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The Infiniti FX range is set to revitalise the luxury suv segment with a distinct new flavour and enormous attitude. The Japanese luxury brand is relying on the FX SUV to make up more than 80 percent of its initial sales volume as it sets to launch in Australia in August.
The Japanese-built SUV is not intended to appeal to all; in fact, the whole point of the FX's existence is that it won't have mass appeal. Infiniti couldn’t possibly compete head-on with its significantly more established competitors if it had no real point of difference.
As a result, the exterior styling is polarizing at best. It's pretty obvious the Infiniti FX was designed from the ground up to be different, not simply for the sake of being different but be different with good reason. The front-end styling is bold and shameless, it exudes a ‘look-at-me’ attitude that demands attention and so far as we could tell during our drive through Queenstown in New Zealand, it certainly gets it. Unfortunately there are no LED day time running lamps, which would've really finished of its front styling, but alas it’s still a looker if you're into ultra modern car design.
The rear and side-on view is very much the same in that it constantly seeks attention. Despite its SUV status the Infiniti FX appears low and sporty with an edgy character appeal. To give you an idea of how Infiniti is going to approach its model lineup, the absolute cheapest model FX will start with 20-inch wheels, simply because Infiniti is all about making a statement and anything smaller wouldn't have done the job.
The FX launch range will consist of the FX37, FX30d and FX50, with all variants being produced in the same Nissan/Infiniti plant that builds the Nissan 370Z and GT-R. All three make use of a seven-speed automatic gearbox (a derivative of which is also found in the 370Z and Pathfinder/Navara). The FX37 goes one step further and shares its engine with the 370Z, being powered by a 3.7-litre V6 that pumps out a healthy 235kW of power and 360Nm of torque. The Renault-resourced 3.0-litre turbodiesel in the FX30d is similar to that found in the Pathfinder Ti500 and as such has 175kW of power and a massive 550Nm of torque. The one that’s sure to cause the biggest hoo-ha is the 5.0-litre V8 powered FX50 range-topper, which is good for 287kW of power and 500Nm of torque.
We had the opportunity to review and drive the two petrol variants during our introductory drive in New Zealand. On the surface you may think the Infiniti FX37’s codeshare with the 370z is a negative, but given the performance credential of that V6 engine, the FX37 is an absolute cracker to drive. Perhaps the only downside is that it happens to share some characteristics of the rough-sounding Z engine, lots of noise, but not much good noise.
The important thing to realize is that the FX doesn’t drive like an SUV. In fact, it actually feels more competent than the company’s M sedan. It’s similar in its driving behaviour to the BMW X6, in that you can simply point and steer and it will go as directed, even around the hairiest of corners. The electronically controlled AWD system is generally pushing power to the rear wheels when cruising but can move it to all around when required. This inherent rear-wheel drive bias is a huge advantage as the FX genuinely feels like a driver’s car.
Our two Infiniti FX test cars were UK spec with no localized tuning or modification, but still managed to impress us with their driving dynamics. Steering feel is very BMW in its preciseness and gives adequate feedback when pushed to the limit. Ride comfort over rough surfaces was also impressive, given the sporty nature of the car. It’s not hard but it’s not floaty and soft either. There’s the option to select Sport mode, which hardens up the suspension and for those that must have it all, there’s the option for rear-steering (1-degree turn) that noticeably changes the driving feel around corners by fascilitating a more precise turn-in feel at speed. The excellent levels of grip are no doubt a result of the large (21-inch on the FX50) wheels and sporty tyres but the roadnoise generated by the Dunlops was more than we were expecting.
Infiniti claims the FX50 does the dash from 0-100km/h in an impressive 5.8 seconds. Given the power of the V8 and the seven-speed automatic transmission, it’s a good claim, but behind the wheel it doesn’t feel like a 5.8 second car. In-gear acceleration is hindered by the transmission, which seems to take a good second from the time you floor it to when it actually decides to drop down a gear or two and gun it. It’s the same story from take-off, we performed several 0-100km/h dashes on a flat road and the best we could achieve in the FX50 was 6.8 seconds (approximate).
