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Infiniti JX35: One Step Away From the Self-Driving Car

Cars that are very targeted at an immediately identifiable specific purpose are very rare. Our JX35 is one of those cars, thanks to a high-tech package that will keep you safe like a baby in a mother's lap.

Some time ago, we asked Infiniti to provide us with a JX35 since there was one specific feature that had caught our attention: Back-Up Collision Intervention, which would force the car to a stop when you are backing up and may be colliding with an object or, worse, with a child. This feature is part of the JX35's available technology package, which we evaluated last year in the $75,000 QX56 large SUV. Conceivably, these features make sense in all vehicles, but they are especially desirable for families, and especially in more affordable and less fuel-thirsty cross-overs. The JX35 is far from being cheap, but it is in reach for many double-income suburban families.

The JX35 starts at just under $41,000. Our loaded-to-the-gills tester was an all-wheel drive model with the optional Premium package ($4,950, includes nav and voice recognition, power seats), the Theater Package ($1,750, includes  two 7-inch headrest-installed screens for DVD playback), the Deluxe appearance package ($2,950, includes 20-inch wheels, a high end climate and Bose sound system), as well as the $3,100 Technology Package for a sticker price of $55,700.

The tech package includes a boatload of high-tech features, but we were especially interested in the following as described by Infiniti:

- Intelligent Cruise Control (Full-Speed Range): When activated, Intelligent Cruise Control (Full-Speed Range) provides the enhanced functionality of adding speed and distance intervals to standard cruise control. In slowing traffic, Intelligent Cruise Control (Full-Speed Range) slows your vehicle as traffic slows to help maintain a safe distance, then accelerates to your preset speed and distance as traffic flow increases. - Blind Spot Warning (BSW) system: Blind Spot Warning helps alert the driver to vehicles detected in the blind-spot area. An indicator illuminates if the presence of another vehicle is detected, followed by an indicator light flash and an audible warning sound if the driver engages the turn signal. - Blind Spot Intervention (BSI) system: Blind Spot Warning helps alert the driver to vehicles detected in the blind-spot area. An indicator illuminates if the presence of another vehicle is detected, followed by an indicator light flash and an audible warning sound if the driver engages the turn signal. - Lane Departure Warning (LDW) and Lane Departure Prevention (LDP): Lane Departure Prevention (LDP) helps keep your vehicle from unintentionally drifting from your lane. It utilizes a camera to monitor the di

stance between the vehicle and lane markings. If the vehicle drifts unintentionally towards the lane markers, the system first sounds an audible warning, then lightly applies selected brakes to help you ease your vehicle back into its lane.
 - Distance Control Assist (DCA): Infiniti has transformed the way you interact with traffic flow through Distance Control Assist (DCA). An industry-first, DCA intuitively helps the driver release the throttle and subtly applies the brakes as needed in slowing traffic. - Intelligent Brake Assist (IBA) with Forward Collision Warning (FCW): Intelligent Brake Assist (IBA) system with Forward Collision Warning (FCW) uses the infrared laser sensor unit from the Intelligent Cruise Control system to continuously monitor and analyze closing speeds to a vehicle or a stationary obstacle ahead. IBA can sense an imminent collision and will provide a two-stage warning to the driver as the vehicle moves towards impact. If the driver does not respond adequately to both consecutive warnings and a collision can no longer be avoided, IBA will automatically engage the brakes to help reduce the speed of a collision. - Back-Up Collision Intervention (BCI): When in reverse, BCI helps detect crossing vehicles and objects behind the vehicle and alerts the driver with visual and audible alerts. If necessary, BCI goes further by automatically engaging the brakes to help avoid a collision. - Front Seat Pre-Crash Seat Belts: The Pre-Crash Seat Belt system tightens the front seat belts to help restrain occupants during certain emergency maneuvers. If the crash is unavoidable, early seat belt restraint can help maximize the effectiveness of the other occupant-protection devices such as air bags. - Active Trace Control: When cornering, Active Trace Control automatically adjusts braking to increase load on the front wheels while also modulating engine torque to enhance acceleration out of the corner. The system also applies brake pressure to the left or right side, helping you turn the vehicle as you move through the corner.

These are very bold claims and if they work, the $3,100 expense for the package seems to be a no-brainer for those concerned with safety. In fact, the questions would be: if it can keep you within the lines that define a street, if it recognizes objects and can brake, and accelerate again and if it prevents the vehicle from colliding with objects even behind the car -- can this car drive itself?

