In high-stakes competition for the upscale demographic, luxury brands are transforming the once sedate family vehicle into something that seems to bend the fabric of space-time.
Take a look at the Infiniti JX35, a vehicle so curvaceous that you hesitate to add the word "utility" to the previous adjective "sport."
Yet, this sleek new transporter comes with capacity for seven passengers and their soda cans, a major qualifier for summer road trips that often include kids and dogs.
Admittedly, one would hesitate to board too many fur-bearing mammals in the luxurious interior of the review car, a loaded model so leathery it smelled tannery fresh. But well-groomed humans would certainly qualify for admittance, provided they wear the hair net.
Looking somewhat like a muscular amphibian, the JX features a long wheelbase and short overhangs on the front and rear. A nicely sloped roofline tapers toward the rear, providing just enough headroom in the third row of seats for children or short, limber, gymnastically talented adults.
Gaining access to the third row requires a certain degree of athleticism, even with a mid-row seat that flops down and slides way forward with the release of a single lever. Once the second-row seat returns to its upright position, the third-row passengers are pretty much barricaded in place. For small children, this could be a delightful asylum. For claustrophobic adults, it's a non-starter.
The sportiness of the exterior is enhanced by front and rear spoiler and rear tire deflectors that also contribute to the unibody's aerodynamic integrity.
Introduced as a concept vehicle at the 2011 Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance event, the JX made its debut as a production car at last year's Los Angeles Auto Show. As a seven-seat alternative to Infiniti's EX, the JX represents the first three-row midsized crossover to be released by Infiniti. Earlier this year, Nissan announced that its mid-size SUV Pathfinder will share the same platform as the JX for the 2013 model year.
The seven seats give Infiniti competitive leverage against the pricier BMW X5, which can be configured for five or seven passengers and offers comparable power.
Catering to drivers who demand the right blend of zoom, room and fuel economy, the JX is available in front-wheel drive or with what Infiniti calls "Intelligent All-Wheel Drive."
The standard 3.5-liter V6 engine sends 265 horsepower and 248 foot-pounds of torque through a sport-tuned continuously variable transmission. The CVT mimics a step transmission in "sport" mode and minimizes fuel consumption in cruising mode.
Fuel economy for the more than 2-ton vehicle is rated at 18 city miles per gallon, 24 highway and 21 combined in front-drive versions.
On the road, the JX is utterly smooth, even with a full load of cargo. Acceleration feels effortless, and the CVT keeps the process quiet. Some people are not fond of transmissions that don't provide recognizable shift points, which explains why engineers provided the "sport" mode.
The driving mode is chosen via a rotary switch mounted in the center console. Options are Standard, Sport, Eco and Snow. Once selected, the system varies throttle response and shift schedules to improve performance.
Along with a beautifully tuned independent suspension, the optional Active Trace Control system uses the JX's standard Vehicle Dynamic Control system to aid cornering feel by automatically applying the brakes or smoothing engine torque characteristics while accelerating.
The leather interior is standard equipment, as is a power sliding tinted glass moonroof with one-touch open/close, tilt feature and sliding sunshade.
Through some pretty amazing technology, Infiniti remains in the forefront of safety. Like the EX and FX crossovers, the JX offers the "Around View" monitoring system that provides an 360-degree overhead, side, front or rear view of the vehicle and its surroundings with a motion detector for anything that enters the picture. That is part of the $4,950 premium package that includes a 13-speaker Bose sound system.
The $3,100 technology package includes Infiniti's automated system that warns you if you are inadvertently straying from your lane and can nudge you back to your intended course.
2013 INFINITI JX35
TYPE: Front-drive, seven-passenger, luxury crossover utility vehicle.
PRICE: $40,450 base.
WHERE BUILT: Smyrna, Tenn.
POWER: 3.5-liter, 265-horsepower, DOHC V6; continuously variable automatic transmission.
FUEL ECONOMY: 18 city, 24 highway, 21 combined mpg.
WHEELBASE: 114.2 inches.
LENGTH X WIDTH X HEIGHT: 196.4 x 77.2 x 67.8 inches.
CURB WEIGHT: 4,280 pounds.
STANDARD: Front/side/head-curtain air bags, three-zone automatic climate control, power accessories, leather upholstery, power-adjustable/heated front seats, eight cupholders, remote keyless entry with Intelligent Key, power tilt/telescoping steering wheel, illuminated entry, 7-inch color information screen, six-speaker AM/FM/CD/MP3 audio system, cruise control with steering-wheel-mounted controls, power disc brakes with ABS, 18-inch wheels.
OPTIONS: Premium package includes navigation system, Around-view Monitor with motion detecting sensor, Bose 13-speaker audio sound system, maple interior ($4,950).