One look at the $39,000 Infiniti FX35 Crossover and you'd think this eye popper came out of Nissan's skunkworks. But after driving it for a week, one nagging question kept popping up: Why am I not impressed? If the FX35's purpose is to beguile the owner with good looks and horsepower, then it succeeds. Its muscular appearance is reminiscent of monster trucks with oversized tires, bulging wheel wells, and a chassis that sits high off the ground. It is a sight to behold and it does turn heads, especially those of Lexus owners. But it has more than an Achilles heel.
Its designers worked so hard to make the FX35 look good that they forgot the ergonomics for simple tasks such as getting in and out. It seems a long leg reach to put a foot into the car, and then sort of jump in while pulling on the wheel. But each time I got out (and I have long legs) my pants wiped the door sill no matter how far out I reached. So, when the weather is wet or slushy your pants or legs get wet, all for the sake of a fashion statement.
There's more. While getting comfortable, motors under the seat whir to reposition it and others adjust the steering wheel to its last position. Why is this necessary? It's necessary because the interior was not properly thought out. The PT Cruiser I regularly drive doesn't need extra cost motors and controls to adjust the driver, so why should this one?
If poor ergonomics was the only thing wrong with the car, I could excuse it. But the simple task of backing out of a drive reinforces the suspicion of poor design: Rear visibility is terrible. I could see the neighbor's driveway across the street fairly well through the rear window, but not my driveway. In fact, rear vision is so poor it makes backing up disconcerting. A lot could be hiding back there. And privacy glass in the rear windows makes it difficult to see up or down the street.
Nissan engineers acknowledge the faulty design because they include a rear-facing digital camera as an option. The camera transmits an image of the area behind the car onto a small dash-mounted screen. That's probably not a bad solution, but they are making owners fix the design flaw. How clever.The car also boasts silly features, such as a mechanism that raises and lowers the headlight by a few degrees. What's that for?
To make sure I'm not getting cantankerous, I let the resident teenager drive it a bit because he is hip, cool, and rarely agrees with me. Believe it or not, he also pronounced the FX35 too little for too much.
The car is not a total loss. It delivers on the performance and handling hinted in its appearance. The 280-hp engine lets it take off like a heat-seeking missile and the suspension produces just enough stiffness to feel sporty. The 18-in. aluminum-alloy wheels and tires do a good job keeping the vehicle stuck to the pavement.
It's also chock full of little functions and features that try justifying the price tag. For instance, LED head and brake lights might last the life of the car, and a Vehicle Dynamic Control system may help recover from a spin. What's more, a vehicle-information system tells a bit more about the car than dash meters do alone.
Mileage, of course, is subpar. EPA says 16 city and 19 highway. Although the average-mpg meter read 16.6 on the first drive, judicious accelerations after a week coaxed the meter closer to 18.5 mpg. It was not difficult handing the car to another driver at week's end. After returning to the Cruiser and listening to the quiet of an intelligent design, I suggest that if the FX35 is on your shopping list, add more candidates.