If you take a gander at today’s crossovers, you’ll see a lot of vehicles that are practical family haulers, but perhaps lack the kind of driving dynamics that enthusiasts love. Crossovers like the Porsche Macan and the Mazda CX-30 stand out for great driving experiences, but there was a time when Infiniti wanted to sell you a sporty car puffed up in a crossover body. Through the Infiniti QX70 and its predecessor, the FX50, you could buy a tall car with funky looks and 390 horses of V8 power.
Last time on Holy Grails, reader Sid Bridge showed us a weirdly rare version of the Chevrolet Monte Carlo. If you were a car enthusiast living in the Malaise Era, you had to deal with V8s that struggled to make 200 horsepower and car design that could easily be replicated by a kid playing Minecraft today. In 1984, the best Monte Carlo that you could get in the United States was the SS, which came equipped with a 305 V8 making 180 HP and an automatic transmission. However, if you lived in Mexico, you could ride home in your own special edition that came with a 350 V8 making 188 HP and a four-speed manual. These weren’t huge changes, but if you’re the kind of person who has to have a manual, you had to get one from Mexico.
Today’s Holy Grail entry is a vehicle that went out of production in the last decade. It’s not a special edition, rather the last of its kind.
We’re living in an era where V8s get phased out for sixes and those sixes turn into turbo fours. For example, if you want a compact crossover from Infiniti, your only choice is a 2.0 turbo four making 268 HP. That wasn’t always the case, as Infiniti used to sell a crossover infused with the sporting characteristics of the G35 and a whole heaping of power.
The late 1990s and 2000s were a wonderful time if you were in the market for an SUV but wanted it to have big power. This was a time when General Motors sold you the GMC Typhoon and in 1998, Jeep unleashed a previous Holy Grail entry–the Jeep Grand Cherokee 5.9 Limited–onto the world as a lux SUV with big V8 firepower. These automakers wouldn’t be the only ones creating big vehicles with big power. Ford had its F-150 Lightning, Volkswagen rolled out the Touareg, and Porsche brought home the bacon with its Cayenne. If you bought a Touareg, you could get a 4.2-liter V8 making 306 HP and if you got a Cayenne, you could get something as wild as a 4.5-liter twin-turbo V8 making 444 HP.
The Reason For Coupe SUVs
In 2003, Infiniti debuted what Taisuke Nakamura, senior design director for Global Infiniti, believes is the first crossover to get a design that mimics a coupe. At the time, Infiniti says that it was going through a bit of a vehicle revolution with the introduction of the G35 coupe and the M45 sport sedan. The automaker goes on to note that at the time, crossovers looked like SUVs, but there was no reason that they had to be. Thus, in making the FX, Infiniti designers decided to incorporate some car design traits:
By definition, crossover SUVs incorporate elements of passenger cars into sport utility vehicles. What is often lost in the transition, however, is a sense of style or personality. In creating the new FX45, its designers sought what they called a “cool fusion” – the blending of a substantial, SUV lower body with the sleek, elegant upper body more reminiscent of a classic sports car or sports GT.
“The FX45 draws on a foundation born of our G35 sport coupe and sport sedan and our experience with our popular QX4 SUV – elements of which come through the first time you set eyes on the FX45,” said McNabb. “Thus the exterior is all about projecting a unique sense of agility and dynamic performance – along with a healthy dose of SUV versatility and the all-wheel drive flexibility to occasionally leave the paved world behind.”
Infiniti says that the FX was based on two concepts going by the same name. One was the 2001 Infiniti FX45 Concept, dubbed the “Bionic Cheetah,” which sported an interior with personalized zones for its occupants, featuring a video game system, a DVD player, and a navigation system. A year later, another FX45 Concept came out featuring sports car-inspired styling and a 4.5-liter V8 borrowed from the Q45.
The FX rode on Nissan’s FM platform, which underpinned vehicles like the Infiniti G35, Nissan Skyline V35, Nissan 350Z, among others. Infiniti sold the FX35, which was powered by a 3.5-liter VQ35DE V6 from the 350Z making 280 HP and the FX45, which came with a 4.5-liter VK45DE V8 making 315 HP. Car and Driver summed up the FX45 like “An SUV that thinks, and runs, like a sports car.” At the time the magazine tested it, the FX45 was the fastest SUV it reviewed since the GMC Typhoon. At 6.4 seconds to 60 mph, the Infiniti edged out what Car and Driver considered the competition: the BMW X5 4.6is and Mercedes ML55 AMG
Perhaps the most amusing about that review was a comment from tester John Phillips, who found himself trying to wrap his head around the idea of a fast SUV that didn’t wallow in corners. At the time, Car and Driver’s testers questioned if the sports car SUV formula was going to stick. Considering the number of coupe-style SUVs out there today, Infiniti’s claim that the FX popularized the genre might not be far off.
Even More Speed
That sounds cool enough, but Infiniti followed it up in the 2009 model year with a second generation. The 2009 FX was a little longer, a little wider, and featured an evolutionary design. It still rode on the FM platform, sharing some underpinnings with the Nissan 370Z. It still adopted coupe styling, too. Perhaps most importantly, it kept the V8 and that engine’s power took a sizable leap up. The 3.5-liter V6 made a return with the 303 HP VQ35HR from the G35 and the V8? It was now the VK50VE and it came onto the scene bringing 390 HP and 369 lb-ft with it.
