It's unusual for Automobile Magazine's New York contingent -- Jamie Kitman and me -- to get first crack at a long-term car, but that's exactly what happened with our new, Four Seasons 2013 Infiniti JX35. It paused in Ann Arbor just long enough for art director Matt Tierney to snap a few pictures before road test editor Chris Nelson hopped in to rendezvous with me, exchanging the JX for the Four Seasons Mazda CX-5. Most of the staff in Ann Arbor didn't even get a look at it before it left.
At the agreed-upon location in western Pennsylvania, we did the hand-off. Coming out of the Mazda, my first impression was that the JX felt much bigger behind the wheel than I expected. It almost seems to belong to the Chevy Tahoe/Ford Expedition class of vehicles rather than the Chevy Traverse/Ford Explorer family of big utes. It has the same sense of solidity (door close, gear shift action, steering weight) as the QX56. In fact, the JX overall seems very much a sibling of the QX, which I suppose is what Infiniti was trying for.
Given this vehicle's size, the impossibility of seeing much of anything out the back, and the difficulty in locating the edges of the wavy bodywork, the overhead-view camera is a real helper in judging the faraway edges of the body. It's a necessary supplement to the back-up camera. In fact, it would be preferable if it continued to work once you shift into Drive, at least until 5 mph or so.
This JX is equipped with the full phalanx of electronic helpers, which we tried out on the five-hour interstate drive back to New York. Some proved more useful than others. I was happy with the performance of the adaptive cruise control, which I was able to use on the busy but fast-moving interstates in eastern Pennsylvania and New Jersey. With the spacing set to the shortest distance, the JX was able to maintain a reasonable space. The system isn't too aggressive when slowing for the cars ahead, and it is quick to resume the set speed when traffic clears. The pre-collision braking, on the other hand, can't cope with crawling along in traffic on suburban boulevards. It wants to slam on the brakes even as you slowly creep up to the car ahead. I had to switch it off. The lane departure warning also got switched off after a while. Its beeping proved to be a lot more annoying than the vibrating steering wheel or vibrating seat that other automakers use.
This is the first-ever Infiniti to use a CVT, and I can't say that this is a watershed moment for the brand. At least it doesn't call much attention to itself except when accelerating, and those moments are usually pretty brief. However, at one point on the drive home I was on a hilly secondary road, and the CVT had a hard time choosing a ratio in moderate, low-speed acceleration up a gentle grade. It kept switching back and forth, like an indecisive automatic. Strange. So far, I haven't seen that behavior again in the hilly terrain where I live. Granted, the shiftless transmission probably helps fuel economy, which is pretty OK. I got an indicated 23 mpg on my drive home from Pennsylvania. A couple days of trundling around town dragged the average down only slightly, to 22 mpg. The EPA estimates are 18 mpg city and 23 mpg highway.
After a couple of weeks, my family and I took the JX on another road trip, this time to the Adirondacks. In a mix of highway and rural two-lanes, it got an indicated 24 mpg overall. Most of the time, Nissan's ubiquitous 3.5-liter V-6, here making 265 hp, feels perfectly adequate lugging the JX's 4419 pounds. But in the short passing zones on the two-lane roads in the mountains, it labored, and I did wish for more power. We also had another moment when the CVT exhibited the same indecisiveness; once again, we were gently accelerating up a grade, but at a slightly higher speed, of 55 to 60 mph. It will be interesting to see whether other drivers encounter this behavior.
Speaking of other drivers, I turned over the big Infiniti to Jamie Kitman. Soon, we'll take it back to Ann Arbor, where it's sure to be eagerly awaited.