CHARLESTON, SC – Something was missing in the Infiniti lineup of passenger-utility vehicles.

Nissan’s luxury division offers the compact EX and midsize FX cross/utility vehicles and then leaps over to the giant QX 8-passenger SUV, leaving a fairly wide gap between the FX and QX. Not anymore.  

Filling the breach is the all-new ’13 JX, Infiniti’s first 3-row, 7-seat CUV, weighing in at more than 2 tons.

“It is a family vehicle, and we did a lot of research in developing it,” says Sam Chung , a senior marketing manager for Infiniti’s utility vehicles.

Market demand spurred the product development, he adds. “Our customers and retailers have been asking for this.”

However there was another reason Infiniti felt compelled to bring the JX to market: business lost to competitors.   

Some would-be Infiniti shoppers with lots of kids to haul around thought the EX and FX too small and the QX too big. So they ended up buying 7-seater CUVs such as the Acura MDX and Audi Q7.

“We have been losing out on that market,” says Sean McNamara, Infiniti’s senior manager-product planning. “Acura has done well with the MDX, but got a lot of sales by default because others didn’t have anything like that out there. Now we do.”

For Infiniti, the JX closes “a gap that was waiting to be filled,” auto analyst George Peterson of AutoPacific tells WardsAuto.

The JX’s target audience consists of relatively affluent families that already own two vehicles but want to add a particular type of peoplemover to the clan car collection.
“They are looking for a luxury interior, space and flexibility, safety and a fullsize vehicle that doesn’t handling like a school bus,” McNamara says. “And even though they are of a high income level, they are concerned about fuel economy.”

All boxes are filled on that checklist with the JX, says Infiniti, touting its new vehicle as “a fresh, bold alternative to the many flavors of vanilla” in the luxury CUV segment.

The auto maker chills out a bit when discussing another aspect of the vehicle: performance. Infiniti doesn’t hype that in the JX as much as it does with many of its other vehicles, such as the FX and G37. “Inspired performance” is the Infiniti tag line intended to set itself apart from other luxury brands.

But the JX is not intended as a vehicle for revving up the engine, squealing the tires and racing to get the kids to their soccer game. Besides, someone thinking about buying a JX already may own a sporty car, so they are not looking for a fast, big CUV, McNamara says.      

That’s not to say a lawnmower engine powers the JX. Under the hood is a fine 3.5L 24-valve DOHC engine. Previous incarnations were Ward’s 10 Best Engine winners from 1995 to 2008. The latest one gets a respectable 265 hp at 6,400 rpm and 248 lbs.-ft. (336 Nm) of torque at 4,400 rpm.

The JX is a front-wheel-drive vehicle with optional all-wheel drive. The FWD is unusual for Infiniti which otherwise embraces rear-wheel drive.

The vehicle is the first Infiniti with a continuous variable transmission. The goal is to provide responsive and seamless shifting, a wide gear ratio and greater fuel efficiency. That mission seems accomplished, as evidenced by how the vehicle goes through the motions during a media test-drive here.    

However, what Infiniti really talks up is the new CUV’s interior. And rightfully so. Out of the gate, the vehicle quickly landed on Ward’s 10 Best Interiors list for 2012.

Aesthetically, the interior feels meticulously crafted with a blend of premium wood, sumptuous leather and judiciously applied brushed aluminum trim, note WardsAuto judges.

Beyond good looks, the JX offers utilitarian conveniences. “We asked ourselves, ‘How do you make the people in the second and third row more comfortable?’” McNamara says.

Then there is the issue of making it easier for passengers to get to the third-row seats To accomplish that, the back and bottom of the second-row seats fold like a clam shell, making them slide forward more for easier third-row access. It’s not rocket science, but it works, even without needing to remove a second-row child seat.

“It is superior third-row access,” McNamara says. “We wanted to open that gap between the second and third rows as wide as possible.”

The car’s technical features include a backup collision-intervention system that uses radar sensors in the quarter panels and rear. A driver who is backing up is alerted to vehicles approaching from the sides or any undetected object behind the JX.

The driver first receives visual and audio alerts, then a tactile warning by an active throttle push-back. If that fails to get the motorist’s attention, the system automatically engages the brakes.

Other technical features include a blind-spot warning system, advanced telematics and intelligent cruise control that automatically adjusts the speed of the vehicle, as well as a series of sensors and cameras that show an all-round view on the navigation/information screen.

The vehicle comes with all the bells and whistles one almost expects today in a luxury car. Nothing seems conspicuously absent, nor should it be in a vehicle that starts at $40,450 for the FWD version, $41,550 for the AWD model. A 15-item option list include a $4,950 premium package, $3,100 technology bundle and $1,850 dual-DVD entertainment system.

The JX is the first vehicle in the lineup to offer Infiniti Connection and Infiniti Plus

that includes an array of services, from Google-calendar scheduling to automatic crash notifications.

The system also allows parents to set up driving-zone boundaries and speed limits for young drivers. The parent is notified by text, email or telephone if the boundary has been crossed or speed limited exceeded.

Infiniti’s dealer sales training for the new vehicle particularly is focused on the new technology, Chung says. “Retailers have to know how it works in order to tell the customers how it works.”

Infiniti encourages dealerships to set up a convenient time at a JX buyers’ home or place of work to spend about an hour fully explaining the vehicle’s features. “No one expects the customer to hang out at the dealership after taking delivery, but we want to make sure the customers don’t miss anything.”     

Product developers spent about one second on deciding to make the JX anything other than a CUV that looks like an SUV but rides and handles like a car.

That was a smart move, analyst Peterson says. “The world is moving to crossovers.  They handle better. They get better fuel economy. They are easier to manufacture. “Except for people that want to tow or offroad, you don’t need those old body-on-frame, truck-based SUVs.”

sfinlay@wardsauto.com

’13 Infiniti JX
Vehicle type FWD CUV
Engine 3.5L V6
Power (SAE net) 265 hp @ 6,400 rpm
Torque 248 lbs-ft. (336 Nm) @4,400 rpm
Bore x stroke (mm) 95.5 x 81.4
Compression ratio 10:3
Transmission CVT FWD/AWD
Wheelbase 114.2 ins. (290 cm)
Overall length 196.4 ins. (499 cm)
Overall width 77.2 ins. (195 cm)
Overall height 67.8 ins. (172 cm)
Curb weight 4,280 lbs. (1,941 kg)
Base price $40,450
Fuel economy 18/24 mpg (13-9.8 L/100 km)
Competition Acura MDX, Audi Q7
Pros Cons
Beautiful interior No ‘Wow’ factor
Loads of legroom Departs from brand tagline
Fills void 3 Option costs add up