2022 Infiniti QX55 First Drive - When looks matter

Japanese automaker Infiniti is the first to admit its all-new 2022 QX55 four-door crossover is not meant for everyone. And they mean it, too. It's a fact not only stated on its official website, but the top brass at Infiniti believes in carving a niche in the growing coupe-crossover segment. "Infiniti has always been a brand that believes in defying conventions," said Payman Kargar, Senior Vice President and Global Chairman of Infiniti Motor Company. "We believe in making vehicles that are not for everyone but mean everything to some."

In the case of the 2022 Infiniti QX55, that means bringing back some of the spirit of the brand's iconic FX crossover, a midsize luxury SUV manufactured from 2002 to 2013. Specifically, the newest QX55 bears striking design cues to the second-gen S51 FX model from 2008. It's hard for an SUV to be unforgettable or iconic, and few SUV's from the past are worth remembering at all, but the Infiniti FX was different. It made no pretensions about rugged performance or off-roading, and it didn't have a Nissan-branded equivalent worldwide, even in Japan. Instead, it was designed entirely to suit North American tastes.

The resulting SUV – specifically the FX45 AWD and its 320-horsepower 4.5-liter V8 motor – is best known for its shapely body and leap-forward styling, promising a blend of sporty on-road performance and luxurious accouterments, all wrapped in a budget-friendly MSRP. It's a big, roomy, and practical sports coupe, and I'm noticing the same attributes in my 2022 QX55 test vehicle.

Based on a standard five-seat QX50, the QX55 has the same swooping roof, robust proportions, and high beltlines as the old FX. But, unlike the FX, the 2022 QX55 has a more prominent front grille with an origami-inspired inner mesh. The most notable design element of the QX55 is its bulging hood with curvy lines running to the A-pillar base, harking back to the FX's prowling silhouette.

No doubt, the 2022 QX55 is a beauty, and it emanates a more youthful and exuberant vibe than its QX50 stablemate. However, Infiniti's biggest design triumph is in the rear with its clean liftgate and gorgeous taillights, a far cry from the BMW X6 and Mercedes-Benz GLC's ungainly rear-end design. "The QX55 is about style before status," adds Phil York, General Manager, Global Brand and Marketing at Infiniti. "It's not about owning it. It's what you do with it that counts."

The 2022 Infiniti QX55 is mechanically similar to the QX50, which had me initially concerned whether performance and handling would be somewhat similar. It's powered by a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine with Nissan's variable-compression technology that automatically switches from high compression (better fuel economy when idling) to low compression (stronger acceleration) with a drop of the right foot.

On tap is 268 horsepower and 280 pound-feet of torque, and it pulls with mild aggression in the QX50 at the expense of fuel economy. Not the engine's fault, really, but the sluggish continuously-variable transmission (CVT) is to blame. Infiniti knew this from the onset and went on tinkering with the CVT in the new QX55. There's a new torque converter inside the gearbox, and Infiniti made improvements to the lockup timing and shift mapping, and you'll feel the changes from the get-go. The QX55 offers better throttle response and low-speed acceleration befitting of its athletic styling, while standard all-wheel-drive (AWD) delivers outstanding grip when you need it most.

Inside, the QX55's cabin is a virtual clone of the QX50's interior design with dual 8-inch and 7-inch touchscreen displays, but Infiniti is opting for cleaner styling over garish embellishments. There's none of that lavish quilted leather upholstery found in the top-end QX50. Instead, faux-leather is standard, while genuine cowhide and semi-aniline leather remain optional. And instead of festooning the cabin with predictable carbon-fiber, the QX55 has black open-pore wood trim mixed with aluminum and soft-touch materials.

Admittedly, rear headroom is not as good as in a regular QX50, but my 6'2" frame fits nicely in the QX55's rear seats; they slide fore and aft, too, to maximize either legroom or cargo space. Speaking of the latter, you have 26.9 cubic feet of storage room with the rear seats in the upright position. Fold the seats down, and you have 54.1 cubic feet of space. Sure, the BMW X6 offers slightly more cargo space, but the X6 also starts at $65,050.

The 2022 Infiniti QX55 is an honest-to-goodness interpretation of a sporty, practical, and fun-to-drive crossover. It'll be available in three trim models when it arrives at U.S. dealerships this spring. The QX55 Luxe starts at $47,525 with heated seats, a sunroof, 20-inch wheels, Apple CarPlay, and active noise canceling. Next, the QX55 Essential adds heated and cooled seats, a heated steering wheel, a 360-degree camera, and a premium 16-speaker Bose audio system for $52,625.

Prepare to shell out at least $58,075 to enjoy interior ambient lighting, semi-aniline leather upholstery, three-zone climate control, and a motion-activated liftgate in the top-of-the-line QX55 Sensory. All trim models of the 2022 Infiniti QX55 get a host of active safety equipment, including blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, automatic high beams, forward collision warning, lane departure warning, and forward emergency braking.