Driven: 2013 Infiniti JX35 AWD

By Brandon Turkus

March 26, 2012

—Charleston, South Carolina
 
Infiniti has a goal. It plans to sell over 600,000 cars around the world by 2016. That means a few things need to happen. First, the brand needs to expand to new and emerging markets, notably Russia, China, and South America. These are the same rapidly growing markets parent company Nissan has targeted with the revival of the Datsun nameplate as its new low-priced brand. Second, Infiniti needs to expand the number of categories it’s competing in.
 
Currently, the G range handles the luxury/sport coupe, convertible, and sport sedan markets. The upmarket M is the mid-size luxury competitor, going toe-to-toe with luxury giants like the BMW 5-Series, Lexus GS, Audi A6, and Mercedes-Benz E-Class. The EX and FX crossovers handle the luxury and sport CUV categories admirably, while the big-boy QX is Infiniti’s entry for the full-size, truck-like SUV.
 
With those five models, Infiniti covers a fairly decent range. One segment (and a growing one) that has been missing, though, is the three-row, family friendly CUV. With stiff competition from the Acura MDX, Audi Q7, and even the Land Rover LR4 and BMW X5, it’s going to take some effort to crack into this lucrative slice of the pie. Good news for Infiniti fans, then, that the 2013 JX has just hit the marketplace.
 
This three-row crossover is meant to bridge the gap between the comfy/involving EX and FX, and the big, luxurious QX. Based on price point alone it should fit in well. With a front-wheel-drive JX starting at $40,450, it sits squarely in between the EX and FX, and is about $19,000 cheaper than a QX. That price also undercuts the Acura MDX ($42,930) and the Audi Q7 ($46,250). Even when you tack on all-wheel drive, the JX still seems to be somewhat of a steal at $41,550.
 
There will be five distinct packages for the JX, covering a broad range of needs. The $4950 Premium Package includes a 13-speaker Bose stereo, navigation, and the Infiniti Around-View Monitoring system, as well as other smaller features. $1700 will snag you the Theater Package, which includes Infiniti’s dual, seven-inch, headrest-mounted monitors, along with a 120-volt plug-in, and RCA outputs, allowing the kids to hook up their Playbox180, or simply pop in a DVD. The Driver Assistance Package kicks the MSRP up $2200, and adds a wealth of tech options (and acronyms) to your JX, including adaptive cruise control, blind-spot warning, Distance Control Assist, Intelligent Brake Assist with Forward Collision Monitoring, and Back-up Collision Intervention. For $2550, the Deluxe Touring Package swaps out the 13-speaker Bose stereo for a 15-speaker Bose surround sound system, adds a fixed second and third-row moonroof, twenty-inch wheels, and the seats are now air conditioned in addition to the standard butt warmers. Finally, the $3100 Technology Pack is like an advanced Driver Assistance Package, and features lane departure warning and prevention, blind spot intervention, and pre-crash seatbelts in the front seats.
 
The JX exterior borrows rather heavily from the Essence concept that debuted at the 2011 Geneva Motor Show; in particular the crescent-shaped chrome trim around the C-pillar. The JX shares the current Infiniti double-arch grille that’s becoming common across the range, too.
 
Inside, the JX cabin proves it intends to be a luxury player with an eye-pleasing layout covered in soft-touch plastics where necessary, and wood trim where possible. The navigation system is the same setup we’ve been using for years, and it thankfully retains the analog controls on top of the touchscreen interface. The front seats were comfortable, although pleasingly snug, and the range of adjustment made it easy for us to find a good driving position. In back, the 60/40 split-folding rear seats are comfortable and roomy, and can easily be slid forward, collapsing in on themselves to accommodate rear seat entry.
 
We’ll be honest, few vehicles on the market make third-row entry easy, but Infiniti is giving it a serious go with the JX. There’s a nice, wide space when the second row slides forward, granting access to the surprisingly large third row. Cargo space, even with the third row up, looks larger than Audi’s Q7, and with the second row down, comes across as simply massive.
 
Power, rather disappointingly, does not come from the 5.0-liter V-8 that powers the FX and QX. Instead, Infiniti’s stalwart 3.5-liter VQ35 V-6 is the sole means of motivation. With 265 horsepower and 248 pound-feet of torque hauling around roughly 4400 pounds, the JX wasn’t exactly fast. Still, on our route around Charleston, we found both the power on hand and the delivery to be quite linear and smooth. The engine sounded muted, relative to other applications we’ve seen it in, and this was a pretty quiet vehicle in general (more on that in a second). Off-the-line power was respectable, although we suspect the Audi Q7’s supercharged, 3.0-liter V-6 would prove a tough match in this regard.
 
