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2013 INFINITI JX35: Crossover contender

Infiniti JX35 raises luxury stakes

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The JX35 hits the sweet spot of the high-end crossover market, with Infiniti making utility and value its key competitive attributes.

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The JX35 sports comfortable seats that have classy stitching and piping. Controls are typical Infiniti, which means ergonomically sound.

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2012 Nissan Maxima SV ORIGINALLY $42,850+++

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I'm going to go out on a limb here and state that Infiniti has historically been a bit lacking in the luxury-crossover market. It's not for lack of product, mind you: The EX37 is based on the company's G sports sedan, while the FX series is larger and more luxurious. And the QX has had the large luxury-crossover segment covered.

These offerings have always been competitive in the sport and luxury sense, but let's check the utility for a moment. At 527L, the EX37's cargo area is smaller than that of a Honda Fit. The larger FX series doesn't do much better -- a total of 702L of space can be found behind the rear seat, less than that of Nissan's small Rogue crossover. And the QX, well, that's a huge blinged-out beast with a starting price of more than $70-large.

So, while the likes of Audi, BMW, Lexus and Acura have been offering right-sized crossovers (Q7, X5, GX, and MDX respectively) for around $60K, Infiniti shoppers have been forced to give up a significant amount of practicality if they wanted to stay with that brand. Until now, that is.

The JX35 hits the sweet spot of the high-end crossover market and, with it, the company has added utility and value as its key competitive attributes.

Built on the same platform as parent company Nissan's new Pathfinder, the JX is a seven-seat crossover with a starting price of $44,900, which is right about where the Pathfinder leaves off (and significantly lower than the aforementioned competition).

Standard equipment includes all-wheel drive, leather upholstery, power liftgate, trailer prep (good for a 3,500-lb. rating), push-button ignition, three-zone climate control, a heated steering wheel, a seven-inch touchscreen display with rear-view camera, split-folding second and third-row seats, and six-speaker audio with USB input.

Being in the press fleet typically means a generous helping of optional equipment will be on board, and this JX was no exception. Our tester was augmented with $13,500 worth of options, including the Technology Package ($3,500; includes lane-departure warning, blind-spot intervention, dynamic cruise control, remote start), the Premium Package ($5,000; includes around-view monitor and navigation), Deluxe Touring Package ($2,700; includes 20-inch wheels, 15 speakers, panoramic roof, heated rear seats), and the Theatre Package ($2,300; includes dual headrest monitors, auxiliary input jacks, and wireless headphones).

Even with all this kit, the JX rings through the register at $58,400 before destination and taxes. A tidy sum to be sure, but that's about as pricey as the JX can get, while many competitors are just getting warmed up at that point.

And about that utility: The JX's cargo hold can accommodate from 447L with all three rows of seats in use, and it maxes out at more than 2,100L with the second and third rows folded. That puts the JX firmly in the hunt, if not at the top, of this class.

Where the JX doesn't compare favourably against its pricier competitors is in the powertrain department -- the lone engine offered is a 3.5-litre V-6 that pumps out 265 hp and 248 lb.-ft. of torque. These aren't great numbers and, in fact, one might wonder why the 325-horse 3.7-litre found in the EX and FX was not dropped into the JX, especially considering that no V-8 engine option is offered.

It comes down to the transmission. Paired to the 3.5-litre is Nissan's ubiquitous continuously variable transmission (CVT), and there isn't a single other Infiniti model that sports this gearless box. The 290-hp Nissan Maxima has it, but that's as high up the power ladder as the CVT dares to venture.

On the road, it's quite a lazy transmission unless prodded by one's right foot. This undoubtedly helps keep the fuel consumption down (rated at 11.5 L/100 km in the city and 8.5 on the highway), but it's not consistent with Infiniti's performance image. And selecting "sport" on the console-mounted knob does little to help the situation.

Also somewhat low-brow is the JX's "intelligent" all-wheel drive system, which is primarily a front-drive setup that transfers up to 50 per cent of the engine's torque to the rear wheels when required. This is what's best termed a "slip then grip" system that is not normally found in the luxury segment and, when put to the test, pales in comparison to such known entities as Quattro, X-Drive and Super-Handling all-wheel drive.

So there you have it. There's a reason Infiniti can undercut their competitors' pricing by so much. But, at the end of the day, such inferiorities exist under the hood and between the wheels, and for a lot of folks these things just don't matter.

Those who can overlook the JX's modest pedigree are rewarded with a richly appointed interior (just don't touch the hard plastic on the dash) with comfortable seats that have classy stitching and piping. Controls are typical Infiniti, which means ergonomically sound. The button count is certainly up there, but it manages to come together in a more intuitive manner than, say, the MDX.

Second-row seats are comfortable and spacious (and adjust for legroom) and sliding them forward for third-row access is a cinch. Once back there, though, it becomes immediately clear that third-row space and comfort were not primary design goals during the JX's development. Don't put friends back there if you want them to still be your friends when you get to your destination.

The JX finds itself with a distinct competitive advantage in the luxury crossover market when it comes to content and space for the price. Of course, it all depends on your perspective. And my perspective tells me it shares too much with its $30K Pathfinder cousin, and the luxury appliqué has been stretched a bit thin to justify the price jump.

THE SPECS

-- ENGINE: 3.5-litre V-6, 24 valves, alloy block and heads

-- POWER: 265 hp @ 6,400 r.p.m.

-- TORQUE: 248 lb-ft @ 4,400 r.p.m.

-- TRANSMISSION: continuously variable automatic with manual shift mode

-- DRIVETRAIN: part-time all-wheel drive

-- SUSPENSION: four-wheel independent; front strut, rear multilink, stabilizer bars

-- FUEL CONSUMPTION (L/100 KM): 11.5L city, 8.5 highway

-- LENGTH: 4,989 mm

-- WHEELBASE: 2,901 mm

-- CARGO VOLUME: 447L/2,150L (rear seats up/folded)

-- BASE PRICE: $44,900

-- OPTIONS: $13,500

-- PRICE AS TESTED: $60,495 plus taxes

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