2009 Infiniti FX
2009 Infiniti FX. Click image to enlarge
Manufacturer’s web site
Infiniti Canada

Review and photos by Paul Williams

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2009 Infiniti FX

San Diego, California – What a place… San Diego. After leaving the monochrome winter world of Ice Planet Hoth (Oh, Canada), San Diego seems a Technicolor paradise in comparison. Bikini-clad women with unnatural figures serve exotic drinks to swooning business types at the hotel bar, sculpted men with deep tans jog beside the ocean catching the eyes of pasty tourists who wish, and just about every vehicle on the road is showroom clean, fitted with giant chrome wheels that flash provocatively in the sun. This isn’t the place for the retiring personality; you won’t get anywhere with a low-key approach here.

We’ve come to meet the all-new Infiniti FX, itself no shrinking violet, four years after the first generation FX surprised unsuspecting consumers who were used to their SUVs being tall and square, with a spare wheel attached to the back door, and maybe a winch on the front bumper. The FX threw that all out, and in the process managed to believably combine the words “sleek” and “truck” in the same sentence.

2009 Infiniti FX
2009 Infiniti FX. Click image to enlarge

Okay, it’s not a truck in the conventional sense, but you get the point. And the question of how to update such a distinctive vehicle like the Infiniti FX was something many auto writers were quick to ask when it was introduced. The answer from Infiniti, on the surface at least, is to leave well-enough alone. After all, the FX was well ahead of the curve with this radical SUV in 2003, and with uncanny prescience the company nailed a look that other manufacturers are only now beginning to emulate. So why mess with success?

That’s not to say changes are absent from the 2009 Infiniti FX. On the contrary, it gains 35 millimeters in wheelbase and 43 mm front track width, along with functional air vents that appear behind the front wheels to aid in engine cooling and vehicle aerodynamics (reducing frontal lift by five-percent). Dramatic new lights flank a distinctive “black chrome” grille at the front, and LED tail lights protrude slightly at the rear, contributing to downforce back there, according to Infiniti.

2009 Infiniti FX
2009 Infiniti FX. Click image to enlarge

All Canadian FX models are all-wheel drive, by the way, unlike the U.S. market which also gets a rear-wheel drive version.

For 2009, the FX35 continues with its celebrated 3.5-litre V6 engine, now making 303-horsepower (up 25 from the previous model) and 262 pound-feet of torque. Infiniti reports that the FX35 is expected to offer the same performance as the outgoing, V8-powered FX45.

The FX45 has been retired; replaced with the FX50 and its all-new 5.0-litre V8 engine that generates 390 hp (up 70 hp compared with the FX45) and 335 lb-ft torque.

Both engines are matched to a new seven-speed automatic transmission with magnesium paddle shifters for manual control, and a “Driver Support” mode that holds the gears longer and sharpens throttle response for an even sportier driving experience.

I say “even sportier” because the new FX has a new double-wishbone front suspension and a refined rear-multilink suspension that contributes to truly sports-car like handling that was (and still is) a revelation in this class of vehicle. Additionally, the FX50 rides on standard 21-inch wheels and low profile 265/45R21 tires (these wheels are also available on the FX35, which comes with standard 18-inch rims).

2009 Infiniti FX
2009 Infiniti FX
2009 Infiniti FX. Click image to enlarge

So it’s not shy of handling in standard form, but if you want to go all-out, there’s an FX50s model with active rear steering, continuous damping control and special sports seats.

Inside, the FX features new pleated leather upholstery on the seat surfaces, wood trim on the centre console and stack, and a twin-cockpit design for the driver and front-seat passenger. The interior is similar in look and feel to other Infiniti vehicles and doesn’t stray too far from the outgoing model.

Externally, the two versions can be distinguished by the smaller standard wheels and matte silver trim of the FX35, and larger wheels with chrome trim for the FX50. The FX50s has dark tinted headlights and special badging.

The FX35 and FX50 are a showcase for Infiniti’s advanced technology, and as you would expect, incorporate a comprehensive array of standard and available convenience and performance features.

Scratch Shield paint, for instance, is a “self healing” paint with a soft polymer clear coat that actually repairs fine scratches. Additional standard equipment includes a climate control system that eliminates 96 per cent of airborne contaminants, sunroof, intelligent key with push-button start, climate controlled front seats, Bluetooth communications system, paddle shifters, aluminum pedals, pleated leather interior, seat/mirror synchronization and power seats with two-position memory for the driver.

2009 Infiniti FX
2009 Infiniti FX
2009 Infiniti FX. Click image to enlarge

The Technology Package, available on both the FX35 and FX50, includes Infiniti’s “AroundView” monitor system that uses cameras at the front, rear and sides of the vehicle to create a “bird’s eye” view of the space around the FX when placed in reverse, and “pre-crash” seatbelts that automatically cinch up if sensors detect that a crash is imminent.

Also included in the Technology Package is a lane-departure prevention system that assists the driver to stay within a lane by adding slight resistance to the steering wheel if the vehicle begins to wander; an Intelligent Cruise Control system that will stop the vehicle if required; and Intelligent Brake Assist that analyses the closing speeds to an obstacle ahead and provides assistance to stop in time to avoid a collision.

Completing the package is Distance Control Assist (DCA), which is designed for driving in heavy traffic. It allows one-foot driving, where the driver depresses the accelerator to move forward, and when the car ahead slows, DCA “pushes back” and automatically applies the brakes to maintain a safe distance between vehicles.

Of course, your Bose audio system is iPod compatible, and virtually everything is voice activated if you select the Navigation Package, which also includes DVD entertainment and XM NavTraffic.

2009 Infiniti FX
2009 Infiniti FX. Click image to enlarge

On the road, the extra wheelbase is noticeable not only in the smooth ride, but also in the length of the hood, which you “look over” as you drive. The FX35 feels more nimble than the FX50 (it weighs 125 kilograms less) and its 303 hp moves the vehicle along smartly. The FX50, though, is something of a rocket, launching you aggressively forward to the sound of a wailing exhaust.

In manual mode, the seven-speed transmission doesn’t have the quick response that you may prefer, and as an automatic the shifts are perhaps not as smooth as you would like. The “Driver Support” mode seemed well-sorted, though.

The “assist” technologies don’t intrude as much as you may think, although the lane departure system is a bit too sensitive to lateral movement. I turned it off.

But both vehicles really shine with their handling. The FX is a supremely balanced machine in which you can change direction as quick as you can change your mind — you point, it goes: that’s all. The comparatively low centre of gravity also helps with handling and, also very important, appearance, as this is a very smart vehicle.

2009 Infiniti FX
2009 Infiniti FX. Click image to enlarge

Before ending on that note, a quick comment about the interior: it seems to me that there’s something of a contradiction between the inside and the outside of the FX: on the one hand, this is a brash, high performance vehicle; a real driver’s machine with gobs of attitude. But you have to wonder about the decision to pleat the upholstery. This points you in an entirely different direction, in my opinion, and there is something in this balance between sports and luxury that’s not quite realized. The chrome flourish on the too-chubby steering wheel, the artificial shine of the wood trim, the dainty analogue clock, the pleats…you get where I’m going?

On the other hand, Infiniti likely knows exactly what it’s doing. I had occasion to watch as two FX50s emerged from San Diego’s Hard Rock Hotel, joining the procession of personalized downtown traffic. There, among the flashy trim, the giant wheels, the dark tinted windows and the luxury nameplates, the lean lines of the Infiniti FX, well, they just fit right in.

Pricing will be announced shortly.

Manufacturer’s web site
Infiniti Canada

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