Atomic Catfish The Infiniti FX50 is Nissan's big prestige sedan; the trouble is, no one knows about it. By Chris Walton, Chief Road Test Editor Date posted: 04-22-2008 390-hp V8 - 7-speed semiauto transmission - All-wheel drive - Gizmos galore It would be easy to dismiss the 2009 Infiniti FX50 as completely irrelevant, a mutant crossover vehicle. Going on past sales figures alone, you'd be right, because total 2007 sales of the Infiniti FX45 numbered just 1,598 units, about a tenth of the 2007 Infiniti FX35s that found their way to the street during the same period last year. But this wouldn't be entirely fair. The all-wheel-drive FX came to market in 2003 as one of the first crossovers that had morphed into a high-performance vehicle — a kind of personalized coupe, only with cargo capacity. The FX looked like a Bionic Cheetah, showcased some segment-leading technology and delivered road-going performance on par with European-brand sport-utilities the BMW X5 and Porsche Cayenne. Unfortunately, no one seemed to care. Yet now people are talking about personal-style crossovers. Have times finally caught up with the 2009 Infiniti FX50? Cryptozoology The Infiniti FX packs high performance in a utility package. For a long time, the crossover coupe seemed like some kind of cryptid, a type of legendary beast that seemed likely to exist but for which no conclusive evidence had been offered. The BMW X5 took us in that direction, as did the Porsche Cayenne, Jeep Cherokee SRT8 and Range Rover Sport, but a genuine coupe-style crossover package didn't seem to yet exist. Fortunately now we have the 2008 BMW X6 xDrive 50i. Whatever the merits of the X6 might (or might not) be, its BMW badge has given the concept of a crossover coupe some credibility in the marketplace, and we all have suddenly understood what Infiniti was hoping to accomplish with the first-generation 2003 Infiniti FX. And with the introduction of the 2009 Infiniti FX50 at the 2008 Geneva Auto Show, we all awoke at last to the FX's possibilities. We're talking gene-splicing here, a chimera with a 390-horsepower V8. The FX has been trying to be a crossover coupe all along, and now the 2009 Infiniti FX50 makes the breakthrough. Speciality FX This is the all-wheel-drive utility vehicle for high-speed travel, not errands to the supermarket. As before, the revised FX rides on Nissan's corporate FM (front midship) platform shared with the G35/G37, M35/M45 and, most recently, EX35 crossover. Think of the FX as kind of like the big M-class coupe (although we'd bet Infiniti would sell more than 1,600 versions of a real, car-based M50 coupe in a year). Just as you'd expect from a high-profile coupe, the 2009 FX50 is powered by a sophisticated 390-hp 5.0-liter V8 that primarily powers the rear wheels and all four corners when needed. The 303-hp FX35 can still be ordered in either a rear- or all-wheel-drive configuration. This time around, a generous amount of previously optional equipment becomes standard on the range-topping FX, which helps explain our estimated base price of $54,000, about $4K over that of the outgoing FX45. Now included as standard equipment are the Navigation package (now based on a hard drive and offering 9.3GB of digital music file storage), Premium package and iPod connection, roof rails and moonroof. As before, standard equipment on the FX50 includes all the usual acronyms: TPMS (tire pressure monitoring system with four-corner readout), ABS with EBD (electronic brakeforce distribution) and TCS (traction control system) with VDC (vehicle dynamic control). TLAs for Days Lower left side of the dash is where TLAs (three-letter acronyms) go to die, as this confusing thicket of buttons switches off the assorted electronics. As a matter of fact, the 2009 FX50 flaunts more TLAs (three-letter acronyms) than an IT convention. Warning: more alphabet soup ahead. Our test FX features the optional Technology package that includes: LDW (lane departure warning that beeps); LDP (lane departure prevention through selective brake application); and ICC (intelligent cruise control) with DCA (distance control assist) that maintains following distances at speed, plus IBA (intelligent brake assist) that will bring the FX to a complete