With a leisurely stroll around Charleston and a howdy-do to my genial hosts already under my belt, I’m ready to take Infiniti’s new JX35 for a spin across nearly 300km of South Carolina, USA.
And there is more than just my first US road trip to contemplate. The latest addition to Infiniti’s SUV line-up plugs the gap nicely between the already established FX and QX, high-selling toes the newboy won’t want to tread on. Accordingly Infiniti are towing the middle ground with the JX and are hoping the near-baby of their SUV lineup appeals to small families and late-twenty-something parents, which loosely translates to mean space, comfort, and a dash of joie de vivre.
Cannonballing the last of the breakfast coffees, our group starts calling dibs on the rather handsome fleet awaiting us outside our hotel: low sweeping roofline, stepped rear windows, bulked wheelarches and a cheeky facelift. Looking pretty good so far.
But before we can get on with the messy task of driving, my media cohorts and I each take a turn sampling the JX’s innovative Collision Intervention System. Infiniti are pretty proud of this. Whilst in the JX hotseat, should you reverse out of your drive and fail to see a car coming, the system will engage: the accelerator is pushed back up towards the driver, whose instinctive reaction is to jump on the brake. Crash averted, everyone suitably impressed. The rubbish bin representing the other car in our experiment was rather glad it worked too.
Soon we’re buckled up behind our respective wheels and heading out of Charleston. Ten minutes and only two wrong turns later, we’re across the Cooper River bridge and cruising at a relaxed, state mandated 60mph/100kph on the highway. A tad frustrating I’ll admit, but this does at least give me the chance to sink deeper into the ergonomic leather and enjoy the drive, light steering allowing the kilometres (sorry, miles) to rack up easily.
Soon we hit our first checkpoint: America’s oldest working plantation, Boone Hall. While the JX fleet gets a well-earned rest, our group takes a wander down Slave Street for a quick history lesson on the compound’s previous inhabitants. The plantation has been producing crops for 320 years, but an hour spent touring the cabins and the grounds demonstrates just how much things have changed. It’s an oddly contemplative mood that envelops the group as we head back onto the road.
Now off the highway and well into the backroads, the tarmac under Pirelli becomes more serpentine. Since we’ve been cruising along in Standard mode (confirmed by the STD symbol on the screen in front of me), I’m keen to test the JX’s dynamism and select Sport. Fireworks are unfortunately a bit limited, but I can feel the steering become tighter. There are few opportunities on our test for me to really push the front tyres, but clever weight distribution means the car feels balanced, and bodyroll is surprisingly minimal.
Inside there’s plenty of headroom, and enough space to stretch out without compromising one’s driving position. Since this is a seven-seater, there’s even room for three fully-grown adults to sit line-astern, though those in the back may find their headroom runs out quickly. On point, I’m not held quite as firmly as I’d hope through some of the corners, though a cocooned feel created by the beautifully upholstered centre stack offsets this nicely. Even though our test mule is the base-level Premium option, there’s few areas on the inside where I’ve been found wanting.
Some double-digit clicks further down the road and we pull up at the lunchtime watering hole, a golf resort nestled securely in the backwater. OJ and two courses are dispensed with quickly as we watch the members practice their putting. A few of our party disappear shortly after the plates are cleared for a stroll around the resort in the afternoon sun, returning 30 minutes later deep in conversation about ‘the alligators’. The what…?
Yep, turns out some of the more established members are busy sunning themselves on the banks of a small pond near the clubhouse. Their handicap isn’t very impressive, but the family – yes, there are more than one! – remain firm favourites of the club’s visitors, earning them a free lifetime membership.
Waving a cheery farewell to our newfound friends on the bank, our convoy hits the road again for the final leg back to Charleston.
Pick-up in the lower gears is not quite as seamless as I’d desire, but the 3.5-litre V6 under the ripped bonnet provides ample grunt at the top end of the ‘box in either driving mode, and the lack of road noise inspires me to push the system pretty hard. But there’s a lack of vigour with which gear changes are made and revs are cantered through that rankles. Even after I’ve switched to Sport mode, there’s little to get massively excited about under heavy acceleration.
This may seem an unfair conclusion to crankandpiston’s American jaunt, but it’s as our convoy re-enters Charleston some eight hours and 300km after we first departed that another thought strikes me. Throughout the day I haven’t needed to stretch my legs, fight against a stiff back or felt my eyelids beginning to close. Even now, sitting in rush hour traffic, the JX remains a pleasant place to be and a comfortable environment to be in, with enough oomph to make journeys interesting and easy, and enough character to make Infiniti‘s latest more than ‘just another SUV‘. It just so happens that the joie de vivre on this trip was courtesy of South Carolina. And in fairness, that’s some pretty stiff competition.