It looks much better on the street than in photographs. For 2011, the new, controversially styled Infiniti QX56 replaces the U.S.-built, Nissan Titan/Armada-based sport/utility flagship with one based on the Nissan Patrol and built in Japan. Despite maintaining the old model's engine displacement, the '11 QX's 5.6-liter V-8 is all new, shared with the M56 and therefore more efficient and more powerful. The new platform, though, is old school -- body-on-frame.

Infiniti believes the full-size luxury SUV market has stabilized and will maintain about 105,000 units through the first half of the decade (it peaked at 291k in 2006). The market leader remains the Cadillac Escalade, though Infiniti has made inroads in recent months with its outgoing '10 QX56, thanks in part to better lease availability and incentives as it tries to sell out the old model. If not for that, the trend has been decidedly downward, from 12,288 sold in 2007, the last "normal" sales year, to just 6,440 in '09. Of course, '09 was an awful year for the auto market. Still, the trend has been toward trimmer, lower, unibody crossovers with V-6 engines, leaving volume for little more than the aforementioned Escalade and perhaps the iconic Chevrolet Suburban. The QX sells in volumes closer to the Toyota Land Cruiser and Lexus LX 570, which may be all parent company Nissan needs to justify a high-profit margin model offering incremental sales.

The distinctive sheetmetal should do it, for Infiniti. Until now, the QX and competitors like the Lincoln Navigator and Escalade have relied on over-chromed grilles and a slather of leather applied to boxy, prosaic models like the Armada, Ford Expedition and Suburban/Tahoe. From the driver's point of view, the new QX56's hood seems lifted right off the polarizingly zaftig FX models. The QX carries the Infiniti family's (including G and M sedans) design cues, and FX-like rear hatch lid and taillamps. The body side's curves present a nice departure from the SUV-box paradigm. Infiniti says the three-port vent on the driver's side front quarter-panel is a real, working, cold-air intake for the engine.