Arriving at even a major car rental facility like Los Angeles International Airport very late in a Tuesday evening is unlikely to give you much in the way of choice of rental steed. Indeed, the shuttle bus was displaying the warning sign “reservations only”. As we drew into the facility, it was clear that were very few cars in the huge compound. Much to my surprise, as I was over 3 hours late thanks to an American Airlines logistics challenge, my name was still displayed on the board, and as I had reserved only a Group B car, I headed to the designated space fearing that I would be lumbered with a Corolla or something equally tedious. But no. Sitting in the stall was an 09 model Infiniti FX35, in white. Indeed, quite a few of the cars around about were Inifinitis and they all looked brand new. It did not take long to realise that this was the upgrade of the day, as these cars normally rent for anything up to six times the price of a Focus or Cobalt. As I had driven the outgoing model last September and rather liked it, I was enthusiastic about the prospects of driving the new model, even if it was only going to be for a day.
The new model retains many of the styling cues of the previous one. Viewed from the rear, there is a definite similarity, even to the point that it is quite difficult to tell the generations apart. Not so when looking at the front, for the latest car sports a very aggressive ovoid shaped grill with what appear almost to be “teeth”, and the latest fashion for headlights that reach far back from the front of the vehicle, and the front wings have a vertical collection of fake air vents located behind the front wheels. As I see more of these cars, the looks are growing on me, but it really does seem that this yet another car that got hit with the ugly stick by the stylists. Opening the quality-feeling door, I was greeted with an interior which looked very like the last model, but which is actually quite different. Infiniti trademarks, such as the elliptical clock (Maserati style) in the centre of the console, the shape of the transmission selector and the long upright centre air vents remain, but there is a new style, and a lot of different detail. Two different engines are offered in the latest model: the 3.5 litre 303 bhp model as tested here and the 5.0 litre, whose V8 engine puts out 390 bhp. When these cars go on sale in Europe, the latest 3.7 engine from the 370Z will be fitted, but for now, it is the engine from the outgoing 350Z that appears in the American market FX35. Still, 303 bhp should be ample to power the car, even though it is far from a lightweight.
Relishing the smell of “new car” (not something I have experienced recently with an ever aging rental car fleet around the world), I set about adjusting the various things so I could head off to the hotel and a much needed bed. First surprise is that the “key” is inserted low down to the left of the dash, where if you had a large key fob, you would find it brushing your lower leg. Not surprisingly, as this is a well equipped car, there is electric more or less everything: electric adjustment of the column for reach and range; electric adjustment for the seat, complete with a 2 position memory so once you have selected the ideal driving position you can store it; the electric motor switch for the mirrors is also on the dash, low on the left, and I had to open the door to illuminate the proceedings to find this one. Once set up correctly, I fired the “start” button, located to the right of the column and nothing happened. Then I put my foot on the footbrake and tried again, and that very distinctive sound of the Nissan 3.5 engine burst into life. Although the noise has been toned down a little from the previous model FX35, and certainly from the 350Z, it is still a wonderful sound, and every tweak of the throttle bring further aural pleasure. After I had driven the car a bit more, I decided that Infiniti had got the balance just right between a quiet and refined vehicle and given the sound of a sports car in an SUV body. I set off and immediately noticed the fuel consumption graphic that sits above the digital odometer in the centre of the dash, which is a bar chart, ranging from 0 – 60 mpg. The readings varied wildly almost by the second, and was mildly irritating, but I quickly learnt to ignore it. I drove the 14 miles to Universal City to my hotel, and a welcome bed, looking forward to the day out testing the FX35 that was to come.
