Review: Infiniti JX offers comfort even in the third row

Jerry Seinfeld once said, "There's no such thing as fun for the whole family." Ask anyone who has tried cramming himself or his kin into the third row of seats in a crossover sport utility vehicle, and it's likely they'll agree.

Doing so is an adventure often requiring a pickax or perhaps a healthy application of Crisco. Once you're installed, there's no guarantee that you're comfortable. Or ever getting out.

Yet three-row crossovers have no trouble selling to buyers who are immune to the siren song of practicality seeping from the island of Minivan. Crossovers feign SUV coolness in a way minivans can't. They also promise luxurious, multi-passenger comfort, even in that third row of seats.

Some are terrible at keeping that promise. Infiniti's 2013 JX crossover is not.

The JX is an all-new vehicle for Infiniti. Available in either front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive, it starts at $41,400, and its competitors include Audi's Q7 and Lincoln's MKT.

Because Infiniti is Nissan's luxury nameplate, the JX will share a platform with Nissan's upcoming 2013 Pathfinder SUV. The size of the JX puts it above Infiniti's sporty FX crossover and below its elephantine and stupendously ugly full-size SUV, the QX.

Fortunately, the JX crossover inherited precisely zero of its bigger sibling's profoundly deficient aesthetics; instead it opts for a more understated, yet handsome and sleek design. It does share some things with other Infinitis, characteristics such as soft lines, flowing curves and a massive chrome grille with a correspondingly large Infiniti logo.

Turning inward, the vehicle has a plush interior with an equally flowing aesthetic. Of the loaded, $55,175 all-wheel-drive, pre-production JX that I tested, $4,950 went toward the premium package. It combined brushed metal accents with polished maple trim for a luxurious yet practical environment.

Also included in this package and indicative of the cabin's usefulness is an excellent 8-inch touch-screen navigation system with real-time Sirius XM traffic data. The nav system can also be controlled via voice commands or a rotary knob in the center of the dashboard. Below this screen sit redundant buttons for the climate control and stereo system.

The front seats in the JX are wide and comfortable with plenty of support in the right places. The middle row and third row of seats lack the same support, with the seat backs being a bit too flat, but still are comfortable enough to keep people moderately happy.

Legroom and headroom is great in the second row and decent in the third row. The seats in the "way back" are low to the floor, but taller adults can still sit comfortably. I am 6 feet, 2 inches tall with my Tom Cruise shoes on, and seven of me could comfortably handle road trips of any duration in the JX. Just pack a lot of food. Yes, the front and middle seats are preferable, but adults won't feel as if they lost a bet if they're relegated to row No. 3.

As mentioned, getting to the rear seats of many crossovers is usually a lamentable chore. But Infiniti has taken some steps to mitigate the frustration. The middle seat collapses into itself at the pull of a lever and then slides forward, revealing a clear path to the third row. Behind that is enough cargo space for two full-size suitcases. When not in use, both the second and third row will also fold flat.

Once your cargo is stowed, your charges are buckled in, and you finally hit the road, you're treated to an excellent driving experience.

JX buyers have only one choice of engine: a smooth and quiet 3.5-liter V-6 that makes 265 horsepower and 248 pound feet of torque. Front-wheel drive is standard, with the all-wheel drive coming as a $1,110 option.

This engine will move the car from naught to 60 mph in 7.9 seconds, according to Motor Trend. Although that time doesn't seem impressive and its power and towing ratings lag behind those of the Lincoln and Audi, the JX has all the power you'd need for daily driving.

With an eye on keeping the JX reasonably fuel-efficient, Infiniti paired to that V-6 engine a continuously variable transmission. As you may know, this type of transmission has essentially one speed and thus can cause the engine to drone at high rpm during freeway driving.

Fortunately, the JX largely avoids these foibles and it's only when passing or cruising up an onramp that the engine draws attention to itself. Fuel economy for the AWD model is rated at 18 miles per gallon in the city and 23 on the highway. Over 300 miles of testing, the vehicle revealed an average of 19 mpg.

Where the JX needs the most attention is in its steering. Designed to be light in the driver's hands, the system goes way too far and feels excessively numb and removed from the front wheels. This was especially disconcerting when going around long, sweeping curves; the driver loses nearly all sensation of control of the vehicle. Other than this frustrating oversight, the ride quality of the JX is comfortable if a bit plodding around corners.

Integral to the driving experience of the JX that I tested were the numerous high-tech safety features that were added as options.

This Infiniti had blind-spot monitoring and an intervention system, which softly tugs the brakes on one side of the JX if you veer into another lane. It also had active cruise control and a forward collision warning system that senses vehicles or objects in front of you and will first warn you with beeps and then apply the brakes automatically if it's determined that you're not responding quick enough.

What's nice about these systems is they're easily disabled with the touch of a button on the steering wheel, if driving in a perpetual nanny state isn't your brand of gum.

The JX also has a system that claims to automatically stop the vehicle when you're backing up and about to hit an object.

Repeated testing of this system in my driveway using cardboard boxes as children revealed two things. First, as long as the object is roughly 20 inches high, the system works as well as advertised, even if the driver's foot is nowhere near the brake pedal. Second, my neighbors think I need a hobby.

Of course, tech goodies such as this are never cheap, and these add-ons were integral in bumping the price of my tester up almost $13,000 above the price of a base AWD JX. But consider that the final $55,175 asking price is very close to what a similar Audi Q7 or Lincoln MKT would cost.

The JX does a commendable job of getting seven people into one vehicle without cash bribes or contortionist poses and then keeps them content and comfortable. With the exception of the steering, this Infiniti might even change Jerry's mind about fun. Too bad he's a Porsche guy.

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