2003 Infiniti FX45
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Story and photos by Greg Wilson

Bold looks, bold performance

The Infiniti FX45 is one of a growing number of high-performance luxury ‘crossover’ SUVs which now include the BMW X5 4.4i and 4.6is, Mercedes-Benz ML500, Porsche Cayenne S, VW Touareg V8, and Volvo XC90 T6.

To the usual SUV attributes of four-wheel-drive, high ground clearance, a five-passenger interior and a flexible cargo area, high-performance crossovers add more horsepower, improved handling, more aggressive styling, and additional luxury features. Prices for V8-powered examples range in price between $60,000 and $100,000.

The new 2003 Infiniti FX45 is advertised as an “SUV for people who really want a sports car”. In fact, that’s the general idea behind all these hot-rod SUVs: they attempt to combine the performance of a low slung two-seater with the practicality of wagon-like utility vehicle.

Of course, this is impossible.

SUV characteristics, such as a higher ground clearance and taller body height, mean a higher centre of gravity, and thus more body lean and worse handling. A heavier curb weight takes its toll in accelerating, braking and fuel consumption. Conversely, sports car attributes like wide tires and sporty styling detract from the purely functional capabilities of a four-wheel-drive utility vehicle.

So what we have here is a compromise – but a surprisingly good compromise.

Nuts and bolts

2003 Infiniti FX45

2003 Infiniti FX45

2003 Infiniti FX45
Click image to enlarge

Based on the same platform as the Infiniti G35 sedan and coupe but with additional structural reinforcements for off-road use, the new FX is available in two models, the FX35 ($52,500) with a 280 horsepower 3.5 litre V6, and the FX45 ($59,900) with a 315 horsepower 4.5 litre V8 – the same engine used in the Q45 sedan but with 25 less horsepower. A 5-speed automatic transmission with manual shift capability is standard.

The FX45 has a fairly long wheelbase (2850 mm/112.2 in.) and a very wide track which enhances its overall longitudinal and lateral stability. As well, the front and rear overhangs are quite short. Its front/rear weight balance of 54/46 is close to the ideal balance of 50/50.

A sophisticated all-wheel-drive system car vary the engine’s power from 0:100 front/rear to 50:50 front/rear. As well, the driver can lock the AWD system in 50:50 for maximum traction. Traction control and Vehicle Dynamic Control, which adjusts brake pressure and throttle input to correct oversteer or understeer, is standard on the FX45.

A four wheel independent suspension (front struts/rear multi-link) and large diameter stabilizer bars are standard. Ventilated disc brakes with emergency Brake Assist and Electronic Brake Force Distribution are also standard. Huge 265/50R-20 inch all-season tires are also standard on V8-powered FX45s.

The FX45’s base price is $59,900, and my test vehicle had the optional $7,500 High Tech Package which includes a navigation system, DVD rear entertainment system, intelligent cruise control, keyless start, rearview monitor, tire pressure monitoring system. With Freight and PDI, my test vehicle came to $68,669.


The FX45 is certainly one of the most distinctive SUVs out there. Its standard 20 inch tires and wheels really dominate the side view of the FX45, particularly as the FX45 has such short front and rear overhangs. As well, the FX45 has narrow slit-like front and rear light clusters, an aggressive front grille design, and unusually rounded corner. It’s a bold design that really stands out – that is, if you don’t mind standing out everywhere you go..

One thing about its design causes problems for the rear passengers. The rear door openings are not as large as the front doors because of the intrusion of the large rear wheelwell into the passenger compartment. This makes it more inconvenient to get into the rear seat, although not difficult.

Interior impressions

The interior, though less bold than the exterior, is quite attractive and very well finished. My test vehicle had unique copper-coloured leather upholstery (which Infiniti calls “brick”)which matches its unique exterior colour.

2003 Infiniti FX45

2003 Infiniti FX45

2003 Infiniti FX45

2003 Infiniti FX45

2003 Infiniti FX45
Click image to enlarge

The dash is a non-glare flat black plastic contrasted with stainless steel accents on the console and steering wheel.