The new FX35 and FX50 didn’t just bring horsepower to the table, as Infiniti designed them to be luxurious like the competition. This meant features like an adaptive headlight system with automatic leveling and a 17-degree swivel, as well as “Scratch Shield,” Infiniti’s name for paint that would repair its own fine scratches and swirls. Inside, you sat in a 10-way power quilted bucket featuring air-inflated bolsters. The front seats were also heated and cooled, adding to the luxury cabin. Infiniti also focused on increasing rigidity and reducing noise, vibration, and harshness. The automaker made the new FX 1.6 times more resistant to twisting and 3.4 times more resistant to bending while also finding a way to shave 200 pounds.
The crossover got a facelift in 2011 before getting its name changed to the QX70 in 2014. That year was the last year that you could get Nissan’s sporty crossover with a V8. These later models are the ones that reader TheMecca says is the grail:
Hi, the INFINITI QX70 5.0 is next to impossible to find. Autotempest and autotrader both came back with ZERO results, nationwide. The 5.0 had a V8 making nearly 400 HP in a weird ass body that, in my opinion, has aged quite well. I believe they make it for 2 or 3 years in the mid 20-teens. I owned 2 FX35’s that were an absolute blast to drive, so I can only imagine what that V8 felt like in that bulbous little crossover. I actually tried to buy one recently, and just gave up… so hard to find, and the ones I could find were hundreds (or thousands) of miles from me here in New England.
When TheMecca sent me this email, I scratched my head. By the time that the second-generation FX rolled around, the crossover had already lost its edge. The competition was making their own interpretations on the “coupe SUV” and Infiniti was losing ground and sales. From 2009 through 2014 Infiniti sold 53,400 FX and QX70 models. Well, that’s not rare. Infiniti has never drilled its sales numbers down by engine, but an enthusiast on a forum claimed to get an estimate from a dealership that ranged from 3,000 to 3,800 units from 2009 to 2013. No estimates were given for 2014.
If true, this means that while Infiniti sold tons of these crossovers, around 93 percent of them came with a V6. It would make sense that Infiniti discontinued the V8 given slow sales. And I know that “crossover” is a dirty word with many enthusiasts, but period reviews suggest that this was no mere lifted wagon from Autoweek:
The Infiniti FX, now the QX70, isn’t the most utilitarian car on the market, or in its segment, but it has to be the most fun.
The 5.0-liter V8 pulls this car off the line using all four wheels, and first gear goes by in a wink, so have your hand ready on that right paddle shifter. It makes a helluva sound, too, like a muscle car. And those paddle shifters, they’re on the column. So if you have a preference, make sure that jibes with what you want.
I kept the suspension in sport mode my entire time with the car. It keeps tight and planted, but still soaks up most of the big bumps. The steering wheel is weighted perfectly for this car and provides a nearly direct connection to the wheels.
Car and Driver went off of the deep end, comparing the 2009 FX50S to Frank Lloyd Wright architecture:
Frank Lloyd Wright was a unique architect, yes, but he was also a popular one. His work is spread across the country in the form of homes, office buildings, and even a couple of skyscrapers. Beautiful stuff, all of it, but quirky. If Frank were around today and designing crossover SUVs instead of edifices, he might have come up with something like our Infiniti FX.
Its design being more Guggenheim Museum than Taliesin, the FX would most certainly have come at the end of Wright’s design career. When our long-term Infiniti FX50S arrived, we were enamored of its looks and proud of ourselves for choosing pearl-white paint. Especially in this hue, the high-powered wagon on stilts has presence; nothing on the road looks remotely similar. Even toward the end of its 40,000-mile tenure, the FX continued to attract stares from admiring—and perplexed—motorists.
No one, however, complained about the 390-hp 5.0-liter’s V-8 bark. We can’t knock the FX50S for its performance. Our end-of-test numbers match almost identically those gathered when the FX was fresh. The 0-to-60-mph time held the line at a respectable 5.1 seconds; the quarter-mile and skidpad statistics were also unchanged. Acceleration past 60 mph improved by 0.1 second to 100 and 0.2 second to 130—this in spite of our feeling that the seven-speed automatic transmission had become harder-shifting and at times obstinate over the course of the test.
That engine itself is also a rare oddity. So far as I can tell, it was only ever used for the FX/QX70 and in LMP3 racing cars where it was tuned to 420 HP.
Combing through these reviews, testers raved about the crossover’s engine, platform, and performance, but knocked it for its lack of interior volume and sometimes for its firm ride. I suppose that goes back to Infiniti’s goal to blend sports car performance with the bulk of a SUV. Sure, a 60 mph sprint in 5.1 seconds in a 4,725-lb crossover isn’t super fast. However, that does place it in the ballpark of a period Subaru Impreza WRX, Ford Mustang GT, and just a second slower than a base Chevrolet Corvette. It’s certainly faster than my Saturn Sky Red Line and does so with more seats and a 3,500-lb tow rating.
This is all to say that if you’re into crossovers, this is a quick and pretty rare one to get. In 2009 a base FX50 set you back $54,000 but today, you can find a decent one for around $15,000. As for a 2014 Infiniti QX70 5.0? Like the reader, I couldn’t find one for sale. That said, if you don’t care about the badge, I’d just grab the FX50.
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