Sometime in the 1990s, the automotive industry gave birth to a segment that has housed some of the most unnecessary vehicles ever created. These creations use high output engines, stiff suspension tuning and heavy-duty brakes but along with these sport car like traits are the features of large, heavy and tall utilities. Putting the characteristics of a muscle car into a family hauler spawned the sport SUV segment and since the forefathers of tall speed first scorched the concrete and dirt, buyers around the globe have been putting high performance SUVs in their driveways. In 2003, Nissan’s premium division decided to try to break into the segment with the Infiniti FX. It featured high horsepower engines, a rear drive biased all wheel drive system, independent suspension and the ability to seat up to five with extra room for all their gear. It was the epitome of the sport SUV and now, nearly 10 years later, the 2012 Infiniti FX35 is setting out to prove some skeptics wrong by justifying a very obscure automotive segment.

Technically defined as a “crossover”, the current line up of FX models is apart of the second generation that debuted in 2009. Compared to the first model year vehicles, the 2012 rides on a slightly longer, 113.6 inch wheelbase and 191.3 inch overall length. Perfectly midsize, the FX aims its sights directly at the BMW X5, Mercedes ML-Class and Acura MDX as it’s ever-so-slightly larger than the EX and smaller and more nimble the dinosaur-ish QX. Based on Nissan’s time-proven FM rear drive platform, the FX shares a lot with the EX, G and M Infiniti models and can be fitted – like our tester – with all wheel drive.

With the addition of the EX and most recently, the JX, Infiniti’s SUV lineup has suddenly become a bit crowded. To prove that it still deserves a spot at the family dinner table, a 2012 FX35 Limited Edition AWD came rolling our way. Fitted in the middle above the base FX35 and below the eight cylinder FX50, our tester carried a base price of $51,550. This new-for-2012 package does all the hard optioning for you as it is essentially a pre-loaded FX35 AWD so the only extra cost found on our Iridium Blue tester was a destination charge. Features included in the final $52,445 MSRP are items such as 21 inch wheels, speed sensitive steering, heated front seats, leather appointments, adaptive headlamps, dual zone climate control, navigation with real-time weather and traffic, satellite radio, Bose surround sound, bluetooth device pairing and Around View Monitor system. Built in the U.S., our FX35 managed to be $6 grand more than the EX35 we tester earlier in the year.

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With that in mind, what does a buyer get for that extra cash? For starters, the FX holds 14.4 more cubic feet of total cargo space than the EX. With nearly 10 extra inches of length, the FX should prove more comfortable than its little brother but in reality, the difference is hardly noticeable. The FX does happen to be wider and thus, there is a recognizable difference in arm space as the gap between the left and right occupants is generous. Overall comfort is Infiniti high with loads of refinement and elegance. Inside, our tester’s Limited Edition Graphite interior would make Darth Vader proud and did a fantastic job of making us feel “cool” no matter what. The theme is very aloof inside the FX as nothing is too flashy or flamboyant but there is just enough style to not make things boring. Like all recent Infiniti vehicles we’ve tested, the quality of the materials is good but certain pieces such as the buttons and switches do feel Nissan cheap. The analog clock is there for a reason: to distract you from a steering wheel volume control tab pulled from a Versa.

Like so many other FM platform vehicles, the FX35 uses Nissan’s time-prove VQ engine. Despite the FX’s larger outward dimensions and higher asking price, its VQ displaces the same 3.5 liters as its smaller, EX brother. In FX form, the V6 pumps out 303 horsepower and 262 lb-ft of torque and pipes that through the corporate seven speed automatic so that all four wheels can spin. While the 35’s on paper output looks impressive, especially considering the engine does without direct injection, its acceleration isn’t, however, mind-blowing. Quick enough for everyday driving and the occasion smile-inducing freeway bomb, off-line acceleration could be better. From a stop, the FX35 AWD can hit 60 mph in about 6.1 seconds. High revving in nature, the 3.5 liter doesn’t seem to suit the lighter EX let alone the bigger FX. Used for over a decade now, the VQ35 feels better under the hood of a sports car as its grit and relative low refinement both feel and sound out-of-place in a luxury vehicle. Nissan’s bigger displacement block, the VQ37 is much more modern and its extra torque would be a great welcome. Needless to say, just like the EX, the FX35 would benefit from becoming the FX37.

Family ties benefit the FX greatly as underneath everything is a bloodline connected to the Nissan Z and Infiniti G cars. A fully independent suspension uses double wishbones up front with a multi-link rear end. Fairly simple in design, the FM chassis is excellently balanced in all situations, including with the added weight of the FX. Turn in is sharp and the suspension does a fantastic job at letting you know when max adhesion is reached. The most remarkable thing about the FX’s handling is its ability to mask its actual size and weight. With the added benefit of all wheel drive, grip is fantastic and the Infiniti can definitely grab apexes all day long. It is easily one of the most sporting sport SUVs on the market in terms of corner carving but it comes at a cost. The Limited Edtition’s larger 21 inch wheels combined with the stiff suspension tuning hurt the FX in the ride quality department. Not terrible but just noticeable as the vehicle seems to like being pushed more than taking a quiet walk. And as fast as it may be around a mountain road, it isn’t the most organic feeling vehicle around.

If there is any reason to buy a FX35 over a EX35, its in the way the two look. Unlike the EX which is clearly a G35 station wagon, the FX looks like nothing else on the road. This is especially true in the second generation’s case where the nose seems longer and lower than before. Housed in between the cut headlamps is an Infiniti standard hour-glass grille that’s much more muscular and strong. The FX is one of the most aggressive looking SUVs on the market and its wide fenders, big wheels, and bold cuts and curves supply the perfect amount of excitement. The 2012 is just a much more hunkered down vehicle than the older FX models and every where our tester went, it turned heads.

At the end of the day, the 2012 FX35 is a text-book sport SUV as its quick, sharp, comfortable and loaded with technology. It has all the ingredients to make a great crossover and can perform more than just trips to grocery store. As well suited the 35 is, we still can’t help but think of the real reason to buy a FX over an EX: the optional V8. In FX50 form, 0-60 mph acceleration drops a second, torque jumps up more than 100 lb-ft, revs are smoothed out and fuel mileage falters by only one mpg on the highway. The two extra cylinders suit the FX much better and are just about $8,000 more than our Limited Edition Tester’s asking price. Putting our lust for V8 noise and power aside, the six cylinder FX is still an excellent showing of luxury and utility. Passengers can be coddled and drivers can be entertained all while a proven drivetrain and chassis can supply miles of uninterrupted driving. The 2012 FX35 has successfully accomplished what it set out to do: justify its existence.

Photos: © Copyright 2012 Ossamah Shabbir