Infiniti's 2009 FX SUV emphasizes sport

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Most sport utility vehicles emphasize utility. But Infiniti's FX SUV is all about sport, edgy style and technology.

Why else would the newly revamped-for-2009 FX have a chest-high hood that's so long and dramatic? It's akin to something on a sports car. Why else would the FX upgrade to a 5-liter V-8 with nearly 400 horsepower? The previous 4.5-liter V-8 offered ample power at 320 horses.

And why else would the FX add a 9.3-gigabyte "music box" hard drive, an all around the vehicle monitor system as well as easier-than-ever iPod hookup?

There's even a new, seven-speed automatic transmission in the 2009 FX for improved acceleration, among other things, as well as new, eye-catching 21-inch Enkei wheels and a sport suspension package that measures vehicle dynamics like yaw and pitch. Normally, yaw and pitch monitoring is done on sports cars, not SUVs.

Infiniti hasn't released final retail pricing yet on the 2009 FX but said manufacturer's suggested retail price would be "around $41,000." This is up from the base price of $38,865, including destination charge, for a 2008 FX35 with rear-wheel drive.

But the higher price fits with German competitors in the mid-size SUV segment that offer both six- and eight-cylinder engines.

For example, the 2008 BMW X5 SUV with base six cylinder starts at $46,675, while the 2008 Mercedes-Benz ML-Class with V-6 starts at $44,825.

On the other hand, the FX is higher priced than competing Japan-based luxury brands, including the 2009 Lexus RX350, which has a $38,265 MSRP plus destination charge and only one engine -- a 270-horsepower V-6.

Originally introduced in 2003, the FX for 2009 is stretched 1.4 inches in wheelbase, which is the distance from the middle of one wheel on one side of the vehicle to the middle of the other wheel on the same side, to an overall wheelbase length of 113.6 inches.

Unusually, the additional inches went into the hood area -- not the interior -- because Infiniti officials wanted to improve the distribution of weight in the FX.

The longer hood allowed them to push the engines back, thus helping drivers feel more secure and confident in the vehicle's handling in spirited driving than they would if the heavy engine weight was farther forward. Now, that's something you typically don't hear about in an SUV revamp.

The FX styling was always a polarizing issue, and it's not dramatically changed for 2009. Headlamps look more integrated than before, and there are new side vents -- they're functional to reduce internal air pressure in the engine compartment and are not just the latest car styling cue.

But new Enkei wheels, which are standard on the FX50 are probably the most striking exterior change. The six spokes on each wheel are hollow and made from special casting to reduce weight. They add real sparkle to the FX50 -- the only model they're available on -- and are the biggest wheels ever offered by Infiniti for the FX.

The test FX50 was the top-of-the-line SUV that didn't drive like an SUV at all.

Even though it weighed more than 4,500 pounds, the tester zoomed forward in smooth, yet almost brawny, V-8 fashion. It just took a while to adjust to the views created by the smallish rear window and the big steel pillars around the windshield.

In mountain twisties, the FX50 took curves with gusto and surprised me by how well it stayed connected to the pavement. Except for my higher seat height and occasional head toss, I felt like I was driving a car, not an SUV.

The tester had the optional Sport Package which added sport style front seats and continuous damping control that measures such things as pitch, yaw, roll and lateral acceleration of the FX body and then adjusts the suspension accordingly.

There was plenty of road noise and some wind noise from around the outside mirrors at highway speeds.

And the steering wheel of the FX50 seemed smaller in diameter than I expected in an SUV. It felt more like a sports car steering wheel, and steering response was prompt, just like in a sports car.

Infiniti's parent company, Nissan, has won awards for their engines, and the new, 390-horsepower, 5-liter, double overhead cam V-8 in the FX likely is another award contender.

It's modified from the previous 4.5-liter V-8 but has new intake and exhaust system and variable valve control technology. Torque peaks at 369 foot-pounds at 4,400 rpm. This is an additional 34 foot-pounds from the previous FX.

Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: