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2011 Infiniti EX35

The unfulfilled expectations of Infiniti's EX35 Add to ...

Like many parents, sometimes we worry if we’re piling too many expectations on our young kids, or perhaps too few.

On top of the continuous struggle to find the right mix of extra-curricular activities that doesn’t overwhelm them, or us, schooling involves French immersion during the week, and Portuguese school on weekends. The former is to help them appreciate another side of Canadian culture, while the latter is simply meant to help them communicate with their grandparents, and hopefully stop them from blaming us for the blank stares they often receive.

Then of course, at some point, we’d kinda like to teach them to read English.

The result of trying to teach it all is not a culture clash, it’s really more of an ever-expanding multicultural mélange, one that you try to mix in just the right proportion, with success in one area highlighting a need to improve in another.

It was a similar story with the 2011 Infiniti EX35, a luxurious compact crossover that seemed torn between multiple cultures.

On one hand, it offers a pedigree of performance suggested by both the Infiniti badge and our tester’s optional low profile and sticky 45 series tires. On another, that Infiniti badge has long suggested that comfort and luxury are also key priorities as well, offering a premium step up from mere Nissan vehicles that’s more than simply throwing better seats inside. And a growing part of that luxury equation for Infiniti has been its push of innovative features, both interior and safety-related, to its high-end clients.

So which cultural traits in this mosaic of attributes has the EX35 been studying most? Well, it seems to be getting solid Bs for innovative features and safety gear, in low-A territory on comfort measures, but falling-behind grades for performance all around.

One can sense its disinterest in performance just by looking at it. It’s dignified and inoffensive, but also lacking in verve or visual charm. The smallest SUV from the Japanese brand may look like a tonier version of the Nissan Rogue, but in fact the two are not mechanically related at all. The cheaper Nissan is shorter in wheelbase and overall length, offers front- or all-wheel-drive, and its four-cylinder engine offers nominal motivation that gets to the wheels courtesy of a decidedly un-sporty continuously variable transmission.

On the other hand, the EX35 shares much of its underbody DNA with the Infiniti G37 sedan, featuring a standard 3.5-litre V-6, which puts out a worthy 297 hp through a seven-speed automatic. This is not the most powerful vehicle in its class, but close to it, even if it’s missing the direct injection and dual-clutch transmission (not even paddle shifters!) that would make it quicker and more involving to drive.

These features would also help its fuel economy. In this subject, the EX35 frankly deserves to be kept after class for slurping so down much of the high-octane cocktail, at least compared to other compact crossovers. A start/stop system would help here, though to be fair, none of its non-hybrid rivals offer such a system either.

The EX35 does score better when it comes to innovative features. A two-gig hard drive can copy and store your music from CDs, iPods or USBs, so you only have to cart out all these media devices to the car once. The pricey navigation system ($2,950) includes a directory of Zagat restaurant reviews, as well as voice recognition capabilities for the navi, stereo and even climate controls, though I found the real buttons worked better for all of them, as usual.

You’ll pay for most of these toys, however, as the very reasonable starting price of $44,200 doesn’t include basics like Bluetooth. With $11,100 worth of options on the EX, and a $1,920 freight charge, my fully loaded tester topped out at $55,220. This pricing strategy is good if you want to be able to pay for just the options you want, but also makes it much easier to face a much larger bill than you thought going in.

Safety-wise, one of these worthwhile options includes the Around View monitor, which not only shows you on the screen what’s behind you, but shows an overhead perspective of your car and all its surroundings, including children, pets and spouses that may stray behind or next to the car as you’re heading out in the morning. The EX scored an IIHS Top Safety pick for 2011, though some of the higher tech safety options such as radar-sensing cruise control, lane departure warning and prevention systems, plus blind spot warnings, are optional equipment.

Cushy comfort is the EX35’s strongest subject, even with the optional 19-inch wheels that came on performance-oriented 245/45/19 tires. Whether it’s the quiet and effortless power, the standard multi-adjustable powered leather and heated seats, or the handy coat hangar integrated into the front head restraint, this baby Infiniti likes to coddle its driver. And unlike our American neighbours, who can order their EX35’s in rear-wheel-drive, it comes with standard all-wheel-drive in Canada.

Sure, Infiniti’s smallest crossover may not be a straight A student, its lack of a few drivetrain features showing its engineering grey hairs. But it will provide a solid all-around experience for everything but the most performance-oriented driver.

globedrive@globeandmail.com

Tech specs

2011 Infiniti EX35

Type: Compact five-seat luxury crossover

Base price: $42,200; as tested, $55,220 (including freight)

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 RDX, BMW X3, Lexus RX350, Mercedes-Benz GLK

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