September 23, 2006 By Kevin C. Limjoco

Infiniti FX35 Crossover

 

 

 

 

As popular as the Nissan Murano is, it lacks elements necessary to be in true contention with a BMW X5 3.0i (which it would like to be compared to). Enter its more prestigious brother, the Infiniti FX35 Crossover. Let’s put aside the obvious visual difference for a moment and concentrate on how mechanically different they are, which is not by very much in reality. The Murano may have been marginally bigger and more spacious than the X5, but it could never outgun it under every performance battery, luring sales purely by value and preference rather than outright merit. In fact, the Murano outsells its impressive luxury counterpart by 3 to 1, principally because of the $10,000 price difference between them. So, what do you get for the extra expense?

The Murano uses the FF-L (front engine, front-wheel-drive) platform related to the FWD Nissan Maxima and Altima, while the Infiniti uses the FM platform (front-midship, rear-wheel-drive) used in the Infiniti M and G series cars. The FM platform centers most of the vehicle’s weight between the front and rear axles to promote better balance, steering response, and driving precision. Driving dynamics between the two premium SUVs are very different even if they share the same basic brake (12.6” front & 12.1” rear), engine, and suspension (independent strut upfront & independent multilink rear) systems. The Murano’s platform is biased toward economics and understeers with a weight ratio of 59:41; the FX, in contrast with a more optimal 53:47 weight distribution, is biased toward performance driving and oversteers. In their basic models, the Murano will drive the front wheels via a CVT with virtual &-speed manual shifting, while the FX35 will drive the rear wheels via a sophisticated 5-speed automatic transmission with downshift capability.

The FX35 wheelbase is only an inch longer, riding on half-inch wider wheels (but with much more actual rubber: 285/60VR18 compared to 235/65TR18), but the driving personality is eerily similar to the X5 3.0i, if not even more deliberately thrilling. Now we discuss the incredibly versatile VQ35DE engine. I’m astonished at how Nissan engineers are able to reconfigure the same basic engine to power such a diverse array of vehicles. It’s not uncommon for large car manufacturers, for the purpose of economics of scale, to use a specified engine across several platforms; however, these engines are usually tuned within 10% of its original power delivery. One odd ball is the US-spec only BMW E90 325i, which uses a heavily detuned 3.0-liter to match the power delivery of the 2.5-liter engines found in all other markets. So the award-winning engine of the Nissan finds itself in another role, and once again, it performs dramatically different. The retuned engine makes 35bhp and 24lb-ft more torque, but it also has to carry 350lbs more mass. But somehow, the sum of all components makes the FX35 everything the Murano had hoped to be: a BMW X5 3.0i beater.

The FX35 drives with so much verve and conviction that it feels like there is a small V8 in the engine bay. It has a better drag coefficient of .37 compared to the .39 of the Murano, despite the FX35 looking bulkier. The handling is astonishing considering there is no pneumatic assistance or any other active suspension wizardry at play. The FX35 drives very flat, composed, and changes direction with the damping is also very good, soaking up most, if not all, road imperfections admirably with the stock 18” wheels, however the more powerful FX45. One weakness is the brakes, which are very strong but don’t have the resilience of the BMW systems. For normal driving conditions, the brakes are more than adequate, but for EVO testing we were able to determine that fade would set in sooner primarily because of the small brake surface, an additional inch in diameter and a quarter-inch thickness to the front rotors would address the heat issue accordingly.

Acceleration throughout the powerband was very strong and the engine sang willingly. To date, the best CVT we’ve tested is Audi’s DSG, everything else for large engines pales in comparison, so it is no surprise that I enjoyed the traditional 5-speed automatic transmission of the Infiniti vastly more than the system in the Murano. Where the Murano seemed always out of breath, the FX35’s transmission used every single horsepower to its maximum ability. In manual mode, the ECU would blip the throttle like in the SMG system of the BMW M5 and M6! However, all this fun in such a good-looking mid-size premium SUV has a penalty: awful fuel consumption. The fuel economy of the FX35 ironically is appropriate to a small V8 (full circle).

Quick note on the interior: it’s not much bigger, but vastly better looking, much more comfortable, a heck of a lot more standard gadgetry that includes an 11- speaker 300Watt Bose® audio system compared to an already decent 7-speaker 225-watt unit in the Murano.

The ATTESA E-TS All-Wheel-Drive system of the Infiniti is also more sophisticated than the unit controlled by the Xtronic CVT on the Murano. The reaction times are quicker; up to 50% of power can be transmitted to the front wheels during on-road high-speed spirited driving. If you’re not satisfied still, Infiniti has the optional 320bhp 4.5-liter V8 with sport-tuned suspension available, another bonus of the robust FM platform. The FX45, as it’s called, actually bests the BMW X5 4.4i and the Porsche Cayenne S in overall performance. BMW will never take a loss sitting down especially in its most vital market (North America), so it just launched its new X5, which promises to decimate all its competitors once again for total premium mid-size SUV dominion.

So, the extra $10,000 above a Nissan Murano SE does go very far and is well spent, but $41,850 is a hell of a lot of money for a mid-size premium Japanese SUV, so it has to be this good. Thankfully, the brilliant FX35 is everything it’s supposed to be – it’s just too bad that it isn’t more fuel efficient.

KCL

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