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Infiniti FX45 merges sport & utility

March 03, 2006|By DAN LYONS / Motor Matters

It is said the universe is expanding; so too is the universe of sport-utility vehicles. Like the distance between galaxies, the gap between "sport" and "utility" seems to widen with each passing day.

To find the Infiniti FX45, train your scope well into the sporty end of the continuum. The FX is clearly more at home in urban canyons of a downtown city than in a wilderness setting; more capable on the twisty switchbacks of a country road than on a rocky, backwoods trail.

The FX45 is a classy crossover vehicle, and it looks the part. The squared edges and upright form of the traditional SUV are nowhere to be found on this Infiniti. In their place is the sleek shape of a New Age station wagon, rounded at the corners and rolling on a set of very tall tires. With its slippery, slingshot lines, the FX45 looks fast, and it is.

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The 4.5-liter V-8 makes 320 horsepower, 335 lbs.-ft. of torque. And it also makes quick work of the trip from 0-60, dispatching the distance in under 7 seconds. That's moving for a midsize SUV, and it feels it from the driver's seat. The V-8 has a lively throttle, and a throaty exhaust growl at speed. It pulls strongly at all speeds and passes with ease. The downside of high performance is low fuel economy. It is rated at 15 miles per gallon city, 19 highway. The FX45 can be equipped to pull up to 3,500 pounds.

Handling is far more sport sedan than sport-utility. The Infiniti feels assured and well-planted in cornering, with solid steering. The positives and negatives of tall tires with short sidewalls are on display in the FX. The huge wheels with barely-there sidewalls give the Infiniti a customized, contemporary look. With all-season tread, the 20-inchers are grippy and responsive, well-suited to twisty two laners. Ride quality is comfortably firm. But the combination of a taut suspension and the absence of cushioning sidewall make for some impact harshness on rough roads, and the tires tend to hunt on uneven pavement.

While the Infiniti's all-wheel-drive system is not designed for off-road use, it's ideal for maximizing grip in bad weather conditions, which is why many people buy an SUV in the first place. Infiniti's AWD requires no input from the driver. It automatically transfers the optimum amount of engine torque to the wheels where it's most needed to enhance traction. Also on board is the Vehicle Dynamic Control system with Traction Control. VDC adjusts engine torque and brakes automatically to correct for understeer, oversteer or slick road conditions. Taken together, the onboard electronics help keep the driver on the straight and narrow, even in poor driving conditions.

Slip inside the FX45's cabin, and you find comfortable, 6-footer-size seating, front and back. There's comfortable room for four people inside, five in a pinch. Rear doors are narrow, but rear seats recline for added comfort, and a DVD mobile entertainment system is available, with a roof-mounted, 6.3-inch screen.

A fine, 300-watt, 11-speaker, Bose sound system is newly standard on the FX45. It has a six-disc CD changer, MP3 playback capability and redundant, steering-wheel-mounted controls. Also new and standard issue is a 7-inch color display screen mounted high in mid-dash. But to really make the most of it, the pricey ($4,200), but popular Technology Package will fill that screen with a navigation system and RearView monitor. The package also includes keyless entry and engine start and Intelligent Cruise Control.

The navigation system is straightforward in operation, though the presence of all those features makes for a rather button-busy center section. The rearview screen projects a wide-angle camera view of what is directly behind you onto the display screen whenever you slip the gearshift into reverse. I'd guess that more than a few kids' bikes will be spared damage because of this feature.

Cargo space ranges from 27.4 to 64.5 cubic feet of room in back, depending on how you configure the space. The split, rear seats fold forward easily to accommodate cargo, though the tall load floor precludes tall items.

The FX45 is an undeniably stylish midsize SUV. Its lively V-8 motor and supple suspension give it the feel of a sport sedan, while the wagon body style and all-wheel-drive traction add a strong dash of practicality. Add a comfortable, technology-laden cabin and you have a unique, premium crossover.

Copyright, Motor Matters, 2006

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