Every automaker develops a certain DNA profile, a definitive philosophy for their vehicles that permeates their entire lineup. From trucks to SUVs, from crossovers to cars, each maker embraces this design and technical outlook to fit their target audience.
For Nissan — and its Infiniti Luxury Car Division — that DNA has a decidedly European influence. Drive any new Infiniti and it quickly becomes clear that this line builds cars that have better than average power, sharper than usual handling, as well as crisper ride control than most of its rivals. This is especially more notable over its Asian-based contemporaries.
For several years, Infiniti has used BMW as its benchmark. Creating a sporty lineup that has verve and excitement in every model, Infiniti’s don’t shortchange the typical luxury buyer, yet they also include a healthy dose of performance. Just as Nissan-branded cars outmuscle Toyota and Honda, cars with the Infiniti badge are more sharply focused than the premium cars from Lexus or Acura.
This is readily apparent in the EX35 compact crossover. Like the G37 sedan upon which this vehicle is based, the EX35 feels tight, solid and strong in ways that many rivals do not. From the aggressive throttle tip-in response to the nicely weighted steering wheel and the brawny engine note, the EX stretches the paradigm in a segment primarily populated by steady performers rather than hot rods.
Apparent rivals for the Infiniti EX35 would seem to be the Acura RDX or the BMW X3 — two other premium crossover wagons.
In spirit, however, the EX more closely could be linked with the Audi A3-S or the Subaru WRX, or even the much loved but sadly departed VW R32. Each of these compact wagons has a high-performance engine mated to full-time four-wheel drive — a combination that provides lots of excitement and security in a vehicle loaded with sporting intentions.
Factor in price and the EX closely parallels the latter two rivals more than it does the pricier German class. Well-equipped EX models start under $33,000 — about the same as a loaded WRX or the R32. The Acura is about $1,000 more while the top A3 begins around $37,000 with the larger V-6 engine and AWD. The X3 BMW tops the charts with a price of almost $40,000 when equipped like our Infiniti.
About the same size as a Toyota RAV4 externally, the EX offers less useable space inside. Endowed with the longest wheelbase in this sporty segment — 110.2 inches — the Infiniti driver has utmost command of the road ahead. The ride is firm without being punishing as the suspension is taut and geared for spirited driving as opposed to relaxed riding. Strong brakes, crisp steering feel and a responsive throttle make the EX feel quicker and faster than several peers. Additionally, the EX drives smaller than its dimensions might suggest as it feels nimble and lithe for a car that is also longer than every other vehicle mentioned here.
While the chassis earns high marks, it is extremely hard to overlook the splendid 3.5-liter corporate V-6 that powers the EX. This engine produces robust power and eagerly satisfies your acceleration requests. Aided by a full-time four-wheel drive system that uses a center differential to split power 50/50 front to rear, the EX ‘feels’ like it has a rear-drive power emphasis. Turn off the electronic traction aids and the Infiniti can be steered with heavy throttle applications directing the car from the rear.
Fuel economy was OK for a sports-oriented crossover wagon that drives like a sedan. With little regard for maximizing economy, I averaged just under 22 mpg for over 800 miles one mile per gallon less than the EPA highway estimate.
Inside, the EX is a pleasing blend of high-end materials, fluid controls and electronic features that are sure to please a wide audience. Hits for me were the power tilt/telescoping steering column, the push-button ignition, the powerful audio system and the nicely bolstered sports seats. There is a clear information screen atop the dash and concise buttons and dials to manipulate the climate and audio systems separate from the navigation device — a clear upgrade over some competitors. I also liked the Around View Monitoring system, which uses four body-mounted cameras to provide a 360-degree view around the car whenever you engage reverse. You can look at all four views or highlight one particular camera if you are close to an obstacle. Audio alarms also sound so there is no excuse for inadvertently striking any object.
Conversely, the Infiniti’s optional Lane Departure Warning system proved to be somewhat annoying. Using the same mirror-mounted camera’s the LDW-system beeps at you if you cross any of the roadway’s painted lines without using turn signals indicating your intent. This device is to alert inattentive drivers that they are wandering from their lane and can actually activate the anti-lock brakes or the stability control system if your yaw rates are excessive. You must turn LDW off every time you start the car unless you want these interdictions.
Otherwise, I liked the EX’s large side mirrors, but the console area and overall storage spaces seem smaller than I would prefer. The rear seat also offers good comfort and plenty of adult headroom, but your feet will be cramped — an odd juxtaposition considering the car’s dimensions.
From the helm, there is nothing to lament as the Infiniti’s upscale accoutrements, sporty performance and supportive comfort make this compact crossover one of the more distinctive, and rewarding, designs on the market. For the price of a loaded Subaru, sporty drivers can get luxury and performance in this tidy package.
Just the Facts: Infiniti EX35
Five-door, five-passenger EX35 comes in Base or Journey trim levels with rear or all wheel drive. Base rear drive wagon starts at $31,300. Add $1,400 for the AWD.
Power comes from a 3.5-liter V-6 making 297 hp and 253 pound/feet of peak torque. A five-speed automatic with manual shift modes and winter mode is the sole transmission offered. AWD models add a locking center differential. EPA estimates are 16/23 or 17/24 for rear drive only.
Lengthy list of standard gear includes: automatic climate control, side curtain airbags, traction and stability control, leather wrapped power tilt/telescoping steering column with audio controls, keyless ignition and access, trip computer with outside temp, eight-way power driver’s seat including lumbar, digital media connectivity, 17-inch alloy wheels, split-folding rear seat, satellite radio, fog lites and rear spoiler. Options include: navigation with voice recognition, heated leather seats, surround camera system, power sunroof, adaptive cruise control, front and rear obstacle detection, steering linked xenon headlamps, Bose stereo and 18-inch alloy wheels.