2010 Infiniti FX50 AWD Review
By Chris Haak
I just finished a week driving an Infiniti FX50, and I just can’t get myself to fall in love with this odd duck. During my week with the car, I added about 400 miles to its odometer, and was able to sample it in snow, on dry pavement and wet, on the highway and in the city, and with the family and without them. What I found was an interesting looking crossover that’s very quick and powerful, but one that seems to have little more utility than a conventional sedan. In other words, it’s a vehicle with the economy of an SUV, the performance of a sports car, and the interior of a large luxury car. Tell me again who thought this would be a good idea.
The FX50 is a statement vehicle. Its design is not burdened by practicality concerns (though, admittedly, a five-door hatchback shape is more practical than, say, a two-seat sport coupe), with a long hood, low roofline, and complex organic curves that each manages to cut a little bit more into the FX’s usable interior space. Were the FX to wear more conventionally-sized wheels – say 18s or 19s – instead of the giant 21s on my sport package-equipped test vehicle, it just wouldn’t look as sporty, or as menacing.
Speaking of menacing, the FX’s backswept, angled, and scalloped headlamps certainly give the impression that the FX has an angry expression on its face. The grille’s shape is similar to the shape used in other Infiniti models to give a bit of a family resemblance, and perhaps a bit more attention was paid to exterior details in the FX than in other lesser Infinits. For example, the front fenders’ vertical air extractors – which remind one of a Range Rover’s or Jaguar’s – are nicely integrated with the curvature of the front wheel opening, yet are a look not shared with other vehicles in the lineup. The FX also has no true peer in the Infiniti lineup; it’s easy to argue that the smaller EX35 is basically a tall G37 wagon, but the FX does not share many design cues, if any, with the larger M sedans. The FX does share the concept of offering a coupe-like profile on an SUV with the BMW X6, as well as [kind of] the Acura ZDX, though the Acura lives in a completely different world price- and performance-wise.
Though to my eyes the FX has an appealing shape, and certainly is one that isn’t easily ignored when passing one on the road or in the parking lot at the mall, not all agree. My wife was not particularly fond of the FX’s looks, and in particular though the “orange” (actually “Mojave Copper”) paint that the press car was covered in. Regardless, I’m not here to tell you whether or not you should like the way it looks; you should be able to decide whether you like it or not without even getting out of your car and looking at it. I will say that in my opinion, Infiniti nailed the proportions, with short overhangs, a low roofline, and large wheels, everything is more or less where it should be.
The FX’s interior, though, is where it really seems to earn its keep. When I last drove an FX, I noted that my shirt would smell like the leather seats long after getting out of the car; that was true as well for this 2010 model. In the past, I had not been a fan of pleated leather seats in cars, but they’re starting to grow on me. The front seats are excellent, with countless adjustments to find the right mix of support, bolstering, cushioning, reclining, and placement. Both front seats have a manually-extendable thigh support that I appreciated, being a tall driver. There are air bladders on the sides of both the lower and upper portions of the seat that can be inflated or deflated to increase or decrease lateral support. I preferred the feel of the seat with the bolsters jacked to their most-cocooning setting, but that setting also managed to make keeping a wallet in my back pocket a painful experience each time. The choice was to either empty the air bladders in the seat or put my wallet in the console cupholder; usually, it went into the cupholder.
Infiniti has upgraded its navigation system for 2010. The new system is similar in functionality to the old model (such as the one found in the 2009 FX), but includes a higher-resolution screen and therefore more information, displayed more legibly, than previous generations do. The upgrades to Infiniti’s navigation system put it nearly on par with Ford’s excellent system. Infiniti’s system even tops Ford’s in some areas, such as the ability to interact via steering wheel controls, a knob, pushbuttons, or touchscreen to do the same function.
To me, the FX’s interior should be all about technology, and frankly, I was a little disappointed. It does have XM, Bluetooth phone connectivity and streaming audio (I believe the streaming audio is new for 2010 in the Infiniti system), hard disc, CD changer, and the other expected goodies. The FX also includes Infiniti’s groundbreaking “all around view” camera system, which places small cameras underneath each mirror and at the top of the grille, in addition to the standard rearview camera, to create a virtual bird’s eye view on the navigation screen to aid in close-quarters parking. I have a feeling that if my wife’s minivan had something similar, we would have saved ourselves at least two trips to the body shop in the past 18 months. It makes parallel parking about as easy as possible without actually doing it for you.
Technologies absent in my tester include Infiniti’s lane departure warning/lane departure prevention system, intelligent brake assist with forward collision warning, intelligent cruise control (that goes down to 0 mph and starts again), and distance control assist. All of the above, a few others, are included in Infiniti’s Technology Package, which happened to be the only option that my test vehicle did not have. My tester did have the Sport Package, which was nice, but given my druthers, I’d have chosen the Technology Package if I had to pick just one.
