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.

Mated to a retuned CVT, the powertrain is astute enough for the city blocks and highway overpasses it will likely encounter on a daily basis. Drivers who desire some semblance of an automatic gearbox's ebb and flow will be happy to know the quiet and smooth CVT can be manually shifted to mimic step shifts. The engine transmission combo also beats both the Acura and Audi in EPA-rated fuel efficiency (18/24/21 for FWD; 18/23/20 for AWD).

A drive mode knob set below the gearshift engages Standard, Sport, Eco, and Snow modes and modifies throttle mapping and "gear" selection to maximize grip, fuel economy, or performance. Sticking it in Sport pegs the tachometer's needle at its limit and livens up acceleration, but of course, it's no Cayenne Turbo.

To that point, the JX doesn't need to be, nor was it ever designed for such duty. It's a cruising people-hauler, so engineering emphasis went into crafting a comfortable and competent suspension. With that in mind, the electro-boosted helm is extremely light -- a tune best suited for mall parking lots.

South Carolina's mixed bag of pavement provided a mixed bag of feelings when it came to the JX's independent front strut, multilink rear calibration: Everything stays smooth and composed until the skinny 235/55R-20 all-seasons meet a large obstruction. Even medium-grade road nuances were transmitted through the steering wheel. To say it rode stiff would be incorrect; interestingly, its ride quality occupies a middle ground between the communicative FX50 and the ultra-smooth QX56. It's a hybrid of both, you could say.

But on a list of necessities, how the luxo-family's hauler takes big bumps can arguably be placed behind how well its passengers are protected and entertained. Infiniti made sure to include all of its active and passive protective safety features. The list includes Blind Spot Warning and Intervention, Lane Departure Warning and Prevention, Intelligent Brake Assist with Forward Collision Warning, and Distance Control Assist.

The JX is also available with Infiniti's extremely useful Around View camera system with radar-based object detection, and for the first time ever in a production vehicle, Infiniti's Backup Collision Intervention system warns that drivers of cross traffic in parking lots or driveways with a series of aural and visual alerts. If the driver continues to proceed, the system automatically applies the brakes. As long as I didn't charge out of a parking spot at above 15 mph, the system worked flawlessly in the short time I tested it.

The two models -- the $41,400 JX35 and the $42,500 JX35 AWD (both include a $950 destination and handling charge) -- can be outfitted with five packages (Premium, Theater, Driver Assistance, Deluxe Touring, Technology) that vary in tech and convenience. The most popular, Infiniti says, will be the $4950 Premium (navigation, Bose premium stereo, Around View, Infiniti Connection Plus, memory seats/mirror/steering wheel) and the $1700 Theater (dual 7-inch rear monitors, wireless headphones, power outlet, auxiliary jacks) packages.

Keen eyes may have noticed Infiniti Connection Plus, a new convenience feature that gives drivers 24-hour Crash Notification, emergency call, remote door lock/unlock, alarm notification, roadside assistance, and Google calendar access. Drivers can also setup Drive Zone and Speed Alert to keep a watchful eye if their vehicle enters or leaves a specified geographic area or if a specific speed is breached. The feature is free for the first year of ownership.

Given the 2700-plus preorders so far at North American retailers, the Infiniti JX has obviously struck a chord with wealthy drivers looking for luxury crossover without an A in front of its name. It may have taken some time to get here, but for a certain type of buyer, not to mention for Infiniti, the smart alternative could not have arrived soon enough.


2013 Infiniti JX35 AWD
BASE PRICE $42,500
PRICE AS TESTED $54,800
VEHICLE LAYOUT Front engine, AWD, 7-pass, 4-door SUV
ENGINE 3.5L/265-hp/248-lb-ft DOHC 24-valve V-6
TRANSMISSION cont. variable auto
CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST) 4557 lb (55/45%)
WHEELBASE 114.2 in
LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT 196.4 x 77.2 x 68.9 in
0-60 MPH 7.9 sec
QUARTER MILE 16.1 sec @ 90 mph
BRAKING, 60-0 MPH 113 ft
EPA CITY/HWY FUEL ECON 18/23 mpg
ENERGY CONSUMPTION, CITY/HWY 187/147 kW-hrs/100 miles
CO2 EMISSIONS 0.97 lb/mile
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