First drive: 2013 Infiniti JX

Marketing people never do anything by accident — such as pick a new vehicle launch location without thinking long and hard about how that specific geography will frame their vehicle. This was my thinking as I cruised the narrow oak-shaded cobblestone streets here. My ride was the all-new 2013 Infiniti JX — a refined vehicle inside and out, much like the countryside I was travelling through. It’s obviously affluent but not loud; trendy without being flashy — that’s what I was getting about the city and, as it turned out, about the car, too.

No, the marketing wizards knew that this gentle southern city would create the appropriate upscale backdrop for this luxury seven-passenger crossover. Furthermore, they were anticipating that the slow, relaxed old-money feel of these sea-side communities would mesh nicely with their message. Have a family? Have money? Need a minivan but just can’t bring yourself to own one? Hello, Infiniti JX.

For 2013, Infiniti has moved to fill a gap in its lineup, with this large JX fitting in downstream of the huge QX 56 and up from the smaller sporty FX. This gives the automaker a nice four-car spread. Though, at its heart, the JX really is a minivan; it just doesn’t know it.

With a starting price of $44,900, the JX takes direct aim at its chief competitor, the Acura MDX, offering a lower entry price and stocked with those minivan conveniences buyers want. Five trim levels will be offered in all, with the most common upgrade adding around $5,000 to the base price.

Driving out to the seashore, I took in what the JX had to offer: a comfortable, quiet, handsome interior; good road manners; easy driveability. Frankly, though, for the minivan part, six kids would have helped in the experiment, but I did test to see that the three rows were fully functional. Here are some of the highlights: the second-row seat slides and tilts with one lever to allow easy third-row access, even with a car seat fixed in that second-row seat. That’s unique. The second and third row also get individual HVAC vents, while the second row can also be equipped with twin video screens in the front-seat headrests as well as split seating, armrests, storage and audio/video controls. Doors open wide, locks stay on even in park and overhead the sunroof gives everyone a view. See? Minivan. Lots of caring about the passengers, but the parents also get every comfort amenity imaginable, two-tone leather seats and a supple 15-speaker Bose sound system. And for Mom and Dad’s stuff, there is ample room in the back even with the third-row seats up. However, when needed, all the seats go flat with a simple push to form a cavernous space.

In family values, vehicle safety always comes up and rightly so. The JX carries all the normal electronic helpers (as well as standard all-wheel drive, which makes all driving conditions safer), yet Infiniti has also managed to add an all-new one, which it says is a world first. Backup Collision Intervention (BCI) does what its name implies; however, the reality of how it might save a darting child or prevent a blindsided accident is significant. When the transmission is in reverse, the JX will help the driver detect crossing vehicles and objects behind the JX. But it won’t just warn the driver. If the driver doesn’t react to the warnings (even with his or her foot on the gas), the system will automatically engage the brakes and stop the car. I tested it — purposely backing up toward a golf cart; the system engaged and abruptly brought my vehicle to a halt less than 25 centimetres from impact. It’s very impressive.

But the JX goes even further. As the children start driving (and borrowing their parents’ wheels), the navigation system can keep an eye on them. Preset limits for speed and geographic area can be input so that when the young driver speeds or leaves the prescribed area, an email or text is sent straight to the parents.

Among the other available technology found on the new JX are: Drive Zone/Speed Alert; Around View Monitor, which shows a 360- degree view; Moving Object Detection; Lane Departure Warning and Lane Departure Prevention; Blind Spot Intervention; Intelligent Cruise Control (Full-Speed Range); Distance Control Assist; Intelligent Brake Assist with Forward Collision Warning; Active Trace Control and Front Pre-Crash Seat Belts. Some of these are standard, but, for the whole package, the price of the JX quickly heads north of $50,000.

The JX is powered by a 3.5-litre V6 that makes 265 horsepower and 248 pound-feet of torque pushing that jam through a continuously variable transmission (CVT). This arrangement offers decent power without being a brute so the fuel economy is rather nice, too. Infiniti says a real-world fuel economy rating of 10.2 litres per 100 kilometres for combined city and highway driving is attainable.

The look of the JX is refined, yet the sheetmetal (particularly over the wheel arches) suggests subdued power — it’s a good look that is becoming very familiar across the Infiniti line. And, frankly, at this price point, it’s good to have a vehicle stand out — after all, you don’t want the neighbours thinking it’s a minivan.

Commercials featuring the JX are already running and the first ones are coming off the line now. Expect to see the first units in showrooms in May.

Photograph by: Howard J. Elmer, for National Post