stop and then resume a selected speed automatically. Although we would never condone such a hands-off test (caution, trained professionals on closed course only), the presence of LDP, ICC and IBA in active mode theoretically makes it possible to drive HOME (hundreds of miles easily) without touching a pedal — or the steering wheel. Theoretically, of course. The Crucible The 4,575-pound FX50 carved through the slalom at 63.3 mph, much faster than the FX45. Riding on standard 265/45R21 Bridgestone Dueler H/L all-season tires, the 4,575-pound FX50 snakes through the slalom course like a true AWD sport wagon at 63.3 mph, almost 4 mph faster than the last FX45 we tested. Nimble though this is, such an unnatural test of multiple lane changes makes the FX50 feel a little out of sorts, and eventually it runs out of grip at the rear. Basically it defies the limits of physics at about eight-tenths speed, but things go a little pear-shaped at the limit when the rotating mass of each monster wheel-tire combination gives the electronically controlled all-wheel-drive system a workout. On the skid pad, the FX50 proves more predictable and shows amazing grip at 0.85g before it begins to oversteer again, which is highly unusual for an AWD vehicle (although we like that). Despite rollin' on 21s, the FX50's ride is quite good, although the interior resounds with a low-frequency boom over sharp seams in the pavement. Big Engine and Its Consequences The 14-inch front brakes deliver good, repeatable stops from 60 mph but fade noticeably from higher speeds. Speed is the 2008 Infiniti FX50's prime directive. The 60-mph mark flashes by in just 5.6 seconds, as compared to the 6.8 seconds required by the FX45's 60-mph sprint. Plus, when the tach needle sweeps past 4,000 rpm, there is a conspicuous extra surge of power from the FX50 V8 courtesy of its sophisticated system for variable valve timing and lift. From behind the wheel, we could hear an unmistakable rumble, but it wasn't so loud as to be annoying. The FX50's quarter-mile performance of 13.7 seconds at 102.9 mph would be good enough to challenge this year's performance surprise, the twin-turbo BMW 135i. With its new seven-speed automatic clicking off admirably quick upshifts to keep the engine in its power band, there's hardly a moment when the FX50 doesn't feel geared up for action. But we have a great big caveat here. By the third quarter-mile pass at over 100 mph, we noted dramatic brake fade coming to a halt, and there wasn't even enough brake pressure to activate the ABS. The ventilated brake discs would appear to be big enough in diameter to dissipate heat (14 inches up front and 13.8 inches in the rear), but perhaps not repeatedly, and apparently not from super-legal speeds. This fading wasn't apparent, however, during the usual five to six stops from 60 mph that comprise our brake test, where the FX50's first stop took 124 feet and its best stop of 117 feet occurred on the fifth attempt. Head-Turning Styling Is this brand identity or just an atomic catfish? That's what Infiniti says the FX has, but what it neglected to predict was in which direction the heads would turn. Try as we did to find a flattering camera angle to best portray the color-shifting paint of the FX and its restyled, double-arch, black chrome grille, the Infiniti always filled the frame with its toothy maw. And what new vehicle would be complete without obligatory chrome-plated mandolins adorning the front quarter panels? At least these are functional here and help vent the air that typically builds up underhood in any car, improving high-speed stability. Inside the cabin, the FX50 gets the deluxe treatment. We love it. Diamond-quilted leather-upholstered seats are comfortable and sporty; the fronts are both heated and cooled and the driver seat is eight-way adjustable. Standard shift paddles click off matched-rev downshifts through the all-new seven-speed automatic. We don't normally review HVAC systems, but the FX's product information devotes several detailed paragraphs to the Plasmacluster ionizer air purifier and allergen-neutralizing grape-seed polyphenol filter. Cool stuff. The cargo area has been "reshaped to enhance comfort and utility," but our stats show that its