Sometime in the early 1980’s, the American public made an unofficial creed that changed the picture of highways and byways around the nation. Deemed no longer ‘cool’ was the station wagon and the minivan and SUV took over as the U.S. family machine. Soon after, manufactures began dropping D-pillar variants of their cars and replaced them with slightly lower and longer SUVs called crossovers. Somehow, these little utilities started to become ‘cool’ but the simply fact is that if a consumer from the 1960s and 70s were to look upon the average crossover, the words station and wagon would be brought together. When Infiniti decided to make a smaller version of their hot-rod FX SUV, they pulled the covers off the EX35 and since 2008, Nissan’s premium brand has been passing the vehicle off as a crossover. With its lowered stance, sharp dynamics, rear wheel drive chassis and spacious cargo floor, the 2012 Infiniti EX35 sure looks like something the American people fell in love with more than 50 years ago: a station wagon. This, in all honesty, is not a bad thing.
Born in 2007 as a 2008, the EX rides on the well-used Nissan FM platform and is now the gateway utility for Infiniti. Smaller than the FX, the little crossover features a 110.2 inch wheelbase, 182.3 inch length and 71 inch width. In the U.S., all EX models use a singular powertrain but offer optional all wheel drive while European models come available options such as a diesel engine. It may be billed as a crossover with competition such as the Acura RDX and BMW X3, but judging the Infiniti solely on its size and appearance, the Acura TSX Sport Wagon could very well give it a run for its sporty money. Crossover or not, Nissan used a recipe that is oddly similar to the quintessential family hauler of years past to build the EX: take an existing car (the G Sedan) and add a D-pillar. In essence, the EX35 could be seen as a G Station Wagon.
To find out what the latest Infiniti really is, we got behind the wheel of a 2012 Journey RWD. Nissan has made building an EX fairly simple as there are two trim levels and drive layouts. A $2,100 difference separates the base from the Journey which gets standard features such as leather seats with heated fronts, dual zone climate control, power moonroof, fog lights, rear view back up camera, bluetooth phone pairing, satellite radio and a seven-inch touchscreen media display. Added to the $37,900 base price of our Moonlight White tester were the $2,700 Technology package giving the car Intelligent Cruise Control, Blind Spot Monitoring, Lane Departure Warning, Distance and Intelligent Braking Assists and Forward Collision Warning. The Deluxe Touring Package comes with 19 inch wheels and front seats with lumbar support, entry/exit assist, power folding second row seats and HID headlamps with adaptive movement for $2,200. For $2,700, the Premium Package comes with the Around View Monitor system, a Bose supplied 11 speaker stereo, navigation with real-time traffic and weather, streaming audio via bluetooth and voice recognition. With destination charge, our Los Angeles built tester rolled off the floor with a final MSRP of $46,395.
Loaded to the teeth, the EX35 can be seen as a technologic wonder. The amount of innovative features loaded into a vehicle of this size is truly remarkable and many of those options are Infiniti firsts. The EX was the first Nissan to come available with the Around View Monitoring system which uses four well placed cameras to turn parking into a child’s game. When reverse is selected, the system automatically turns on to show an overhead view of the EX plus a rear view with steering wheel guided telemetry. Every single time the Infiniti was parked, it was in its desired spot perfectly. The Lane Departure Warning system is another cutting edge piece of technology that uses the same cameras to monitor the car’s position inside a lane. If a driver veers across a double yellow too far, a loud “beep beep” will emit and if things go way too out-of-bounds, the EX will ‘nudge’ itself in right direction. The system is defaulted on but can be turned off and more times than not, it was. On paper, the idea behind the warning system is nice but in practice, it becomes simply annoying. The beeps are far too loud and the system doesn’t seem to understand that diving into a sweeping corner to grab an apex on a mountain road might just warrant crossing a white line. Despite being badgered, other driving nannies such as the Blind Spot Warning and Forward Collision Warning absolutely astounded us. Say for instance there is a car in the EX’s blind spot and a driver puts on the blinker to merge; the Infiniti will than emit a loud warning with a suggestion to reconsider. If a car a few hundred feet ahead suddenly drops speed, another warning will sound and if push looks like it might go to shove, the EX will apply its brakes accordingly. These innovative and honestly safe features make our tester one of the safest vehicles on the road.
