Infiniti JX / QX60 Six-Month Road Test: Our Own Personal Assistant

April 16, 2013

A personal assistant may sound like a luxury afforded only to one-name celebrities and self-styled Trumps in the making. But the Web can do almost anything a good handler can do--even the "personal" part, in the case of Infiniti Personal Assistant.

A concierge-styled service, Infiniti Personal Assistant comes with every one of the brand's new vehicles. Infiniti says it can provide everything from travel reservations, to weather forecasts, to reminders for appointments. It's delivered entirely through a Web page, a voice connection, email or text, with a layer of virtual hand-holding taking the place of a nice young man or woman in crisp business attire.

Now, luxury is a nebulous concept. Particularly in the world of in-car telematics, it's lacking a unified field theory. The simpler setups offer Starwood Preferred-style treatment--800 hotlines, roadside assistance, and espresso in the service area. At the more extravagant extreme, Hyundai offers pick-up and drop-off service for its Equus sedan, while Tesla's Model S has full Web access on its beautiful 17-inch touchscreen, for the well-heeled DIYer.

What we found, in a brief sampling over the past month with our  2013 JX35 long-termer, is a hands-free service that bridges the gap between the JX's somewhat limited in-car systems and a white-glove treatment.

Infiniti provided us with an hour of Personal Assistant service to evaluate its talents, just in time for a major road trip to the 2013 New York Auto Show. Over the course of 1500 miles, I got to know it as "my staff," and offloaded some chores to be done in the background while I clawed north on i-81 through a snowstorm.

Since it's smartphone-driven, Personal Assistant isn't integrated very deeply into the car itself. That's evident in the overlap between some of the services it offers and those embedded in our JX's navigation system. Weather forecasts, for example, are already a part of the car's information stream--a tap or two on the dash-mounted joystick brings up local forecasts, radar maps, and temperatures. Personal Assistant will field requests for that information via their Web page, by text, by email, or by voice--but it's simpler and safer to rely on the car.

More nuanced requests are where Personal Assistant finds its light. I came up with three difficult requests for "my staff" to seek out the limits of their desktops and browser skills--and came up with a suitable answer each time.

2013 Infiniti JX Six-Month Road Test

2013 Infiniti JX Six-Month Road Test

Get on the train. Weather can make LaGuardia an unreliable way to reach New York for the auto show, so I take Amtrak's Acela. The JX needed a safe place to park, but where to find it in downtown D.C.? I called up my staff and asked if the Union Station garage allowed overnight parking without permits for an indefinite period of time. Unable to find the information on Amtrak's site, the concierge asked if I'd accept the information shortly via text, email, or a call. Within a few minutes, my iPhone lit up: "Neither the parking garage nor the office were answering so I called the Center Cafe --gave a contact name, you can park there as long as you like, they charge a rate of $22 a day." (Feel free to add in my coolly delivered dismissal: "that will be all.")

So, so much baggage. The New York show falls just before Easter, which means a visit to family. I'd never carry three big bags on Delta--but on Amtrak, could I get three roll-aboards all aboard? My staff tried to locate information on the Amtrak site for a certain type of ticket, but it wasn't spelled out explicitly other than "passengers may bring two bags on board" and check more luggage. It wasn't quite the definitive answer I wanted--but largely, was the result of information provided by the train itself.

Make me laugh. With a free night in New York, I wanted to track down some entertainment. But on a Monday, options are limited. My trick question for my staff--just to keep them on their toes--was to see about a seat at Book Of Mormon for Monday, knowing that it's touring other cities, and knowing that the theaters are dark at the start of the week. After a quick minute searching for information, I opted for a text back--and new staffer Aaron advised that "Book of Mormon does not play anywhere in NY on March 25." Correct answer, if missing the incredulous gasp a real New York concierge could offer reflexively.

What's this about a recall? While en route, the NHTSA published alerts for a possible recall on the Infiniti JX35. Curious about the status of our test vehicle, I called to see if it was counted among the recalled vehicles. In this case, my staff was unaware of the recall at all, but offered to connect me with a local service point for immediate attention.

I live on my smartphone, and in truth, I could have found most of the help I received via Personal Assistant myself, at a convenient stop. That's the key takeaway from the service: it's not elaborately interactive like the best infotainment systems, or as slavishly devoted to my every need as I would require a full-time staffer to be. It does "strive to inspire you at every turn"--the tagline each call ends on--and it warms up the driving experience with a helping hand, if and when you need it.

Infiniti Personal Assistant is free for 48 months and available on a subscription basis after that terms expires. It can be extended to a second phone, and certified pre-owned Infiniti buyers can add the service for a fee.

We're rounding the corner to the end of our test with the JX. Over the next week, we'll be writing up its gas mileage, comparing it with another significant luxury crossover, and doing the third-row test. In the meantime, read the rest of our Three-Month Road Test coverage, and see our full review of the 2013 Infiniti JX--and of course, stay in the loop with us on Facebook and Twitter.

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