Infiniti EX35 — SUV excitement

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

You say family responsibilities have mandated the need for more useable cargo space, but you are a sports sedan guy, have been and always will be. For some the conflict between buying what the young family really needs and what the young dad really wants is excruciating.

Hey, no worries. We recommend the 2012 Infiniti EX35, a compact crossover SUV that is styled like a sports sedan and drives like a sports sedan. It should because it is based on the Infiniti G37 sports sedan platform. Young dad, you can have it all in one smartly styled package.

Granted, the EX35 is in its fifth year of existence with only minor updates, and lives on with the previous G-series 3.5-liter V-6 even as the G sedan has moved to a 3.7-liter engine with more horsepower. But the EX35 did gain the G37's seven-speed automatic transmission last year, which gives it an extra dose of performance excitement measured in 0-to-60 times of 5.8 to 6.0 seconds depending on what statistics you subscribe to.

Not only do the 297 horses and 253 pound-feet of torque provide exhilarating crossover performance, the sports-tuned suspension and     precise handling give the EX35 a road-carving persona that will bring a big grin to the face of the young sports-sedan-crazed dad.

The cockpit is as snug as a sports car or a true sports sedan with controls right at hand. Notice we said snug, not tight like a Mazda Miata or a BMW 1-Series, but cockpit-like all the same. And all this driving excitement comes with 47.4 cubic feet of potential cargo capacity behind the front seats.

Of course there’s a flip side to this idyllic portrait. Some critics say the passenger space is too tight. Others say the cargo space falls short of many vehicles in the segment. They also say that rear-seat legroom is in short supply and getting comfortable depends on how cooperative the guys in the front seats feel about moving forward a bit. We found rear legroom adequate, and, really, if space is of paramount concern, purchase something else. There’s plenty to pick from in the ever-increasing luxury compact crossover segment.

But to get the satisfaction of sitting each day in the stunning Chestnut and black leather interior like our test vehicle and with more than 47 cubic feet of hauling capacity behind you in a vehicle that has the attributes of a sport sedan is a rich reward for your investment.

One more thing — if you carry a full complement of passengers, there’s 18.6 cubic feet of storage behind the seats; certainly not the best in class but about the same space as found in the trunk of a large sedan.

Perhaps falling into the “pay to play” category is the EX gas mileage, which falls a bit short of some other major players in the segment. It’s rated at 17 mpg city and 24 mpg highway for both rear-wheel and all-wheel drive. Infiniti hasn't done anything to improve the rating since we last tested  the vehicle in 2009. And it takes premium gas, but Infiniti says it is OK to use 87-octane. Performance will be cut about 3 percent.

The performance is good — in fact great — says our SUV-loving friend, but what about towing? Unfortunately, for those people who need to tow, even small trailers, they may be better off looking elsewhere. Infiniti does not recommend towing with the EX, and nowhere can we find an official towing capacity.

Does this onus put the EX in the “station wagon” class? Who cares when it’s this good and this much fun — call it anything you want.

The interior is almost as exciting as the performance features, very attractive, warm and inviting. Controls are intuitive and finding the right driving position with the combination of power tilt/telescoping steering wheel and eight-way power seat is guaranteed.

There are some useful cargo features including power-operated 60/40 - folding rear seatbacks that can be triggered from the rear. Buttons between the front seats allow the driver to flip them up again.

The EX35 comes in only two trim levels, base and Journey. And the crossover is well equipped for the base price of $36,695. All-wheel drive will increase the price by $1,400.

Standard equipment includes 18-inch alloy wheels, keyless ignition/entry, leather upholstery, power front seats, a rearview camera, and a six-speaker sound system.

Options abound. For instance, our Journey trim (base $38,795) came with three packages of goodies bringing the bottom line to $46,395. The $2,700 Technology package came with such safety features as blind spot warning, intelligent cruise control, lane departure warning and forward collision warning. We think all those features worth the price.

Standard safety features include antilock disk brakes, traction and stability control, front-seat side airbags, side-curtain airbags and active front head restraints. The EX35 has earned the top score of "Good" in testing by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

Even in its fifth year without major changes, we think the EX35 is as exciting and fun to drive as any small luxury crossover on the market.

Base price: $36,695; as driven, $46,395
Engine: 3.5-liter V-6
Horsepower: 297 @ 6.800 rpm
Torque: 253 foot-pounds @ 4,800 rpm
Drive: rear wheel
Transmission: 7-speed automatic
Seating: 2/3
Wheelbase: 110.2 inches
Length: 182.3 inches
Curb weight: 3,782 pounds
Turning circle: 34.8 feet
Towing capacity: not recommended
Luggage capacity: 18.6 cubic feet
Cargo capacity: 47.4 cubic feet
Fuel capacity: 20 gallons (premium recommended)
EPA rating: 24 highway, 17 city
0-60: 5.8 seconds (Motor Trend)
Also consider: BMW X3, Mercedes-Benz GLK, Acura RDX

The Good
• Sports sedan performance
• Interior appointments first class
• Attractive styling

The Bad
• Fuel economy below average

The Ugly
• Small cargo area, tight accommodations