Part of the JX’s smooth power delivery has to be attributed to Infiniti’s first use of the corporate-standard CVT unit. As CVT applications go this was one of the better ones we’ve tested. The ever-present rubber-band feel from lower-powered models was less noticeable on the burlier JX. Infiniti has done its fair share of fiddling with this belt-driven unit, which explains the smoother driving character.
 
Where the brand’s tweaks didn’t pay off, however, was in the manual mode. Frankly, it was just as useless as every other CVT manual mode we’ve tested, with its simulated shift points coming across as a poor impression of a true automatic transmission. Even when the drive mode was switched to Sport, which quickens “shift times,” the effect is still sub-par, with the engine remaining artificially high in the rev range. Keeping this transmission in full-auto mode is the smart play.
 
The JX’s ride and steering have a lot in common with the larger, plush QX. This is a soft-riding, comfortable suspension. It soaked up Charleston’s excuse for potholes quite nicely, although there’s a bit more impact noise transmitted to the cabin than we’d originally expected. Once again, we’d say this is a case of large wheels (twenty-inchers in this case) adding a bit of a ruckus to an otherwise quiet ride. We’d be quite happy with the eighteens, thank you very much.
 
Driven civilly, the JX’s handling is completely inoffensive. Push it a bit through the turns, though, and it doesn’t hesitate to roll. There’s just not a lot of lateral damping going on here. The same goes for fore and aft movement where aggressive throttle inputs can result in a bit too much squatting and diving. Perhaps the biggest issue is that the JX’s handling doesn’t inspire confidence, as it just feels a bit out of sorts when put in any dynamic handling situation. Still, if ride comfort is your number one concern, this is the way to go.
 
As with the suspension, the steering didn’t really prioritize dynamic behavior. Our partner during our drive called it “kind of vague,” which is a pretty solid assessment. There’s just not a lot of feedback coming through the leather-wrapped wheel. There’s also not a great deal of weight either, although we found this less of an issue. It’s not an overboosted tiller but it’s a pretty easy vehicle to manage with one hand on the wheel.
 
If you are looking to spend $40,000 to $50,000, there are worse choices than the Infiniti JX. If you value being involved in the driving experience though, then plan on looking elsewhere. Built to the standards of the luxurious and popular QX, and for the same breed of shopper (albeit one with a smaller budget), this is one crossover that will impress the high-end suburban set.
 
VS: Audi Q7 3.0T
 
The Audi is the performance vehicle here, delivering more power on top of confidence-inspiring handling, in a heaping helping of standard all-wheel drive and Teutonic styling. Still, it’s been showing its age for years, and we suspect JX will be able to steal a few sales here.
 
Part of this is due to the fresher interior on the Infiniti. We could sit and rave about Audi interiors from now until the end of time…which is about how long the Q7 has been on sale. The JX, meanwhile, is fresh, full of warm, stylish materials, an interesting curvy dash treatment, and plentiful, wooden trim.
 
The Q7’s handling advantage means it’s less able to keep up with the Infiniti in the comfort arena. The JX’s ride is able to soak up bumps with little complaint (the exception being those noisy twenty-inch wheels). The Q7 is just too hard-edged to really compete here.
 
VS: Acura MDX
 
Like the Audi, the Acura is showing its age. It just doesn’t feel as upscale as the JX and the interior is a far cry from either of the vehicles discussed above. The MDX does handle better than the JX, feeling more progressive in the way it rolls, squats, and dives. Power between these two feels pretty even, although the lighter JX would probably end up pulling away from the Acura (eventually).
 
The MDX is noticeably smaller than the JX, too, and it shows in terms of cabin space. The JX has almost nine more feet of interior volume for passengers, by way of being longer and wider. Still, its light steering makes it feel smaller than the Acura, especially in tighter quarters.
 
The JX takes the cake on refinement, coming across as quieter and smoother in most driving circumstances. Even the CVT chips in to rain on the Acura’s parade, besting the more intrusive six-speed auto.
 
2013 Infiniti JX35 AWD
Engine: V-6, 3.5-liters, 24v
Output: 265 hp/248 lb-ft
Weight: 4419 lb
Fuel Economy, City/Hwy: 18/23 mpg
Base Price: $41,550
On Sale: Now