2003 Infiniti FX45
By Ann Job of MSN Autos
I'm sure someone will call Infiniti's FX crossover SUV an "ugly duckling." The styling, after all, isn't quite what you might expect on a luxury crossover SUV.
Yes, there's shiny chrome on the Infiniti grille, but it doesn't seem to add elegance or richness because it's situated on a rather wide, bulbous-looking front end. The rear has an unexpected appearance, too—substantial in size with little rear overhang of the body, and yet rounded, not boxy.
Then there are those wheels. On the up-level FX45, they're 20-inchers, bigger than the standard wheels on any other vehicle in the segment. Add in a striking interior that includes plentiful metallic trim, drilled aluminum pedals and small-diameter, sport steering wheel, and the nearly 16-foot-long FX crossover SUV comes across as a vehicle with an avant-garde flair.
No matter. The contemporary styling is an intriguing counterpoint to what is a quite competent new vehicle, especially in top-of-the-line FX45 dress with V8 and all-wheel drive. Indeed, the FX45 can make a driver forget that the FX has any relation to an SUV whatsoever.
Five-passenger, five doors
Starting manufacturer's suggested retail price for a two-wheel-drive trim is just over $34,000. The up-level FX45 has a 315-horsepower 4.5-liter double overhead cam V8 under the hood, standard all-wheel drive and those 20-inch tires and wheels. Starting price is just over $44,000.
Note the broad price range here, with some $10,000 variation. This means the FX competes both with competitors like the Acura MDX that only offer V6 power and are priced in the mid-$30,000s as well as competitors with V8s, like BMW's X5 4.4i, which is in the $50,000 range.
Body motions muted
In the tester, road bumps came through much of the time. It wasn't in a harsh, jolting way, but the suspension did feel quite busy managing the road contact with those big tires, especially on concrete highways. A low center of gravity and wide stance helped the FX45 immediately convey a sense of being planted to the road, so much so I boldly took curves and corners at speed. The FX45 was composed and confidence-inspiring throughout.
The FX45 uses an all-wheel-drive system that evolved from the one used in Infiniti's QX45 SUV. In the FX, it's programmed to provide good acceleration and launch at startup and maintain optimum power distribution, front and rear, during spirited driving.
Steering had a precise, responsive feel in the FX. It's power-assisted rack and pinion, but with a quick steering gear ratio like that found on sports cars. There is some road noise from those large tires, though.
Strong V8 performance and sound
Power was ample and smoothly delivered in the FX45 via the V8 that's derived from the one that's in Infiniti's flagship Q45 sedan. It's mated to a standard five-speed automatic transmission that includes a manual shift mode to allow drivers to select gears themselves, without depressing a clutch pedal, so they can maximize performance.
Though it weighed some 4,300 pounds, the V8-powered FX45 was a spirited runner, getting around slower vehicles quickly and efficiently. Torque is a generous 329 lb-ft at 4000 rpm. In contrast, the X5's base 4.4-liter V8 has maximum 290 horsepower and 324 foot-pounds of torque.
But premium fuel is recommended for the FX45, and fuel economy is rated at just 15 miles a gallon in city driving. This is akin to the fuel economy of some big SUVs.
Relatively easy entry
There are seats for five here, though the middle person in back sits up a bit on the middle seat cushion and has to fuss with a large hump in the floor. Front-seat legroom of 43.9 inches is commendable. But even though the FX is longer in overall length and wheelbase than the X5, MDX and Mercedes-Benz M-Class, rear-seat legroom of 35.2 inches in the FX is less than the 37.8 inches in the MDX and the 38 inches in the M-Class.
The FX cargo space also is smaller than what you might expect. With rear seats folded down, it totals 64.5 cubic feet. This compares with more than 81 cubic feet in the MDX and M-Class. Also note the MDX comes standard with three rows of seats. Infiniti doesn't offer third-row seating in the FX.
Airbags, power features aplenty
Interestingly, roof rails are optional, giving buyers a choice of whether to make the vehicle look more, or less, like an SUV. Look closely at the rear taillights of the FX. To help create downforce during speedy travel, the lamps stick out beyond the FX sheet metal.
Lastly, note that the FX is not a model that's shared with Infiniti's other brand, Nissan, even though Nissan has an intriguingly styled Murano crossover. In fact, the FX is built on the platform that's used for the Infiniti G35 and Nissan 350Z cars, while the Murano is on a different platform. The only major item the two vehicles share is the V6 engine, and it's mounted transversely in the Murano while it's longitudinal in the FX.