The FX has plenty of sport without the Sport Package, after all. Fortunately, I did have the opportunity to test a 2009 FX50 with the Technology Package over a year and a half ago, and in particular, the DCA (distance control assist) and adaptive cruise control work phenomenally well. It’s a little disconcerting to trust the vehicle to stop itself in traffic, but keeping your foot poised above the brake the first few times “just in case” might give enough comfort to let the car do the heavy lifting. The technology is great in commutes with heavy traffic.
As noted, I did get the Sport Package in my tester, which begins by affixing an S designation to the FX50 badge on its rump. But the “sport” designation is about much more than a badge. It includes Continuous Damping Control (CDC) with Auto and Sport modes, Rear Active Steer, magnesium paddle shifters, front sport seats with thigh support, driver’s seat with power bolster adjustment (4-way), and dark-tinted headlights, side air vents and lower door trim. That the FX50’s standard seven-speed automatic has manual-shift capability, a handy DS (“Drive Sport”) mode, and enough gear ratios for any situation definitely helps the sportiness quotient quite a bit.
Stomp on the gas pedal at any speed, the automatic drops down a few gears, there’s a neck hair-tingling roar from the exhaust, and you accumulate speed rapidly. Because the gear ratios are so closely-spaced, gear changes come at you fast and furious. It’s for that reason that I prefer the DS mode for spirited driving; DS never allows the FX to hit the rev limiter, and even blips the throttle to downshift during abrupt braking maneuvers. With the big V8 underhood, you can imagine how cool a rev-matched downshift sounds in the FX50.
The FX50’s suspension tuning is fairly firm when the Continuous Damping Control is set to “Auto,” and in fact, I only bothered switching it to Sport on a few occasions during my time with the vehicle, mostly to amuse myself or to pester my wife if she complained about my driving. As this particular FX was equipped with a giant set of Bridgestone Blizzak snow tires, there was to be no major corner-carving during its stay in the Autosavant Garage. Body motions over imperfect pavement were well-controlled; there was a single bounce, and the body was again steady, with no rebound.
The FX50 has fairly large brake rotors front and rear, and pedal feel was very good; firm, but not too firm, with no sponginess. The only things hindering dry pavement braking were the four snow tires. You can definitely feel when the brakes are doing their jobs but the tires aren’t holding up their end of the dynamic bargain. I won’t complain much more about the tires, since they were a Godsend during a snowstorm that landed during the FX’s stay, but will also note that wheelspin (on all four wheels) was fairly easy to induce in a variety of situations, and any kind of higher-speed cornering attempts on dry pavement were met with howls of protest from the Blizzaks.
The last time I reviewed an FX50, its observed fuel economy was an abysmal 13.6 miles per gallon – mainly because of its significant weight and large engine – but no doubt helped by the fact that I found its power intoxicating and couldn’t keep my right foot out of the accelerator pedal. This time, being older and more mature (and helped significantly by a 200-mile family road trip that was nearly all highway mileage), I did much better. I saw 21 miles per gallon on the highway trip, and 16.5 miles per gallon overall. The EPA says that the FX50 will get 14 mpg in the city and 20 mpg on the highway.
Pricing is a bit ambitious, but there’s a lot of performance and technology packed into the FX50. The base price including destination is $59,265. My test vehicle had just three options, the $325 aluminum roof rail crossbars, the $135 vehicle alarm impact sensor (which is sensitive enough that I once triggered it when slapping the raised windshield wipers back down to the windshield when an expected snowstorm did not materials), and the aforementioned $3,000 Sport Package. Twenty one inch summer tires are a no-cost option that would have been fitted to the FX50S, but it had a set of Bridgestone Blizzak snow tires instead. Aside from the $2.900 Technology Package, the only major option that my test FX didn’t include was the dual-screen DVD player, which would have added $1,510 to its price. Instead, our sons had to watch movies the old-fashioned way instead, with the portable DVD player perilously resting on the center console lid. At least the FX allows you to plug RCA cables from the player into jacks in the console, and you can see the DVD on the navigation screen when the vehicle is not in motion, which makes it easier for everyone to hear the movie’s dialog and soundtrack on the road.
As I said once before, I’d never buy an FX50 – too expensive, too thirsty, and too impractical for my space-loving nuclear family. But I sure do love when I get the opportunity to spend some time behind an FX50’s leather-wrapped wheel. My wife, when critiquing the small-ish cargo capacity (which, by the way, was large enough to hold a full-size snow shovel laterally) asked me who is supposed to buy an FX, since she as a thirtysomething saw little appeal in it. I have little doubt that it’s a vehicle designed with empty nest baby boomers in mind. Car seats fit into it just fine, but we as a family just didn’t seem to “fit in” with the FX. There’s nothing wrong with it, really, but it’s not the right vehicle for a family used to the utility of a minivan or a larger crossover.
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