There aren’t a lot of options for luxury SUVs with 3-rows of seating for large families.  The 2013 Infiniti JX35 Luxury Crossover SUV tries to set the bar in terms hi-tech and luxury features, but to get them all, it comes at a steep price of over $55,000.  That’s well above its entry level price of around 40 large.  Perhaps the closest competitors we’ve reviewed would be the Acura MDX and Buick Enclave.  The MDX is sportier, though somewhat smaller, while the Enclave seems similar in performance if perhaps a hair larger than the JX.  So what sets the JX apart?  The most obvious factors are unique styling, a very comfortable ride, easy 3rd row access and the safety features included in the technology package.

The bevy of optional TLA safety features is quite impressive and sets it apart from most competitors.  Trekkies will liken it to safety “Shields”.  The $2200 Driver’s Assistance Package (DAP) starts with a Back-Up Collision Intervention (BCI) system that saved my loaded AWD model from a rear bumper basher by braking before a car zoomed past me in a parking lot.  That car was impossible for me to see, due to the large SUV with dark windows in the spot next to me.  Intelligent Brake Assist (IBA) with Forward Collision Warning (FCW) will apply brakes if its radar detects that you are approaching an object too quickly.  Intelligent Cruise Control (ICC) with Distance Control Assist (DCA) keeps you at a safe speed and distance in traffic on the highway.  Blind Spot Warning (BSW) alerts you with a light if a vehicle is in one of the large blind spots and an audible alarm sounds if you signal to merge to that lane.

The $3100 Technology Package includes everything above and adds Lane Departure Warning (LDW) that alerts you if you stray over the yellow or white lane lines on the road without signaling a merge.  In addition, it has Lane Departure Prevention (LDP) and Blind Spot Intervention (BSI).  These systems go beyond warnings and apply gentle braking on the opposite side of the vehicle from the detected threat.  This slightly slows and nudges the vehicle the other way to further alert you without affecting your steering control.   Finally, this package adds front seatbelts that are pretensioned automatically when a crash appears imminent.  Unfortunately, you must also get the $2950 Deluxe Touring Package (DTP) to get the tech package, making it a $6000 option.  OMG!

Combined, these features could potentially lull an otherwise good driver by providing too much sense of security.  On the other hand, even I benefitted a few times in my one week test drive.  A tired or inattentive driver (not to mention a typical parent with a crying baby or whining kids in back) may find these features to be a literal lifesaver!  We had hoped to see a similar system in Volvo’s City Safety package on the XC60 we tried to evaluate one a couple years ago. If it’s anything like Infiniti’s system, it may be worth the extra coin.  On the other hand, these systems are not foolproof.   The lane departure system can give false alarms and the backing system can miss smaller obstacles.  So, these features are a great aid to good drivers, but should not be relied upon to take the place of careful visual checks and alert driving.  They are off by default, so they are easily disabled.

A brief comment on driving the JX35.  It’s a great cruiser for the family, but it’s no more fun to drive than a good minivan.  On the plus side, it’s quieter and more comfortable than most minivans and for a price, it’s loaded with just about every hi-tech feature you could want.  My main ding is visibility, which is mediocre.  The optional AroundView is the best camera system I’ve seen.  It mitigates the marginal natural visibility for the driver, but you have to buy yet another pricey premium package ($5,000) to get it.  The 265hp engine and continuously variable transmission are smooth and get it going quickly enough.  Fuel economy was reasonable for such a heavy vehicle.  The computer indicated 25mpg on a short road trip, but closer to 18mpg around town.  The EPA says 18 city/23 highway for the AWD version, 18/24 for the 2WD model.

On to child passenger seating.  How about that child safety seat feature you’ve seen in commercials?  The one where you can flip forward the passenger side of the second row bench seat to access the third row, even if a child seat is installed there?  Yes, it works and is probably the easiest system of its type in any SUV.  Keep in mind that the carseat must be installed with LATCH (rather than the seatbelt), something that may be possible only at 40-48 pounds or less, depending on the carseat.  Also, a rear-facing child seat won’t offer nearly the same access to the third row.  Here’s a demonstration, please don’t try this at home with a child in the carseat when you flip it forward!

