Musings on the Past

The Infiniti FX – When the East found its groove

You don’t need sales figures to know that Infiniti has seen better days. Not only has its European operations got axed, but it also survives on a skeletal model range. It is fast becoming a company that is more well-known for its concepts than actual production models. Not to mention the management dramas that has paralysed the company in a state of limbo.

Even so, it must have been a slow day at Infiniti to commemorate the 20th anniversary of finalising the first-generation Infiniti FX’s design. That would be like commemorating the act of your conception rather than birth. It only made sense a few weeks later when Infiniti released a teaser image of its upcoming QX55 SUV coupe.

With the lead-up to the QX55 debut in November, Infiniti wanted to highlight its achievement in SUV-coupe design. In its commemoration of the FX, its designers waffle on about how it started the modern CUV category. That is more marketing fluff than something substantial to chew on, though they might be onto something. Although they are hitting a little wide off the mark in this case.

A design landmark

The production Infiniti FX looked nothing like the 2001 Infiniti FX45 concept

The first-generation FX might have sported some new concepts in SUV design, though its execution wasn’t quite as eye-catching. Demure and minimalist in appearance, the first FX was as interesting to the eye as a narcoleptic librarian. Its 2008 successor, on the other hand, was far more adventurous.

First-generation Infiniti FX wasn’t quite as distinctive as the concept and its successor

Beefed up with slimmer headlights, more pronounced front fenders, and curvaceous grille exudes unapologetic aggression from its cab-back profile. The FX evolved from a modernist take on the SUV-coupe concept to becoming an icon in its own right.

Breaking the mould and expectations

The word ‘icon’ might be hyperbolic when used for an SUV that isn’t wearing the Jeep or Land Rover badge. However, the second-generation FX is an exception. Not because it blew everybody’s mind in luxury or performance, but because of the way it looked. That isn’t to say that it was pretty either. It was no demure creation. It was audacious and offensive. And it was memorable in a sea of conformity and mediorcity.

You see, right up until the second-generation FX’s appearance in 2008, Japanese carmakers prefers conservative designs for its international products. Though the strategy has proven to be as reliable in making money as the car’s build quality, it hasn’t done wonders for attracting aspirational buyers. Instead, the design attracted criticism. Many saw it as a copy of Europe’s preference for subtle form at best or being just uninspired at worst.  

The FX broke that mould. Infiniti shed its European design mimicry in favour of a more distinctive flair that was different from the Western-centric designs. Some critics might have scoffed at its looks, but the FX succeeded in setting Infiniti apart from the rest. Dare I say, it looked like it could only have come from one place in the world.  

The FX would represent the beginning of a new chapter for the Infiniti name. Not only was it the spearhead of the brand’s international excursion, but future models would also follow its template. Models that followed adopted more organic and exaggerated lines, like the M sedan and Q60 coupe. Thus, allowing Infiniti to break away from the shadows of its big European premium rivals.

Infiniti’s wasted potential

Unfortunately for Infiniti, various internal and external factors stalled its product offensive on the world. All of which has led to the sad state of affairs with the company today. The FX, which was renamed the QX70 later in life, is no more. Killed off for its range of big displacement engines in an emission-sensitive world.

Alas, many will overlook the FX in terms of its design for being an SUV, even though it pointed the way forward for what a non-Western carmaker should be doing. Luckily for us, the FX stuck around long enough to make an impression, and not just in Infiniti’s books.

Instead, the torch of what Infiniti had started is now being carried by Lexus and Hyundai. Today, both companies are making a name for themselves with daring designs that go against the grain of car design. Traditionalists will still scoff at it, but the direction both companies have set has made the world richer for it. And for inspiring a new generation of car design, the Infiniti FX’s design certainly deserves to be commemorated.

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