2008 Infiniti EX35

The Good:
– Sleek swoopy styling
– Excellent cabin materials
– Good all-round performance
The Bad:
– Cramped rear legroom
– Car posing as a 4WD
– Compact cargo area

The “crossover” conundrum reaches its peak with Infiniti’s new EX35. There we were, expecting a soft-roader SUV, and what we got was more of a tall wagon. It was an attractive tall wagon, mind you. We even asked for it twice.

The swoopy EX35 is compact in size, and still manages to look good, unlike its German competitors which go for the wannabe-4WD look. Take a closer look, and its ground clearance is no more than that of a car. Park it next to an “ordinary” car, and it is only slightly taller, thanks largely to its roof rails.

But all that style comes at the cost of cabin space. While the front is spacious enough, with a driving position somewhere between a car and a 4WD, people at the back have to endure sub-compact levels of legroom. But at least headroom is good enough front and back, and the amazing cabin appointments soften the sting of claustrophobia. Almost every curvaceous surface is covered in leather-like soft-touch material, and the actual leather upholstery is flawless, making the car seem as expensive as the last Mercedes-Benz CLS we tested. There are pieces of wooden trim too, which may be overkill, given the various materials and metals already involved in the design.

As we mentioned, we actually drove two of these spaceships, and both were exactly the same, except for the colour – one was silver and the other one was, from what we could see, darker silver. It seems all models come outfitted rather well, with power accessories, a thumping CD stereo, sunroof, front-side airbags and a central touchscreen that does everything, including doubling as a controller screen as well as a navigation screen. It also acts as the viewer for the amazing 360-degree four-camera parking system. Thankfully, the whole setup gives users various input options, considering there are also separate traditional buttons for the a/c and the stereo, and the screen can be controlled via touchscreen or buttons. The navigation DVD was missing in our first tester, but the second one had it, and it works as well as can be expected on Dubai’s ever-changing roads, with quick inputs easily typed in via touchscreen. The digital a/c system is excellent, and cools down the cabin quickly even at the peak of summer, with rear passengers getting their own vents, but not their own controls.

A typical excuse to get a crossover instead of a car is the luggage space. However, the EX35 has no more space than a typical hatchback. The sloping rear window sacrifices practicality, but the rear seats can be folded flat and raised again at the touch of a button, improving usefulness for large loads. Smaller storage solutions and hidden cup-holders are spread about, including a funky handle that pops up from the back of the driver’s headrest to hang a suit.

But forget that monkey suit, because using the EX solely as a corporate commuter would be a waste of its talents. It can’t fit clients comfortably in the back anyway, but it is a great high-speed cruiser for front-row passengers. Powered by yet another iteration of Nissan’s 3.5-litre V6, it packs 297 hp at 6800 rpm, with a helping of 343 Nm at 4800 rpm, enough for us to pull off 7.1 seconds in our 0-to-100 kph summer run. The smooth 5-speed automatic did its job well, while changing gears in manual mode with only a bit of delay, which occasionally made us wonder if we were wringing a CVT instead. Fuel economy was about as expected, as we managed an average of 15.1 litres per 100 km with our first tester, although it went as high as 18 litres per 100 km with our second tester at the hands of our moronic PR guy.

In city driving, it is easy to manoeuvre, although the steering is a bit firm and rearward visibility is limited during parking. And that’s where the EX totally amazes with its parking-camera system, which offers a virtual overhead view of the car on the screen, making it ridiculously easy to slip into tight spots. Out on the highway, the EX is every bit as quiet as a Lexus, with a muffled engine and hushed wind noise. The suspension offers an excellent balance between firmness and comfort, as it rides less harshly than a BMW X5, but does not feel floaty at all over bumps. All in all, it is more comfortable than its sporting G35 cousin.

However, when it comes to handling, it gives up a bit of agility compared to the G35, or even the BMW X5. It still manages to be rather entertaining in corners, thanks to well-controlled body roll, all-wheel-drive, strong ABS-assisted disc brakes, and thick 18-inch wheels wrapped in 225/55 tyres. It handles as good as any well-sorted sedan, feeling tighter that, say, a Honda Accord, but falling short of a BMW X3. At one point, we chased down a poorly-driven Porsche Cayman, but to be honest, with a lack of feedback from the controls and no “off” switch for the stability control, it is missing a few elements that would’ve made it a total driver’s car.

Quite frankly, we liked the exceptional comfort and the almost-sporty handling of the EX, although having a cramped rear seat and limited ground clearance makes it lose ground next to its conventional German competitors. None of its boxy competitors offer as much style or technology for the price however, and those are enough to give this Infiniti a special identity of its own.

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