volume has actually shrunk by 2.6 cubic feet with the rear seats occupied and 3 cubic feet when they are stowed. What's more, only the front legroom has grown, while front and rear headroom are both diminished due to the now-standard moonroof. In a Class of Two? The FX reflects Infiniti's recent upgrade of interior materials. True, there are extant examples of selectively bred truck-based SUVs like the 425-hp 2008 Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8 at $41,500, but in terms of refinement, sophistication and equipment levels, the FX50 really does stand closer to the Euro super-utes than it does with the domestic muscle trucks, something that helps validate the 2009 Infiniti FX50's premium price. You could say that the Porsche Cayenne S belongs in this hyper-ute gene pool as well. But the Cayenne, with its wider range of talents, really is a more specialized beast because of its optional trick off-road gear — and you'll pay handsomely for that extra, mostly untapped, capability. Have a look at the $112,000 2006 Cayenne Turbo S. We'd also have to disregard the $88,000 Bel Air driveway accessory, Mercedes-Benz ML63 AMG, because its hand-built 503-hp V8 functions as a similar extra-cost feature. So this leaves the 390-hp 2009 Infiniti FX50 with its estimated sticker price of $54,000 alongside the 300-hp 2008 X6 xDrive 35i with its base price of $53,275 in a class of their own. (The twin-turbo 400-hp 2008 BMW X6 xDrive50i will set you back $63,775.) Crossover coupes to be sure, but so far only a half step away from cryptids. So for all its specialized gizmos, admirable muscle, undeniably unique skin and what appears to be a relatively fair price, it looks like Infiniti's Atomic Catfish will be a big, weird-looking fish in a little pond yet again. The shape of the FX remains challenging, and it sacrifices space-efficiency for visual impact. MSRP of Test Vehicle: $56,000 What Works: Potent horsepower upgrade; new double-wishbone front suspension; up-to-the-minute infotainment and safety systems; nimble and did we mention, fast. What Needs Work: A face only a catfish's mother could love; spooky brake fade; thirst for premium fuel. Bottom Line: The Bionic Cheetah mutates into an Atomic Catfish and gets quicker and more nimble, not to mention more bizarre. Performance Cargo room has been reconfigured to improve rear-seat room at the expense of the aft compartment. 0 - 30 (sec): 2.2 0 - 45 (sec): 3.6 0 - 60 (sec): 5.6 0 - 75 (sec): 7.9 1/4 Mile (sec @ mph): 13.7 @ 102.9 0-60 with 1-ft Rollout (sec): 5.3 30 - 0 (ft): 30 60 - 0 (ft): 117 Braking Rating (Excellent, Good, Average, Poor or Very Poor): Very Good Slalom (mph): 63.3 Skid Pad Lateral acceleration (g): 0.85 Handling Rating (Excellent, Good, Average, Poor or Very Poor): Excellent Db @ Idle: 49.4 Db @ Full Throttle: 74.4 Db @ 70 mph Cruise: 69.9 Edmunds Observed (mpg): 14.3 average (best = 16, worst = 13) Acceleration Comments: The FX50 doesn't like brake and gas at the same time, so brake torquing didn't work well. The tachometer is a little slow, so manual shifting didn't work. After matting the gas pedal and firewall in Drive, I could really feel the cams change phase at about 4,000 rpm. Gearshifts are really quick and with seven to choose from, it never falls out of the power. Handling Comments: On the skid pad, the fore/aft/left/right power shuffle is evident. There's a lot going on under the floor, and modulating the throttle starts to get the FX50 out of shape. Still, there's a bunch of grip and the steering loads up nicely. Because VDC shuts all the way off, the slalom was also a bit of a mystery ride with unintuitive (slightly delayed) behavior from the AWD system. It feels great up to about 8/10ths, but physics take over from there. On/off throttle does provide some ability to rotate the FX50 and the steering remains quick and talkative. Eventually, the rear steps out and oversteer becomes the limiting factor -- which is highly unusual for an AWD vehicle. Braking Comments: Pretty firm pedal and moderate dive, but belts cinch up with each ABS stop. Remarkably short distance considering the monstrous rolling stock and 4,500-plus-pound mass. Side note: Pretty noticeable brake fade by the third quarter-mile run.