It is Michigan, it is March, and an all-wheel-drive Infiniti FX45 has landed for a year at 120 East Liberty. If there is a time to herald the general concept of the sport-utility vehicle, it's during a raging blizzard. Out of the way! Snowplow coming through! Or so we thought. Unfortunately, the twenty-inch tires that add so much to the radical look of Infiniti's sportiest sport-ute, the FX45, also make it ill prepared for serious winter duty. The very first logbook entry for the FX45, which arrived on our slippery doorstep smack-dab in the middle of the worst weather of 2003, was recorded by our design director, Darin Johnson, caught unprepared in northern Michigan, thinking he'd been smart to use the family ski weekend to break in the FX45: "Tires are awful! Do they make snow tires this big?"
Yes, they do, and eventually we got them. But this was the winter of 2003's last frigid gasp, and Johnson managed to slide home safely and directly into a lovely Michigan spring.
Which was just in time for the crappy, winter-ravaged roads to rear up. Count your blessings if you live in a state with roads that don't heave and buckle with the wild temperature swings of Midwest winters and summers. Driving on the rubble of Interstate 94 through downtown Detroit in the FX45 was like being in a popcorn popper-no surprise when you consider its monster rubber (those giant tires again!), the hunkered-down body, and the general dynamics of a suspension tuned for high-speed thrills. "Sport-ute Ride: Should It or Shouldn't It Suck?" was a constant and heated topic of debate during the entire year the FX45 was in our possession. Variations included "Sport-ute: Sport or Utility?" and "Porsche Cayenne and BMW X5: Are They Just Wrong?"
Clearly, the 315-horsepower, V-8-engined FX45 veers to the side of the X5 and the Cayenne-vehicles designed as tall-wagon hot rods. We love them, we hate them. They are six of one, half a dozen of another, neither fish nor fowl. We live with them to see if their mission becomes clearer as the competition multiplies and gets more sophisticated. Because this magazine was founded on the principle that no cars should be boring, we are sucked in by power, and the FX45's logbook was an ode to its screaming demon within. It is lacking in space and lacking in ground clearance but hot on the trail-if that trail happens to be the local racetrack.
The FX45 passed its 7500-mile service with nothing but an oil change. And it did that after two short months. It was now nearly summertime, and the living was easy. The sound and fury of the V-8 were duly noted, once it was warm enough to open the windows and we could hear them; the cabin is that quiet. On unbroken pavement, the FX45's ride was smoother than the Q45 sedan's, wrote road test coordinator Tony Quiroga. Its steering was "Porsche-like in its weighting," our in-house hotshoe, executive editor Mark Gillies, noted. Gillies got so giddy he even suggested that the ride quality wasn't any worse than that of the Mitsubishi Evo or the Mini Cooper S. As if it should be. We had to put the kibosh on a youthful plan to take it "ramping," a clandestine sort of drifting exercise involving freeway interchanges.
Production editor Jennifer Misaros, who drives to Chicago once a month to get the final proofs of the magazine ready for press, chose the FX45 (from a typical pool of eleven vehicles) six times in nine months. She thinks we don't know how fast she was making that 500-mile round trip. We do.
On the other side of the office, moms and dads were thinking the FX45 was just the ticket for a family vacation, decked out as it was with a CD-based navigation system and a DVD player for the cheap seats (there was a complaint that the screen sits too low for older kids). The seats may be cheap, but those options were not, bundled as they were in a $4300 Technology package. Yikes, yikes, yikes! Lots of tech came along for the ride, including a rearview camera (the shorties liked it a lot, though it tended to go all psychedelic in extreme cold and snow), keyless entry and start (the fob just needs to be in your pocket for the doors to unlock and for the ignition to fire up when you turn a switch), tire-pressure monitors, and so on. Did I say that the DVD costs an extra $1600 but you have to have the tech package for the privilege? But to have the tech pack, you have to have the $2500 Premium package (power sunroof, automatic headlights, and a rocking eleven-speaker Bose sound system, among other such amenities). It boggles the wallet. But we needed all $8400 worth of it. For sure.