On the contrary, the Infiniti FX37 feels faster both in-gear and on take-off than its bigger V8 brother. Officially it’s a second slower from 0-100km/h than the FX50 but during our approximate tests on the same roads, it was easily managing the dash in seven seconds flat, just 0.2 of a second slower than the V8. For most, it’s not necessarily the 0-100km/h times that are important, but the in-gear acceleration for overtaking and the ability to quickly extract all the engines’ power and torque. In that regard, the FX37 wins again. It seems to be in the right gear at all times and on the odd occasion that it’s not, it manages to find it much quicker than the FX50.
On the handling side, the lighter weight of the V6 didn’t seem to make all that much difference compared to the FX50, both are highly capable and sporty SUVs that feel natural around tight bends.
So it’s pretty clear that the Infiniti FX range is not your typical SUV. On one hand it’s new, bold, aggressive, sporty, dynamic and oozes uniqueness. On the other, it’s certainly capable of being a family car that is perfectly suited for tips to the shopping centre or dropping the kids to school (but it may scare the other children away). With pricing for the FX range still a secret guarded in Apple-like security, it’s hard to know how it will position itself against the Germans and to a lesser extent, Lexus. If we suppose that it’s in a similar price bracket as its major rivals and that it’s after-sales service isn’t spectacularly better, then is it as good? Or is just Nissan with a different badge?
From the outside, it certainly has the goods and is certain to appeal to those that want to be noticed. In performance terms, it’s also on par or better than its German rivals (excusing the excessive road-noise) in how it drives and feels, so it all comes down to the interior.
Step inside an Infiniti FX and you’ll quickly notice the Nissan tie-up. Be it the centre instrument cluster with the circular controls that drive the satellite navigation and audio systems, the dual-zone air conditioning controls, the feel of the soft-touch plastic on the doors and dashboard or even the start/stop button that resides to the left of the steering wheel. It’s all very reminiscent of a Nissan. So much so that even the actual smart key is simply taken from Nissan’s parts bin with an Infiniti badge added on.
Of course, there’s more technology than you’re likely to find in a Nissan. The FX range has lane change departure systems that warn you if you’re leaving your lane without indicating, smart cruise control that can follow the car infront and the there’s even a collision warning system that monitors and warns the driver in case the vehicle up front suddenly decelerates.
The cabin ambience it self is quite good and there’s ample room for four large adults front and rear with a fifth possible if required. There’s heaps of leg and headroom for all passengers as well, which is a bonus given the curved roofline would suggest otherwise. So it’s not to say the interior is of poor quality, far from it, only that it’s not what we believed the brand is trying to portray and that it’s not up to BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Audi and Lexus standards.
Infiniti has an opportunity to start its Australian life with a clean slate and avoid being negatively associated with its parent company, an issue that has plagued Lexus’ brand image for the last 20 years (even though the current generation of Lexus vehicles are far removed from that scenario). However, given the interior trim and treatment of the FX, it appears to be falling in the same trap. Its saviour is its exterior styling, which has absolutely no Nissan DNA in it.
The explanation for the interior similarities comes down to the FX’s lifecycle, which is now half way through. The next-generation of FX and G coupe, convertible and sedans are expected to offer significantly different interiors that are as unique to Infiniti as its exterior styling. The first signs of this are seen in the M sedan range (also launching in August), which has a noticeably more upmarket and unique interior than the FX.
With the German luxury brands and Lexus having been around for decades, Infiniti is heading to Australia to offer something new and perhaps to a new type of buyer as well. How close it will be priced to its direct rivals remains to be seen but either way, Infiniti’s success relies heavily on buyers’ dissatisfaction with the existing offerings, be that a result of conservative stigma or after-sales service. At the same time it needs to create an aspirational lineup that has a certain kind of appeal, one that can pull luxury car buyers away from the expected norm.
The Infiniti FX ticks all those boxes in regards to how it looks and how it drives, but it’s let down by its interior. We suspect that may not be a big issue as competitive pricing and Infiniti Australia’s expected plans for its after sales service may negate the downsides.