The decision to purchase a minivan is a pragmatic one. Drive a minivan and you admit to the world that you have children and a Costco membership, and that you want one vehicle that can transport your offspring and multi-packs of toilet paper.
The decision to not purchase a minivan is different. An entire subset of car buyers with children wants a vehicle with seven seats, but would as soon pile their children into a minivan as the bed of a pickup truck. For these people, the crossover is an amenable alternative that blends usability and distinctive exterior design. They buy cars like Mazda's CX-9, Buick's Enclave, and Ford's Flex.
But there are buyers who want more: they crave the convenience of a crossover but want a top-shelf brand name, a sportier driving experience, and a more sumptuous interior. Infiniti aims to please these people with its newest vehicle, the JX35. To see if the JX35's blend of luxury and sport was up to snuff, we pitted it against three close competitors: the Lincoln MKT, Acura MDX, and BMW X5.
Powertrains: Old School, Meet New SchoolAll four of our crossovers were equipped with six-cylinder engines and all-wheel drive. The JX35 is the least powerful of the group, and has a 3.5-liter V-6 engine that produces 265 hp and 248 lb-ft of torque. The MDX and X5 are both rated at 300 hp; the X5 uses a turbocharged 3.0-liter in-line-six-cylinder engine that makes 300 lb-ft of torque, and the MDX uses a naturally aspirated 3.7-liter V-6 that turns out 270 lb-ft. The Lincoln scores the power trophy with its EcoBoost twin-turbo 3.5-liter V-6 engine, which makes 365 hp and 350 lb-ft of torque. While the MDX and MKT both use six-speed automatic transmissions, the BMW has an eight-speed auto, and the JX35 employs a continuously variable unit.
From behind the wheel, the difference in powertrains is palpable. The JX's V-6 provides adequate grunt and sounds good in the upper register, but it still lags behind its competitors. This is partially due to the JX's power deficit, but it's mostly the fault of the JX's transmission. The CVT was effective at keeping engine noise at bay around town, but revs build slowly and the engine drones once you step on the gas pedal.
The BMW's powertrain, comparatively, is a frenetic beast: the engine revs quickly and has a laser-level flat torque curve. The transmission's sport automatic mode remaps the shift points to near-redline, allowing drivers to savor the gorgeous engine note even more.
The MDX may be down 30 lb-ft on the X5, but it doesn't want for power. Revs build slowly but the engine pulls adeptly, and the note it produces is guttural and strong as the tach needle passes 4000 rpm. Crucially, the MDX's transmission is snappier when pulling away from a stop than the X5's.
The MKT is the unlikely hero here: it hustles down back roads and attacks highway on-ramps, and it has enough torque to make highway downshifts a rarity. The speedometer needle rises quicker than you thought possible in a 4942-pound car.
Winner: Lincoln MKT
Ride and Handling: The Great CompromiseThese sporty luxury crossovers face high expectations for both handling and ride quality, and striking the right balance is a tall task. The JX's steering is pleasantly light in parking lots but limp and overboosted nearly everywhere else. The ride shows plenty of poise on the highway, but it's only so-so on bumpy roads.
Again, the BMW X5 proves to be the JX's polar opposite. The X5 is easily the handling champion thanks to its firm suspension and heavy, precise steering, a great asset on back roads. But the X5 only shines with enthusiastic driving; around town the suspension is stiff and harsh at times and the steering is unnecessarily heavy. The only way we would recommend this car for the school run is if your children go to school on the Nürburgring.
Getting out of the Infiniti JX and into the Lincoln MKT, deputy editor Joe DeMatio remarked that the Lincoln's steering was "a revelation," and we agreed that it offers the best blend of low- and high-speed weight. The MKT exhibits decent handling, especially for a 17.3-foot-long people carrier, but the MKT's strength is in its soft, compliant ride, not its handling.
The best compromise was the MDX. Its steering is pleasantly firm at low speeds, but just a little bit too light on the highway. The ride is comfortable but not pillowy, thanks to optional magnetorheological dampers, and its handling is superb. For that you can thank Acura's Super Handling All-Wheel-Drive system, which shifts torque to the outside rear wheel in the corners. The system's digital readout between the gauges shows where the torque is going at any moment, adding a neat video game-like touch to the driving experience.
Winner: Acura MDX