I've developed a love of the absurd. It is necessary to thrive as an observer of an industry constantly at odds with logic.
Witness the 2003 Infiniti FX45. It is the machine opponents of sport-utility vehicles think they want -- for people who want traditional sport-utility vehicles.
The FX45 is a "crossover utility vehicle," a CUV. That is a euphemism. It means the FX45 is not, per se, an SUV.
In terms of geometry and design, that's true. Compared with traditional SUVs, the FX45 has a relatively low minimum ground clearance -- 7.6 inches, compared with 8.5 inches for a four-wheel-drive, mid-size Ford Explorer and 10.5 inches for a full-size Hummer H2.
Traditional SUVs are built body-on-truck-frame. The FX45 is built body-on-sports-car platform -- specifically, the same rear-wheel-drive platform used for the Nissan 350Z sports coupe and the Infiniti G35 coupe and sedan.
The FX45 has a long wheelbase, a wide track and a low center of gravity. That means it is less inclined to roll over than traditional SUVs -- a matter of some concern to SUV opponents, although rollovers account for 2.5 percent of all crashes involving all kinds of vehicles on U.S. roads.
Because it is built on a car platform, the FX45 theoretically would be more compatible in a crash with a car than would a truck-based SUV. But compatible does not mean benign. A large car theoretically would be more compatible in a crash with a compact car than would a truck-based SUV. But the people in the smaller car would be likely to suffer more grief than the people in the larger one.
Think of the FX45 as a very large station wagon imbued with sports-car performance -- and the appearance and attitude of a radically wicked Hummer H2. If that thought frightens you, go ahead and shudder.
The FX45 is a low-slung, road-hungry, 315-horsepower beast. Nissan will sell every one, even at an entry price exceeding $40,000. Here's why:
Several years ago, Nissan was drifting into bankruptcy in pursuit of the lowest common denominator. It did not want to offend anyone, so it mimicked the least offensive products on the market, following the conservative styling of Toyota Motor Corp. and Honda Motor Co. But Nissan did not have Toyota's reputation for quality, nor did it have Honda's reputation for engineering innovation or long-term reliability.
Nissan didn't sell cars and trucks back then. It sold cut-rate deals. But Nissan now has a new approach. It has embraced passion at the risk of popularity; and in doing so it has discovered that everyone, even the puritans among us, loves a red-hot affair.
The FX45 -- with its deliberately muscular, provocative styling -- is the latest hot-to-trot runner turned out by Nissan's design and engineering teams. It follows the successful introduction of the front-wheel-drive Nissan Murano CUV, the born-again Nissan 350Z, the Infiniti G35 coupe and sedan, and the re-engineered Infiniti Q45 sedan.
The company is on a roll. Shoppers who feel the rush of the FX45's engine -- derived from the Q45 sedan -- will be seduced. Folks who sink into its sumptuous, thoroughly modern interior will want to remain there. They will fall in love. Never mind that the FX45 essentially is nothing more than a brilliantly zoot-suited station wagon. They will fall in love, as others are falling in love with other CUVs that look like SUVs but run like bats out of hell.
So, to the SUV haters, I say this: Be careful of what you wish for in a consumer-driven market where passion frequently cavorts with practicality. You are likely to get it.