As is my wont, I decided to take the car up into the mountains, starting with my favourite road, the Angeles Crest Highway. As I climbed up into the hills, the swirling mist got ever worse, but this was a sure sign that the sun would likely burn through it, and would provide better weather than was forecast for the valley. Just before getting to the turn-off for the Angeles Forest Highway, I came around a corner to find a small group of cars stopped, and a Sheriff’s car in the middle of the road, precluding further progress. At about the same time, a helicopter flew overhead, hovered, then disappeared downwards. This could only mean one thing: someone had come off the road, as so often happens, and a rescue was underway. Unsure how long I was going to have wait, I switched the engine off, and then a whole series of emergency vehicles came thundering past – ambulances, then fire engines, some with the most enormous cranes. The omens for the road opening quickly did not look good. So, this did give me a good opportunity to look around the inside of the FX35. It is a pleasing place, built to a far higher quality than its sister model, the Nissan Murano. The main dash is black, with a piano black insert in the centre of the dash and the centre console, and there are silver inlays in the door and the steering wheel. The overall effect is good, though I did note that whoever had cleaned the console had left some rather unsightly swirl marks.
Overall fit and finish is good, however, and although there are a lot of buttons, the effect is not one of being unduly cluttered or fussy. There is a small screen which switches from being the display for the satellite radio to showing what is behind the car when the reversing camera comes to life. There are paddle shifters on the column for those who wish to override the automatic functions of the transmission, and along with the gear lever, controls for the seat heaters, the centre console sports a button marked “snow mode”. Had this been my car in Chicago earlier in the week, I could, of course, have tried it out! For a practical-ish car, cabin oddment space is a bit limited, with just a medium sized glove box, a centre cubby between the seats and door pockets. Follow-up research revealed that the test car was fitted with the “premium package”, which adds $2350 to the $43,600 recommended retail price, and which brings, among other things, the electric column adjustment, seat memory, the reverse camera, and the quilted effect on the leather seats and door trims, and the external roof rails. Additional packages, called “Navigation” and “Touring” adding further refinements and toys, are also available.
As the queue of cars hoping to progress up the hill got bigger, then smaller, as people turned round and decided to find another route, it became clear that something serious had happened. It was indeed a long wait, but eventually, the cranes and fire engines came down the hill, the Sheriff moved, and we were off, at exactly the same time as the sky started to clear and became a welcome blue colour, albeit heavily criss-crossed with the lines generated by planes flying far overhead. Time to explore the dynamic prowess of the FX35. I was not disappointed. The growl of the engine had already been noted the evening before, but this motor does endow the car with a willing urge that belies the practical-ish styling. Mountain roads, especially those where a car had gone way over the side of the road, are not the place to test out ultimate speed, but I know these roads well enough now to be able to judge how one car performs on them compared to another. The FX35 did well. The sweeping ascents proved no trouble for the car, with the reserves of power and torque being every evident. The 7 speed electronic transmission shifts seamlessly from gear to gear, with barely any evidence that it is doing so. Further evidence of the sporting pedigree of the FX35 is evident in the handling characteristics of the car. Within the limits of prudence and caution, this vehicle proved fun to power around the sweeping bends of the test roads, with tight handling and a good level of feel to the steering. No issues with the brakes, and even the foot operated parking brake – set and released by pushing on it – was light and easy to use. Ride on these smooth (recently resurfaced) roads was good. On the more pot holed and rougher roads down in the valley, it was also as smooth as any car you are likely to encounter. So, top marks for dynamics, then. Those who buy this car will do so because the 350Z, and probably even the G35 sedan is too small for them, so you have to assume the interior room is at least something of a requirement. Rear room is not overly generous, but would be adequate for two adults. The boot is not all that deep, though there is a small amount of storage space under the main floor area, and I was pleased to see that a rear load cover was part of the package.
It was with more than a little regret that I took this car back to Hertz. It’s an absolutely cracking car to drive. Only the rather heavy fuel consumption seemed to be a weakness (I averaged no more than about 16 mpg), and of course you might find the looks just too challenging. I told the check-in staff at Hertz how much I had enjoyed it, and they just smiled. They tend to know which cars in their fleet are good, which are mere transport and which are deeply unpopular. It would even be worth paying far more than the $35.80 a day (plus all those taxes and add ons) for another drive of an FX35. A lot more than $35.80 a day, in fact.2009-11-19 19:59:10