Parents have a pretty tough job. Parents who are also drivers have it even tougher. They have to keep an eye on the kids in the backseat who are just waiting for an opportunity to kill each other, while keeping two eyes on the road so that the whole family doesn't die in a fiery crash. That's three eyes that they need, but most only have two. Forget texting, a shouting toddler is the ultimate driver distraction.
Infiniti's 2013 JX35 steps up to the plate with an array of driver aid technologies that help to keep a digital eye on the road and the cars around to help parents in those vital seconds when they need to glance away to tend to their kid. The system can even intervene on the driver's behalf, acting like a sort of force field, keeping the vehicle away from what could end up being minor fender benders.
The JX can't drive itself (yet), so you'll still need to pay attention to the world on the other side of the windshield, but thankfully the seven-passenger vehicle is also available with an array of entertainment options (including a pair of rear monitors) to keep those kids distracted so that the poor parent behind the wheel can concentrate more on the road.
The gas pedal that pushes back
I've never seen a seven-passenger SUV or crossover that boasts great driving chops. That's probably because the kind of people who need space for five kids probably don't care about cornering or stoplight drag races, which is understandable.
The 2013 Infiniti JX35 doesn't break this mold. Under the hood is Nissan/Infiniti's workhorse 3.5-liter V-6 engine. It's not a particularly high-tech engine, lacking any turbocharging or direct-injection technology, but it is reliable -- finding its way under the hood of everything from the Nissan Altima to the Infiniti EX35 to the Nissan Murano CrossCabriolet. This time around, the V-6 sends 265 horsepower and 248 pound-feet of torque through a continuously variable transmission (CVT) that isn't doing it any favors in terms of responsiveness. Our JX was a front-wheel-drive model, but an all-wheel-drive system is available at an additional cost.
In an Altima Coupe, 265 horsepower can be fun, but in the 4,280-pound JX, it's merely adequate. Furthermore, it's pretty much impossible to hustle in the JX. Apply half-throttle and you'll get decidedly "meh" forward thrust. Floor the pedal, and you'll pretty much get the same. She's only going to go as fast as she's going to go.
A manual shift mode lets the driver grab a lower gear for a bit more responsiveness when it's time to pass and a Sport Drive mode adds an almost imperceptible bit of edge, but usually the CVT's hesitancy about venturing into the upper reaches of the tachometer keeps the power under lock and key. I wasn't able to drive the AWD version, but I can only imagine that it's even slower. Unless you live in an area that gets snow or deluges of rain, I'd skip that option until a stouter engine is available. (JX50S, anyone?)
So, you're not going fast in the Standard or Sport modes. How about twisting the Drive Selector to the Eco mode to see if you can get some fuel efficiency out of the deal? Here's where things get interesting. The standard JX model's Eco mode behaves largely as expected: the throttle response is retarded to discourage heavy-footed antics. However, on models equipped with the Driver Assistance Package gain the ability to activate what Infiniti calls the Eco Pedal. This active pedal provides force feedback to encourage more efficient driving. For example, when pulling away from a traffic light, you may meet resistance in pushing the pedal beyond a certain point or you may feel the pedal push back slightly if you try to floor it.
Of course, the driver is always under complete control and its easy to simple press past the resistance in situations where you actually need the full grunt of the engine. The Eco Mode and Eco Pedal combo is a great set of tools for training yourself to maximize the fuel economy of the big JX -- much better and much less distracting than watching an Eco light in the dashboard. You may be surprised to learn how little pedal input you need to, for example, maintain a highway cruising speed. This small bit of feedback and the tiny behavioral changes it encourages can lead to small but significant gains in your real-world fuel economy.
The EPA estimates the JX's fuel economy at 18 city and 24 highway mpg. I averaged 19.8 mpg during my testing, which included a few days of fruitlessly lead-footed city driving, a few traffic jams, and mostly highway cruising.
A force field of safety
Our JX was equipped with Infiniti's complete Technology Package, which includes all of the driver aid technology that the automaker could squeeze into the crossover. At its default setting, the driver aid system consists of Forward Collision Warning (FCW), which signals a beep and tenses the seat belts if you approach a vehicle too quickly, Lane Departure Warning (LDW), which sounds a beep to signal that you've drifted out of your lane without signaling, and Blind Spot Warning (BSW), which monitors the blind spot to either side of the vehicle for obstructions at highway speeds and sounds a beep if you signal for a lane change into another vehicle.
However, on the steering wheel, there is a small button (with an icon that looks like a force field around the silhouette of a car) that allows drivers to switch all, or a configurable subset, of these driver aid systems into their active counterparts. FCW becomes Distance Control Assist (DCA), which attempts to maintain a safe distance from the car ahead by pushing your foot off of the accelerator with the active pedal and automatically braking the vehicle for you (sometimes, fairly aggressively). DCA, like the Adaptive Cruise system, can slow the vehicle all the way to a complete stop, preventing rear-end fender benders in all but the most panicked of stopping situations. LDW becomes Lane Departure Prevention (LDP), a system that will actively attempt to yaw the vehicle back into its lane by bias-braking the opposite front tire. Finally, BSW becomes Blind Spot Intervention, which also brake-yaws the JX back into its lane in the event that you attempt to change lanes into a vehicle sitting in your blind spot.
With this virtual force field of driver aid systems at your disposal (and combined with the utility of the full-speed range Adaptive Cruise Control) the JX can pretty much drive itself in simple commuting situations and in stop-and-go traffic. I'm not saying that you should set your cruise control, put up your force field, and start answering e-mails on your phone, but for a new mother who's trying to keep an eye on a child in the back seat, this extra level of security (and the extra milliseconds of reaction time that it affords) could mean all of the difference in the world.