It wasn't long ago that the five-second club was reserved for sport sedans and musclecars. Yet for 2009 the Infiniti FX50 has been given its membership card and lapel pin, having reached 60 mph in 5.2. Times have changed, and vehicles with sports-car-like performance now come in many shapes and sizes. This one even has the versatility to carry five people or 62 cubic feet of cargo.
If you look at the new FX from the side, it might not be immediately clear you're eyeing an all-new vehicle. As before, its low-slung body, rounded corners, short overhangs, and sinewy lines set it apart from boxy SUVs. But a lot has changed underneath. Based on a modified version of the new FM architecture underpinning the G35 and EX35, the FX is now 1.6 times more torsionally rigid and 3.4 times more resistant to bending. The added weight of a new engine, stronger structure, and more sound insulation are mostly nullified by the use of aluminum door panels and suspension components. Net gain is about 80 pounds.
Length is up by two inches, and width and height increases are nominal. The wheelbase is 1.4 inches longer, added between the front wheels and A-pillars, and the front track is 1.7 inch wider. Going beyond the 20-inch precedent the FX45 set, the FX50 comes with 21-inchers standard-and these wheels are said to weigh less than the FX35's 18-inch alloys.
The easiest way to spot a new FX is by looking at its nose. The longer, sharklike snout's sculpted headlights flank a trapezoidal grille filled with horizontal dark-chrome waves. It's not a face everyone will love at first sight. Buyers can still choose from a V-6 (see sidebar) or V-8, both of which are different from the prior duo. The topline FX is no longer a 45-the 50's VK50VE 5.0-liter V-8 is good for 390 horsepower and 369 pound-feet of torque, increases of 70 and 34, respectively. Variable Valve Event and Lift continuously twiddles its cam timing and lift, which helps improve fuel economy by one-mpg city/three-mpg highway. Backing both engines is an all-new seven-speed automatic, the first in any Infiniti.
On freeways and twisting canyon roads, the engine and transmission are well matched. Power comes quickly and effortlessly as the FX50 rockets to speed, and the transmission makes it easy to keep things in check when descending steep grades. Under light to moderate acceleration, the seven-speed's close-ratio shifts are quick and smooth; pushing it makes the shifts hard-thumping pulses. Throttle tip-in is sometimes touchy, but easy to adapt to. And despite the crossover's width and bulk, it corners well and feels confident in tight turns, making it a lot more fun than a regular SUV. There's a slight penalty for its cornering capability: The ride isn't soft, not by a long shot, but it's much better than in the previous FX. On poorly maintained roads, you'll feel every bump, but it won't rattle any fillings loose. Our tester was shod with optional summer tires on 21s; if a softer ride is more important to you than the grip of these tires and large wheels, you may want to consider the FX35.