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Valentine One Radar Detector

Eric
07-21-2008, 05:37 PM
More and more people are "crossing over" to crossovers as gas prices ratchet ever upward. These car-based wagons are easier on gas than a truck-based SUV, handle more like a regular car - yet still give their owners the "sport" and "utility" aspects of a traditional SUV.

Almost all of them have one big downside, however.

That downside is that 99 percent of them are front-wheel-drivers, usually with an all-wheel-drive system of some kind available optionally. If you want rear wheel drive (with a RWD-based AWD system) and the sports car handling/balance that comes with it, you're pretty much out of luck.

With the exception of RWD-based crossovers like the just-launched EX35.

WHAT"S NEW

The EX35 is a brand-new small crossover; a sort of Mini-Me FX35. Prices begin at $31,900 for the standard RWD model and run to $36,850 for a top-of-the-line Journey with AWD. The EX is designed to offer a more sport-oriented take on the compact crossover concept than the typical FWD-based small crossover - and superior handling/driving dynamics than a small SUV.

ENGINES & PERFORMANCE

The EX has a 3.5 liter V-6 that produces V-8 levels of power - 297 hp - and very quick 0-60 runs in the 6.3-6.4 second range. It is by far one of the most powerful engines (standard or optional) you can get in a compact crossover and its acceleration capability is also pretty much "best in class." Competitors like the $38,600 BMW X3, for example, musters just 260 hp from its smaller 3 liter six - and takes 7.2 seconds to get to 60 mph. The $33,695 2009 Acura RDX (also a brand-new model) doesn't even offer a six-cylinder engine. Its standard (and only) engine is a turbocharged 2.3 liter four rated at 240 hp. VW's brand-new Tiguan - which isn't really in the same high-end league as the EX35 anyhow - is also a four cylinder-only machine. And like the RDX, it's based on a FWD/AWD layout - and cannot be ordered with RWD.

A five-speed automatic is standard in the EX. It comes with "sport" programming that can be accessed by pushing a button on the console. This transmission has been set up to deliver very sporty feel, including aggressive shift points when in "sport" mode. You can also control the up and downshifts yourself, with very little electronic oversight compared with some others - which will often force you up to next gear earlier than you might like, for example - even when you're in manual mode.

RWD versions of the EX35 are slightly quicker and more athletic feeling because they weigh slightly less - and because there's less parastic drag through the drivetrain.

Even so, both versions are as quick - or quicker - than an early-mid 1990s V-8 powered Mustang GT.

RIDE & HANDLING

The EX may be the best handling vehicle of its type on the road. RWD versions behave very much like a RWD sport sedan, which shouldn't be surprising given the EX's heritage. It is basically a wagonized version of Infiniti's excellent G35 sport sedan - and rides and drives very much like it.

Most crossovers are either SUVs in drag - or wanna-be SUVs. This forces compromises in driving dynamics for the sake of off-road/poor weather bona fides. For example, the BMW X3 - which, being based on a rear-drive layout is closest to the EX in concept - is available only with full-time AWD and is set up to be more of a sporty all-weather SUV than an out and out sport wagon like the EX35.

Further evidence of the EX's tilt toward the sport side of the balance sheet is its standard/available wheel and tire packages, which include dry road-biased and very high-performance "W" (up to 168 mph) speed rated 18-inch performance tires. The X3's standard tire is only "H" (up to 130 mph) rated.

Other factors that affect handling feel/cornering prowess are ride height and weight. The EX35 sits much lower to the pavement, with only 6.5 inches of clearance vs. the X3's 8 inches. That is a significant difference you really can feel in a high-speed turn. The X3 is also around 200 pounds heavier than the EX35, which - combined with the almost 40 hp deficit - makes it feel sluggish compared with the Infiniti, despite the BMW's available manual transmission (one of the few objective "ups" it can trot out over the automatic-only EX as a potential lure to enthusiast drivers).

STYLING & UTILITY

The EX looks like what it is - a wagonized version of the G35. The front clip is very similar, for example. It is, however, much less "out there" than the wild-looking FX - which is even more wild-looking for 2009. The EX is much less dramatic, but it's also less polarizing. You may not think the more conservatively styled EX is the most drop-dead gorgeous thing on four wheels, but neither will you (or others) point at it and say, "what the hell was that"?

