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2013 Infiniti JX35 AWD: Hitting the sweet spot

by: NISSAN MOTOR CORP. USA - The all-new 2013 Infiniti JX35 AWD will carry up to seven passengers in style and luxury.With the 2013 JX35 AWD, three is the new two. Or to put it another way, seven is the new five.

Which is to say, Infiniti's new midsize crossover is one of a growing number of reasonably-sized sport utility vehicles that offers three rows of seats, increasing the seating capacity from five to seven people.

At first glance, this arrangement seems to violate traditional automotive marketing strategies. Manufacturers have historically tried to offer three classes of vehicles — small, medium and large — that go up in price and carry more people as the size increases.

Until recently, that's been true of both truck-based and crossover SUVs. The compacts carry four people comfortably, while the midsize ones accommodate five and the largest ones offer a third row of seats, allowing for two more passengers. That way, those with the biggest families or most friends are nudged into buying the most expensive vehicles.

And Infiniti would seem ripe for following this practice. It produces a compact crossover, the FX, that seats four. And it offers a large one, the QX, with three rows of seats. But the company has included a third row in its all-new JX, too.

But that's not unusual these days. The same is true of Nissan, Infiniti's parent company. It offers the four-passenger Murano and the seven-passenger Armada. And Nissan has just introduced a redesigned Pathfinder with a third row of seats.

In fact, at the recent Mudfest crossover comparison conducted by the Northwest Automotive Press Association, six of the test vehicles had three rows of seats and only one of them, a Mercedes GL450, was very large.

Which means, if you really need to carry that many people, you now have options for doing so in nimbler vehicles. The JX35 isn't exactly sporty, but it feels smaller than it is, thanks to a responsive 3.5-liter V6, a surprisingly refined Continuously Variable Transmission, and suspension that gives it a light-feeling ride. Finally, soccer moms with big families (or children with lots of friends) don't have to feel like school bus drivers.

And the JX35 doesn't look bad, either. Infiniti's traditional swoopy front end has been toned down a bit and the rear end is practically raked, giving the JX35 a sleek look. Only the oversized corprorate grill seemed slightly out of place.

But where the JX35 really excels is in the luxury department. The interior appointments in our test model were top notch. The leather seats (heated and cooled in the front) were both supportive and gorgeous. The rest of the materials were first class, including leather, soft plastics and tasteful wood trim. The dash was a little button heavy, but nothing that couldn't be masted after a few days behind the wheel.

We took our test JX35 on a round trip from Portland to Snoqualmie, Wash., a small community outside of Seattle where much of the Twin Peaks TV series was filmed. We didn't feel the need to stop and stretch our legs once, despite the hours of freeway driving. And when the rains came, the all-wheel-drive system made us feel confident enough to pass the growing number of logging trucks showing up on the roads as the housing market recovers.

Some reviewers have said the JX35 could use more power, but that's a trick question. There are three settings for adjusting fuel economy and performance — Eco, Normal and Sport. In the Eco setting, throttle response is dampened to improve mileage. Throttle response is heighten in the Sport mode, at the expensive of mileage. And Normal is meant to be the happy compromise. While the JX35 felt a little underpowered in the Eco mode, acceleration was more than adequate in the Sport mode, at least with only one other passenger aboard. Those wanting more power can always step up to the V8-powered QX, but fuel economy will definitely fall below the 21 miles per gallon we averaged in a week of mixed driving.

The 2013 Infiniti JX35 AWD starts at around $42,000, which is a good price considering it comes standard with all-wheel-drive and a wealth of premium, technology, safety and security features. Our fully-loaded test model included four factory packages that added over $12,000 to the final price. Although we enjoyed the additional entertainment, comfort, safety and cosmetic options, we'd have no hesitation recommending the base version to anyone needing to haul up to seven people in luxury on a regular basis.

Facts and figures (all models)

• Model tested: 2013 JX35 AWD

• Manufacturer: Infiniti.

• Class: Midsize SUV.

• Layout: Front engine, all-wheel-drive.

• Styles: Five-door SUV.

• Engines: 3.5-liter V6 (265 hp, 248 lb-ft).

• Transmission: Continuously Variable Transmission with manual shift mode.

• EPA estimated city/highway/mileage: 18/23/20.

• Price: Beginning at approximately $41,250 ($55,170 as tested).