The laws of physics don't apply in Toontown, where cartoon characters live and SUVs act like sports cars. In Toontown, Infiniti's new FX50 accelerates quicker than a G37, matches its outstanding braking performance, and then - as its pièce de résistance - rounds corners even more quickly than the sport coupe. The story is similar with Toontown's BMW X6 - it sticks with the twin-turbo 335i coupe in a straight line and can almost match its performance-benchmark prowess in braking and cornering.
Here in the real world, height and weight are the biggest enemies of acceleration, braking, and handling. So how is it that these tall, heavy SUVs can dance with their low-slung coupe siblings? Cue the Looney Tunes music.
The 2003 Infiniti FX wasn't the first SUV with performance credentials - the BMW X5 and the Porsche Cayenne had already proven that even elephants could do ballet. However, the low-roofed, big-wheeled FX was the first SUV that looked the part, sacrificing utility for a lot of sport.
Infiniti's all-new 2009 FX has fallen victim to the latest styling trend: lots of fussy details tacked on to what was a clean, uncluttered design. Witness the angry-crocodile headlights, the clichéd (but functional) fender vents, and the bizarre grille treatment. Thankfully, the new FX keeps the original's stunning Elroy Jetson sports car proportions, which is what you first notice when you see one on the road.
The second-generation FX is two inches longer than the model it replaces, riding on a wheelbase that has been stretched by 1.4 inches. Most of the additional length is forward of the windshield, so space for the FX's five occupants - especially those in the back seat - is still as tight as it was last year, and cargo volume is even less than before. Despite significant increases in rigidity, the FX's new chassis is actually 200 pounds lighter than the previous generation's. Overall weight has increased due to additional content - but only by about 70 pounds.
Infiniti took no chances with the FX's interior - the cockpit is elegant and formal, with diamond-pattern stitching and embroidered logos in the seats. The curved wood inserts in the door panels are particularly beautiful, stained darker at their edges and punctuated with thin chrome surrounds. Most everything you touch feels rich (which was not necessarily the case with the last FX), from the magnesium shift levers to the weighty gear selector.
Like before, the FX is available in two trim levels. The V-6-powered FX35, which should start at about $41,000, receives an updated 303-hp, 3.5-liter V-6 from the G35 sedan. This high-revving six makes 28 hp more than the engine in last year's FX35 and, in conjunction with a brand-new seven-speed automatic transmission, promises acceleration close to that of the V-8-powered FX45.
It won't be stepping on any toes, however, because Infiniti has replaced the FX45 with the FX50. For about $56,000, the FX50 comes with an updated and enlarged 5.0-liter V-8 that produces 390 hp and 369 lb-ft of torque (see Techtonics sidebar). The new V-8 retains all of the qualities that made us fall in love with the last one - linear power delivery and a primal wail straight out of the Italian mountains.
With the help of the new seven-speed automatic, the FX50 not only provides better fuel economy than the FX45, it destroys it at the drag strip, too. The FX50 recoils in rage and explodes off the line, hitting 60 mph in 5.4 seconds - a full second quicker than the last FX45 we tested; 100 mph is yours in only 13.1 seconds, an incredible 4.6 seconds quicker than before. To put this performance in perspective, the FX50's acceleration numbers are identical to those of a Porsche Boxster S.
Luckily, the FX50 isn't all engine and no chassis. Its steering is quick off center, beautifully weighted, and offers plentiful feedback. Our sport-package-equipped test car benefited from Infiniti's rear active steering, which uses an electric motor to turn the rear wheels up to one degree. The result is lightning-quick turn-in and tremendous confidence behind the wheel.
The FX45's biggest shortcoming was an overly harsh ride, and Infiniti has addressed this problem by including Continuous Damper Control in the FX50's sport package. CDC adjusts the shock absorbers in response to changing road conditions, so the new FX's ride is much less harsh - despite huge, twenty-one-inch wheels - and body motions are even better controlled.
Our FX50 test car also was equipped with the technology package, which adds a host of buttons with indecipherable acronyms. Boiled down to English, the buttons control three systems that use a front-mounted laser sensor: Intelligent Cruise Control, which now can bring the vehicle to a complete stop; Distance Control Assist, which applies the brakes automatically, making low-speed traffic conditions a one-pedal operation; and Intelligent Brake Assist, which beeps at the driver and then automatically applies the brakes to lessen the severity of an impact.
The tech package also includes Infiniti's Around View Monitor and Lane Departure Prevention systems. Fully loaded with every available option, our FX had an estimated sticker price of $62,000, which seems expensive only until you look at the BMW's pricing.
Like the Infiniti, the X6 is available in two trim levels; the $53,275 xDrive35i uses the sonorous 300-hp, 3.0-liter twin-turbo in-line six familiar from the 1-, 3-, and 5-series. The xDrive50i model starts at $63,775, but our fully equipped tester shocked us like a party buzzer with an estimated price of more than $80,000.