Parents often have a hard time separating their lives as individuals from their status as "So-and-So's mom." Our whole lives change to revolve around our kiddos, from the way we dress (no more dry clean-only clothing) to what we drive (no more hot little Volvo C30 for me, a mom of three).
The 2012 Infiniti EX35 compact luxury crossover is a clever car that bridges that gap between form and function.
Competing with the likes of the BMW X3, Cadillac SRX and Mercedes-Benz GLK-Class, the EX35 seats five, so it's not intended as a mega family-hauler. However, my family of five -- three of whom are ages 11 and younger -- fit just fine. My two youngest rode in narrow Bubble Bum booster seats in the outboard seating positions, while my oldest sat in the middle in the backseat. Once carpool drop-off was done, I no longer felt like a Sherpa hired for my ability to schlep kids, booster seats and science fair projects. It was just me: a modern woman in a modern crossover heading out for afternoon yoga and a Friday night sushi date with my husband.
While my test car was the higher, Journey trim level with all-wheel drive, both the Journey and the base trim are also available with rear-wheel drive.
Many of Infiniti's designs are polarizing, falling into either the love-it or the hate-it category. Take the FX and EX, for example. I'm not a fan of the bulbous, jowled FX, but my test EX -- in gorgeous, sparkling Midnight Garnet with softer, smoother lines and a purposefully low stance -- had an upscale uniqueness that sat well with me. My husband, however, thought its proportions were just plain weird. Tomato tomahto.
The EX's height is perfect for someone of smaller stature, like me (I'm 5-foot-3). I opened up the door and slid right into the driver's seat, no ducking down or climbing up required. That may sound like a small thing, but the amount of energy I saved by not having to heft my kids up and into a huge SUV without running boards and then climb up and in myself was noticeable.
Other than offering seating for five, the EX doesn't go above and beyond in terms of family considerations. But because I loved so many other things about the EX, I was willing to overlook a few shortcomings, mainly its lack of storage space.
There's a moderately sized center console between the driver and passenger seats, plus two cupholders up front. The cupholders, however, are a smidge too close together. When my husband and I both had Starbucks cups in there, their lids fought for first place, requiring us to remove one cup to avoid popping the lid off the other. Maybe not the biggest burden in the world, but this is a luxury vehicle. We like to take long weekend road trips together, and this would definitely prove an annoyance over time.
There's a tiny compartment just large enough to stash the remote key fob in front of the gearshift. Beyond that, I was at a loss as to where to store my iPhone -- important to have out when driving, as I often use it to route me. I guess I could have used the in-car navigation system, but my phone is so much easier and more reliable.
There are very narrow storage pockets in each of the front two doors -- just large enough for a folded newspaper or a small clutch bag for a night out - but no extra bottle holders and no storage in the rear doors.
When the center seat wasn't occupied, my kids had access to two more cupholders in the backseat's fold-down center armrest. There's also a pocket on the back of each front seat. While the backseat was perfectly functional for two kids (and on occasion three) with kid-sized limbs, it's tight for full-sized adults. Maybe you should drive your minivan instead of the EX35 when picking up your friends for a double date, or consider one of the EX's competitors. Whereas the EX has 28.5 inches of backseat legroom, the X3 has 36.8, the SRX 36.3 and the GLK 35.1 inches.
Rather than write the EX off due to its lack of nooks and crannies, I found myself brainstorming ways to get creative and circumvent the problem. After all, couldn't we all use a little incentive to streamline our lives and the crud we carry in our cars? An organized environment leads to an organized mind, right?
One place that didn't require us to trim down our load was the cargo area. Strictly by the numbers, the other models mentioned have between 4.7 and 11.2 cubic feet more volume behind their backseats, but I found the EX's 18.6 cubic feet to be more than enough space for several suitcases. If we had needed more room, we could have folded the split rear seat flat to expand the cargo space to a total of 47.4 cubic feet. The process is very simple: Just press either release button in the cargo area. To raise them again for the kids to get in later, opting for the deluxe Touring Package gets you a power-operated switch near the gearshift that raises each portion automatically. I was surprised and disappointed that my $45,000 test car didn't come equipped with a power liftgate, as well.
The visual Zen on the inside of the EX carried my post-anniversary spa peace through the entire weekend. The uber-luxe wheat-colored leather seats, steering wheel and trim, punctuated with dark maple accents, felt calm and meditative.
IT'S THE LITTLE THINGS THAT COUNT
Storage Compartments (Puny, Fair, Ample, Galore): Puny
Cargo/Trunk Space (Puny, Fair, Ample, Galore): Ample
SENSE AND STYLE
Family Friendly (Not Really, Fair, Great, Excellent): Fair
Fun-Factor (None, Some, Good Times, Groove-On): Groove On
Behind the wheel
The EX's 297-horsepower, 3.5-liter V-6 engine was pure joy to drive. The all-wheel-drive EX had the perfect balance of sporty and responsive acceleration, informative road feedback and stability while cornering over mountain passes. The kicker is that there's also enough softness in the suspension to be comfortable for me both as a daily driver and for long road trips. I experienced no fatigue even after hours in the EX. I even found myself creating extra errands. (What? Our spice cabinet is all out of Spanish saffron threads? I'll run out to the specialty spice market to pick some up, you know, just in case we decide to whip up some paella later tonight. No, really, it's OK. You can stay home and help the kids with their homework. I'll be fine.)
One downside is the EX35's larger-than-expected, 36-foot turning circle. The rear-wheel-drive version's turning diameter is slightly smaller, at 34.8 feet. I had to execute a three-pointer every time I pulled into my garage. Because the EX drives so much more like a car than an SUV, my subconscious expected a tighter, more carlike turning circle -- and gas mileage. Getting an estimated 17/24 mpg city/highway, the EX isn't exactly a green- or budget-conscious option.
In crash tests by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, the Infiniti EX35 gets the highest mark, Good, in all tests, and is thus listed as a Top Safety Pick. While the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has not yet crash-tested the EX, it did rate its rollover resistance at 4 out of 5 stars (common for most crossovers today).
As is required of all 2012 models, the Infiniti EX35 has standard antilock brakes, an electronic stability system and traction control.
The EX features frontal airbags, seat-mounted side-impact airbags for the driver and front passenger, and roof-mounted curtain airbags for the front and rear seats.
The EX has two sets of lower anchors in the backseat as part of the Latch system for securing child-safety seats. The anchors are for the two outboard seating positions and are accessible via vertical slits in the seat bight. For kids in booster seats, the rear seat belt buckles are on stable bases, which typically makes it easier for kids with limited dexterity to buckle up on their own. However, since these buckles are flush with the bottom seat cushion, booster seats can have a tendency to wiggle and worm themselves on top of the buckle, requiring parental intervention.
My test car came equipped with an Around View Monitor as part of a $2,900 Premium Package. This is a fantastic feature for anyone who needs to park in tight spaces, but it's especially useful for families, giving you a 360-degree view around the car to make sure no kiddos or pets or tricycles are in your way before you even think about putting the car into reverse.
The small triangular windows alongside the cargo space cut down a bit on rear visibility in the EX, so I would have appreciated blind spot monitors to help out while trying to change lanes on the highway. This feature is available on the Journey trim as a part of an optional Technology Package.
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