Downshifting from seventh to first gear is an orchestral experience in the new Infiniti FX. Drop a gear, hear the engine and exhaust sing in perfect harmony. Do not be mistaken, the soundtrack is not a lullaby.

The FX is one of those cars that grow on you. At first, you may be put off by its contemporary design and Converse-like silhouette -- from some angles, it can appear as though the long hood is bigger than the cockpit. Although the FX initially appeared garish (it arrived with "Mojave Copper" paint), I warmed up to it. To appreciate this sport utility vehicle, it is crucial to remain open-minded, as its design is remarkably fitting: The FX is an outrageous SUV.

The Infiniti FX's egg-shaped exterior.

Infiniti's FX35 fills a void in the SUV kingdom. It is a no-nonsense, midsize vehicle with serious sporting intentions. This entails a 3.5-liter V6 producing 303 horsepower and 262 foot-pounds of torque. Acceleration is quick, about six seconds to 60 miles per hour, which is impressive for a vehicle checking in at 4,300 pounds.

After driving the FX50, it becomes obvious there is not an urgent need for the extra power unless you require top-end grunt. The 5-liter V8, good for 390 hp and 369 lb-ft of torque, has similar power delivery on the low end but, as the revs climb, you wonder if you are about to take off.

Stopping power is equally important. However, the 35's brake-pedal feel was reminiscent of stepping on a sponge. Sensitivity was lackluster. Perhaps it was the fact the test vehicle had nearly 15,000 miles on it or Infiniti needs to equip the 35 with the 50's upgraded brake package.

Aiding the engine's power is a first-of-its-kind transmission for Infiniti. Driving the wheels is a seven-speed automatic, which has a traditional "D" mode and a heart-pumping manual-shift option. One neat aspect of the new transmission is the downshift-rev matching. This blips the throttle when you tap the massive, column-mounted paddles beyond the three-spoke steering wheel. Finally, a carmaker besides Ferrari that has gotten it right. No more hide-and-seek and fumbling for a shift while cornering.

Equipped with a "snow" mode, the transmission changes the throttle inputs to make sure the vehicle maintains more traction in slippery environments. While driving in several inches of snow, I found the snow mode to work brilliantly. Essentially, the vehicle only feels slightly out of character.

The FX provides a symphony of exhaust notes while coming to a stop. Near the rev limiter, you have a captivating shriek. As you work your way down the RPMs, you notice a pronounced burble, which ends with a deep, bass tone. The FX sounds more like a

Nissan 350Z

or

Infiniti G37

, which makes for good fun.

Twenty-inch, five-spoke aluminum alloy wheels wrapped by eight-inch tires provide a foundation for impressive handling. Throwing the FX into tight corners and hairpin turns at speed reveals how tight the FX is -- body roll is kept in check, thankfully. Over the course of the test it became evident this is where the FX shined. Do not be mistaken: Although the FX holds its own as a freeway tourer, it's on the windy roads where the Infiniti produces a constant smile.

Imagine this: You are approaching a sweeping right-hand turn and pull the left paddle. The FX responds by downshifting and matching revs -- a burble emits from the exhaust. You hit the apex and accelerate out of the turn with a high-pitched shriek. The FX handled the turn with stability and composure. If that sounds like fun, that is because it is.

One would think the ride quality would deteriorate with such massive wheels. Certainly, you will be shocked to discover the FX35's suspension allows it to remain extremely comfortable as it absorbs bumps incredibly well. The last time I piloted an SUV with rims of this size, I considered having my teeth capped as there was nearly nothing left.

Steering remains direct and responsive. Point the car into a turn and it is bang on. However, feedback is lacking. The numbness of the steering actually manages to deceive the driver's senses of how poor the pavement is; this element is downright scary. On the highway, adjustments are consistently required. The FX seems to lose its confidence at speed.

Getting cozy within the confines of the FX showcases fantastic technology while highlighting some misgivings.

The Infiniti FX's interior, with three-spoke steering wheel, shifter paddles and navigation system.

The vehicle's navigation system is lightning quick, with route calculations and reroutes when you get lost or miss a turn. Users have the choice to use a circular knob flanked by six input buttons or the more obvious touch screen. Bluetooth capabilities took only several moments to set up and didn't require the opening of the manual in order to understand how to pair my phone with the car. For the first time, I enjoyed taking calls while behind the wheel. To put it simply, the system makes an absolute mockery of Germany's latest efforts, which are slow, dim-witted and have gotten me lost on several occasions.

Putting the FX into reverse revealed a rear-facing camera and a "bird's-eye view," which allows for much easier visibility in tight parking situations. Cameras are placed on each side of the vehicle to portray a helicopter-like image. This made backing up tremendously easy and confidence-inspiring.

Interior room is bountiful in all directions. However, passengers noted the rear seats were angled in such a way that they became uncomfortable on longer drives. The two front seats are nicely bolstered, holding you in the seat during high-speed "S" turns.

The rear storage area is reasonable, though the rear wheels intrude and eat into cargo capacity.

Fit and finish appear spot-on. The doors close like a vault, and there is no rattling from interior components over broken pavement. However, some materials are less-than-desirable. The chromed door handles feel flimsy. An inspection of interior controls revealed that many were taken from the

Nissan

(NSANY)

parts bin. This is disheartening in a vehicle with a $42,000 base price.

Expectations ran high for the 11-speaker Bose sound system, which suffers from a lack of depth. Playing a compact disc made me feel as though I was still listening to the radio.

After spending a week with an FX35 tester, it became evident what the FX is all about. The FX tries very hard to be a sports car and does a reasonably good job at it -- powerful engine, raucous exhaust note and riding-on-rails-like handling.

This SUV is reminiscent of a middle-aged man trying to fit in with 20-somethings. Just like a guy in a midlife crisis, the FX is good fun. Although, at the end of the day, you realize it is a little bit off-color.

At the time of publication, Posluszny had no positions in the stocks mentioned.

Richard Posluszny is a finance and information technology management double-major at Seton Hall University. He is an outside contributor, focusing predominantly on the automotive industry. He publishes a blog,

Automotive Times

.