One-time Democratic frontrunner Howard Dean had it. John Kerry grabbed it away from him. The New England Patriots rode it all the way to a Super Bowl triumph.

It's called momentum — that intangible phenomenon that makes a body in motion stay in motion, or perhaps creates the aura of a charmed existence.

Infiniti believes it's got momentum, too.

After years at the bottom of the luxury-car pecking order, Nissan Motor Co. Ltd.'s luxury division two years ago saw sales start to rise, thanks to strong new products, for a 35% gain from 2002 to 2003 totals.

Infiniti now launches its QX56, a bold, brash and downright enormous luxury SUV aimed at society's upper echelons.

A short time ago, this portly vehicle — which Infiniti defines as “massive precision” — never would have flown with consumers, who ignored its predecessor, the much- smaller and far less conspicuous QX4.

The QX4 was discontinued and replaced by the FX35/45 cross/utility vehicle and the QX56, which is based on the recently launched Nissan Armada fullsize SUV.

Infiniti believes the time is now for the QX56 — the brand's first vehicle built in the U.S., at Nissan's new Canton, MS, manufacturing facility.

Infiniti's goal with the QX56 “halo” is to elevate the brand's prestige image and establish Infiniti as a full-line manufacturer with an 8-passenger SUV.

It also places Infiniti amid a luxury-utility segment forecast to grow 72% between 2002 and 2008, competing with the Cadillac Escalade, Lincoln Navigator, Range Rover and Lexus GX 470. If the QX56 achieves its sales target of 15,000 units, it will capture a 15.1% share.

While 15,000 annual sales seems small, the number gains significance when examining the truck's rarefied customer. Purchasers, Infiniti says, will have household incomes of at least $350,000 annually.

And those wealthy consumers must appreciate a truck that journalists have called “in-your-face,” “downright ugly” and “very bling-bling.” That's because of its stand-out design, accentuated by the same oddly arching roofline atop the Armada, a Nissan Titan-like grille and chrome accents galore.

The interior design is more conservative, equipped with luxury features including a standard DVD-based navigation system; second-row heated and reclining seats; power adjustable pedals; and a 6-disc, in-dash CD changer.

The second row comes either with a bench or captain's chairs, while the third row folds flat into the floor.

The QX56 is powered by the same 5.6L DOHC V-8 in the Armada and Titan pickup. In this version, the all-aluminum engine, adapted to run on premium fuel, achieves 315 hp at 4,900 rpm and 390 lb.-ft. (529 Nm) of torque at 3,600 rpm. Infiniti expects a 75% take rate for the all-wheel-drive option.

The QX shares its architectural underpinnings — the F-Alpha platform — with the Nissan trucks, and it rides on the same full-length boxed ladder frame. But more than a badge differentiates the Infiniti version from its Nissan counterpart.

The Infiniti benefits tremendously from an independent rear suspension, which makes the beast handle like an average-size vehicle.

The Canton plant also loads in 70 lbs. (32 kg) more of sound-deadening insulation than the Armada gets.

A tow capacity of 8,900 lbs. (4,037 kg) and a roof-rack capacity of 200 lbs. (91 kg) should be more than adequate for an upper-crust vacation.

The QX56, with a base price of $50,400 for the AWD version, went on sale the end of February.