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2004 Crossover Buyer's Guide
by Martha Hindes

Infiniti FX35/45
2004 Infiniti FX35/45

For someone who wants the fun of a driver's car without sacrificing the usefulness of a sport utility, Infiniti's compromise delivers on both fronts. Not surprising when you consider its rear-drive sports car foundation, a bold move on Infiniti's part that sets it apart from its Nissan Murano front-drive-based cousin.

In either the FX35's 3.5 liter, V-6 iteration (280-HP), or the 315-HP, 4.5 liter V-8 of the beefier FX45, it moves with road handling authority, capable of rocket launch takeoffs and an ability to dig into and out of turns with uncharacteristically firm response. But, yes. This car-based vehicle Infiniti calls a "Bionic Cheetah" is still an SUV.

Despite its Japanese heritage, it's purely continental in demeanor. Envision Italy's rock-lined pathways or pine-shrouded German Black Forest roads as backdrops for this sleek, taut performer that powers along on huge, 20-inch wheels (on the FX45) punched out to the corners for pure sports car authority. In the "driver's car" spirit, the all-wheel-drive versions spend
most of life in rear-drive mode, tapping into AWD when slippage conditions mandate. Rear side curtain airbags anchor the safety aspect, and a five-speed automatic has manual mode for fun.

Although a newcomer a year ago, this Infiniti pair that runs on a
pocket-borne remote "Intelligent Key" didn't rest on yesterday's amenities. For '04, there's something called "Snow Mode" function. Suspension refinements, more seating comfort settings, and fresher inside air from a standard microfilter are new. Available aluminum roof rails and more wheel treatments were added.

The FX is lighter in weight than major competitors, and lighter than some in price -- sandwiched between Chrysler's Pacifica and Lexus RX330 at mid-$30,000 entry-level for the base, two-wheel-drive FX35, with the FX45 about $10 K more. Despite such dieting, this forward-looking style setter is a true heavyweight in performance.