A Pint-Size Crossover That Will Fit Many
Sunday, January 6, 2008
NEW YORK -- A long road trip in a premium vehicle was a good way to end the old year and begin anew. For the drive, we chose the 2008 Infiniti EX35 Journey, a luxury crossover utility model that was big enough to accommodate a party of five, but small enough to escape the $10-a-night surcharge that many New York garages apply to mid-size and larger sport-utility vehicles.
But a caveat is needed: The EX35 is a compact, car-based crossover utility/wagon. That means it is small and lacking in the utility and interior space, especially in the rear cabin, that many of us have come to expect in vehicles of its kind.
For people who need maximum load hogs, the EX35 won't do. But for those who are willing to make accommodations -- pack lightly and work out an agreement among rear passengers on who gets to sit in the middle -- it is the perfect way to go.
First there is the driving experience, which easily is among the best in the crossover utility segment. In that regard, think of the EX35 as a tall version of the crisp-handling Infiniti G35 sedan on which the EX35 is based.
Nothing has been lost in translation from sedan to crossover utility/wagon. This is surprising at first. You sit behind the wheel of the EX35 thinking that you are going to have a pleasant, but decidedly tame driving experience -- which is exactly what you get at residential neighborhood speeds of 20 to 35 mph.
But then you get on an expressway and -- whoosh! The crossover utility/wagon takes on the persona of a sports car minus sports-car brutality -- the rough ride characteristic of small cars with short wheelbases and super-tight suspensions traversing less-than-perfect road surfaces.
The EX35 is solid but compliant, allowing you to get a feel for the road. Credit here goes to the EX35's suspension, a seeming mismatch of front-end parts from the G35 sedan (front double-wishbone arrangement) and rear components from the mid-size FX35 crossover utility (rear multi-link suspension system). It's odd. But it works wonderfully well, especially around curves, where the EX35 dances nicely.
Some critics have knocked the EX35 as being little more than an expensive amalgamation of parts-bin pieces. It does borrow much from its Infiniti and Nissan brethren, including the 3.5-liter 297-horsepower V-6 found in the G35 sedan. So what?
The result is a sweetly turned-out little crossover utility/wagon that looks as good as it drives. The exterior, although it shares some styling cues with the larger Nissan Murano and smaller Nissan Rogue, is distinctive and eye-catching. The interior is rich, warm and inviting, even in the base EX35. In the tested Journey model with the optional Luxe Elite Package, it is simply spectacular -- soft, supple leather, maple wood inserts, and an interior design line that appears to wrap around driver and passengers and hold them, cocoon-like, in complete comfort and safety.
But the most notable thing about the EX35 Journey's interior is a component that helps you see better outside, particularly when the vehicle is in reverse gear. Infiniti calls it the Around View Monitor, or AVM, which is a system employing four small backup cameras to present a 360-degree view of objects directly behind and around the sides of the vehicle when backing up.
We were so impressed with the performance of the AVM system that we strongly recommend its purchase. In fact, we also recommend that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration take a closer look at the Infiniti AVM system and consider mandating it or similar technology on all crossover utility/wagons and sport-utility vehicles. We are convinced that such technology could help reduce the number of accidents in which drivers of tall vehicles back up over small children or animals whose presence cannot be detected by looking at a rear-view mirror or by using a mono-dimensional rear-view camera system.
In summary, Infiniti has a clear winner here: an exceptionally well-sculpted crossover utility/wagon with a very attractive interior, excellent safety engineering, reasonably good mileage, and exceptional road performance. It will not meet the hauling needs of all families. Nor will it fit the pocketbooks of many. But if you can live with hauling less and you can foot the bill, it's worth it.