When there's a vehicle that claims to offer the utility of an SUV with the driving experience of a sport sedan, what better way to test it out than with a cross-country road trip? That's exactly how we tried out Motor Trend's long-term Infiniti FX50 S AWD, opting to go from California to Virginia-and back.

Starting before sunrise, cargo area stuffed full, we headed south, nearing the Mexican border to connect with the first of several Interstates. As with any long trip, the adrenaline disappeared quickly after the drone of the road took over and we settled into a steady pace. The highway turned twisty, and we got to enjoy the excellent handling and sporty suspension this vehicle has to offer.

Just outside Yuma, Arizona, we discovered two important things: first, it's very easy to drive the FX at a high rate of speed, and second, the Arizona Highway Patrol likes to park, semi-concealed, in the center divider. I deserved the ticket, but I have to blame the vehicle for at least part of it: How is it entirely my fault when the Infiniti has 390 horsepower, hits 60 in 5.7 seconds, and sounds so good doing it?

There were stretches with potholes and uneven road surfaces, all transmitted into the cabin. But the combination of well-bolstered, quilted-leather seats and seat heaters made up for the occasionally rough ride. After about 17 hours, we stopped just outside Midland, Texas. If ever there's a time when you'll appreciate the Around View Monitor, which shows you an overhead view of the Infiniti, it's when you're trying to park this long-nosed, fairly wide vehicle between a big-rig and a lifted Silverado HD at one a.m. after a full day on the road.

The next morning, frost covered the grass along the highway, and we found occasional sneaky patches of ice on the Interstate, but the FX wasn't fazed. There's a lot of straight road in Texas where we were glad to have the Lane Departure Warning system and Intelligent Cruise Control, especially when fatigue set in. After another full day of driving, we reached Memphis, where it was 14 degrees and windy. The trip east turned north, as we went through the twists and turns in North Carolina. Three days and 2700 miles later, we arrived in Virginia. Soon thereafter, we were on the road again, returning by the same southern route.

When you're in unfamiliar territory, the "miles to empty" display on the FX is a little nerve wracking. It does a fine job of counting down the range you have before the tank nears empty, but when you reach a number that's low enough (somewhere around 30 miles left on the tank), it replaces the number with three flashing dashes-just when that number is most critical. It's especially scary when you use the nav in search of the nearest station, only to discover that it went out of business and you're not sure you'll make it to another one.

Filling up at a truck stop in Arkansas on the second day, the tank took 22 gallons of premium unleaded (required). When gas next hits $4 a gallon, this will be a much more expensive SUV to own. After crossing the state line, we spent the rest of the day and a good part of the night driving through Texas. It's that damned big.

After our last stop for gas in Tacna, Arizona, we knew we had enough fuel to make it home and didn't stop for the last 330 miles.

We'd racked up over 6000 miles on the trip and rediscovered all the personality traits of this long-termer that staffers had noted throughout the year-aggressive throttle tip-in, terrific acceleration, rough ride, amazing technology. From California to Virginia and back, fuel economy averaged 19.1 mpg, with a high of 21.0 and a low of 17.1. Not bad, considering the EPA estimates are 14 city/20 highway.

During its term with us, the FX made three trips to the dealer for regular maintenance. The first, for its 7500-mile service, included an oil change, tire rotation, and full inspection, and cost $139.08. Adding 6000 miles to the odometer from our trip meant the 15,000-mile service happened a lot sooner than planned (two months later). For $413.10, the dealer replicated the 7500-mile line items but also replaced the cabin and engine air filters. The final service ($212.81), at about 22,500 miles, included an oil change, tire rotation, and inspection. Total maintenance cost: $764.99.

The FX is a great-yet expensive-solution for those who don't need to go off-road. It offers the acceleration, handling, and amenities of a luxury sport sedan with more space for stuff. It's not the best for the mega-carpooler and doesn't provide the cushy ride of a plush crossover, but for two people who can live with 25 cubic feet of cargo space (62 cubic feet with the back seat down), it's perfect.

