Jack Of All Trades: Infiniti's 2010 EX
There’s something about Infiniti’s EX35. Perhaps it’s the crossover’s affable, approachable nature or perhaps it’s the ultra-practical size and layout, but whatever it is, the EX35 is quite simply one of the best vehicles I’ve ever driven.
Perhaps a bit of backstory is in order. Raised into a family that never owned less than three vehicles, I am every bit my father’s son. Having never encountered a vehicle that meets every possible requirement, I’ve grown accustomed to having to a keychain made heavy with the keys to cars, trucks, and motorcycles. As such, I’ve tended to view different types of vehicles as tools; each with their own respective strengths and intended uses. Taking economical runabouts on extended road trips, blasting through the backcountry in a proper 4x4, and using people carriers to play designated driver, I’ve rarely had to compromise by using one single vehicle to accomplish all these tasks.
But I understand there are those for whom multi-vehicle ownership is simply impossible. Be it as a result of parking restrictions, space restrictions, or budgetary restrictions, a large percentage of Canadians have no choice but to weigh the pros and cons of each of the possible vehicles before arriving at the most attractive compromise possible. Sadly, that compromise between want and need usually arrives bearing a pair of sliding rear doors, a stumpy hood, and an insidious aura of self-loathing.
However, that need not be the case. Thanks to the burgeoning crossover class of vehicle that combines car-like ride and handling with a taller stance and improved practicality, there’s no need to resort to one of the soul-sucking seven passengers abominations pedalled en masse to your local soccer mom cohort. While Ford’s excellent Flex offers those in need of seven seats with a far more stylish alternative, the average Canadian family will have little trouble squeezing their 2.3 kids into the Infiniti EX35’s rear seat while even the largest of Fidos will have ample room in the cargo area. Even better, each of the occupants capable of doing so will certainly think the EX’s interior a most luxurious pace. Covered in sumptuous leather, the EX’s dashboard and door textures are first-rate as well, boasting plenty of soft-touch rubberized accents that can handle some pretty serious abuse with little to no signs of wear. From the driver’s perspective, the view over the perfect steering wheel is excellent, and the multi-camera bird-eye perspective parking cameras make squeezing into the tightest of spots exceedingly easy. Although the passenger-side seems slightly underused with nothing more than a bizarre puckering treatment to the dashboard, there’s plenty of leg, shoulder, elbow and head room in either of the front seats. Clamber in the back, and there’s a surprising amount of room for adult occupants, although one passenger did question need for such thick seatbacks on the front seats. Cutting into the rear seats’ knee room slightly, both front chairs have hugely thick seatbacks that are devoid of the knee cutouts usually found on premium vehicles, and would provide the rear seats with up to three additional inches (or so) of legroom should they go under the knife.
Of course, no premium vehicle could be considered premium without a smorgasbord of technological doodads and gizmos, and the EX is no different. Equipped with an attractive navigation system screen and an excellent iPod-connectivity system, my tester was delightfully easy to operate through either the touch screen, rotary dial, or steering-wheel mounted buttons. It’s worth noting that those avid iPod addicts will find the iPod system quite intuitive, as the rotary knob scrolls though playlists in much the same manner as your scroll wheel; going by individual artist until you reach a certain speed, at which is kicks over to scrolling by letter. It might sound trivial, but after being forced to fight with Toyota’s downright awful and balky system for the past few weeks, it was a welcome change to be able to go from AC/DC to The Ramones without suffering a myocardial infarction somewhere around Poison. That said, the rotary knob and touch screen are a bit too far away from the driver to be of much use to taller owners as they require you lean far enough forward that your driving position is seriously compromised.
