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!