The Infiniti JX35 is back from its East Coast sojourn, but this SUV has proven too vacation-friendly to spend much time hanging around the office. Copy editor Rusty Blackwell grabbed the keys for an epic, nine-day, 1475-mile family road trip to the Smoky Mountains in Tennessee.
Many of the roads we drove would have been amazing in a sports car, but the unwieldy and uninvolving JX35 is no sports car.
He reports: "After driving 560 miles we arrived at our rented, octagonal cabin in Gatlinburg. The JX indicated an average fuel economy of 22.1 mpg. I drove much of the distance in Eco mode but I eventually gave up on it due to the annoying push back from the gas pedal." That figure plummeted all the way down to 18.3 mpg after 370 miles of touring around the Great Smoky Mountains National Park -- and, yes, Dollywood -- as the JX climbed a lot of steep grades, including the driveway to the cabin. "The parking brake works great," Blackwell noted. "I was very glad the JX had all-wheel drive," he continued. "Even so, I'd sometimes get a bit a wheel spin on a few slow, uphill hairpins. Putting the CVT into its low range and flooring it up the hills resulted in minimal drama. I extensively utilized the manual shift mode, and the sport setting, in the mountains both for ascents and for engine braking downhill."
"Many of the roads we drove would have been amazing in a sports car but the unwieldy and uninvolving JX is no sports car. It's not very nimble, the steering is uncommunicative, and powertrain is bland," he added. "The Around View camera, on the other hand, was a critical aid for maneuvering the big crossover in tight confines and near steep drop-offs. I love how you can tap the Camera button at low speeds and have it assist you in forward maneuvers as well as the more typical backup assistance."
In Tennessee they were joined by a set of grandparents and traveled six-up in the Infiniti. The interior was deemed "very luxurious both in appearance and in feel," but seat comfort drew complaints. There was, however, "ample space for six people, and our big cooler and a large backpack just fit behind the third row." When strapping his two tots into the back, Blackwell discovered that the third row has no LATCH anchors on the driver's side and only an upper anchor on the passenger's side. Then he tried out the third row for himself. "I was pleased to find quite a bit of legroom and a fair amount of foot room; headroom is rarely an issue for me," noted Blackwell, who is 5'6". He also tested out Infiniti's much-vaunted claim that a middle-row seat can tilt forward for access to the back even with a child seat in place -- it can, but only on the passenger side. Still, access to the rear is better without the car seat.
A bear was an unannounced visitor to the Blackwells' cabin one day; but he later marveled at an even more rare sighting: "the presence of Nissan's headquarters in Tennessee is the only explanation I can think of for the two Nissan Murano CrossCabriolets I saw in the wilds of the Volunteer State."
"Overall, a minivan would have been much more user-friendly in almost every way," he concluded, "but I don't think any minivans look this good, and none currently offers all-wheel drive. Plus, we fully appreciated the JX35's ventilated seats, tri-zone climate control, rain-sensing wipers, glass roof panels, and adaptive cruise control"
Not long after the Infiniti's Smoky Mountains adventure, assistant online editor Jake Holmes spent some time with the JX, this time in more urban environs. He used the occasion to test one of the Infiniti's more advanced driver aids: Distance Control Assist. A button below the cruise control on/off switch turns on both DCA and Blind Spot Intervention (BSI). DCA is designed to help you drive in urban traffic, and applies the brakes to maintain a safe following distance from the car ahead. If you try to accelerate toward a slower vehicle, the gas pedal stiffens and you get less throttle response. DCA can also bring the JX to a complete stop behind other cars, but after it does so it only holds the brakes for two seconds before beeping and relinquishing control to the driver. "Mostly it works quite well, although it's a bit unnerving to trust the computer to brake for you," said Holmes. "DCA can be a bit overzealous, though. When a bus in front of me pulled over into a bus stop, the system still made the gas pedal very stiff and didn't let me accelerate much as I tried to pass the stopped bus. Only once I had completely passed it did I suddenly get full throttle response."
So what's his verdict? "I think the DCA system has its merits, and it represents a step toward safer and eventually autonomous cars. But the system also appears to encourage laziness and distracted driving. After all, every driver is born with an excellent distance control assist feature: their own two eyes."
We'll have plenty more opportunities to experiment with, and report on the merits of, the JX35's leading-edge features -- not to mention take the JX on more road trips -- in the months ahead.