First Test: 2009 Infiniti FX50
Petal To The Metal: Leaving Sports Cars In The Woods
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.
Performance is one of the vehicle's strong suits, and it excelled in our track testing. Along with the aforementioned 5.2-second time to 60, it finished the quarter mile in 13.7 seconds at 102.1 mph and stopped from 60 in 115 feet. However, while on the figure-eight loop, our tester found the communication between steering, transmission, and throttle to falter. When driven aggressively (9/10ths), he had to saw the wheel to keep it on course-the steering was slow to react to inputs and the transmission paused before shifting at redline. Less aggressive driving solved the problem, and the 50 ran the figure eight in 26.7 seconds at 0.66 average g.
The cabin has undergone major changes, with new gauges, steering wheel, and quality materials. We tried the optional sport seats with S-Class-like air-inflating bolsters and quilted leather, a combo that gives support in turns and comfort for long drives. If you've seen the inside of an M35/45 or G35/37, you'll have no difficulty recognizing the FX's center stack. As was the case with the original, utility is not as high a priority as is performance. There are only two rows, and cargo volume actually decreased for 2009. Standard and optional interior amenities include an ionizer, 11-speaker Bose audio, 9.3GB Music Box hard drive, iPod interface, navigation, XM NavTraffic, and rear-seat DVD entertainment.
There's no shortage of technology, much of which is new or integrated in the FX for the first time. Vehicle Dynamic Control with traction control returns for 2009, as does ATTESA E-TS all-wheel drive. New for 2009 is Continuous Damping Control, which uses nine sensors to take measurements every two milliseconds to determine damping; it can control all wheels independently. The rearview camera and monitor are standard on every FX, but what really helps with parking is the new optional Around View Monitor, introduced on the EX. At first, this feature, which shows an overhead view of the vehicle, may seem gimmicky, but after using it once, it proves its worth. With a vehicle this wide and a nose this long, AVM quickly becomes your best friend in parking lots.
Much of the FX's new tech, though, comes under the umbrella of the Infiniti Safety Shield. This includes Intelligent Brake Assist, which beeps when you get too close to the vehicle (or tree, etc.) in front of you. If a frontal collision can't be avoided, IBA activates the brakes. What was once called Lane Departure Warning is now Lane Departure Prevention. A small camera views lane markers ahead; LDP calculates position compared with the markers. When the vehicle starts to unintentionally drift, it uses VDC to brake the inside wheels, steering the car back into its lane. These systems are nice to have, but what's even nicer is that when you tire of the beeping and flashing (the systems run on the conservative side), they can all be shut off. Other safety features include a high-strength steel-reinforced cabin; six airbags; TPMS; and four-wheel ventilated disc brakes with ABS, brake assist, and EBD.
As with the first generation, less utility than an SUV and less sport than a sport sedan makes this more an emotional buy than a rational one, but Infiniti's improvements will tug at the heartstrings more than ever before. It isn't a race car, but for someone who needs an SUV and isn't going off-road, this is a strong choice. And when the light turns green, it'll leave some sports cars in its dust.
|2009 Infiniti FX50|
|Drivetrain layout||Front engine, AWD|
|Engine type||90 V-8, alum block/heads|
|Valvetrain||DOHC, 4 valves/cyl|
|Displacement||306.7 cu in/5026 cc|
|Power (SAE NET)||390 hp @ 6500 rpm|
|Torque (SAE NET)||369 lb-ft @ 4400 rpm|
|Weight to power||11.9 lb/hp|
|Suspension, front; rear||Control arms, coil springs, anti-roll bar; multilink, coil springs, anti-roll bar|
|Brakes, f;r||14.0-in vented disc; 13.8-in vented disc, ABS|
|Wheels||9.5 x 21 in, cast alum|
|Tires||265/45R21 104V Dunlop SP Sport 01|
|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||4641 lb|
|Weight dist., f/r||53/47%|
|Towing capacity||3500 lb|
|Headroom, f/m/r||39.3/38.5 in|
|Legroom, f/m/r||44.7/34.6 in|
|Shoulder room, f/m/r||57.3/57.4 in|
|Cargo vol behind f/m/r||62.0/24.8 cu ft|
|Acceleration to mph|
|Passing, 45-65 mph||2.6 sec|
|Quarter mile||13.7 sec @ 102.1 mph|
|Braking, 60-0 mph||115 ft|
|Lateral acceleration||0.86 g (avg)|
|MT figure eight||26.7 sec @ 0.66 g (avg)|
|Top-gear revs @ 60 mph||1850 rpm|
|Base price||$52,000 (est)|
|Price as tested||$60,000 (est)|
|Airbags||Dual front, front side, f/Dual front, f/r side, f/r curtainr 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|