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2008 Infiniti EX35

Infiniti's newest entry is a segment buster, filling a need between mid-size sedans and mid-size utilities

Many seasoned car guys from Detroit wince at the concept of derivatives - and we're not even talking about stocks or algebra. Derivatives are new models spun from existing mechanicals, and sometimes car companies can try to stretch their models way too far, in way too many directions, all to the end of saving money. Derivatives almost bankrupted GM during the reign of Roger Smith; think Cavalier and Sunfire, Skylark and Cutlass, Aztek and Rendezvous.

But take note that good vehicles can spring from the same platform. The new Infiniti EX35 is one strong example.

Infiniti's solid G35 sedan and G37 coupe provide the underpinnings for the new EX. If you're familiar with Infiniti's G twins, then you know much of what's important about the EX35. These vehicles all share the commendable FM architecture along with the Nissan 350Z. readers will note that these cars aren't bricks. The FM platform offers front-engine placement with rear- or all-wheel-drive drivetrains. The EX offers them both.

Infiniti views their newest entry as something of a segment buster...something new and unique that fills a need between mid-size sedans and mid-size utilities (including both crossovers and traditional SUVs).

Tiny in back

Compared to the G35/G37, the EX35 rides on a shorter wheelbase (112.2 inches vs. 110.2 inches). As you'd expect from a crossover, the roofline on the EX is taller, reaching up to about 62 inches compared to 57 inches for the G sedan. That's barely five feet for you math whizzes, a measurement that's a full foot shorter than a potential competitor, the BMW X3. All of this discussion about longer/shorter/taller is to convey what the accompanying photos cannot - the EX35 is smaller than it looks when you see it on the street.

Just as it's currently popular to apply a coupe's roofline to sedans, Infiniti has done it with a small SUV. The resulting shape is a compact, solid unit with lines flowing naturally from any angle. Infiniti is a rarity among Asian manufacturers, as their studios understand how to execute pleasing forms.

Infiniti covers this new shape in a paint they describe as self-healing. The manufacturer provided samples of painted sheetmetal that show how their new Scratch Shield paint resists the dulling that happens to typical paint finishes. The clearcoat, when scuffed or scratched under normal use, actually reseals itself, leaving a smoother, deeper, shinier finish. If the paint works as advertised, the EX35 should continue to have rich looking finishes for years.

Inside, the flowing lines continue, and it's tough to find a hard, 90-degree corner anywhere. The console and center stack are seamlessly integrated, and the arching binnacle houses gauges with easy to read gauges. The readouts reverse out of black. As one would expect on an Infiniti, an integrated navigation system is available, as well as a back-up camera system. Infiniti expanded the capabilities of its video system by adding cameras to the exterior mirror housings, and up front (under the Infiniti grill badge). With some microprocessing magic, the optional nav's LCD screen displays a virtual 360-degree bird's eye view of the EX35 during low-speed maneuvering. It's called "Around View Monitoring." While one can see the need for such a system on a full-size SUV or truck, why it's needed on such a compact vehicle is a mystery to this writer. Look for the technology to spread to larger Infiniti models in the near future.

Because of the roofline, the EX provides very good ingress and egress, especially for the front seats. Behind the hand-stitched leather steering wheel, the driving position is comfortable. Especially in the lighter interior colors, the front compartment feels roomy. There's plenty of glass area, and the hood slopes away nicely. However, those missing two inches of wheelbase pinch those riding in back. A quick dimension comparison shows that the EX35's rear legroom is a scant 28.5 inches, while the G35 sedan provides 34.7 inches. Even the G37 coupe offers an inch more room. Furthermore, it's reasonable to assume that potential buyers may cross-shop the BMW X3, and it tops this group with almost 36 inches of room. The net of all this is that the rear seats are livable but snug.

Making the most of the space that's there, the folding rear seat backs offer a power fold-and-lift function that opens up a wide pass-through to hatch area. This should prove to be a welcomed feature, especially for the more delicate sex…that would be older guys with bad backs or, if you prefer, younger women wearing shortish skirts who because of modesty can't lean into the hatch.

Baked-in goodness

When it comes to driving, the EX shares much of the goodness we've recognized on other G models. While the lightweight aluminum four-wheel independent suspension isn't calibrated for track days like the more aggressive G37 coupe models, the EX rides firmly with well-controlled body motions. Harsh it's not. The 3.5-liter V-6 runs hard to its 6800-rpm redline, staying smooth all the while. The five-speed automatic (with Sport and Manual modes) shifts as well as an automatic can be expected to.

Continuing its trend of being big into safety-oriented technologies, Infiniti also fits the EX with their Lane Departure Prevention system. Not to be confused with Lane Departure Warning, the latter audibly warns a driver when they drift out of their lane, while the former actually applies a slight amount of brake force to nudge the EX back toward the center of the lane when one does wander.

If this technology sounds fantastic to you, then this author hopes to never to be on the same road with you. Ever. May the gods of the highway have mercy on us should we ever rely on technologies like these to actually aid our driving. Furthermore, may these same gods protect us from those who do. In theory, the Lane Departure Prevention system helps drowsy or distracted drivers stay in their lane. The system's network of cameras sense when the vehicle is veering out of its lane by "seeing" the stripes on the road. If one drifts too close to the stripes, the system activates. The Lane Departure Warning system beeps to say that the EX is aware, and that you're not. The Lane Departure Prevention system simultaneously goes to work.

If the SUV drifts right, the left brakes activate and vice versa. The sensation from the wheel is very slight, akin to a minor gust of wind nudging the EX away from the lane's defined border. Testing the system on an open stretch of California 's Highway 1, we let the crown of the road steer us toward the lane's outer limits. When the angle of approach was gentle, the system responded as advertised, and it tweaked the EX back toward the center of the lane. Imagine an automatic 1/4-inch of wheel input. The sensation was rather Orwellian but not particularly dramatic or intrusive. The system did not work on sharper curves.

Any intentional steering input cancels the brake activation, as does the turn signal. Both systems may be permanently deactivated via a dash-mounted switch. Infiniti's research shows the depressing numbers of accidents caused by inattentive drivers drifting from their lanes into oncoming traffic or off the road. Perhaps this system will help—or should we just hope that these drivers remove themselves from the gene pool?

So who might want this capable compact crossover? We think there are prospects from every demographic who appreciate good chassis dynamics and the high quality Infiniti delivers. One thing is for sure, we'll all know by watching who visits Infiniti dealers come December, when the EX35 goes on sale. Pricing will be announced at the Los Angeles Auto Show, but expect mid $30s to start.

2008 Infiniti EX35

Engine: 3.5-liter V-6, 297 hp/253 lb-ft

Transmission: Six-speed automatic, rear-wheel drive

Length x width x height: 182.3 x 71 x 62.6 in (with roof rails)

Wheelbase: 110.2 in

Curb weight: 3752 lb (rear-drive); 3915 lb (all-wheel drive)

Fuel economy (EPA city/hwy): 17/24 mpg (RWD); 16/23 mpg (AWD)

Safety equipment: Anti-lock brakes, stability and traction control; front, side, and curtain airbags

Major standard features: Power windows/locks/mirrors; keyless entry and start; automatic climate control; AM/FM/CD audio system with MP3 capability

Warranty: Four years/60,000 miles

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