On The Road Review: Infiniti EX35



Drivers who sought luxury cars for their primary transportation mode used to always buy four-door sedans, period. Sure, there was the occasional upscale coupe or convertible available in the automaker’s lineup, but these cars didn’t always fit the climate or the image that the owner needed.

 

This began to rapidly change in the mid-1990s when Cadillac and Lincoln rolled out luxury versions of sport utility vehicles used elsewhere in the GM and Ford families. Profits soared as it became abundantly clear that luxury car owners wanted a little versatility in their primary vehicles, too. The SUV/crossover boom soon knew no boundaries as manufacturers as varied as Lexus, Audi, Saab and Porsche jumped headlong into the SUV/crossover market.

Today, we see this model proliferation covering every segment. Decades ago, there was really no such thing as a compact class luxury car. Now, we have not only a wide variety of upscale small cars, but we also have premium crossover wagons to complement compact sedans, coupes, and often convertibles.

Nissan’s Infiniti Division has done a good job reaching into these various niches. With its acclaimed G-series sedans (and coupe) selling well, Infiniti decided to take this sporty platform and create a compact crossover to challenge BMW, Mercedes and others. The result is the EX35, another in a long line of upscale and decidedly sporting crossover offerings from Infiniti.

Infiniti’s first stab at these midsize crossovers was the distinctive FX-series wagons, two high-performance offerings that were (still are) sharply focused sporting vehicles with big wheels, big power and a big styling statement. Sales have been disappointingly modest.

With the EX35, Infiniti is applying a different strategy, creating something more mainstream yet with the inspiring confidence that truly represents this premium brand.

The EX35 is a sleek crossover as these vehicles go, with a lower roofline than most contemporaries, as well as a snugger, more personal cabin. Not much larger than a Subaru WRX wagon, the EX35 is about the same size as Volvo’s XC60 crossover: 182.3 inches long on a 110.2-inch wheelbase. Track width is an admirable 62 inches up front, 64-plus inches in the rear with a tiny turning radius of only 34.8 feet. The Volvo, on the other hand, is the same overall length but rides on a shorter wheelbase, is taller and wider and weighs about 250 pounds more than the Infiniti — 3,962 pounds versus 4,225 pounds for the XC60.

I’ve said here before that I think the XC60 is the best vehicle that Volvo builds. Who doesn’t want power, safety, comfort and cabin versatility all in one package?

The same logic applies to some degree with the EX35. This well-equipped little crossover has oodles of power from the 3.5-liter V-6, a new seven-speed automatic to channel it all to the AWD-system, plus a plethora of safety features and convenience amenities that help make the cabin a cozy place to spend the miles. Adjustable seat heaters — hot, hotter and toast your buns—plus a power tilt/telescoping steering column and grippy leather seating make the EX a neat space to enjoy the adroit handling and right-now responses from the thick leather-clad steering wheel.

Alas, all is not perfect, or, as perfect as I would like for my tastes. I need a bit more space, even in a compact class crossover wagon that offers the pretense of cargo flexibility. The EX’s tidy cabin was a wee bit too snug, with my left arm in almost constant contact with the door panel if I wasn’t holding the steering wheel. The center console lacked the versatility to carry more than two drinks in its pockets while the cargo carrying end of the Infiniti is tiny by almost any standard. The liftgate is light and easy to use, plus the lift-over level is low enough so that even the vertically challenged will have no difficulty loading heavy articles. But the sloping roofline — so attractive outside — cuts rear seat headroom and shaves the cargo compartment to a level that is only two-thirds of the same size Volvo — 47 cubic feet in the EX to 67 cubic feet in the Volvo. You only miss space when you need it and the EX is missing some space.

If interior space isn’t a priority — and it isn’t for everyone — the Infiniti packs many other virtues. If you like the outsized performance of say a Subaru WRX, plus you like the WRX wagon’s size, but you would like more refinement, then the EX is a great alternative. Mash the accelerator and the guttural-sounding V-6 surges forward with the certainty of a car that has a lineage for that sort of thing. Tracking is straight and consistent, the AWD system balancing power with a rear-drive bias unless you select ‘snow-mode,’ which will automatically lock the differential into a 50/50 split for better control. Long travel, fully independent suspenders at each corner give the EX great balance, too, while it only takes one glance at the Infiniti’s cabin to know that this car is several notches above the WRX and offers a more premium presentation than is available from Subaru — at any price.

Again, if you like the flexibility of the hatchback body, the available AWD (rear drive is standard) the EX is several inches larger than the Audi A3 wagon or the new CT200 Lexus wagon, while offering a host of features that best these rivals on price. If you were a BMW or Mercedes fan, their small crossovers — the X3 and CLK — are both larger than the EX35.

Quick, quiet, nicely finished, and endowed with above average road manners, the EX35 is smoother than its larger FX-siblings while costing thousands less. As part of a large and expanding family of Nissan and Infiniti crossover wagons and SUVs — Juke, Rogue, Murano, Pathfinder, Armada, EX, FX, QX — you gotta love having so many choices.

Just the Facts: Infiniti EX35

EX35 is a compact class, five-passenger crossover wagon using a 297-hp 3.5-liter V-6 engine. Peak torque is 253 pound/feet running through a new seven-speed automatic. EPA ratings are 17/24 mpg for either rear or AWD versions. I averaged 20 mpg over 1,125 wintry miles.

There are two models, base, $34,550, and Journey, $37,750 with AWD. Leather seating, rear-view camera and dual-zone climate system are standard on all models.

Tested Journey-trim EX featured: Adaptive shift control, Intelligent AWD, seven-speed automatic with manual shift mode, speed sensitive power steering, vehicle dynamic control, heated-power seats, Maple interior accents, Fine Vision electroluminescent gauges, six-speaker audio system, keyless push-button ignition, Rearview monitor, power sunroof, keyless access, dual exhaust, plus optional 19-inch alloy wheels.

 

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