published Saturday, June 2nd, 2012

Test Drive: Tennessee-made Infiniti JX creates excitement

The new Infiniti JX seven-passenger SUV is assembled in Smyrna, Tenn.
The new Infiniti JX seven-passenger SUV is assembled in Smyrna, Tenn.

FAST FACTS

Model: 2013 Infiniti JX35 AWD.

Exterior color: Liquid Platinum.

Engine: 3.5 liter, V-6.

Horsepower: 265.

Transmission: Continuously variable (CVT).

Fuel economy: 23 mpg highway, 18 mpg city.

Dealer: Kelly Infiniti.

Price (as tested): $48,515.

Kelly Infiniti sales manager Hank Brown knows that he has a winner on his hands when customers line up to take a test drive. That's what's happening with the new Infiniti JX, the first luxury vehicle ever built in Tennessee.

So far, copies of the SUV have been scarce, Brown said, even though they are assembled two hours away in Smyrna.

"Infiniti is making sure it gets everything right," Brown explained.

We were able to snag a ride in a JX at Kelly this week, and it's easy to see why sales are so brisk.

The JX, which has three-row seating that accommodates seven passengers, handles like a smaller SUV while setting new safety benchmarks for the segment. When production does catch up to demand -- and it will -- don't be surprised to see the JX gobble up market share from competitors such as the Audi Q7 and Acura MDX, two other family friendly luxury SUVs.

STYLING

Infiniti's stable of SUVs is now complete, with the JX slotting between the mammoth QX56 and the smaller FX35. The JX is more conservatively styled than the swoopy FX35, but has more interesting character lines than the big QX56.

The JX makes efficient use of space, so the exterior looks more like a five-passenger package (think Lexus RX350) than a three-row SUV. Flared wheel wells and a downward-sloping roof line give the JX a sporty profile. Meanwhile, judicious use of chrome lower-door moldings and window trim add a tasteful dash of bling. Our tester was a Liquid Platinum model (think silver), with graphite interior. Eighteen-inch five-spoke wheels complete the appearance package.

Inside, the JX interior is a sumptuous blend of leather seating surfaces, and dark Kasane Washi (parchment paper-look) trim accents, a nice break from brown wood grain. The center stack is beautifully organic and frames an 8-inch color display that serves as the command center for the JX's entertainment and navigation functions.

TECHNOLOGY AND FEATURES

The JX is chock-full of cutting-edge technology, including several innovative safety features. Back-up collision intervention (the first of its kind in the auto industry) detects crossing traffic and large stationary objects behind the JX.

If the driver fails to respond to auditory alarms while backing up, the SUV will apply the brakes anyway to avoid a collision. A warning system also is in place to alert the driver if the car changes lanes abruptly. An optional radar rangefinder warns if a frontal collision is eminent.

Can hands-free driving be far behind?

Our tester came equipped with a $4,950 premium package which includes a hard-drive navigation system and a Bose 13-speaker sound system.

DRIVING IMPRESSIONS

The JX is powered by a 3.5-liter V-6 engine that makes 265 horsepower. During our test drive on Highway 153, the JX flashed bursts of speed through an impressively wide power band. Even at high RPMs the V-6 seems fully capable of digging deeper if it needs to.

The engine is mated to a continuously variable transmission, which supplies infinite gear ratios.

There is a sport mode that mimics shifts in a traditional auto-tranny for those who think a seamless CVT feels, well, spooky. (My experience is that a CVT is ideal for our mountain roads because the vehicle never has to search for the right gear.)

Our tester had Infiniti all-wheel-drive, which functions in front-wheel-drive mode during normal conditions, but can shift up to 50 percent power to the rear wheels when slippage is detected.

BOTTOM LINE

Importantly for Infiniti, the JX will provide a mid-sized option for bigger families who need third-row seating.

The company has saturated network television with ads for the JX, and the buying public seems to be champing at the bit.

Get ready to see a ton of them on the road. If this isn't the best vehicle ever assembled in a Tennessee auto plant, it's certainly close.

about Mark Kennedy...

Mark Kennedy is a Times Free Press columnist and editor. He writes the "LIfe Stories" human interest column for the City section and the "Family Life" column for the Life section. He also writes an automotive column, “Test Drive,” for the Business section. For 13 years, Kennedy was features editor of the newspaper, and before that he was the newspaper’s first Sunday editor. The Times Free Press Life section won the state press award for ...

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