The FX45 seats five people, but the back seat is not quite wide enough for three adults to be comfortable. The front seats have useful side bolsters, and include power rake and height adjustment. Like other Infinitis, the power adjustments for the seat are on right side of the driver’s seat where you can see them. As well, the FX45’s instruments tilt up and down with the tilt/telescoping leather-wrapped, three-spoke steering wheel. I still couldn’t find a satisfactory position though – I like the steering wheel lower down for better forward visibility, but then I couldn’t see the intruments properly.

The seven inch screen in the middle of the dash offers large illuminated readouts for the radio and dual zone automatic climate control, while easy-to-read pushbutton controls are located below the screen. The screen is also used for the optional navigaton system which has a ‘birds-eye view’ rather than a ‘satellite view’ of the ground, which I find easier to read. By moving a cursor to the location you want to go to, the system calls up visual and aural directions without the user having to input any data. It’s the most user-friendly system I’ve seen.

The screen is also used for the optional back-up camera which displays the area directly behind the vehicle using a tiny camera mounted just above the license plate. The camera is activated when you put the gear lever in Reverse, and it’s most useful for displaying items that are too low to be seen through the rear window, such as the bumper of another car, fire hydrants, concrete barriers, short poles, shopping baskets, or even young children. To help judge just how close you are to the object behind you, the screen shows green, yellow and red distance markers. However, it’s not a substitute for looking behind you when backing up because it shows only objects that are very close, and at night or in the shade, it’s difficult to make out what’s behind you.

FX45s come standard with a 6-disc in-dash CD changer and a cassette player hidden behind a cover. The stereo is a 300 watt Bose system with eleven speakers, and the sound is very good. Between the front seats is a split centre armrest for driver and passenger. Each armrest will slide forwards individually, but the individual storage compartments are small.

The rear seat has plenty of headroom and legroom for two adults, but seems a bit narrow for three. A fold-down centre amrest includes integrated cupholders and covered storage.

The 60/40 split rear seats can be folded down by pulling on a single lever positioned on the side of the cargo compartment. The trunk floor is fairly high, but the trunk is a reasonable size. Underneath the cargo floor is a 20 inch temporary spare tire – I would have expected a full-size spare in a vehicle in this price range.

Standard safety features on the FX45 include dual front airbags, dual seat-mounted front side airbags, and side curtain airbags for the front and rear passengers.


Driving impressions

The driver sits high in a comfortable driving position with good forward and side visibility, but the FX45’s thick C-pillars contribute to a blind spot over the right shoulder despite the additional third side window. As well, the shape of the roof and tail makes the rear window seem relatively narrow when compared with other SUVs.

2003 Infiniti FX45

2003 Infiniti FX45

2003 Infiniti FX45
Click image to enlarge

My test vehicle had the optional “Intelligent Key” feature. With the ignition key in your pocket, you can unlock and lock the drivers door simply by pulling on the handle. You can also start the FX45 without a key by turning the ignition key holder. It’s a great feature, even better than keyless remote, because you never have to fumble with keys.

Fire up the 4.5 litre V8, and at idle the engine is smooth while emitting a low, throaty rumble. Throttle responsivness is immediate off the line and the engine has a sporty growl as speed increases rapidly. For an SUV, the FX45 is relatively lightweight (1964 kg/4330 lb.) That’s 224 kg (493 lb.) lighter than a BMW X4 4.4i – and the FX45 has 33 more horsepower than the X5, so acceleration is extremely fast. I estimate 0 to 100 km/h times in 7.5 second range. The engine’s continuously variable valve timing system provides a broad torque curve, and throttle responsiveness is brisk at city and highway speeds.

Fuel consumption, while poor, is slightly better than the BMW X5. The FX45 offers 15.9 litres per 100 km (18 mpg) around town and 11.2 litres per 100 km (25 mpg) on the highway. Premium unleaded gas is required, not optional says Infiniti.

