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2004 new Car Review: Infiniti FX45

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MODEL: Infiniti FX45
ENGINE: 4.5-liter V8
HORSEPOWER/TORQUE: 315 hp @ 6,400 rpm/329 lb-ft @ 4,000 rpm
TRANSMISSION: 5-speed semi-automatic
WHEELBASE: 112.2 in.
LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT: 189.1 x 75.8 x 65.9 in.

The first thing you notice about the Infiniti FX45 is the styling. The FX45 definitely pushes the styling envelope. It is sleek, aerodynamic with a coefficient of drag of just 0.35, and eye-popping. From its grille with raised chrome nodules to the fastback rear hatch, the FX45 is like no other SUV on the road. There are a couple that come close in trying to emulate the FX45's look, but this is the original.

Infiniti calls the FX45 a "Crossover," but to me it's more like a mid-size SUV. True, the step-in height is lower than the average SUV, but still the styling is more utility vehicle than crossover. The week I had the FX45 I also had the Chrysler Pacifica in the driveway, and the Pacifica is more akin to what I'd call a crossover. In my mind, a crossover is closer to a station wagon than a SUV.

Under the FX45's hood is a ton of power. The 4.5-liter V8 is rated at 315 horsepower and 329 lb-ft of torque. Since the FX45 only weighs 4,299 pounds, there's enough power there to get any driver in a lot of trouble. There's also enough there to make quick entry onto highways from short entry ramps and to zip away from traffic lights faster than the souped-up compact car next to you.

The transmission is a five-speed "semi-automatic" affair. Semi-automatic is Infiniti's term for an automatic that has a manual mode. However, since there's enough power to go around, there's really no need for the stick half of the gearbox.

I liked the "dead pedal" for the driver's left foot.

Inside the FX45 is pure Infiniti comfort. Of course, there's the signature Infiniti analog clock in the center of the dash. It's amazing how many manufacturers have copied this neat touch. Instrumentation is fairly standard with a speedometer, tachometer, fuel level and water temperature gauges. Infiniti's navigation system is located in the center of the dash, just above the radio and HVAC systems.

Unfortunately, there are 39 switches and knobs for the audio, navigation, and HVAC systems. Learning how to use these requires some training and practice. I often had to pull over to the side of the road just to change stations or the temperature, because I wasn't sure which knobs or buttons to use. Besides these 39, there are two more for the heated leather seats.

The navigation system turns into a television monitor as soon as you shift into reverse. In the license plate light structure a small video camera slides out to tell you what is behind the vehicle. This is handy for missing small objects (or people)that might be behind the FX45. Since there's also a grid system on the screen, with green, yellow and red guide lines, you can judge your approach to fragile objects like garage doors with some experience.

Power seat controls are located on the inboard sides of the front seats themselves. These seats offered good side support and gave front passengers the feeling of being in cozy chairs.

The second-row seats are fairly flat and fold to create a large rear storage area with a flat floor. To release the seats you pull a lever, then push the seat back to flatten it.

Cargo area is 27.4 cubic feet with the second row seat backs up, 64.5 cubic feet with them down. This is a lot of cargo area for such a sleek looking vehicle. There's a cargo net in the rear to keep loose objects from sliding around and a plastic "Rock's box" to protect the carpeting. These trays are called "Rock's boxes" after the former general manager of GMC and Oldsmobile, John Rock, who pioneered their use.

The rear hatch lifts up fairly easily. The button to release the hatch is located in the light structure over the license plate. It's soft rubber or plastic and is hard to find. Once you know it's there, there's no problem with it, but finding it the firs ttime can be a challenge.

Another neat feature of the FX45 is the absence of a key. There is a fob that you push to lock and unlock the doors. But once inside, you can put the fob in the cupholder or keep it in your pocket. You turn an ignition switch just as in a "normal" car, but there's no key there. At first it seemed strange, but then I began looking for ways to avoid key use in other cars I drove.

Our tester had a sticker price of $53,245, based on a $44,375 base price. Key options included Sirius satellite radio ($400), the premium package ($2,500) of a 300-watt Bose sound system, power sun roof, aluminum roof rails, Homelink, and steering wheel audio controls. The Technology Package ($4,500) included the navigation system and rearview monitor, intelligent key, intelligent cruise control, and a tire pressure monitor. 20-inch chrome wheels and tires were priced at $1,600 and the cargo area protector was $70.

2004 The Auto Page Syndicate