From the Logbook

"When cruising through central California, the lane-departure system worked impressively. I expected a simple beeping to go off once I swerved from course, but was happily surprised to feel a slight brake and tug of the wheel in the opposite direction. Its radar cruise control was at times too imposing. A system with a 'radar off' button would be ideal."
- Nate Martinez

"Throttle tip-in is much too aggressive. Leaving a stop without getting all herky-jerky proves much too difficult. And it's not as if the engine needs an artificial 'sport' feeling-it's potent and great fun when you row the gears yourself. The engine note sounds great. The roar on start-up echoed through my apartment complex's parking area, and I hadn't even moved."
- Carlos Lago

"The rig carries speed discreetly and with little cabin fuss. In fact, my passengers had no clue how fast we were going until they asked if I could go faster (it was late in the evening and they were anxious to arrive at the cabin), and I said I didn't want to break 95 mph."
- Brian Vance


Our Car
Base Price $59,265
Options Sport Package ($3000: continuous damping control, rear active steer, adaptive front lighting, sport seats w/ driver four-way power bolster adjustment, dark-tint headlights, side air vents, lower side trim), Technology Package ($2900: Intelligent Brake Assist, Forward Collision Warning, Lane Departure Warning, Lane Departure Prevention, Intelligent Cruise Control, Distance Control Assist); cargo area protector ($225)
Price as tested $65,390
Total mileage 27,553 miles
Average fuel economy 17.0 mpg
Problem areas None
Maintenance cost $764.99
Normal-wear cost $0
3-year residual value* $26,810
Recalls None
*Automotive Lease Guide data


2009 Infiniti FX50 S AWD
POWERTRAIN/CHASSIS
Drivetrain layout Front engine, AWD
Engine type 90-deg V-8, alum block/heads
Valvetrain DOHC, 4 valves/cyl
Displacement 305.1 cu in/5000cc
Compression ratio 10.9:1
Power (SAE net) 390 hp @ 6500 rpm
Torque (SAE net) 369 lb-ft @ 4400 rpm
Weight to power 12.0 lb/hp
Transmission 7-speed automatic
Axle/final-drive ratios 3.54:1/2.74:1
Suspension, front; rear Control arms, coil springs, anti-roll bar; multi-link, coil springs, anti-roll bar
Steering ratio 16.1:1
Turns lock-to-lock 3
Brakes, f;r 14.0-in vented disc; 13.8-in vented disc, ABS
Wheels, f;r 9.5 x 21-in, aluminum
Tires, f;r 265/45R21 104W M+S Bridgestone Dueler H/L 400
DIMENSIONS
Wheelbase 113.6 in
Track, f/r 64.4/64.6 in
Length x width x height 191.3 x 75.9 x 66.1 in
Ground clearance 7.4 in
Apprch/depart angle 28.8/20.9 deg
Turning circle 36.7 ft
Curb weight 4686 lb
Weight dist, f/r 53/47%
Towing capacity 3500 lb
Seating capacity 5
Headroom, f/r 39.3/38.5 in
Legroom, f/r 44.7/34.6 in
Shoulder room, f/r 57.3/57.4 in
Cargo vol behind f/r 62.0/24.8 cu ft
TEST DATA
Acceleration to mph
0-30 2.0 sec
0-40 3.1
0-50 4.2
0-60 5.7
0-70 7.3
0-80 9.1
0-90 11.4
0-100 13.9
Passing, 45-65 mph 2.8 sec
Quarter mile 14.1 sec @ 100.5 mph
Braking, 60-0 mph 126 ft
Lateral acceleration 0.83 g (avg)
MT figure eight 27.4 sec @ 0.64 g (avg)
Top-gear revs @ 60 mpg 1850 rpm
CONSUMER INFO
Stability/traction control Yes/yes
Airbags Dual front, front side, f/r curtain
Basic warranty 4 yrs/60,000 miles
Powertrain warranty 6 yrs/70,000 miles
Roadside assistance 4 yrs/unlimited
Fuel capacity 23.8 gal
EPA city/hwy econ 14/20 mpg
CO2 emissions 1.20 lb/mile
Recommended fuel Unleaded premium

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