Should you want to tow your boat to the lake, the FX45 has a standard towing capacity of 1588 kg (3500 lb.).

The FX45’s 5-speed automatic transmission is generally very smooth and responsive, but I found it a bit slow downshifting when the accelerator is floored. For example, if you’re travelling at 60 km/h in fifth, and you depress the gas pedal to the floor, the transmission shifts into 4th, then into 3rd – but the interval seems too long. The solution is to use the transmission’s manual mode feature – slap the gear lever to the right into the dedicated slot, and push forwards to upshift, backwards to downshift.

The FX45’s all-wheel-drive system is rear-wheel-drive biased, which helps with handling on dry surfaces – but up to 50% of the engine’s torque can be directed to the front wheels. As well, the AWD system can be locked in a 50:50 front/rear split simply by pushing a button on the dash. This feature need only be used on very steep, slippery roads. I drove during a dry period, so I can’t testify as to its effectiveness in poor conditions – but I can say that it’s virtually invisible to the driver in normal driving.

To assist traction further, the FX45 offers standard traction control and stability control, the latter using an automatic application of individual brakes and throttle modulation to stop loss of control when cornering. For those drivers who want more control of their destiny, the VDC can be turned off though by pressing a button.

The FX45 does not have a Low Range gear or hill descent control system, something offered by some of its competitors.

The FX45 has a comfortable highway ride, but the suspension is stiff, although not jarring, over expansion joints and road irregularities. The big 265/50R-20 inch all-season radials have plenty of grip on dry surfaces – but it would be interesting to try these very wide tires in the snow or on slippery surfaces. Generally, narrower tires offer better traction in snow or off pavement.

Competitor overview

The $59,900 Infiniti FX45’s competitors include the BMW X5 4.4i ($69,800) and 4.6is ($94,500), Cadillac Escalade 6.0 ($74,970), Mercedes-Benz ML500 ($66,100), Porsche Cayenne S ($78,250), VW Touareg V8 ($60,550), and Volvo XC90 T6 ($59,995).

Even though $59,900 is a lot of money, the Infiniti is the least expensive of all its rivals, and because of its relatively light curb weight, its performance is a match for some of its competitors with more horsepower. The FX45’s fuel consumption is better than average in its class, and its towing capacity is higher than most of its competitors.


In the realm of high-performance “crossover” SUVs, the Infiniti FX45 compares favourably with its competitors in terms of price, performance and luxury features. But its bold styling is almost too bold and I had some concerns with its automatic transmission.

Technical Data: 2003 Infiniti FX45

Base price $59,900
Freight $1,269
Options $7,500 (High Tech Package includes navigation system, DVD rear entertainment system, intelligent cruise control, keyless start, rearview monitor, tire pressure monitoring system)
Price as tested $68,669
Type 4-door, 5 passenger luxury SUV
Layout longitudinal front engine/all-wheel-drive
Engine 4.5 litre V8, DOHC, 32 valves, CVVT
Horsepower 315 @ 6400 rpm
Torque 329 ft-lb @ 4000 rpm
Transmission 5-speed automatic w/manual mode
Tires 265/50R-20
Curb weight 1964 kg (4330 lb.)
Towing capacity 1588 kg (3500 lb.)
Wheelbase 2850 mm (112.2 in.)
Length 4803 mm (189.1 in.)
Width 1925 mm (75.8 in.)
Height 1674 mm (65.9 in.)
Ground clearance 193 mm (7.6 in.)
Cargo capacity 776 litres (27.4 cu. ft.) seats up
  1710 litres (60.4 cu. ft.) seats down
Fuel consumption City: 15.9 l/100 km (18 mpg)
  Hwy: 11.2 l/100 km (25 mpg)
Fuel type Premium unleaded (required)
Warranty 4 yrs/80,000 km
Powertrain Warranty 6 yrs/110,000 km

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