Saturday, April 26, 2014

2004 Infiniti FX35 - Good-Looking and Good-Handling

Unfortunately my 2004 Infiniti G35 had a lot of small, but annoying issues in its early life. Fortunately, the warranty is relatively long and includes the use of a loaner car while the G is in the service bay. And the dealership I went to (and still going to) tends to give you different cars to drive. Most of the time they gave me various kinds of the G35, but I also drove the Infiniti FX35 for a few days.

And, of course, that was a great incentive for me to go hiking, which necessitated taking the FX35 up a curvy mountain road in a hurry. I am impressed with the 2004 Infiniti FX35 in many respects, disappointed in others. Note: the FX35 I drove had a sport package and 20-inch wheels.


Built on the same FM platform as the G35, the FX35 (and FX45) is a crossover SUV. I like the styling of the FX35. It is muscular, refined and cute at the same time. The 20-inch wheels look good on it as well.

Features and Options 

The 2004 Infiniti FX35 is powered by the same VQ35DE 3.5-liter V6 engine that powers my Infiniti G35 as well as several Nissan products (Z350, Altima V6 to name a few). The engine produces slightly different power and torque ratings in different cars. It produces 280 hp at 6200 RPM and 270 lb-ft of torque at 4800 RPM in FX35 (same as in 2004-2007 G35 coupe as well as 2005-2006 G35 sedan).

The vehicle is available in two- and four-wheel drive. I drove the 2WD (two-wheel drive) model (RWS, rear-wheel drive) equipped with Sport Package and Technology Package.

The base RWD FX35 is comes with the aforementioned engine, 5-speed automatic transmission with manual shifting feature, cloth seats, 18-inch alloy wheels and 265/60R18 tires, fog lights, ABS, front, side and head airbags, traction control, stability control, 8-way power front seats, dual-zone climate control, trip computer, 6-disc in-dash CD changer and radio/cassette player.

The Touring Package includes Leather seats, heated front seats, memory system, power adjustable lumbar support, power tilt and telescoping steering wheel, automatic on/off headlights, heated outside mirrors, power glass sunroof with sunshade, Bose premium sound system, HomeLink wireless control system, black roof rails and cargo net.

The Sport Package includes 8-spoke 20-inch wheels, 265/50R20 tires (the car I have has Goodyear RS-A), sport-tuned suspension, drilled aluminum pedals and polished aluminum roof rails. You have to get Touring Package to be able to get Sport Package.

The Technology Package (which the FX35 I drove did not have) includes DVD-Based navigation system, intelligent key, intelligent cruise control, rearview monitor, tire pressure monitor.

The car I drove featured cruise control, audio controls on the steering wheel, automatic dimming rearview mirror with compass and a large LCD screen which can show climate control modes, audio system information, trip computer information, interval until next service and other information.

The remote for the car has buttons that let you lock and unlock the car as a red button to activate the panic alarm.

You can also get, as a separate option, Sirius or XM satellite radio, DVD mobile entertainment system, splash guards, roof rail cross bars, cargo area protector and/or sunroof wind deflector.

When new, the base suggested price (MSRP) for the FX35 was $35,140 (including $590 destination charge). At the same time, CarsDirect sold them for $33,161. The invoice price was $32,361 (including destination charge). So I figure you could have gotten a new FX35 for about $32,700.

The FX35's so-called Touring Package cost about $2,500 and the Sports Package was $1,300 (in CarsDirect's prices). At the time I dove the FX35, the splash guards it had were $77 and the cargo area protector was $47. The overall "as-tested" price was $39,740 MSRP, $36,277 invoice or $37,077 CarsDirect. Of course, now the comparably-equipped car would cost much less and the optional packages and items depreciate even more than the car itself.

The Interior 

The FX35 has a very comfortable driver seat and the power adjustments with memory for the position you chose. Once the door is closed and the key is inserted, the seat moves forward and steering wheel moves down to get to the position you like. Once the key is removed and the door opened, the steering wheel moves up and the seat moves back, making it easier to exit.

The dash looks good and materials look slightly better than in the 2004 G35. The instruments are similar in execution to Volkswagen Passat - they are conventional, have chrome rings around them and look very good (unlike electro-luminescent ones in the 2004-2006 G35). Unfortunately, the rings (and instruments themselves) still reflect into the windshield and then into your eyes.

There are other interior improvements over the 2004 G35. For example, buttons that control radio, trip computer and the climate control have better, more solid and smooth feel. They look good too. Unfortunately, the fan speed for the climate control is on the right side, too far for driver to reach easily. This is the same issue that the G35 had.

The dual-zone climate control itself works well and driver and front passenger can set different temperatures with ease.

The monochrome LCD screen is highly-legible and features large font. You can switch between metric and English units at a push of a button. The large buttons beneath it let you see average fuel economy and distance to empty, trip information, next service reminder, etc. Of course, the monochrome LCD screen now looks like an anachronism.

