With the EX, FX and QX already in its stable, does Infiniti need another crossover vehicle? Its product planners emphatically say yes, and the all-new 2013 Infiniti JX35 was designed to fill a gap in the luxury market.

What is the gap? A lot of families need a vehicle with 7-passenger capacity, but they don't want a minivan. For them the 3-row crossover has become the vehicle of choice — and one of the fastest-growing segments in the American market.

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While three-row crossovers are fairly common in non-luxury brands, they are relatively rare in the luxury segment. The Acura MDX and Audi Q7 are the market leaders among the few available, and the new JX has competitive advantages to match up well versus either of them.

It is rare to start a driving impression by describing how a vehicle performs backing up, but that is one of the JX35's most innovative features. Thanks to a system called Backup Collision Intervention, the JX will alert you if something is behind you while you're in reverse. That's not new. But if you don't stop the vehicle in response to the warnings, the JX35 will stop itself, averting a potentially life-threatening situation.

The system detects not only objects — and people — that are behind the vehicle, but it also tracks crossing vehicles that could potentially be struck by the JX35 as it backs up. When we tried it the system worked exactly as it had been described to us. The only caveat is that once the JX35 stopped itself, we as drivers were required to put our feet on the brake to keep the vehicle stationary. 

Looking Around You

While we're on the subject of backing up, the JX also features the Around View Monitor, which has been enhanced with Moving Object Detection. The monitor system gives the driver a virtual 360-degree image of the area around the JX, and the detection system provides visual and audible warnings if the system senses moving objects like another vehicle or a kid on a tricycle within the displayed image range. It is great for aid in backing out of a space in an SUV-filled parking lot, and it also works to detect hidden objects in front of the vehicle.

When you are not backing up in your JX35 — and we presume that will be most of the time — it also offers a variety of other driver aids to keep you on the straight and narrow. The Lane Departure Warning and Lane Departure Prevention systems use a camera installed behind the windshield to detect lane markers in front of the vehicle, and if you are in danger of a potential unintended lane departure they get your attention with a visual indicator and audible buzzer. If you don't heed the warnings the prevention system guides you back in your lane with a gentle application of the brakes on the opposite side of the drift. In practice we didn't have an unintended encounter with either system, but our driving partner did to the extent that the warnings became annoying. (You can turn it off.)

In addition the JX also can be equipped with a Blind Spot Warning (BSW) system, Blind Spot Intervention, Intelligent Cruise Control and Distance Control Assist, the last of which prompts the driver to release the throttle and applies the brakes in slowing traffic. When equipped with all these systems plus Intelligent Brake Assist with Forward Collision Warning, you might get the impression  that once you get the JX started it will essentially drive itself. Not true, but the JX35 comes about as close to that as any vehicle we've driven.

So how does it drive? Just fine, thank you. The 265-horsepower 3.5-liter dual overhead cam V6 is certainly not the most powerful engine in the segment, but it proved to be quite capable during our lengthy test drive. Rather than employing a conventional automatic transmission with seven or eight forward speeds, Infiniti engineers opted for a Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT) that's both smooth and very fuel efficient. The all-wheel-drive version of the JX35 turns in 23 mpg Highway, 18 mpg City and 20 mpg Combined EPA fuel-efficiency ratings, which at this writing are tops in the class.

For those who insist on the "step" feel of a conventional automatic, the JX has an app for that. It artificially mimics gear changes when in "Sport" mode, a mode that is somewhat misnamed because there is nothing performance-enhancing about it; it simply feels sportier.

Utilitarian But Not Mundane

Designers of the JX started with the idea that a three-row luxury crossover should actually welcome all seven passengers, not make some of them second-class citizens. Based on this utilitarian premise you might expect that the JX35 would look mundane, but that is not the case at all. It has distinctive, interesting exterior lines while at the same time providing a flat platform floor that enhances roominess in the second and third rows. The second row offers 5.5-inches of fore and aft travel that allows you to decide on your correct mix of legroom and cargo-carrying capacity. The fore-and-aft adjustment and innovative second-row seat design enables uncommonly easy access to the third-row. In fact, you can even enter the rear-most row with a child safety seat deployed in the second row, a pretty neat trick that is nearly impossible in other luxury three-row vehicles.

When it comes to in-vehicle electronics and connectivity the JX is loaded for bear. The 15-speaker Bose Cabin Surround sound system is accompanied by the Infiniti Connection telematics system that syncs to the driver's schedule via Google Calendar. If your calendar appointment lists an address, the system can provide navigation guidance automatically.

Infiniti Connection and Infiniti Connection Plus also offer a laundry list of other services, including the ability to set up drive-zone boundaries and speed alerts, helpful when valet parking or letting your teenager drive the JX. Both Infiniti Connection and Infiniti Connection Plus are included complimentary for the first year of ownership, and, like all new Infinitis, the new JX will also feature the Infiniti Personal Assistant, a personal concierge service with 24-hour access to a team of professional assistants who can help you make those posh dinner reservations you so desperately need.

If it sounds as if the new 2013 Infiniti JX35 is as much a receptacle of cool systems and features as it is a motor vehicle, you are spot-on. That's as it should be because that is exactly what the drivers of this kind of vehicle want and need. With pricing that begins at just over $40,000 and an unmatched arsenal of electronic aids, we believe the JX will be a formidable competitor in the luxury three-row crossover class.


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