In January 2002, when Infiniti unveiled the production version of its new SUV at the Detroit auto show, the senior vice president of design, Shiro Nakamura, called his Infiniti FX45 a "bionic cheetah." This might have seemed like hyperbole, had we any idea what Nakamura was talking about.

But there's no denying that the ultra-sleek FX45, which went on sale a year later as a 2003 model, certainly set a precedent. Check out the new Ford Edge and Lincoln MKX, and even the Saturn Outlook and GMC Acadia, and they look a bit like a bionic subspecies of the cheetah. Even Nissan co-opted the design for its own Murano, which is less extreme than the FX45, but still regarded as a template for handsome SUV styling.

Now, more than four years after the FX45's introduction, it still looks great, and it still doesn't make a lot of sense as an SUV. The "Sport" is there, but the "Utility" -- not so much. Despite the 4.5-liter, 320-horsepower V-8, it will tow only 3,500 pounds. The FX45 weighs nearly 4,500 pounds, and the weight, the power and the full-time all-wheel-drive conspire to guarantee miserable fuel mileage -- the EPA rating is 14 miles per gallon in the city, 18 mpg highway, and premium gas is required.

Inside, the X45's swoopy shape does not make for massive load-carrying space. This is why some SUVs, such as Infiniti's own truck-based QX56, are shaped like boxes: Boxes, after all, are pretty efficient for carrying stuff. But obviously, that isn't what the FX45 is about. Yes, it's all-wheel-drive, but the big 20-inch tires and wheels are for grip on pavement, not mud. And while the FX56 is no fun on winding roads, the FX45, built on a chassis shared with the Nissan 350Z sports car, is.

Inside, the FX45's cockpit was trendy in 2003, and seems a little dated now. Front and center is a 7-inch color screen for the navigation system, but the controls around it aren't particularly intuitive. Otherwise, this is a very comfortable place to be. I recall complaining about the too- rough ride in the original FX45, but the company has smoothed that out without giving up the handling.

The V-8 engine has plenty of power, and the five-speed automatic transmission makes good use of it, though shifting is a little jerky at lower speeds. If you can live with less power, there's the less-expensive FX35, with a 3.5-liter, 275-horse V-6.

The FX45 is absolutely loaded with standard equipment, but the test model still had lots of options, including a rear-seat DVD player ($1,400) and a "technology package" that added the nav system, satellite radio, active cruise control and a few other features, pricey at $4,200. Shipping and a few lesser options brought the $49,850 base price to a heady $56,570. You want cheetah? Expect to pay for it.