The Infiniti FX SUV is by all accounts a unique car. But why would you pick it over its German rivals?
The Infiniti FX SUV is by all accounts a unique car. That's not 'unique' because it's a rare SUV that doesn't sell in decent numbers – therefore ensuring exclusivity – but also because few SUV models short of a BMW X6 or Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8 can match its styling swagger. But is that enough to justify the luxury price tag?
The Infiniti FX range consists of three engine variants each available in three grades. During the Christmas break we took an FX30d S ($94,900) away for the holidays to see how it would stack up against the likes of the BMW X3 and X5 and Mercedes-Benz ML.
With prices starting from $85,900 the FX range certainly hasn’t been launched as a cheaper alternative to its German rivals. In fact, Mercedes-Benz’s entry ML250 CDI is $4000 cheaper.
The FX30d is powered by a Renault-designed 3.0-litre turbodiesel with 175kW and 550Nm of torque. Impressive figures, no doubt, but beaten on power by the same size engine in the X5 xDrive30d (180kW and 520Nm, from $92,100) and a tough match for Mercedes-Benz’s 190kW/620Nm 3.0-litre diesel in the ML350 CDI ($99,400). Despite its comparable shortcomings, the diesel engine works well with the seven-speed automatic with smooth power and lag-free acceleration. There’s certainly no sense that additional power or torque is needed as you drive around town or on the highway and the FX30d accelerates from 0-100km/h in a respectable 8.3 seconds.
On the inside the FX is, unfortunately, easily recognisable as part of the Nissan family of cars. It shares a great deal of components with the 370Z on which its chassis is based. Everything from the keyfob to the entertainment system and even the air-con switches – it’s all Nissan-like.
If you haven’t been in a 370Z or Maxima you probably wouldn’t notice it, but it can be hard to compare side by side with a BMW or Mercedes-Benz when it has Nissan componentry. This is the exact same problem Lexus faced some years ago and the company has worked extensively to overcome that image. Infiniti should be no different.
The infotainment system also fails to live up to the competition. We experienced consistent Bluetooth syncing issues where it would either allow audio streaming or telephone connectivity, but not both at the same time. The sat-nav system itself is also not as detailed or sophisticated as BMW’s iDrive. In saying that, the eight-inch screen coupled to a 30GB HDD and 11-speaker Bose sound system is difficult to fault.
There’s plenty of storage space inside the cabin and you can indeed fit five adults without much hassle, but four is the way to go. We also found the 410L boot capacity lacking in space to accommodate a full-size pram with ease.
There are many nice bits, of course; the 14-way powered front sport seats are very comfortable and there are plenty of soft touch plastics and colour-coded leather covers around the cabin. The ventilated and heated seats are a nice touch, as are the leather-covered aluminium paddle-shifters mounted beautifully behind the steering wheel.
The FX30d S gains 21-inch alloy wheels, Continuous Damping Control (CDC) with auto and sport modes (which didn’t seem to make much of a difference during our test), and dark chrome exterior highlights over the base model GT.
You’d be smart to pay the additional $3000 for the S Premium to get heaps of additional safety features, including the 360-degree around view monitor, forward collision warning, intelligent brake assist, intelligent cruise control, lane departure prevention, lane departure warning, and low speed following.
But where it challenges its German rivals is in the handling department. Being based on a 370Z platform means the FX SUV behaves nothing like an SUV. It’s solid, grounded, corners with confidence and steers like a sports car. It’s all-wheel drive but tends to be more rear-wheel focused and that can be felt in the way it acts out of bends, making it a rather enjoyable driving experience. It’s similar to the X3 in that it hammers in and out of corners with extreme precision.
Around the city it absorbs the bumps well and you won't find ride comfort too much of an issue, but it's certainly not made for gravel or dirt roads.
When it comes to steering feel, it's actually rather similar to the 370Z in that it provides good response and is easy to read - so you'll never be surprised by the car's actions compared with your input. It's perhaps not as good as BMW's dynamic steering system, but the majority will not notice.
All that aside, the question comes back to, ‘why?’. Why would you buy an FX over its German rivals?
From the outside the Infiniti FX was designed to turn heads and in that respect, it performs extremely well. During our two weeks behind the wheel, the FX got more looks than any other SUV we’ve piloted. No matter where we went, pedestrians and other motorists consistently stared and admired the car.
It’s about as bold as styling goes, the definition of modern Japanese design without the conservatism that affects its compatriot brands (read: Lexus). Infiniti didn’t set out to create a car not to offend, but it went for that segment of the market that loves to be noticed and if that’s what you’re looking for, it’s a great choice.
There are also currently fewer Infiniti FX SUVs on the road in Australia than there are Ferrari 458s, so it’s impossible to beat for exclusivity. No doubt this will change as the brand picks up steam, but early adopters will have the longest period of unique-value before the horde follows.
Most importantly though, Infiniti has a lot to prove and it knows that in order to grow, market perception and buyer retention is absolutely critical. For that reason, it goes out of its way to make buyers happy. In the USA, where Infiniti has been around for much longer, it was last year ranked the best automotive brand for consumer emotional attachment. In fact, it came third overall in all categories, only beaten by Apple’s iPhone and iPod. These are good signs.
In Australia, Infiniti has embarked on a rather interesting roadside assistance program where it will cover any Infiniti owner, in any car they breakdown in. So not only does the company offer provisions for accommodation and alternate vehicle supply (in some situations), but it will even provide roadside assistance for an Infiniti customer’s other car – regardless of make. You don’t even have to own the other car, you simply need to own an Infiniti and no matter what car you’re driving when it breaks down, Infiniti roadside assistance will cover you. So if you own an Alfa Romeo, buying an Infiniti would be a good investment.
The Infiniti FX does, however, lack the premium interior finish of its premium German rivals, and the boot is on the small side for such a large vehicle. Look past those aspects and it’s a great – unique – medium-large premium SUV.