- Nate Kuhn
The virtues of a 12-foot car
It’s winter time in Chicago. While it’s been shockingly mild thus far, it’s still the season of winter storage for the sports car. That means I'm spending all of my time in my daily driver and not the one I REALLY love. Like many of us, I don’t have the cash flow to have a really nice fun car AND a really nice daily - I had to split my funds up in a 3.5:1 ratio, which is a tad extreme but is working out pretty well so far.
If I had to design my dream DD, it would be a luxury wagon with a cool engine. For example, a Mercedes E63 AMG or Cadillac CTS-V would be top of my list but they’re way too expensive for what my budget was. I also have a pretty hard rule that if I am going to rely on an old car on a daily basis, the best bet is a well made Japanese vehicle in terms of “drive it forever with basic upkeep” in my experience.
There are no Japanese luxury wagons with cool engines sold in the US. So I just bought the next best thing. Truth be told, I absolutely dig my DD. It’s a 2005 Infiniti FX45. For those of you doing math, it’s an eighteen year old crossover. And while I generally loathe that style of car, I actually like this one as much as any ever.
It’s actually a lot cooler than most people realize. Since The FX came out about the same time as the similarly shaped/sized Murano, most people would assume it’s nothing more than a badge engineering luxury car version of it. Far from the truth. In reality, the FX is a raised, beefed up iteration of the same platform that the 350z and G35 (sedan and coupe) are made from.
Yes, the thicc FX35 (with the same VQ engine) riding on 20” wheels started its life with roots to a 350z. The middle child of the lineup is the FX35 AWD model - which functions as rwd until slippage occurs and then the front axle activates. It’s fun and before there was a sea of options like now, it was up there with the first gen Cayenne and X5 as the “sport” sport-utility vehicles.
Mine is the top-spec FX45 - which only comes with the same AWD model as the FX35 except it has a 4.5l V8 stuffed under the hood. It’s a butter smooth and effortless 315hp. Back in 2005, I honestly wouldn’t say it’s a worthwhile upgrade from the v6 model - it’s only about 40hp over the already quick FX35 and it was a near-10,000 dollar upgrade. Yikes. However, in the OLD used market, my “premium” when shopping amounted to an additional grand or so making it a no-brainer. Both models get admittedly poor fuel economy with only 1mpg difference with the extra 2 cylinders, so there’s not really a penalty for the v8 which is much better and actually important to my choosing for another reason.
Also, I remember when these came out they ALWAYS caught my eye. Before every automaker offered 7 different car-based “SUV” options, having this curvy sleek thing darting around between the squared off boxes like Jeeps, Explorers, Blazers and Tahoes made it really cool at the time. I honestly still think it’s quite a good looking design - it has an element of movement while still, and has some muscular bulges to its shape.
My needs for a DD are a bit specific and this vehicle accomplishes it beautifully.
Comfortable - doesn’t need to be a high end luxury car, but good seats, low NVH, a decent or better stereo and a sunroof go a long way and the FX has all of this covered nicely. It rides VERY well without as much body roll as you’d expect either. I wouldn’t say it’s a canyon carver but it handles about as good as a 4000 lb lifted hatchback can be expected to without air and magnetic ride control.
Decent cargo capability - as a homeowner with a huge yard, I frequent the home depot type of hauling many times a year and a big box shape vs trunk is paramount.
Reliable - these things are from the era of “bulletproof” vehicles that basically live forever in spite of you. Make sure the oil is changed and basic upkeep is done and they tend to just run and run.
Towing - Now, I don’t need MUCH towing capacity. A “truck” is absolutely not necessary for me. However, most unibody vehicles will cap out in the 1000-1500lb towing capacity. I sometimes pull my 800lb trailer with as much as two 500lb motorcycles on it - making my needs slightly higher than most are rated for. The v6 powered FX35 is rated at 1500lb, but the FX45 I bought is rated for 3500. The difference made all the difference for me.
So all my boxes were checked by this one vehicle. A good looking entry level luxury vehicle (rear seat entertainment standard!) that I used 15 years of depreciation to my advantage for a relative bargain. Sticker price for my car when new was right around $50,000 in 2005. I found this low-mileage (78k) 15yr old example which I paid 11 thousand for. No car payment for once, just go home with a used car and drive it every day for "free".
Mechanically sound but cosmetically challenged here and there, I got what I wanted, and I got what I paid for. Low mileage means the mechanical element of this thing is basically perfect. But I can tell the one owner (carfax verified) did not own a garage and generally didn’t take too good of care of this thing. This is where age has certainly come into play.
There’s a little rust bubbling around the rear arches, and there’s corrosion everywhere underneath the vehicle - making otherwise simple tasks like changing brakes, suspension and wheel bearings a much bigger hassle than necessary. The occasions where I've had to work on it has not been pleasurable as a result - thankfully there haven’t been many. I did refinish the headlight glass but aside from that, I just don't really care what it looks like as long as it's not absolutely horrible to look at.
But this isn’t so much a review of this vehicle, it’s the real benefit of having this vehicle.
It is not precious to me. That's the key.
I don’t beat on it and mistreat it, but the best part about owning this with my mint Corvette in the garage, is that I am entirely not worried about this thing.
It gets washed a couple times a year. The inside gets vacuumed and wiped down just occasionally since I'm not a messy interior owner. Largely, it gets (lots of) fuel put in the tank, oil changes at shorter than suggested intervals just to be safe with an old engine and otherwise, when it asks for stuff it gets it but otherwise I just get in, turn the key and let it take me everywhere in comfort without thinking about it. It’s perfect.
It has a little rust and I'm not worried about it. The trim has got some sun-fade on one side (presumably the side that was parked facing south at the prior owner's house), and I'm not worried about it. Unlike the Corvette which gives me anxiety sometimes, I park the FX wherever I want and don’t think twice about it. Sure, handicapped parking is the closest and most available, but the next best thing is the spot right next to the cart return. This would normally be a no-no with my car, but in my 18yr old DD which I'm not at all precious about? It’s almost always available and I'm happy to use it. Valet my Corvette? Hell no. But the FX? Toss the keys to a teenager and head inside.
There’s something so… Freeing… about having a runabout that you’re not precious about. As a car guy I'm always obsessed with ANYTHING happening to my car that’s out of my control, and not having a single ounce of that feels terrific. The best part is that while it’s not new/fancy/etc. - It IS a really nice place to be, and pretty satisfying to drive in a way that most current crossovers are not. It was a bit of a challenge to integrate with the less than modern A/V setup (rear seat DVD player!) but
Sure, if you look up close, my FX45 has got some wear. It’s not a NICE example anymore - those days are behind it. But take a few paces back - where most people will view it from - and it looks as good as it functions. It’s a great 12-foot car, and honestly, I can’t recommend having something like this to accompany your cherished sports car enough. It won't last me forever, but hopefully it will serve me well without costing me too much along the way until my Corvette is fully paid off and then we'll see what happens next.
Do you have a DD that is too precious to you? Or are you more of a winter beater person? I'd love to hear your 2-car solutions to life in the comment section below.
I write and I know things. I am also the resident motorcycle expert at Everyday Driver - check out the Cycle Report - www.thecyclereport.com - on our YouTube channel. The views and opinions expressed here are my own and may not align with the founders of Everyday Driver.