mpg during out test. The CVT is arguably one of the few compromises made on the JX and is one that’s both understandable and acceptable.
To help inject a little more passion into the powertrain, Infiniti has fitted the JX with its Drive Mode Selector, with a default “Normal” mode, as well as Snow, Eco and Sport. Adjusting the throttle sensitivity and CVT characteristics, it’s noticeably different in each setting though the Sport mode is a bit of an exaggeration. When combined with the Eco Pedal in the Driver Assistance Package ($2,200), the throttle pedal will actually push back to help curb lead-footed driving.
PLENTY OF STYLE
More engaging is the car’s design. Even if the JX was a dud, which it most certainly is not, Infiniti would sell tens of thousands based on looks alone.
There’s high-grade paint, plenty of chrome and Infiniti’s unique style, with a flare for the dramatic that none of its Japanese rivals have ever been able, or willing, to match. Of particular note are the crescent shaped D-pillars, which Infiniti says is a style element that will trickle down into the rest of the lineup.
Infiniti is a brand that prides itself on big wheels and the JX continues that tradition. Standard are 18-inch rollers with 235/65/18 tires, while the model we tested was fully loaded with the optional 20-inchers with lower profile tires – available in the Deluxe Touring Package ($2,550) with a panoramic glass roof and upgraded audio system or as a stand-alone $1,600 option. The ride proved whisper quiet and ultra smooth.
In terms of driving dynamics, taking into account the other six seats in the crossover, the one behind the wheel is de-prioritized. The trade-off for the luxury ride is noticeable body roll and pushing in the corners.
Open any door and the level of luxury will shock anyone who’s shopped this segment before. Infiniti is immediately a rival for the Audi in this respect, and the JX will have prospective Q7 buyers wondering why they should pay many thousands more.
Much of the cabin is familiar to anyone who’s been in an Infiniti M, with the uniquely stitched seats and incredibly creamy leather. One notable upgrade is the new central display screen between the two main gauges, showing the lengthy list of available tech and safety driver aides with some stylish new graphics. Maxed out at $49,150, including the Premium Package ($4,950), Technology Package ($3,100) and Deluxe Touring Package, just listing the content would fill as much space as this whole article.
Targeted at parents, and with women likely to be the primary drivers says Infiniti marketing boss Keith St. Clair, the JX is taking a leadership position on safety. Along with expected goodies like a Blind Spot Warning system and Lane Departure Warning, Infiniti also boasts intervention systems that will tug the car back into its lane (using the brakes on the opposite side of the car). Introduced on other models, Infiniti is now taking safety a step further with the world’s first Backup Collision Intervention system. Similar to a forward-working system on Volvo models, the Infiniti version will detect objects behind the car and even objects approaching from the sides. Designed to work at low speeds, like when you’re creeping out of your driveway or a mall parking space, audible warning beeps as well as visual cues on the back-up camera will alert the driver to brake. If those warnings are ignored the car will even push back on the accelerator before applying full brakes to avoid a collision. Designed more to trigger the driver to brake, the brake pedal must then be applied to halt the car completely or after one second it will resume its rearward roll.
Other tech add-ons straddle the line between safety and convenience, like the full-speed cruise control, which Infiniti has taken a step further with what it calls Distance Control Assist. Combined in the Driver Assistance Package with Intelligent Brake Assist and Forward Collision Warning, rather than alert the driver that they are approaching another vehicle too closely (common in many luxury models), this new system will take action, pushing back on the throttle to let the driver know to ease off, while simultaneously applying the brakes to slow the car.
Having the car tell you when to brake and when to apply the throttle, and then doing almost all of that work for you is initially a bizarre feeling and requires a level of trust in the technology. It doesn’t take long, however, to realize that while a bit conservative, it’s an incredibly smart system that works excellently. Infiniti, after all, prides itself on technology that serves a purpose and is easy to use. With all of the many features enabled the JX feels, dare we say it, uncrashable.
As an added level of security, parents with driving age children will love the Infiniti Connection service, which allows both a driving zone and maximum speed to be set. If either of these parameters is surpassed, parents, or in our case Infiniti PR folks, will receive a text, email or call alerting them to the situation. Free for the first year, Infiniti Connection includes emergency services similar to OnStar.
THREE ROWS, NOT TWO AND A HALF
When the kiddies are hanging out in the second row, there’s plenty of room, with Infiniti making spaciousness one of the most important factors of this true three-row. In terms of overall size, the JX is slightly longer than its main rival the Acura MDX and a little shorter than the Q7. Still, it boasts more interior room than either and thanks to a sliding second row bench that can move forward or back up to 5.5 inches, second row leg room is 3-inches better than the Acura and 4-inches beyond the Audi. While it’s no Honda Odyssey, third row room is livable.
With 15.8 cu-ft of cargo space behind the 3rd row (more than what you’ll get in almost any sedan), that space expands to anywhere from 40.8 cu-ft to 47.3 cu-ft with the 3rd row seats down, depending on the position of the 2nd row. There’s even a small storage space under the trunk area, and the cover uses a friction hinge, meaning you don’t have to hold it up.
Keeping all rows livable is a tri-zone climate control system, with outboard vents for the third row. Infiniti has even devised a unique folding and sliding passenger-side 2nd row seat that allows access to the 3rd row when a baby seat is in use, offering 14-inches of room, enough space for kids to slip through easily and even adults should the need arise.
When Infiniti first announced plans to get into the three-row luxury crossover game, it was hard not to meet the news with skepticism – especially considering the brand already sells three high-riding, all-wheel drive machines.
Still, the JX reaches a segment of the population no other Infiniti product does. Being a luxury brand, this three-row is priced at $40,450 to start and is geared towards those with a higher income, particularly an increasing demographic of couples who are deciding to have families later in life.
With a solid reason by the company to offer such a product, just looking at and sitting in the JX is enough to start changing consumers’ minds. The drive is a bit less inspired than we’ve come to expect from Infiniti, but factor in the price, luxury, fuel economy, interior space and features and the newest three-row luxury crossover is instantly the best.