Beyond that, the JX35 is one of the roomiest crossover SUVs on the market.  The second row seats are adjustable forward and backward to optimize the available space for carseats (or legroom).   Overall, this bench is moderate in width, but could fit three carseats with careful selection.  Only the outboard spots are equipped with LATCH, but the center seat does have an extra top tether anchor.  This middle seat is relatively narrow with some hard plastic features in the seat and this will be the most difficult position to fit for an adjacent installation of two or three carseats.  I found a rear-facing Diono Radian model installed acceptably with some effort and left plenty of room for even very wide seats on each side.  For adults, those outboard seats are very comfortable and there is even a heated seating option for them.  The middle seat is adequate for a narrow carseat or booster, a teen or a small adult.

 

The third row has two seats that fold separately.   Like almost every other three-row crossover, the third row is best suited for children.  Average adults will find enough legroom if the second row is adjusted forward some, but the seats are low to the floor, meaning no thigh support.  That means knees will be well above the seat, even for teens and pre-teens.  Headroom is also pretty limited for taller adults.   No LATCH is available, but the passenger side has one top tether anchor for a forward facing child seat.  I tried a Recaro ProSport here and it worked fine, allowing the adjacent seat to fold next to it.  Overall, this leaves the JX35 well behind models like the Acura MDX and Honda Pilot in terms of flexibility for carseats.  On the other hand, it does seem a bit roomier than those models, with easier access to the third row from either side of the vehicle.

Case in point, kids in boosters will have adequate legroom in the third row, even with the second row seat adjusted all the way back.  With a rear-facing infant seat installed there, like the matching Asprey Graco Snugride 30 in the photo (right),  you still have enough legroom up front for an average adult male.   You can even fit a smaller rear-facing convertible seat like the Britax Marathon 70 in the third row, provided you move the second row seats forward enough.

Cargo space is respectable, even with all three rows in use.  It’s larger than most other midsize SUVs, but neither the third row nor the rear cargo area will remind you of the generous dimensions you find in most minivans.  If hauling 4-5 kids and a lot of gear is the plan, you’re not going to find the versatility of a Nissan Quest in SUV form here!  On the other hand, we easily packed our three kids and enough gear for an overnight trip to southwest Wisconsin.  The kids were entertained with the built-in head rest video screens, as you can see in the photo (right) with my son seated in a Graco Turbobooster with Safety Surround.  There are even vents to keep those in the third row comfortable.  Thus, the adults enjoyed the quiet up front!

 

Top 10 Likes:

  1. Tech Package (or Driver’s Assistance Package) good for inattentive drivers
  2. Easy 3rd row access on either side, passenger side tilts with carseat installed
  3. Relatively good fuel economy for its class (18city/23 highway with AWD)
  4. Roomy overall; Very good leg room (carseat room) for its class
  5. Quiet, with very comfortable ride and seating
  6. Cooled front seats in Deluxe Touring Package
  7. Sharp, distinctive styling inside and out
  8. Concierge/Emergency Operator Service
  9. AroundView monitor option is excellent
  10. NavTraffic and NavWeather alerts are timely

Top 10 Dislikes:

  1. No Crash Test results from NHTSA or IIHS
  2. Mediocre visibility without “AroundView” option
  3. Only two LATCH seating positions
  4. Technology Package is optional and very pricey
  5. Sluggish Navigation system entry
  6. Premium fuel recommended
  7. Big, heavy and not much sportier than a good minivan
  8. A/C seemed underpowered at startup sometimes
  9. Third row too low to the floor and too little headroom for average adults
  10. Quirks: Driver power window was twitchy.  Acceleration lag sometimes as the automatic safety braking systems can take a second or two to fully disengage.  Separate volume controls for sources became annoying.  Gimmicky “manual” shift mode.  GPS sometimes confused.

Conclusion:

I definitely deem the Infiniti JX35 a solid win for families.  It’s clearly not the sportiest SUV around.  Many driver-oriented reviews will certainly ding it heavily for the lack of handling and road feel found in most Infiniti models.  But for those of us not participating in urban road races and slalom courses, the quiet, comfortable ride will be a blessing on long road trips.  After all, we get enough noise from the kids, right?  With the theater package that adds dual 2nd row headrest monitors, I found you can keep the kids pretty quiet, too!  Or, with the 13-speaker Bose Acoustic Wave sound system, you might be able to drown them out.  It’s also roomy enough to take a road trip with a few kids and still have decent space for luggage and gear.  It’s no minivan, but it’s pretty generous for interior space compared to most crossovers.  If you don’t mind the price tag, it’s one of the coolest family haulers on the road!

Thank you to Infiniti USA and G. Schmitz Associates for providing the review model JX35 AWD used for this article.  No other compensation was provided to CarseatBlog and all opinions in this article are those of CarseatBlog.