Whenever we see an Infiniti, the first thing that comes through is its message of style. However, when a 2013 Infiniti JX35 AWD arrived in our Four Seasons fleet, we realized that it would be silly to look only at its exterior. Instead, we had to turn our imagination inside out, because it's the inside that counts. The sheetmetal is just the hard candy shell for the possibilities within.

Not that the Infiniti JX fails to cut a striking figure and all that. Even road test editor Christopher Nelson (who ordinarily disdains SUVs) came to appreciate the JX. In our logbook, he admits, "I'm shocked by how handsome it is. The organic body lines flow beautifully, and the steeply raked windshield is like something from a sports car. The slim chrome trim that surrounds all the profile glass looks like it was drawn with a calligraphy pen."

The JX35 is equally impressive on the inside, perhaps because we didn't hold back with the options, which included the $1700 Theater Package (dual seven-inch color monitors for entertaining rear-seat passengers), the $2550 Deluxe Touring Package (which included such items as climate-controlled seats and twenty-inch wheels), the $3100 Technology Package (with safety features like adaptive cruise control and collision warning), and the $4950 Premium Package (navigation, super-duper audio, and surround-view cameras with sonar parking sensors).

We know and love the five-passenger Infiniti FX, which, in providing luxurious, high-speed, all-wheel-drive passenger transportation in the style of the Porsche Cayenne, emphasizes the "sport" in sport-utility. The JX, on the other hand, is more firmly in the utility camp. This crossover, built on the front-wheel-drive platform that also underpins the Nissan Altima, has a sliding and reclining 60/40-split second row, a third row, a spacious cargo area with an underfloor compartment, and a nearly flat load floor. It's like a kind of nested box of possibilities.

A glance at the logbook shows that we immediately took advantage of those possibilities. The JX became our primary adventure vehicle in the year it spent with us. It went to Jackson, Mississippi, and Lennox, South Dakota. It went to Indiana and Michigan's Upper Peninsula. It wore out the interstate between Ann Arbor and New York City. It went to Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. Heaven help us, it even went to Dollywood.

You wouldn't believe the things we carried. Copy editor Rusty Blackwell had a full load on day trips in the Great Smoky Mountains: "There was ample space for six people (two small kids among them). A big Coleman cooler just fit behind the third-row seat, and a large hiking backpack fit on top of the cooler." When the holidays rolled around, executive editor Todd Lassa noted that, "The surround camera comes in very handy when you've got the cargo space full of luggage, Christmas gifts, and two collies. Plus, the underfloor storage bin is a good place to keep food away from the dogs." Lassa handed off the keys to deputy editor Joe DeMatio for the New Year's holiday weekend: "We had four passengers, and the cargo hold was stuffed to the gills with two extralarge duffel bags, briefcases, backpacks, multiple pairs of boots, a large roasting pan, a case of wine, a case of Pellegrino, and assorted bags and boxes of foodstuffs with which to prepare two gourmet dinners for ten people.

" Later in the winter, Blackwell took the JX on a weekend trip with his buddies, cramming it with "cases of beer, duffel bags, poker chips, ice skates, hockey sticks, skis, and ski poles. We only wished that the middle row had a pass-through, since the skis and hockey sticks were leaned across the back of the second-row bench and pointed right at the panoramic glass roof."

Senior web editor Phil Floraday evaluated the unibody JX's light-duty towing capacity of 3500 pounds when he took his 2000-pound pop-up camper on a trip to Grand Haven, Michigan. He says, "The biggest benefit of towing with a vehicle that has a continuously variable transmission like the JX is the complete lack of harsh shifts. We saw about 14 mpg from the 265-hp, 3.5-liter V-6 -- not great, but not terrible."

Blackwell, who compared the JX to a minivan simply by hauling around his young family and the full complement of child accessories that comes with it, had some astute observations: "A tandem stroller fits easily in the back with the third row folded. The second-row seat slides back far enough so the kids can't kick the front seatbacks (a priceless feature). Anyone who'd be comfortable in the wayback seat for more than ten minutes will be able to get back there easily. And all-wheel drive is a feature that you can't find on every minivan."

We spent plenty of time just driving around, of course. The JX has an abundance of active safety features, and we embraced cruise control with active distance control. After a very foggy freeway drive, Nelson noted that the JX's ability to automatically brake for unseen, slow-moving vehicles kept his mother, who was riding shotgun, calm. At the same time, he says, "With all the safety systems engaged, the JX practically wants to drive itself, but it doesn't want to be driven. On the highway, it has a nice, cushy ride. However, when you drive it more assertively, the car shows its cards. It rolls through corners, the steering feels disconnected, and the CVT groans like a cow giving birth."

While the CVT might be useful for enhancing fuel economy, it can't suspend the laws of physics. So when you drive fast or carry a heavy load, the mileage for the 4419-pound JX plummets. We tried to use the Eco feature, which increases the throttle pedal's resistance to a heavy right foot, but we were more often stupidly wasteful. The JX AWD gets the kind of fuel economy that its EPA rating of 18/23 mpg city/highway promises, but because premium fuel is required, filling up can be pricey.

Our friends at Tire Rack suggested we replace the standard 235/55HR-20 Bridgestone Dueler H/P Sport AS tires with genuine winter rubber when the first snow flurry hit the ground, and indeed the Bridgestone Blizzak DM-V1 tires on Sport Edition TX8 wheels ($1600) took the worry out of winter.

Our experience with the JX wasn't perfect, of course. Like its corporate twin, the Nissan Pathfinder, the JX feels big, so the fenders always seem like they're a little farther away than you'd like. The seats are a bit small for big people, and the bottom cushion of the second-row seat is too low for long-distance comfort. The sound volume through the Bluetooth connection isn't great, and we'd like a specific touchscreen setting for the audio inputs like those for the climate control. Most important, the interior seemed to degrade in both appearance and integrity (rattles set in) as time went on.

When the JX first arrived in our fleet, we noticed that the left-rear door was misaligned. Later in the vehicle's life, the adaptive cruise control was reprogrammed under a recall. We got sideswiped in Chicago ($2769) and tagged in the bumper in a Michigan campground ($998).

We tend to take crossovers, even ones as stylish as the Infiniti JX35, for granted on weekdays, since they usually drive without many signs of personality. As so often happens with spacious utility vehicles in our Four Seasons fleet, though, we racked up a lot of miles -- 30,993 of them. When it was Friday afternoon and weekend adventures awaited, the keys to the JX35 were the hottest commodity in our office.

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