Sheikh of sleek
Crossover cars are nothing new, but when they come in the sports-SUV variety they have generally been unified by just one common characteristic: their jarring appearance.
Porsche started the ball rolling in 2002 with its uber-SUV, the Cayenne, which was criticised by many for its slab-sided styling - looking something akin to a 911 grafted onto the body of a tank.
In 2005, Land Rover unveiled its Range Rover Sport, whose steroidal enhancements appealed principally to soccer stars. But perhaps the most unholy union between an SUV and a sports car was BMW's X6. Launched last year, the BMW took Porsche's concept one step further by attempting to stretch the body of a two-door coupe over the marque's chunky X5 SUV. The design was met with near-universal derision.
Yet, that hasn't stopped the punters from buying these half-breeds in droves, and they have proved so lucrative that a niche market for the family-sized sports car has been well and truly carved out.
Now Nissan has entered the fray with its take on the sports SUV - the Skyline Crossover. Conceived as a fusion of performance and practicality, it's Nissan's attempt to meld the sporting heritage of its respected Skyline range with the practicality of its urban SUVs. Based on the marque's FM platform (shared with the 370Z sports coupe), the Skyline SUV is a radical departure from German carmakers' concepts - and miles away from Land Rover's overdose of bling.
Smaller, lighter and more curvaceous, Nissan's sport crossover blends familiar Lexus/Infiniti curves with the slick contemporary lines of the 370Z. With its flowing silhouette and mid-sized footprint, the sleek Crossover is more restrained than the outsized sports SUVs of the past decade and - refreshingly - more frugal, too.
The softer exterior lines of the Skyline Crossover are matched by an understated, contemporary-looking cabin. Nissan offer two choices of environment: a sedate brown interior featuring crafted maple and softly tactile materials, or a sporty black interior with aluminium-style finishes.
Both cabins are luxurious, leather-swathed affairs, featuring a raised centre console and a hi-tech dashboard.
Keyless entry with a new welcome lighting system - where lamps in the door mirrors illuminate the ground below and the interior lighting activates automatically - set the tone for some of the GT-R-style gadgetry on display.
Central to operations is Nissan's Carwings navigation system, with a 7-inch touch-screen that features a new 'around view' monitor system. This comes with a bird's-eye-view parking function, which helps alert the driver to obstacles and parking lines via front and rear video cameras, and sensors that help the driver decide when it's safe to back in or pull out.
The system also allows 180-degree visibility front and rear to help 'see' round corners at blind intersections and works with the navigation system to give a wide-angle front view of traffic when the car is stationary. It's a clever system borrowed from the Nissan 370GT and it works well in practice when reversing in Wan Chai - despite its reluctance to display in any language other than Japanese.
Other cabin features include an iPod-connective Bose audio system, a power slide/tilt sunroof, individual split climate controls, an eight-way driver's seat, a four-way front passenger seat and a one-touch rear seat that can be raised or lowered automatically from the cabin or the boot.
Passive and active safety systems are also top spec, and the usual ABS set-up is complemented by Nissan's vehicle dynamic control and steering assisted vehicle stability control to combine measured stopping ability with reassuring road-holding.
If the automatic-everything interior seems like tech overkill, you won't be surprised to learn there's more of that when it comes to the Skyline's drivetrain and transmission set-up.
The 3.7-litre, V6 engine - borrowed from the 370Z - is a solid performer, generating 90 per cent of its maximum torque between 2,400rpm and 7,000rpm, and it makes short work of propelling the compact SUV around town. Yet as meaty as the 330-brake horsepower V6 sounds, the SUV's power is smoothly channelled to the tarmac via Nissan's new seven-speed transmission right through the range of ratios.
With a supple ride and light, direct steering, the Nissan feels more like a car to drive than an SUV, and its smaller proportions make it more manageable through Happy Valley's nose-to-tail traffic. But with some clear roads out on the highway, the Skyline part of the Jekyll-and-Hyde ride roars into life.
The automatic transmission blips deftly through the gears towards the red line, and the straight-ahead urgency of the V6 - and accompanying vocal note - add an impressively sporting sensation to the proceedings. SUV it may be, but the fact that the Crossover can outrun a Volkswagen GTI in a straight-line dash to 100km/h comes as no surprise.
It's impressive, too, when you consider the Crossover does this while churning out 75 per cent fewer emissions than the levels mandated by Japan's 2005 exhaust emission regulations.
If the Skyline is Nissan's answer to the BMW X6, is it time to say sayonara to the uber-SUV?
Perhaps not just yet, but Nissan has proved at least that GTI-beating performance in an SUV needn't come in such an overblown and imperious package.
AT A GLANCE: Nissan Skyline Crossover
What drives it? A 3.7-litre DOHC V6 330bhp engine linked to a seven-speed automatic transmission with manual mode.
How fast is it? The Crossover makes 0-100km/h in 6.4 seconds and has a top speed of 190km/h.
How safe is it? Fully optioned, the Crossover comes with ABS, electronic brake-force distribution, intelligent brake assist, vehicle dynamic control, steering-assisted vehicle stability control, SRS curtain, side, and knee airbags, adaptive xenon headlights and an anti-theft system.
How thirsty is it? The Crossover drinks 9.7 litres per 100km on a combined cycle.
How clean is it? It spews 239 grams of carbon dioxide per kilometre.
Available: From HK$539,000 at Richburg Motors (tel: 2877 6700)