But even more intriguing were two other relatively unique technologies possessed by the EX. The first, and perhaps most popular, is the birds-eye view parking system. Using a plethora of camera mounted around the EX35’s perimeter, this system offers drivers a view of their EX from, as you may have guessed, a birds-eye view. This makes navigating small, enclosed spaces quite easy, and the system renders anything at ground level excellently. However, anything with any vertical development, like other cars, people, or signs are all confusingly distorted by the perspective and take some getting used to. The system also allows either of the side-mirror mounted cameras to be used in a more conventional manner for gauging your distance from the curb while parallel parking.
Second, and arguably more impressive, is the EX35’s unique paint finish. As someone that’s slightly OCD when it comes to vehicular cleanliness, this particular technology has fascinated me since its debut in 2007. Using a propriety paint technology, Infiniti has concocted a paint that actually heals itself of light scratches and scrapes over the course of a few days. Although I stopped shy of testing its abilities myself, I can vouch for the paint’s ability to resist the abuses of daily life. Having received the EX with a few thousand kilometres on it in the middle of winter, I expected the EX’s paint to bear witness to the hard life a press car typically leads, but was surprised to find the paint come up to an all but new finish after a quick wash. I have no idea for it works, but it is incredibly impressive.
And then of course, there’s the drive; perhaps the best part of the EX35’s already impressive resume. Powered by the now well-known VQ-series 3.5 litre V6, the EX35 has plenty of horsepower; 297 to be precise. But it’s the manner in which it uses those 297 horses that really impresses. Even fitted with squirmy, noisy winter tires the EX35 proved itself a joy to drive. As someone more interested in the richness of the experience than in the absolute performance, the EX35 had me wondering if this was indeed the same company responsible for the all-business, no-fun GTR. With a compliant ride that should be the new BMW X3’s benchmark and a taller stance than the G-class sedan, the EX35 was lively and exuberant around corners, responding readily to steering, braking and throttle inputs in the most predictable way. Feel like hanging it out a bit and scaring the kids? Mix a bit of steering input with a dash of trail braking, and the EX will respond in a manner that’s more akin to a first-generation VW GTI than even the new Mark VI GTI can match. Bury your foot back into the carpet, and the ATTESA E-TS all-wheel drive system works a metric ton of wizardry in the blink of an eye to provide maximum traction in even the most inclement of conditions. Itself lifted from the infamous 1989 to 2003 Nissan GT-R, the ATTESA E-TS system uses a 16-bit microprocessor to process data 100 times per second from each of the ABS system’s wheel speed sensors. This microprocessor works in concert with a three-axis accelerometer under the car’s center console to determine how much torque should be redirected to the front axle (itself fitted with a viscous limited slip differential) to a maximum of 50% of available torque routed to the front wheels. Although all this happens far too fast to appreciate, most drivers will be able to detect the system’s best attribute: a propensity for oversteer. Directing 100% of the car’s torque to the rear wheels under most driving conditions, the system provides less torque to the front wheels as cornering forces increase, making the most out of the natural rearward weight progression as the EX accelerates around a corner. Once traction is exceeded, only the minimum amount of torque necessary is shuttled to the front differential to correct the situation.
It all adds up to one of the most impressive packages currently available in this exceedingly competitive market segment. Although brands like BMW and Mercedes may carry more cachet, it’s absolutely impossible to argue with the EX35’s excellent blend of luxury, performance and size. Occupying a minimum of space, it feels fantastically large on the inside and provides any and all drivers with an engaging experience that does little to belie the car’s long-standing existence. Now entering its third year of production, Infiniti’s popular premium compact crossover has held up astoundingly well, rendering any updates almost unnecessary... but that being said, perhaps the best news may be yet to come.
|Test drive report|
|Test model||2010 Infiniti EX|
|Price as tested||CA$49,900|
|Warranty (basic)||6 years/100,000 km|
|Warranty (powertrain)||6 years/110,000 km|
|Fuel economy (city/highway/observed)||12.9 / 8.6 / 11.2 L/100km|
|Competitive models||Acura RDX, BMW X3, Mercedes-Benz GLK-Class, Volvo XC60, Audi Q5, Land Rover LR2|