Driving the Infiniti FX50 S (AWD)

FX50SMove over Cayenne, you’ve just been passed. The FX-50’s 390 hp V8 engine helps propel it to a zero to sixty time of 5.0 seconds easily beating the Cayenne S’s 6.4 seconds but the Infiniti is not just about performance.

The FX-50 is a luxury crossover and when entering the roomy cabin you’re cosseted in quilted leather and surrounded by elegant maple wood accents that make you think you’re in a high-end sedan instead of an AWD crossover. The comfortable sports seats, part of the $3000 S package, include thigh support extensions and side bolsters and put you at ease whether the Continuous Damping Control (CDC) is set on Auto or Sport mode. CDC is part of the S package making this option package a bargain and allows you to be comfy whether cruising the boulevard or blasting through the twisty bits.

While I was unable to take the FX-50 onto a track, I was able to take it onto back roads that I had surveyed (ironically) for a rally hosted to the local Porsche club. Driving these roads in a spirited manner showed how the FX-50 handles more like a performance sedan than a crossover and the electronically controlled seven-speed 7-speed automatic with Adaptive Shift Control (ASC) provides a smooth yet crisp driving experience. When heading back after this section of the test, I kicked on the wonderfully useful GPS, set my destination, slipped the CDC into Auto mode and cruised on back with Rolls Royce-like ease.

The FX-50 I drove had the optional Infiniti Hard Drive Navigation System with 8-inch color touch-screen, Lane Guidance, and 3D building graphics and while I am no fan of nav systems in general this is one of the best I tried. It’s part of the optional ($2850) Navigation Package that includes real-time traffic information, an awesome four-quadrant exterior video monitor, and a 9.3-gigabyte hard drive for music files. There’s also a CompactFlash card data slot that I’m still wondering about since the CF format is fading in popularity and tends only to be used by high-end professional digital cameras.

The S option delivers the car on the standard 21-inch wheels but mounted with W-rated performance tires, in this case Dunlop SP Sport, which would not be my choice for Colorado Winters but are ideal for summer driving. For winter a better option would be set of aftermarket 20-inch (cheaper than 21’s but not necessarily cheap) wheels with real winter tires that would help the FX-50 go in the snow.

Don’t get me started on looks. While the Cayenne’s looks contains echoes of last season’s Hyundai Santa Fe, the FX-50 builds on previous models styling to remain this-millennium fresh in both aesthetic and practical ways. I especially liked the new dark chrome wavelet grill that adds and organic take on what would traditionally be bars or mesh. The crossover’s new shape also provides better side and rear visibility from the driver’s seat than previous models making lane changes less of an act of faith. Speaking of lane changes: The model I drove was equipped with the Lane Departure Prevention (LDP) and Lane Departure Warning (LDW) system that’s part of the Technology Package ($2900) and is a must-have option for safety minded owners. If you start to drift out of your lane (even on a two lane road) at 45 mph or more, the system provides soft beeps reminding you to get back in your lane, without shouting like a mother-in-law in the back seat.

The FX-50 is one of the most safety minded vehicles I’ve driven. In addition to driver and front-passenger seat-mounted side-impact supplemental air bags, there’s a roof-mounted curtain side impact supplemental air bags with rollover sensor for front and rear-seat passenger head protection. There’s even a first aid kit. But there are other features such as ABS, traction control, and a Brake Assist feature that applies the force necessary to shorten stopping distances in emergency conditions. I especially liked the Tire Pressure Monitoring System that displays all the FX-50’s tire pressures on the nav screen. Maintaining proper tire pressures not only makes the car safer and more fun to drive it also produces the maximum miles per gallon and is the most overlooked feature of car ownership. Now you don’t have any excuses.

This is not an economy car. All this luxury and performance comes with a $57,700 base price ($63.885 as tested) as compared to a Cayenne S’s $59,400 base price. The FX-50 S 14-mpg (city) and 20-mpg (highway), which my own test shows to be realistic, beat the Cayenne by one mpg each. Infiniti estimates an annual fuel cost of $2812 (at $3.00/gal) but at a more real-world $4.00/gallon amounts to $3759 or about 5.8% of the crossover’s as-tested price. I’m guessing this won’t make much different to a potential FX-50 owner especially after driving the car.

The Infiniti FX-50 breaks new ground by combining modern styling in a fast, great handling crossover, while at the same time achieving new levels of luxury and safety that marks new milestones for Nissan’s prestige line of automobiles.

Special thanks to Infiniti of Denver and Justin Lytle for providing the 2009 Infiniti FX-50 S for this test drive.