Funny how much difference a brand name - and a few thousand dollars - can make when it comes to image and the perception of value. When we tested the redesigned 2001 Nissan Pathfinder back in June, we had mixed emotions, and felt the package had too many compromises considering its $31,000 sticker. Two months later, we had the opportunity to test the Pathfinder's mechanical twin, the 2001 Infiniti QX4. All of a sudden, many of the niggling problems - the lack of rear-seat and cargo space, the middling fuel economy - seem to fade, perhaps because Nissan's premium brand has done such a good job with the details.

One puzzler: an exterior design that doesn't live up to the promise of the exquisite interior.

She: I remember taking my girlfriends for a ride in the BMW X5 last spring - which they, of course, totally dismantled and complained about. I wish we could have had a reunion for the QX4, but I can almost anticipate their complaints. No. 1: Why is there such a disconnect between the plain outside styling of the Infiniti and the plush cabin? It almost felt like I was in two different vehicles. I'd say that's my biggest disappointment - a real lack of imagination on the QX4 when it comes to the vehicle's public face. It's just too nondescript and truck-like. And if I'm spending $37,625, I want something unique to brag about, like satin-finish aluminum trim. I don't want to look like I belong in a truck commercial with Bob Seger music.

He: You actually look like you belong on Home Shopping Network. And what do you have against Bob Seger? I hate to admit it, but I happen to agree with you on the styling of the QX4. While the outside isn't much better than generic, all the deluxe items are on the inside - like the fancy clock, the lovely light wood trim and the sexy wood-and-leather steering wheel. It's really tasteful and appealing, in what looks to be a very personal luxury SUV. I would warn buyers that this may be too ritzy and upscale for some families. If you're worried about paw prints or muddy shoes, this isn't the vehicle for you. It's just too nice.

She: Well, you look to me like the guy whose dog locks him out on the patio to get at the beer in the fridge. So let's call a truce on the TV commercials. I know we both agreed that the QX4 gives buyers a fairly satisfying driving experience. The powerful new twin-cam 3.5-liter V-6 makes 240 horsepower and can tow 5,000 pounds. The four-speed automatic transmission was very smooth, the steering is pretty responsive on a vehicle that weighs two tons and the handling is not bad at all, considering the truck underpinnings. Like all SUVs, the gas mileage is abysmal - a paltry 15 in the city and 19 miles per gallon on the highway.

He: Funny, you're talking about horsepower and I'm thinking about safety. Talk about role reversal. I appreciate the fact that the QX4 comes equipped with some decent safety equipment, including standard antilock brakes, and it's one of the few SUVs on the market now with both front and side air bags. I hate to complain in the same paragraph, but I also happened to notice the lack of space in the rear seat and the cargo bay. I think that just reinforces my argument that this isn't a great family vehicle, but is really intended more for personal use by singles or couples with no kids.

She: The QX4's price looks good against some of the competition, including high-end versions of the Ford Explorer and the Jeep Grand Cherokee, which now run up to the mid- to high-$30,000s. The benefit here comes with the Infiniti brand name. Infiniti products come with a slightly better warranty - four years or 60,000 miles, bumper to bumper - and you get a free loaner when you take your vehicle in for service. Plus you get 24-hour roadside assistance. If you're looking for really nice personal transportation, and want to be pampered by your dealer, the new and improved QX4 may be a good choice.

He: Even if you happen o like Bob Seger.

2001 Infiniti QX4

Anita's rating:Above average

Paul's rating: Above average

Likes: Leather seats look, feel good. Larger, more powerful V-6. Nice attention to detail, such as light wood accents. Not a family vehicle, but very personal. Loaded with amenities. Comprehensive safety features.

Dislikes: Cramped rear-seat room. Fuel economy only so-so. Plain front-end styling does not match ritzy interior. Ride feels too trucky for a near-luxury SUV. Short on cargo space.

Type: Front-engine, four-wheel drive, five-passenger sport utility vehicle.

Price: Base, $35,550; as tested, $37,625 (inc. $525 destination charge).

Engine: 3.5-liter V-6; 240-hp; 265 lb.-ft. torque.

EPA fuel economy: 15 mpg city/19 mpg highway.

12-month insurance cost, according to AAA Michigan: $1,471 (Estimate. Rates may be higher or lower, depending on coverage and driving record.)

Where built: Japan