Now why would a family want a utility vehicle that handles like, well, a sports car? Because families often have fathers who are both car crazy and responsible. And yes, it's possible to be both - Yours truly included.
These dual-personality fathers see the reality of parenting — that with kids you need space, you need utility, you need to carry sippy cups and football gear. But they are torn by baser desires. That would be the need for speed and some style in their wheels.
A minivan won't do — motorheads cannot drive a mom-mobile to the office. And those fully functional family haulers, the so-called crossover utility vehicles, are just too boring.
So that brings us to the 2006 Infiniti FX45. It's been around since 2003 in both V-8 and V-6 form. Despite Infiniti's best efforts at silly marketing — the FX's initial tagline was "The Bionic Cheetah" — the vehicle was a hit initially.
Then sales started to go soft, so for '06 Nissan's luxury brand tweaked the already curvy styling and upped the power ante just a smidge. The '06 FX45, at $62,400, now is rated at 320 horsepower; the FX35 with a V-6 remains at 280 hp and stickers with a base price of $54,500.
That's pretty good pricing. Don't believe me? Okay, cross shoppers go take a gander at a Porsche Cayenne ($60,100-$157,000), a BMW X5 ($59,500-$98,200) and a Mercedes-Benz M-Class ($55,750-$72,500).
Of course, Infiniti officials welcome comparisons with the Germans, so go do your due diligence. Throw in a Lexus RX 350 and RX 400h, too. Sure, it's a bit more conservative than the others, but the RX is dead reliable and has an astonishing tendency to hold its value over the years.
But it's the German utility wagons that mattered to Infiniti way back in the early part of this decade when they hired a team of anthropologists to find out what people like and dislike about their vehicles.
They found Steve, a fortyish trendsetter, a chance-taker, a grab-a-Starbucks-on-the-go kind of guy. In a life balanced by work and kids' sports, he gets his driving jollies doing the serious stuff of a rising executive rushing to close a deal and a dad roaring off to coach pee-wee hockey. Now that's multitasking.
Lord knows if all this is actually true, all this psycho-demographic, auto-marketing babble. Maybe it is. In any case, Steve is the guy Infiniti envisaged for the FX. Steve may no longer be around, but I am. So I took an FX45 out for a test, three years after my first go-round.
In a nutshell, this is a pretty good, pretty fast ute, mind you one with a cargo area about as big as an airline carry-on — one of those roll-aboard things. When it came time for a weekend getaway with the family — we'd have to nix the FX. Not enough room in back.
That's not unusual in this class. A 5-Series BMW station wagon has more cargo room than an X5, too.
We weren't worried about safety, though. In crash tests, the FX is rated "good" in front impacts by the U.S. Insurance Institute for Highway Safety and "acceptable" in rear-enders. Front, side and overhead airbags are standard, as is all-wheel drive, stability control and anti-lock braking.
I wouldn't worry about driving around in an FX; you're just about as safe as you can be in a tall wagon.
But, of course, it's the driving part that recommends the FX, that and the wild shapes of the body panels and the huge 20-inch wheels mounted with fat rubber at each corner (P265/VR20 performance tires).
Nissan builds the FX on a modified version of the same FM platform used for the Infiniti G35 and Nissan 350Z. It's solid, it's rugged and it takes a corner about as well as anything in this class.
I mention the FM bit because many people think the FX (this is becoming quite the alphabet soup) is built on the mechanical bits and pieces and using many of the processes shared with Nissan's Murano utility. Not so. The Murano is built on Nissan's FF-L platform, which also carries the Altima, Maxima and Quest.
The FM started life as a rear-drive layout, while the FF-L is primarily a front-driver. The FM is a platform designed for enthusiastic drivers.
But let's get back to that comparison with the Germans. On paper, the FX45 holds it own. The FX45's 4.5-litre V-8 is strong and responsive and likes to rev way over to the right side of the tachometer.
The X5 with a 4.4-litre V-8, the one that stickers $10,000 more than the FX45, is rated at 315 hp. So power is a wash. As for the Cayenne, the least expensive V-8 version is nearly $20,000 more, but is rated at 340 hp.
Not to be lost here is another weighty issue. As a matter of fact, the FX45 has a knockout weight advantage: At 2,057 kilograms, it's an astonishing 188 kg lighter than the Cayenne S and 200 kg lighter than the X5 4.8.
The Infiniti can do 0-100 km/h in about 6.3 seconds, which is very quick for a vehicle like this and a testament to its dietary habits.
(Incidentally, you'll note our other article herein in which we showed the FX soundly trouncing the Cayenne in damn near EVERY category, including price).
The rest? Well, the FX45's all-wheel-drive system is borrowed from Nissan's Skyline GTR supercar and it has an electromagnetic clutch-pack center differential. It manages power sent to the front and rear axles in a very smart way. That's good.
Better still, at initial acceleration, a small amount of weight transfer maintains a 50:50 power distribution between the front and rear axles. At cruise, the system biases to the rear but is able to send up to 50 per cent of torque to the front if the rear wheels spin.
I enjoyed the balanced performance of the FX45. It is quick, but not jittery and the five-speed automatic has a manual shift mode that holds gears until the driver chooses to shift. For some, the ride might seem a little rough, but that's the price you pay here for good handling responses.
Inside, the "form-fitting" seats hug you in cornering and I like that. I also like the small and substantial steering wheel and the no-nonsense, cockpit-style controls.
What I don't like is the rear visibility. Massive rear pillars create a nasty blind spot; backing out of tight parking spaces is a major issue.
Finally, a few words on design. J.D. Power and Associates says that more than 40 per cent of buyers rate design a critical issue in their decision to buy or not to buy. Whoever buys an FX is not afraid to stand out.
The styling is edgy, with bits of chrome on the outside, as well as sculpted front and back ends, xenon headlights and LED taillights. You make a statement when you hit the road in the FX.
It's not the statement every family wants to make, but you showoffs know who you are.
2006 INFINITI FX45
In a nutshell, this is a pretty good, damn fast ute; mind you, one with a cargo area about as big as an airline carry-on.
TYPE: Luxury performance utility wagon
ENGINE: 4.5-litre V-8, DOHC
HORSEPOWER/TORQUE: 320 hp/335 lb-ft
TRANSMISSION: Five-speed automatic with manual shift option
DRIVE: All-wheel drive
FUEL ECONOMY (litres/100 km): 16.4 city/11.7 highway; premium fuel
ALTERNATIVES: BMW X5, Porsche Cayenne, Lexus RX, Mercedes-Benz M-Class
LIKES:Really sporty looks inside and out Quick acceleration and nimble handling for a tall SUV Comfortable second-row seating Racy cockpit
DON'T LIKE:Poor rearward visibility Limited cargo room Some controls could be simpler to use