The interior layout of the EX is also similar to the way the G35's laid out. It is much less SUV (or even crossover) like and more sport sedan-like, with a curving "double wave" dash that flows into the door panels and recessed LCD display for the GPS in the center stack. It is finished with black lacquer and aluminum trim plates or - optionally - wood veneer inserts.

The stats say it will seat five but realistically, this is a four-passenger vehicle - as are others in the segment.

One area where the EX is weak relative to competitors like the BMW X3 is cargo capacity. Behind the rear seats, there's only about 17 cubic feet vs. the BMW's 30 cubic feet. Also, the back seat area is noticeably tighter, too. If you frequently have rear seat passengers taller than six feet, the EX may not be the one for you. Or more accurately, them!

QUALITY & SAFETY

Infiniti vehicles have a high-end feel to them, not just a high-end brand name. Though several models are either based on or share major components such as platforms and engines with less prestigious Nissan-branded models, Infiniti does a very effective job of putting distance between them - and not just price-wise.

The base EX, for example, comes with a high level of standard amenities, including automatic climate control, electric sunroof, premium stereo with factory satellite radio hook-up, 17 inch alloy wheels and Infiniti's unique self-healing paint. The finish has high-elastic resins that let it expand to fill in small scratches without ever needing to visit a body shop - or get out the buffing compound.

With a starting price point of $31,900 the EX is also considerably less expensive than its most direct competitor, the BMW X3 ($38,600 to start) as well as the Acura RDX ($33,695).

If the definition of "quality" includes giving you equivalent or better features and equipment than competitors for less money than they are charging, then the EX35 is certainly a high-quality vehicle.

Lots of safety equipment - both built-in crashworthiness and active accident-avoidance features - is a given on a vehicle such as the EX35. But in addition to the things you'd find in ay other similar in price vehicle, such as high-capacity disc brakes with ABS, side-impact and curtain air bags, traction and stability control, the EX35 goes up another notch with a full perimeter Around View camera system that gives you a 360 degree bird's eye look around the entire vehicle, as if you were floating 10 feet above it. It works when you're moving forward as well as backing up, too - and makes it almost impossible to not notice something that you might otherwise bump into or drive over. The EX also offers an optional Lane Departure Warning that beeps at you if you wander too near the double yellow line in the road. And this system does more than just beep at you, too. If the driver doesn't make a steering correction to get the vehicle back on track, the system will do that for him - automatically.

DRIVING IMPRESSIONS

The difference between the EX35 and other small crossovers and SUVs is obvious as soon as you come to your first set of curves. It can hustle through the esses as well as a G35 - and with almost 40 hp more than its nearest small SUV/crossover competition, it can launch itself out of them with far greater authority. Though it'd be nice to have a six-speed manual in this thing, the abundant power (as well as the excellent programming Infiniti has bestowed upon the standard automatic) make it a lot more fun to drive than the manual-equipped BMW X3.

High speed stability is exceptional, too - and that is something that's often lacking in closer-to-SUV crossovers like the X3. (It may just be why BMW fits the X3 with not-so-high-speed H-rated tires vs. the EX's 168 mph W-rated tires.)

If there's a downside, it's that the EX eggs you on to drive it fast and hard - which absolutely kills its already so-so fuel economy capability. EPA gives the EX35 a rating of 17 city and 24 highway (which is actually just a wee bit better than the 16 city, 23 highway X3). But give in to the constant temptation to run the EX35 hard and you can expect to get a real world average that's closer to about 15 mpg.

It also wants premium unleaded - so prepare to get friendly with Exxon Mobil.

THE BOTTOM LINE

Really, there's nothing else in this class of vehicle that offers what the EX35 offers - at least, to the serious enthusiast driver who wants some utility but every last ounce of performance and handling capability.

Add the optional AWD system and you can probably make it into the office on those handful of snow days when AWD would come in handy, too. And the rest of the time?

You'll be showing your bumper to every other small SUV/crossover on the road.

END

Disco Man
07-22-2008, 11:05 PM
This article is now posted on the main site with pictures:

http://www.ericpetersautos.com/home/images/stories/automotive/infiniti/ex35/08ex35-2-b.jpg


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