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2011 Infiniti FX35 (Guy Spangenberg/Spangenberg Phot/Nissan)
2011 Infiniti FX35 (Guy Spangenberg/Spangenberg Phot/Nissan)

2011 Infiniti EX35

The power and presence of the EX35 Add to ...

It's interesting how perceptions of what's cool to drive in various vehicle categories change.

In the course of little more than a decade we've gone from a long-standing love affair with large, upright and foursquare sport utility vehicles, for instance, to lusting after racy-looking, luxury-laden and, in some cases more compact, machines such as Infiniti's revised for 2011 EX35 crossover.

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Those old-style brute-utes let us pretend we were ready to tackle any terrain at the drop of a knobby tire into a muddy rut. While machines like the EX35, with a motor that revs hard to almost eight grand and remarkably good handling, lure us into feeling like track-day pretenders instead.

Inside the 2011 Infiniti EX 35

Crossovers arrived in the latter part of the 1990s boasting more "car-like" handling to go with a still mainly utility role. And following a logical process these more sensible station wagon substitutes were soon available in a variety of sizes and luxury models that now extends to premium class compacts like the EX35.

But what shouldn't have made any sense at all - but kinda does in a perverse way - was the hand-brake turn onto the evolutionary track that has seen the old-style SUV's DNA strands twisted and tweaked mad scientist style into a freak of vehicle nature, the High Performance Luxury Sport Utility Crossover - or HPLSUC.

Okay I made that decidedly discordant acronym up. But it fits the 2011 Infiniti EX35 with its coupe-like road-warrior looks, classy interior, almost 300-hp engine and 19-inch wheels and P245/45R19 tires.

The engine is a 3.5-litre, twin-cam V-6 that makes an actual 297 hp and 253 lb-ft of torque, which now gets to the full-time all-wheel-drive system through a seven-speed automatic, that improves performance and economy. This motor sounds great and gets the EX35 to 100 km/h in a bit over six seconds. And there now seems to be a gear made promptly available to suit every driving situation. Shift it yourself and you get a nifty little throttle blip on the downshifts.

Fuel economy is rated at 12.4 litres/100 km city (down from 12.9) and 8.5 highway (the same as the earlier version). The average during my test period was 11.9 litres/100 km.

The EX35 can't claim its "car-like" handling is at sports sedan levels (although it's based on Infiniti's G cars), but it's very sporty in crossover vehicle terms. Response to its just-about-right weighted steering is linear and minimal and well-controlled body roll, along with the responsive drivetrain, make it just feel good to drive.

Which is as it should be and a nice match for Infiniti's luxury/sport philosophy. The EX35 isn't something you buy to haul building supplies or even your kid's hockey line-mates, but because it looks really neat, is fun to drive and is sized such that it won't have people pointing fingers at you for guzzling the planet's resources.

In fact, utility is limited thanks to the EX35's swoopy roofline and taut haunches, which mean there isn't exactly a generous amount of cargo space behind the rear seat. And overall space with the seats neatly folded is akin to what some of the roomier hatchbacks provide. Plus, the rear-seat area is rather tight on legroom, and the large hump in the middle effectively makes it a two-seater back there.

The tibia and femur length-challenged will find the front seat area cozy but not confining, with the longer legged able to make use of the power tilt/telescope wheel to place themselves further from the dash with its brighter instruments. This EX35's interior was attractively done in milk chocolate over light cream leather, with touches of chrome, aluminum and wood.

This is a well-equipped vehicle in standard $42,200 form, but this one came with $11,100 of options -including moon roof, around-view monitor and sonar parking system, voice-controlled advanced climate control, Bose audio and navigation systems and hands-free Bluetooth phone.

Niggles include the very-high-tech lane departure warning and correction (it nudges you back in line) system. I found the electronic beeps to warn you you're straying very annoying. The final after-a-pause-swipe (like a fussy mom) by the wipers after you've spritzed the windshield is infuriating too, often leaving it smeared.

The changes for 2011 includes the new gearbox, standard 18-inch and available 19-inch wheels, revised Fine Vision instruments, standard dual zone climate control and the availability of a Blind Spot Warning system.

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globedrive@globeandmail.com

2011 Infiniti EX35

Type: Luxury compact crossover

Base Price: $42,200; as tested, $55,220

Engine: 3.5-litre, DOHC, V-6

Horsepower/torque: 297 hp/253 lb-ft

Transmission: Seven-speed automatic

Drive: All-wheel

Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 12.4 city/8.5 highway; premium gas

Alternatives: Acura ZDX, Audi Q5, BMW X3, Cadillac SRX, Lexus RX350, Lincoln MKX, Mercedes-Benz GLK, Volvo XC60

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