The reason why the JX35 can support these claims is based on some substantial hardware and software installed in the vehicle. First, there are radar sensors in the front and rear bumper, another radar sensor behind the inside mirror facing forward, as well as four wide-angle cameras one below the Infiniti logo in the grille, one camera in each of the side mirrors, as well as the usual camera above the license plate in the back. Besides supporting some advanced safety features, the cameras also provide a surround view of the vehicle that allows the driver to navigate this cross-over, which is about the size of a Honda Odyssey minivan, in very narrow spaces.

Driving Experience

I was not so much impressed by the tech in the QX56, but it appears that Infiniti has upgraded the hardware and software for the JX35. As complex as the system sounds, the driver can activate all safety features with a single button on the steering wheel. A second button can configure the distance you want to keep to the car in front of you - one, two, or three car lengths. You can fine-tune the system by activating and deactivating individual systems via a digital menu that requires a few minutes to go through.

The most advanced driver assistance systems I focused on are the Intelligent Cruise Control, Lane Departure Prevention, Distance Control Assist, Intelligent Brake Assist, and Back-Up Collision Intervention. 

The Intelligent Cruise Control and Distance Control works like an old-fashioned regular cruise control, with the exception that you can set the desired speed digitally and the car will brake automatically when the traffic slows and accelerate to desired speed when the pace picks up again. It will not accelerate when the car comes to a complete stop at, for example, a traffic light. The system works reliably and is sensitive enough to recognize vehicles squeezing into the space in front of you. Braking happens in a very careful and smooth way, as does the acceleration. In fact, it could be tuned a bit more aggressively by Infiniti, as there is a substantial delay between accelerating traffic and the car picking up speed again.

The Intelligent Brake Assist works in conjunction with the Distance Control and automatically slows the car when the distance between the JX35 and the vehicle in front of it is decreasing at a pace the software assumes is just too rapid. The feature works at greater distances than just three car lengths and is increasingly invasive if the speed of the car is not in line with a reasonable braking stopping procedure. I was not brave enough to test whether the car would come to a complete stop, but the audio visual warnings, as well as the sudden braking of the car certainly raises your attention, if you are distracted.

The Lane Departure Prevention feature engages at speeds above 40 MPH and monitor street markings on the side of the road. If they are clearly noticeable, the system will warn you when you are about to cross a line and if you do, it will smoothly slow the wheels on one side of the car to bring the car back into the lane. This system alone would raise the question: Do you still have to steer the JX35? Yes, as the slowing of the wheels can only achieve minor course corrections, for example for those who are falling asleep or are simply distracted. The feature will not engage at strong turning angles or in cases when the turning signal is set. I found the Lane Departure Warning to work as promised in 99 percent of all cases with reasonable street markings. I would wish, however, that Infiniti would tune Lane Departure Prevention to not allow the car to even touch a lane as I found that the course correction was too late in some cases and the car was pulled back only after it had already entered the other lane.

The most impressive feature is the Back-Up Collision Intervention. Sure, there is a camera, but the parents among us know that we don't even trust our judgment with the cameras. And, of course, there have been cases when collisions happened when an object was out of the viewing area of the camera. What amazed me about the radar system in the JX35 was that the warning picked up objects as small as a soccer ball, not just directly behind the car, but also diagonally, which is important when, for example, kids or other vehicles approach from the side. The system initially provides audio-visual warnings. If the driver ignores these warnings, the system will forcefully push back the gas pedal and apply the brakes. In the cases when we tested the system - at home in our driveway, and in a grocery store parking lot - the JX35 reliably executed on this promise.


A Self Driving Car?

No, the JX35 cannot drive itself, but it is not far away from it. It is the most comprehensive security package I have seen in any car I have driven to date. As big as the car is, minivan-allergic parents are likely to love the feature set once they have grown accustomed to all somewhat invasive safety features. All features can be overridden by the driver, by the way, since Infiniti emphasizes that the technology is not designed to replace the driver, but rather assist instead. It's not an unreasonable approach and it is apparent that this universal Technology Package is invasive enough to raise your attention and avoid accidents.

Close to $56,000 as we tested is not cheap for any car, but given its capability and level of luxury, the JX35 does not feel overpriced. Heck, even if you don't have a family and can't afford it, but love technology, go and test drive one as the system is fascinating from a tech perspective alone.