Part One in a Series.
The first of five or six articles here walking through Infiniti's first steps designing and visualizing what the brand's values would be in acrossover form. The QX4 (Q by 4) Pathfinder overhaul arriving in the late 1990s was a decent first effort, with some stylish cues to its wheels, lighting and overall aesthetic.
But some time at the wheel made clear how luxury-focused the QX4 was. It was not an eager canyon-carver, and its 3.3-liter V6 was given extra-short gearing to the four-speed automatic to make the QX4 feel a bit less sluggish than it actually was.
A total rethink was needed to make an Infiniti crossover in the brand's sports-luxury self-image.
This was the first look at what would be coming the production FX35 and FX45 a few years later -- but wearing drastically altered panels and design themes.
One place the 2001 FX concept showed the future was in the cabin, which strongly shaped what would eventually become the G35 sedan's light and airy low-cowl interior.
2001 Infiniti FX45 Concept
Infiniti FX45 Concept Press Kit: Overview
Infiniti FX45 Vehicle Redefines 'Crossover' SUV Category With Emphasis on On-Road Performance
Infiniti has a tradition of bringing new dimensions to existing model segments: the original Q45 brought a new level of performance to the large luxury car market, G20 added a taste of sport and luxury to small cars, and QX4 brought a new dimension of luxury to the luxury SUV market, even before that segment truly existed.
Enter the FX45 vehicle, a new type of Infiniti concept created to take on the rapidly expanding "Crossover Luxury" SUV market. The FX45 vehicle features V8 power, all-wheel drive, exceptional performance and distinct interior and exterior appointments. The FX45 made its debut at the 2001 North American International Auto Show in Detroit.
"We started with a blank piece of paper and asked the question, ‘What kind of vehicle do we want to drive?’" said Tom Orbe, vice president and general manager, Infiniti Division. "The result was the FX45 — a sports car driver’s vehicle first with the practicality of an SUV second."
The FX45 owner could use it as a primary vehicle, after owning and outgrowing a traditional sports car, or relegating the sports car to weekend-only use. "They still want true sports car performance, but need room for family and all of life’s other necessities," said Orbe. "This buyer also operates right on the cutting edge and will want the latest and greatest vehicle available."
FX45 Style, Inside and Out
The low-slung FX45 vehicle combines the best sport utility vehicle qualities, including optimized space utilization, four full-size doors for passenger entry and a large rear hatch for cargo with sports car styling — a low slung, wide stance and huge wheels and tires. The split tailgate features a slide-out load floor for ease of cargo loading. A large, Infiniti-style grille gives the front end a substantial, sleek look. The roof of the FX45 is made of glass, for an open-air feel, but with automatic shades for passenger comfort. The rear tailgate opens in two pieces — the glass hatch swivels upwards, the lower gate swivels downwards.
Inside the leather-appointed passenger compartment, personalized zones call out specific areas, unlike a traditional SUV, which is usually wide open and formless. The driver’s zone, maximized for the driver’s enjoyment, features integrated tilt steering and instruments, as well as a 9.5-inch LCD monitor that provides functions for the advanced navigation system, HVAC controls, audio controls, Infiniti Communicator, Internet and E-mail access. The front passenger zone has its own climate controls for maximum comfort. The rear zone, for rear seat passengers, features a DVD player, video game system and a rear water bottle cooler. The entire interior is covered with Alcantara fabric and solid aluminum parts, giving the FX45 passenger an exciting contrast of warm and cool design cues.
"FX45 vehicle performance target is far above that of the current crop of SUVs," said Orbe. "Instead, we targeted large sports luxury cars, such as the BMW 7-series, Lexus GS430 and our own 2002 Q45."
A specially tuned 32-valve 4.5-liter V8 with more than 300 horsepower and 300 ft-lbs of torque powers the FX45. Backing this powerful engine is a 5-speed automatic transmission with manual mode. Distributing power to the ground is an All-Mode? driveline, adapted from the system found in the Nissan Skyline GT-R supercar, for superior performance in dry and adverse weather conditions.
The 4-wheel independent suspension is tuned for on-road handling prowess. Assisting vehicular control is the Vehicular Control System, which controls brake pressure and engine torque in over- and understeer situations. "With its high performance sports orientation, we feel that an FX45 driver will not participate in serious off-roading," said Orbe. "Instead, we’ve given it stability and exceptional performance in light traction situations such as rain, snow or gravel."
Braking is provided by large 4-wheel discs with Anti-lock. Electronic Brake Distribution, which distributes braking forces depending on vehicle load and the Brake Assist System, which aids the driver in panic braking situations, aid braking stability in the FX45.
20-inch wheels with 285/50R20 tires complete the FX45 vehicle’s suspension and give it an aggressive, broad-shouldered look.
"We’re sure that the FX45 vehicle will be a hit with consumers and send a strong message to competitors that Infiniti’s product resurgence is for real," said Orbe. "We are confident that the Infiniti brand is one worth aspiring to."