The interior feels well-made, but I did detect some rattles (and the 20-inch wheels with stiff suspension did not help here, see below). The glove box is small, but the map pockets in front doors are large. The cup holders in front of the central armrest are covered with a lid that opens at a push of a button.

There is an ashtray in front of the shifter and the signature Infiniti clock is above it. Unfortunately, the clock is too low and I look at my wrist watch instead. The clock has its own adjustment of backlight brightness, separate from the brightness of instruments.

The steering wheel-mounted controls for the audio and cruise control are convenient, but are made of plastic and feel flimsier, compared to my G35 (and the audio controls have no "Power" button, whereas the G35 has one). The steering wheel itself is comfortable and has power adjustments for angle and reach (I am reviewing the Touring/Sport version). Overall, it is more similar to updated 2005-2006 G35's than to my 2004 G35's.

The storage area in the back is better than what is available in sedans in terms of configuration/size and the rear seats fold. However, it is small by SUV or wagon standards and the floor is high. The door is easy to open and close and has a wiper. The visibility in the back is decent.


I urge you to consider a non-sport version. Here's why: the ride on, even mildly, uneven roads is mediocre. The 20-inch wheels, low aspect ratio tires with stiff suspension tuning create an SUV that only a mad man would take off-roading. It was scary for me to drive it off the pavement to park in the mountains for fear of breaking something or puncturing a tire on rocks.

Aside from the nice look, the payoff is excellent handling. The 265/50R20 tires on the 20-inch wheels hold the car in curves as if it was on rails. Passing two cars in a decreasing-radius freeway onramp (yes, we have those in Southern California) was very easy at a speed, at which my previous car (Mitsubishi Galant) would squeal and slide. In fact, at least subjectively, the FX35 with the sport pack handled better then my G35!

The handling was extraordinary on a curvy mountain road - the wide tires with low aspect ratio stick to the road extremely well.

The braking is amazing as well and the Goodyear RS-A tires did not squeal once. The brake pedal is not as over-sensitive as my G35's and is easy to modulate.

The acceleration is very good too. Entering the freeway at over-the-speed-limit speeds is not a problem. Accelerating the mountain road going uphill in lower atmospheric pressure is not a problem either.

The engine makes great, sports car-like noises, similar to the ones made by the G35 coupe.

The headlights provide good light at night, but the light cut-off seems to be too low.

Manual Shifting 

The 5-speed automatic transmission can be shifted manually by sliding the lever to the right to get into the manual mode and than move it up (forward) to upshift and down (backward) to downshift.

In case of FX35, you are actually shifting gears, unlike my 2004 G35, in which you only select the range of transmission operation. Note: the G35s more recent than mine seem to have switched to the same system, where you are actually selecting the gear and not the range.

From the stop, the FX35's transmission selects the 1st gear and will hold it until you upshift. As you are braking, the transmission downshifts and you can see the currently selected gear number in the instrument cluster.

You can shift by moving the lever, but you cannot skip a gear quickly. Say, after you upshift to 2nd, you cannot immediately upshift to 3rd - you have to wait a second or so. It is annoying and quickly renders the manual shifting a pointless chore. I only used it to downshift while driving downhill.

Fuel Consumption

The VQ35DE engine and vehicles equipped with it are not known for gasoline frugality. The fact that it is not equipped with roller cam followers and the low height of the engine that creates higher sideways pressure by the piston rings on the cylinder wall might have something to do with it. Throughout my semi-spirited driving I averaged (according to the onboard computer) 18 MPG (Premium gasoline). This is not bad, considering that I average the same 18 MPG in my lighter and more aerodynamically-efficient G35. In more fuel-economy conscious driving you may get around 20 MPG.


I own the 2004 G35, which is very similar in terms of the engine compartment. The maintenance costs are reasonable for an Infiniti and some maintenance can be performed by the owner. One thing to note is the engine is pretty harsh on oil and the manual-recommended 3,750-mile oil/filter changes in severe service and 7,500-mile ones in "regular" service need to be followed very accurately (with mineral oil). And if your "service" is not virtually "very light", stick to 3,750-mile interval.

Alternatively, use better oils and filters. The OEM and Nissan replacement oil filters are small and have flimsy internal construction with cardboard end caps. And the VQ35DE likes thicker oils. I currently use Shell Rotella T Synthetic 5w40 HDEO oil and either Purolator or Bosch (produced by Purolator) oil filters.

Would I Buy One? 

The FX35 has surprisingly good, for an SUV, visibility through the back and sides and has large mirrors. But I don't like the high seating position of SUVs. I dislike the fact that it is difficult to see what's close to your wheels. I don't see a point in having either an SUV with good ride or an SUV with good handling. If I need cargo space, I will get a well-handling wagon. But if I had to have an SUV, FX would be the one.

Pros: Style, handling, all-around visibility, speed and features, decent MPG
Cons: Ride suffers if you get 20-inch wheels

Bottom Line 

I highly recommend the FX35 with the Sport Package (20-inch wheels) if you want a well-handling (and looking) SUV for good roads. Otherwise, consider a finding a FX35 with no sport package. 

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