Safety and technology can go a long way, but there is no such thing as success without solid dynamics. With rear wheel drive, a 3,782 lb curb weight and a low center of gravity, the EX benefits from its G Sedan cousin in more ways than not. The steering feel is dead on and by no means distant like other premium offerings. Road holding is where the Infiniti beats out is designated competitors such as the X3 and even the RDX as it is hard to go wrong with a rear drive platform, especially one as competent as the FM. With traction control off, the EX can even get playful if a right foot acts accordingly and every bit of sideways movement is easily controlled. Bounding from apex to apex is so confidence building that a driver must step outside to see the wagon body in order to believe it. On a chassis level, there really is no discernible difference between the EX and G Sedan however, there is a big one when pointed in a straight line. For some odd reason, all U.S. crossovers get the older 3.5 liter VQ35 V6 engine instead of the 3.7 liter. Nissan made huge strides to make the 3.7 liter VQ more refined than the 3.5 and it shows. Producing 297 horsepower and 253 lb-ft of torque, the DOHC mill is stout and has enough gusto to catapult the EX35 up a freeway on ramp with ease and a smile. It may be quick, but it is still loud and at times, rough: a noticeable contrast to the 3.7 liter. Paired to the same seven speed automatic that is found in most of today’s Infiniti models, including the last G Series cars we tested, the EX35’s powertrain lacks the smooth operation previously experienced. The auto’s upshifts were at times too early and gear hunting showed its ugly face more times than not. When placed in manual mode, gear changes could jar the EX, especially at lower rpms. Even still, if a driver wants to get out of dodge and do so in a hurry, the Infiniti will comply as its on-paper thrust is truly impressive. The 3.5 may be tried and true, but the 3.7 liter VQ is worlds better and the EX35 would benefit greatly if it were to become a EX37.
One of the driving reasons for the American public’s shift away from station wagons were appearances. Somehow, adding a D-pillar to a car became boring, but Infiniti clearly did something right as the EX35 couldn’t be described any other way than cool. The car’s stance is long and low with fluid lines and bulging fenders. The optional 19 inch wheels add to the car’s cool factor so much so that they should be standard and never once did they hurt the Infiniti’s ride quality. Unlike other wagons that are not wagons, the EX’s rear section doesn’t look forced or unfinished but instead, fitting. The subtle deck spoiler continues the car’s length perfectly, giving it a fantastic profile. Add in the big, dual exhaust and low front fog lights, and the Infiniti has an attitude that means business. The same strength and class found on the outside is carried onto the inside but even more so. Bathed in the most beautiful Chestnut leather, the seating’s comfort level is as high as its style factor. The material used for the steering wheel and dash, though nice, do not match the feel of the trim and thus falls short of the German’s. What doesn’t fall short of those frustration inducing controllers is the Infiniti’s seven-inch touchscreen display. We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: this system is one of the best on the market today. The reaction time is lightning quick and going from menu to menu is remarkably intuitive. Not only does the system amaze with its real-time weather including future forecasts and warnings, but the actually look of the display is clear and sharp. Subtle little considerations such as the turn-by-turn direction’s volume make listening to your favorite radio station while traveling to an unknown place encouraging. While behind the wheel of the EX, a driver will not find themselves yelling at the navigation to be quiet.
Here is a truth: the Infiniti EX35 is a G35 station wagon. Denial can be had day after day, but the recipe that made the vehicle was pulled straight from the 1970s but this should by no means be seen as a negative. Afterall, a station wagon has the ability to haul as much as a taller crossover but is lighter and thus, more efficient and dynamically sharp. Earning 47.4 cubic feet of cargo space in the EX is as easy as pushing the power fold down buttons for the rear seats. After a few seconds, office furniture can be loaded with ease and then hurtled to its destination by way of what is essentially, a sports sedan with a D-pillar. Why the American public made the switch to SUVs is question best left unanswered but offerings such as the EX make a great excuse to reconsider. It’s comfortable, spacious, useful, loaded with luxury and features so much technology that it almost has the ability to drive itself. Unlike other Japanese premium brands best left unmentioned, the Infiniti does all of this hand-in-hand with driver interaction. Sure, it may not be the most refined vehicle on the market, but that grip could easily be silenced with the addition of the 3.7 liter VQ engine. 330 horsepower or not, the 2012 Infiniti EX35 makes a claim for the once iconic and perfect people hauler: the station wagon.