If you look at the luxury brands' best-sellers, a common trend among many brands is that its midsize crossovers often top the list, or usually rank among the top three models. Unfortunately, that hasn't been the case with Infiniti's sportier, rear-drive entrants in the segment, the FX and EX crossovers. The G-series sedan and coupe dominate Infiniti's sales chart, and even the jumbo-sized QX SUV out-sells both the FX and EX. But Infiniti hopes to change that equation with the introduction of the JX.
"What really matters is that we're here [in this segment] now," Ben Poore, Infiniti's ex-military veteran-turned-automotive-executive calmly replied. "The G has traditionally been our volume seller. But now it's time for us to have the JX take up that role. Ultimately, we want to give buyers a great alternative to the usual choices." Those choices include the Acura MDX and Audi Q7, two leather-lined, seven-passenger luxury cruisers that JX product planners have squarely in their sights.
Understanding the prospective buyer of the all-new 2013 Infiniti JX is just as important as understanding the CUV's top competition. The JX, Poore explained, is a crossover for couples with kids looking for more interior room than an FX offers (he calls the FX a Porsche Cayenne competitor, and the EX35 a single-person's CUV), but don't want or need the beastly QX56. The JX is a people-mover, whereas the QX is a people- and boat/ATV/Jet Ski mover.
Drivers in this segment are discriminating, Poore continued. They want fuel efficiency, seven seats, stunning style, superb tech, and mega capability -- all traits the designers and engineers melded into their newest unibody crossover.
Infiniti believes JX buyers will overwhelmingly be 40-something females with at least two children and a six-figure household income. They and their significant others already have a sports car in the garage to quell any go-fast and look-cool tendencies. Targeted buyers enjoy athletics, love the arts, have a college degree or two, and are considered worldly. (It makes sense that Infiniti struck long-term promotional partnerships with such highly recognizable global brands as Cirque du Soleil, Formula 1's Red Bull Racing, and NCAA Men's Basketball.)
On our drive loops in balmy Charleston, South Carolina, early the next morning, all the targeted, family-focused particulars Poore explained made absolute sense. The JX looks vastly more modern than anything else in the Infiniti lineup -- and that's hard to accomplish. Its sheetmetal wears long, swooping lines derived from its futuristic Essence concept of years past. Like that low-slung sports car, a double-arch grille and double-wave hood adorn the nose, while out back, a unique kinked D-pillar and a double-arch license plate holder bisect the LED taillights.
Chrome accents abound, and massive 20 inch wheels -- both traits that will stay on models going forward, one exec mentioned -- provide more than sufficient flair for well-off owners. Some noted its Toyota Highlander-esque physique; others saw some Dodge Durango bits. Your humble scribe couldn't help but think there was some Mitsubishi Outlander Sport in the front clip. Regardless, there's no question the JX is one of the more eye-catching crossovers to come along recently. Much like Infiniti's other designs, the JX's form might take some getting used to, or turn you off right off the bat. But love it or hate it, the 196.4-inch-long crossover is one of the sleekest, with a drag coefficient of just 0.34.
The JX's cabin is a simple and classy space, with cushy front thrones and the usual barrage of Infiniti-grade supple leather, soft plastics, and textured wood accents. The cockpit, with its multitude of dash buttons, multi-function steering wheel, and available hard-drive navigation system with its 7-inch Intelligent View Display, is familiar Infiniti fare. Apart from the available dual moonroof and standard three-zone climate control, there isn't anything we haven't seen in previous Infinitis -- not that that's a bad thing, but we were hoping for something more revolutionary.
Jump into the rear benches, and the 60/40 split second row bench slides forward 5.5 inches, easing entry into the third row. On the smaller 40 percent portion located on the passenger side, a baby seat can stay belted in while third rowers climb aboard, thanks to a lifting cushion. This affords more space and convenience.
Compared to Infiniti's FX, the JX has 3 more inches of shoulder room, nearly 2 additional inches of hip space, and a gargantuan 7.1 inches more legroom in the second row. It also bests the MDX in legroom (by 3 inches), and the Audi in shoulder space (by 2.3 inches) and legroom (by 4.6 inches). In real world terms, the second row is fit for three passengers, be they of the adult or child variety.
Climb into the 50/50 third row and the slim roof begins its dramatic descent, limiting occupant headroom. The differences between JX and MDX are nearly a wash: The JX gives up 1 inch of headroom to the Acura (37.5 inches vs. 36.5 inches) but has a 1.7-inch advantage when it comes to legroom (30.8 inches vs. 29.1 inches). Shoulder and hip capacities are dead even.
Throw the Audi's third bench into the mix and you'll be amazed at the numbers: Infiniti has squeezed 8.5 inches of additional shoulder room, almost an inch more headroom, and 1.6 inches of additional legroom. Remember, the JX is nearly 4 inches shorter lengthwise and 8.5 inches skinnier than the Q7. In other words, you'll fit comfortably in the back, just as long as you're less than 6 feet tall, in the sub-200 weight class, and can take full advantage of the sliding second row.
On Charleston's historic byways, the JX felt big, and filled some lanes completely. But once out of the low-rise cityscape and onto more suburban streets, the JX felt at home. Although its 265-horsepower 3.5-liter VQ35DE isn't the most powerful engine, it performs well in this particular package and can get the 4500 pound JX to 60 mph in 7.9 seconds; passing the quarter-mile marker takes 16.1 seconds while traveling 90 mph. All 248 lb-ft of torque are sent to either the front two or all four wheels depending on trim. Sure, that's fewer ponies and pull than either aforementioned direct competitor, but the engine doesn't disappoint or become anemic when pushed hard.