It’s been two decades since Infiniti’s designers unveiled their “Bionic Cheetah” at the Detroit auto show.

A revelation, the FX sport utility vehicle foreshadowed the current popularity of crossovers that put far greater emphasis on tarmac-based performance than utility, and being based on the 350Z’s underpinnings, the Infiniti definitely emphasized the sporty side of the equation.

At the time of the FX’s launch in 2003, the only real sporty SUV competitor was the equally new (but highly controversial) Porsche Cayenne, and it would take years for other manufacturers to catch on to the “crossover coupe” style theme.

Stylish Sportback

There’s a new Infiniti crossover coupe called the QX55, and if it reminds you of the Bionic Cheetah, the designers will be pleased. In reality, where the FX looked like a muscle-bound moon buggy, especially in V8-powered FX45 trim, this new machine looks like a QX50 with a hunched back.

Lest this come across as overly critical, the QX55 is actually handsome by the modern crossover coupe idiom. Its rakish design is meant to speak to a buyer who puts greater emphasis on style than those who choose the more practical QX50. The QX55 wears an oversized version the brand’s signature grille, with an aggressive headlight design and a nose badge that’s larger in real life than it appears in photos. The designers have done a good job of keeping the lines clean with the QX55’s various sensors well-hidden up front.

Similarly, the sloping roof line falls into a simple vertical panel thanks to the licence plate opening being relocated to a cut-out in the bumper, and the taillight shape is one aspect that actually recalls the FX.

The QX55’s interior unsurprisingly looks just like the QX50’s. Some exterior colours come with a two-toned red and black interior that should liven up the appearance; otherwise, the dark leather and suede-like interior of this test sport utility becomes a little cave-like, especially toward the shadowy rear seat and cargo area.

Mixed Bag of Tech

Where competitors like the Mercedes-Benz GLC 300 Coupe are going to all-glass cockpits with bright, crisp digital gauges and infotainment units, Infiniti has stuck with traditional gauges and their stacked two-screen infotainment. The gauges work just fine, and they’re supplemented by a small digital screen between them, offering lots of information to the driver – it’s just that it all appears a bit dated against the competitive set-ups.

Infiniti offers an on-board Wi-Fi hotspot, but the twin-screen display adds an unnecessary level of complication that’s nowhere near as intuitive as many of the contemporary single-screen systems offered throughout the industry – and indeed within parent company Nissan’s own repertoire. Needing to direct one’s attention to a separate screen from the mapping screen to input a destination is confusing, and adding a small console-mounted rotary dial for other functions muddles matters further.

As a first for Infiniti, wireless Apple CarPlay is offered (Android Auto still requires a hardwired connection), and it proved to work smoothly during testing. Curiously, despite the wireless connectivity, there’s no wireless charge pad in the QX55.

Good Space, But Missing Features

The QX55’s front seats are heated, ventilated, and very comfortable, though the lower cushion is a bit short and doesn’t extend for under-thigh support the way most of the competitive models do.

Typically, a major compromise faced by buyers of crossover coupes versus the more traditionally shaped SUVs is dramatically reduced rear-seat space. Not so with the QX55, however, where rear-seat legroom is not only the same as it is in the QX50, but both leg- and headroom are superior to all of the Infiniti’s direct crossover coupe competitors.

Luggage space expands from 762 L with the rear seat up to 1,532 L with it down. That's 290 L shy of the QX50’s space, but with it only applying to the height of the cargo hold, there’s still ample usable space.

The QX55 foregoes the QX50’s panoramic sunroof for a traditional front-only unit, but more shockingly for a top-trim SUV in this segment, there are no heated rear seats. In an era when buns can be warmed in the back seats of vehicles costing less than half what this Infiniti does, it’s a seemingly small omission that could drive shoppers elsewhere.

Where Infiniti didn’t skimp is with safety. The QX55 comes with predictive forward collision warning and emergency braking both front and rear. The top trim model also comes with Infiniti’s advanced adaptive cruise control and lane-keeping assist system that adds steering help assuming the driver's hands remain on the wheel.

Plenty of Performance

With its sportier looks, motorists may wish to keep the driving fun for themselves rather than let the computers do it. The 2.0L turbocharged four-cylinder engine makes good use of its 268 hp and 280 lb-ft of torque. Both figures match or surpass the output from any of the QX55’s key competitors, and on the road there’s a noticeable shove of turbocharged oomph when accelerating away from a stop, and throughout the midrange. The latter is especially appreciated, when passing moves are quick and easy.

While Infiniti’s engineers have baked in simulated gear changes, the QX55’s continuously variable transmission (CVT) still saps some of the enjoyment from what’s an otherwise good drivetrain. There’s a bit of softness from the CVT when reacting to initial throttle tip-in, and a stomp on the accelerator is met with a brief hesitation before the willing engine is permitted to do its thing. In fairness, under normal driving conditions, the QX55’s behaviour is just fine, and most buyers are unlikely to even notice the hesitation, but the few who have grown to appreciate the snappy responsiveness from the German competitors may miss it here.

The QX55’s steering is sufficiently quick, and offers enough road feel to make spirited back-road drives and on-ramps enjoyable. Despite its decent handling, the ride feels sporty without being harsh, a feat made all the more impressive by the 20-inch wheels that are standard across the board. Brake performance is also good, with solid pedal feel.

Priced to Compete

Infiniti is offering the QX55 in three trims in Canada. All three will have the same engine and transmission, and all-wheel drive is also standard equipment. The Luxe trim starts at $51,995, with the Essential ProASSIST trim at $56,998 adding leather seats, the 16-speaker Bose sound system, navigation, adaptive cruise control, and a few other notable additions.

The test vehicle seen here is a top-shelf Sensory trim with a list price of $60,998 that adds in a premium leather, head-up display, genuine wood trim, ventilated seats, and the advanced adaptive cruise system. The Sensory trim’s price splits the difference between a comparably equipped Mercedes GLC 300 Coupe and a BMW X4, both of which offer less passenger and luggage space than the Infiniti.

Infiniti’s QX55 has the style to fit within this somewhat niche segment, and its willing engine will ensure it keeps up with the competitive models; but only time will tell if buyers will be willing to forego some of the key features that can be found elsewhere for roughly the same price.

The QX55 is scheduled to arrive at Canadian dealerships in April 2021.

Competitors