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Infiniti FX50 feels like earthbound starshipHigh-tech features include intelligent Cruise Control and Around View Monitor System.
Captain´s log, star date 2009: These are the voyages of the starship Infiniti FX50, its one-week mission to seek out new destinations, explore technical innovations and boldly go where no SUV has gone before.
Sorry -- I got carried away. Blame it on a recent trip to Philadelphia and visit to "Star Trek: The Exhibition" in that city´s Franklin Institute.
I was transported to the museum by an Infiniti starship dubbed FX50. While perusing displays of fictional phasers, transporters, warp drives and other goodies that helped make the Star Trek television shows and movies so compelling, I kept thinking about the real-world technology features that make the FX50 a treat for gadget junkies to drive.
One of my favorites was something I´ve only seen on Infiniti models. It´s a backup assist camera that goes -- or, rather, shows -- what no others have shown before.
Backup cameras have become common on new vehicles, including many made by manufacturers that aren´t considered luxury brands like Infiniti is. They use a tiny wide-angle lens planted somewhere near the rear license plate to provide a view of what might otherwise be a vehicle´s blind spot.
Shift the vehicle into reverse and the camera is activated, its video appearing on a dashboard-mounted LCD screen. These backup camera systems provide a great way to avoid running over scooters, bicycles and pets that might otherwise be out of a driver´s sightlines.
But what about fire hydrants, shrubs, fences and other "low-flying" objects that might not be directly behind the vehicle but can become road kill or damage a vehicle during parking and other maneuvers?
No problem if you´re driving an FX50 equipped with its standard "Around View Monitor System." Shift into reverse, and the FX50´s 8-inch LCD displays a split screen. On one side is the typical backup camera view. On the other is an overhead view of the vehicle, complete with all nearby objects and potential obstacles that are in close proximity.
At first I didn´t know how Infiniti managed to deliver the view. I thought it might have sonar sensors in the doors that provided rough approximations of surrounding objects. Then I realized that bushes looked like bushes and kids´ bicycles laying on the ground looked like -- well -- bicycles lying on the ground.
That´s when I looked carefully examined the FX50 and spotted the miniscule, ultra-wide camera lenses mounted at the bottom of its two door mirrors and the front of the vehicle. The camera´s at the side and rear provide a true 360-degree view of the vehicle´s surroundings, while a fixed silhouette of the vehicle in the display helps convey their proximity.
How cool is that?
At least as cool as several of the FX50´s other amazing technology features. Such as a system that not only sounds a warning when straying over a road´s lane divider (dashed or solid line), but can also selectively brake the appropriate front wheel to get the FX50 back within its lane.
Or the system that uses the laser sensors from the Intelligent Cruise Control that can automatically slow the FX50 when a crash is imminent. The system does this by constantly monitoring and evaluating closing speed on the vehicle ahead and driver input.
The Intelligent Cruise Control itself, which controls the FX50´s brakes and throttle to automatically maintain safe driving distances, is pretty sophisticated and incredibly useful technology. But given everything else the FX50 has going for it, it´s as old-school as the first-generation Klingon´s from the original Star Trek TV series.
I could go on and on about other next-generation technology features found on the FX50 I tested. These included a high-end Bose sound system with built-in hard drive and iPod interface, automatic suspension dampening, rear wheels that can turn to sharpen handling, auto-leveling headlights and rain sensing windshield wipers.
But that would prevent me from addressing the FX50´s driving dynamics, which use all of Infiniti´s technological wizardry to deliver good, old-fashioned performance.
The powerful V8 engine, for example, is silky smooth yet delivers enough thrust to reach warp drive (make that 60 mph) in a sportscar-like 5.5 seconds. No dilithium crystal is needed, but premium fuel is recommended -- and don´t expect to average more than 17 mpg in typical driving.
There´s nothing typical about driving the FX50 compared to other SUVs. This thing clings so tenaciously to the road and dances so effortlessly through tight turns that it feels like a sports car.
You won´t know you´re driving an SUV unless you look back. Do so and you´ll see less room for cargo than other midsize SUVs. But if that´s the tradeoff to get the FX50´s performance and technology, I´ll happily make the swap.
Beam me to my nearest Infiniti dealer, Scotty!
Scott Wasser is executive editor at the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram. His auto columns appears weekly in the Wilkes-Barre (Pa.) Times Leader and begins this week in the Press Herald. He can be contacted at email@example.com