Around View Monitor is a remarkable option
by: ANNI TRACY, Striking looks and luxury appointments mix comfortable in the Infiniti FX35.

With automobile manufacturers competing to fill every conceivable vehicle niche, potential buyers have to wonder whether there is much difference between them. This is especially true in the hot compact and midsize premium crossover market, all of which come with cutting-edge styling, sophisticated drivetrains and luxury interior appointments.

The 2010 Infiniti FX35 is proof that noteworthy differences do exist between the various vehicles, especially compared to similar offerings from Acura and Mercedes. While the exterior styling of the MDX and GLK350 is angular, the FX35 is bulbous. While the interiors of the Acura and Mercedes stress functionality, the FX35 emphasizes comfort.

And while the MDX and GLK350 are fast, well, the FX35 is fast, too. But the Infiniti feels more isolated from the road that either the MDX or GLK350, which reduces the sensation of speed. With 303 horsepower on tap, the 3.5-liter V6 can certainly move the Infiniti quickly down the road, especially with the seven-speed automatic transmission set in sport or manual shift mode. But the effect is more like a fast big wagon than a nimble sports sedan.

Some passengers thought the FX350 is designed more for women than men. That's not really fair, since many men prefer plush seats and a comfortable ride, too. And everyone will marvel at the optional Around View Monitor that makes parking and other tight maneuvers a breeze.

Like other such systems, it includes a rear view camera that shows what is directly behind the car on the display screen in the dash. But the Infiniti system also has front and side cameras that offer side views and - most amazing of all - overhead views of where the FX35 is located, compared to everything around it in real time.

The effect is like a logging onto a spy satellite that is monitoring you. Everything on all sides of the FX35 is visible, from parking stripes to fire hydrants to tree trucks. The effect is both amusing and helpful. Anyone who cannot easily parallel park a FX35 with the system is really not paying attention.

Some reviewers dislike the looks of the FX35. In many ways, it resembles the curvy Murano crossover introduced by parent company Nissan several years ago. The FX35 is larger, however, and features a much more aggressive front end, including a bigger grill filled with layers of wavy plastic. It looks better than it sounds, but may not be for everyone.

On the other hand, it would be hard to find someone who does not appreciate the high-quality and well-fitted interior materials. The soft leather seats in our test model would not be out of place in a million-dollar penthouse. The textured plastic dash panels have plenty of give. And the wood trim on the center console resembled that in classic British road cars.

With a starting price of $43,850, the FX35 is not cheap. But it is not as expensive as some European competitors, either. And if money is not object, the FX50 version offers a V8 that should please those who long for a more visceral feel in their premium midsize crossovers.

Facts and figures

• Model: 2010 FX35 AWD

• Manufacturer: Infiniti.

• Class: Midsize premium crossover.

• Layout: Front engine, front and all-wheel-drive.

• Style: Four-door, five passenger hatchback.

• Engines: 3.5-liter V6 (303 hp, 262 lb-ft).

• Transmissions: 7-speed automatic with manual shift mode.

• EPA estimated city/highway mileage: 16/21.

• Price: Beginning at approximately $43,500 ($52,920 as tested).

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