What is it?
This is the new Infiniti EX35, about to be launched in the US (where we're driving it), and coming to Europe in the last quarter of 2008.
Infiniti's one of the new breed of Japanese premium brands, only one of which will be familiar to Brits. That's Lexus (owned by Toyota), but in the states they also get Acura (Honda) and Infiniti (Nissan).
If you’ve been to the US, or spotted one of the few personal imports in the UK, you might be familiar with Infiniti’s current work, most notably the X5-sized and assertively styled FX45 and the G35 coupé, a plusher, roomier 350Z.
The EX35 shares the same platform with both but is visibly smaller than the FX (some 173mm in length and 79mm in height). Think of it as an X3-sized and priced SUV, but styled, Infiniti says, as a coupé crossover.
What's it like?
In the inevitable freeway traffic the EX35 is a fine place to sit. Infiniti has followed the Japanese tradition of not holding back on the toys – including parking cameras that stitch together a 360-degree view – but has incorporated these with more style than its Far Eastern counterparts.
It’s still a different experience from the Germanic efficiency displayed in a BMW or Audi cabin, but less fussy than, say, a Lexus.
This is still a pre-production car – European models will get different grain leather and slightly different buttons – but on this evidence fit and finish are clearly up to scratch, and in dark leather with dark wood or aluminium the EX looks sophisticated.
The front packaging will cater for most shapes, but rear legroom is tight if you’re sitting behind a long-legged front passenger.
Before long the EX35’s DNA starts to show through; it’s more muted, but it’s easy to recognise the deep-chested howl under full throttle. The 3.5-litre V6 is the same engine that powers the 350Z and Murano, here producing 293bhp. In volume and tone it sits somewhere between the two other installations, and unlike the Murano the EX has a conventional automatic gearbox (five speeds here, but potentially with six or more by the time the EX arrives in Europe).
At launch this will be the only engine available, with a diesel, developed with Renault, following in ’09. Unlike US versions, of which both rear-drive and four-wheel-drive versions are available, European cars will all be four-wheel drive.
Ecological considerations aside, the combination of gutsy V6 and slick auto ’box is an effective tool for stop-start traffic. The smooth step-off and linear throttle progression make the EX an easy car to drive, but it has enough in reserve to deal assertively with intersections.
Joining the iconic Pacific Coast Highway and upping the pace to a heady 55mph reveals the EX to be a competent cruiser: quiet, comfortable and relaxed. And yet with every mile the EX feels more similar not to the Murano (as perhaps expected) but to Nissan’s smaller hatch/SUV crossover, the Qashqai.
Infiniti might not take kindly to such comparison, but it should; it’s meant entirely as a compliment. There’s the same precision and natural weighting to the controls, a well judged balance between ease of driving and accuracy of response that’s evidence of real thoroughness in Infiniti’s engineering.
The EX copes well with the occasionally poorly surfaced roads, and turns with surprising eagerness in more challenging bends. It’s not quite X3-like in its absence of body roll (although why anyone would want an SUV as firm as the X3 is a question we’ve yet to answer), but it’s the EX that offers the more compliant ride and the more accurate steering.
As it stands, the EX’s dynamics are impressive – if anything it needs slightly tauter rebound damping – but before the car is launched in Europe the chassis engineers at Nissan’s Cranfield technical centre will give it the once-over to fine-tune the suspension for the UK.
Should I buy one?
The EX35 is fast when it needs to be, but most of the time it is simply a comfortable, refined and upmarket car, just one sporting the current fashion in SUV attire.
It fits in well in the US. Only time will tell if Infiniti has sufficient allure in Europe, but the EX35 gets everything right as a product. If the pricing is right, it ought to do well.