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Coloring Outside the Lines: 2003 Crossover Buyer's Guide
by Steve Siler

Infiniti FX45 - The Bionic Cat
2003 Nissan Murano

When Nissan's high-end division, Infiniti, set out to design its own luxury-themed crossover, it did so in adherence to a brave new concept: the "Bionic Cheetah." Seriously.

You laugh. Okay, laugh. But tell us, can you not see a little bit of big-cat authority in its broad, blunt nose? Can you not see an unmistakably lithe quality to its enormous, wide-set wheels? Do you not agree that, if there was an automotive expression of a "Bionic Cheetah," that it would look like this?

Well, that doesn't really matter, because it's here. And if you haven't seen one on the streets yet (they've been on sale since the first of the year), you won't miss it when you do. They are much bigger in person than they look on the street. And next the Nissan Murano, with which it shares some of its under-the-skin (or is that under-the-fur?) componentry, it is much more expensive (base prices start around $37K, and go up to about $50K).

Now, no self-respecting cheetah would be worth its whiskers if it wasn't fast. Especially a bionic one. Accordingly, the base $37K FX35 comes with the same sinewy 280-hp V-6 found in the G35 (see above), and is available with either rear-wheel drive or all-wheel drive. The $42K FX45 gets a screaming 315-hp V-8 that's found in Infiniti's premium sedans, and comes only with all-wheel drive.

Even beyond its looks, the FX is unique. It has room for just five-no attempt at a third row of seats. That sloping rear window compromises cargo space somewhat, but not so much that a Costco run isn't out of the question. What you end up with, then, is a perfect performance vehicle for a fast road trip, especially if those roads lead you to the ski slopes or to a hard-to-reach campsite in the woods. An optional DVD entertainment system is there to entertain the kids along the way.