By Haney Louka
Photos by Grant Yoxon
It must be tough being the perpetual underdog.
Since 1990, Infiniti’s flagship Q45 has been battling the Lexus LS400 and LS430 in a bid to provide the consummate definition of the Japanese luxury sedan. And, if sales figures are used to keep score, the Q45 has not fared too well.
While the original Q45 was one of my favourites from that era, it put much more emphasis on sportiness than luxury, and that didn’t catch on with those who could actually afford the car. So within two years, the Q got softer and lost its sporty edge. But it also lost its uniqueness and found itself appealing to neither the sport or luxury sedan buyer.
In 2002, an all-new Q was born, packing a 340-hp V8, rear wheel drive, and more luxury features and doodads than ever before. And there are a few changes for 2003 that Infiniti hopes will appeal to the well-heeled luxury car buyer. Leading the charge are a revised final drive ratio to improve acceleration feel (more later) and cosmetic changes to the front and rear fascias.
Price of admission for the Q45 Sport is $74,900. While the complete list of standard features alone could fill up this review, there are a few notables to mention. Vehicle dynamic control (VDC), 18-inch wheels, xenon headlights, leather and genuine wood trim galore, dual-zone climate control, auto-dimming mirrors, 300-watt Bose stereo, intelligent cruise control, and countless other luxury, comfort, and convenience items find their way to the standard equipment list.
My test example was the Premium model, which sits a notch above the Sport, commanding no less than 85,800 loonies from your piggy bank. In addition to the DVD-based navigation system (optional on the Sport), the Premium adds chrome alloy wheels, power closing trunk lid, climate controlled front seats (yes, that’s heating and cooling), larger 7-inch colour monitor, a rear-view camera, power reclining heated rear seats, and a few other goodies.
Powering the top dog Q45 (as well as other Infinitis with the same numerical assignment, the M and the FX) is a 4.5 litre, 32-valve V8. In the Q, this motor produces 340 horsepower at 6,400 rpm and 333 lb-ft of torque at 4,000 rpm. Notable design features of the internally named VK45DE engine include lightweight pistons, titanium valves, continuously variable valve timing, and a variable length induction system. The rear wheels receive power via a 5-speed automatic transmission with manual shift mode.
The “performance-tuned” suspension is independent all around with struts up front and a multi-link arrangement in the rear. Stabilizer bars are provided fore and aft and there’s an active damper system that allows the driver to choose between auto and sport settings.
Vented discs all around provide stopping power, with such electronic aids as anti-lock, electronic brake force distribution, and brake assist.
Inside and Out
The Q is for people who don’t want to drive a statement; rather, they demand all of the luxury and performance of more status-oriented brands without wanting to stand out. I think this because Infiniti’s stylists did very little to make the Q45 look distinctive. It’s a substantial, elegant shape to be sure, but it’s not one that’s instantly recognizable. Perhaps the most distinctive aspect of the Q’s styling is found in the headlight treatment, where no less than 11 bulbs make an appearance on each side, including seven just for the HID low-beam xenons.
Other subtleties make a difference too: The long, chrome exterior door handles, multi-spoke 18-inch chrome wheels, and gradually sloping roofline combine to achieve the low-key but elegant overall appearance.
Inside, though, is where the Q45 really earns points. It includes just about all of the gizmos and gadgets that are expected of today’s luxury rides, and wraps them up in a functional, elegant interior.
Infiniti has boldly gone in its own direction with the layout and styling of the dash and instrument panel. Backlit white on black gauges are a model of simplicity and ensure that primary information is always at the forefront. The steering wheel contains controls for the cruise control and audio, and their operation is quite intuitive compared with those on BMW and Mercedes-Benz wheels.
The biggest risk, however, has been taken in the design of the central pod on the dash that houses audio, climate control, and navigation system controls. For the most part it’s a success, but I found the audio and climate buttons somewhat scattered with little logic to their placement. Below the central pod is Inifiniti’s signature analog-style clock, while an in-dash six-disc changer is set back at the bottom of the stack. A cassette player is located in the glove box.
But it’s the passengers that the Q45’s interior was really designed around. How about climate-controlled front seats with heating and cooling capabilities? Or, for rear passengers, controls for climate and audio settings and power reclining seats? Combine these features with sunshades for the backlight and side windows and you’ve got first-class accommodations for two back there.
The Driving Experience
I noted earlier that Infiniti has revised the final drive ratio in the Q45 for better acceleration feel. This was in response to owners and potential customers who noted that it sure doesn’t feel like 340 horsepower. Well, if the numerically higher final drive ratio helped, it didn’t help by much. I suspect it has more to do with the “Electronic Torque-Demand Powertrain Control System” that’s intended to optimize delivery of power to the wheels. If you ask me, it just gets in the way.
Off the line, the 340-hp Q actually feels a little sluggish until the revs build. It’s not until highway speeds where the engine feels like it’s on full boil. Before that, it seems there’s an invisible nanny keeping the power from burning the rubber off the wheels.
The Q rides like a dream. It soaks up pavement irregularities and expansion joints with aplomb, and maintains reasonable control over undesirable body motions resulting from accelerating, braking, and turning.
Which brings me to my main beef: this is not a sporting machine. Rather, it seems Infiniti has left that role to the G35 family, and decided that luxury is the Q’s raison d’etre. Steering response is smooth but slow and uncommunicative. Also slow are transmission downshifts that, as a result, are not the smoothest once they do happen.
But toys make an attempt to substitute for passion in this ride. Among the most notable is the intelligent cruise control. The driver can choose how much distance is desired from the car ahead, and the system will cut the throttle and activate the brakes if the car ahead slows down. I thought the system worked great for the most part. It was hesitant to pick up speed on its own once the road ahead was made clear though. And one situation I encountered managed to confuse the system: cruising along a large-radius curve with a semi in the adjacent lane and several car lengths ahead, the Q slowed down as it thought the semi was in my lane. Overall a competent system, but not perfect.
Another cool toy is the rear view camera that incorporates a wide-angle lens nestled under a ledge near the license plate. When reverse gear is engaged, the navigation system screen automatically reverts to the view through the camera lens. Also on the screen are two dashed lines that represent the edges of the car so drivers will know whether an obstacle is in the way well before it becomes an issue.
To Sum It Up
The Q45, while not my cup of tea, offers luxury car buyers lots of smooth power and cool toys in lieu of a passionate and sporty driving experience. And while it wins the horsepower wars on paper, it does fall short in seat-of-the-pants feel.
The Q competes with a variety of vehicles from all over the world, each one attempting to provide the ultimate definition of what luxury is:
- Audi A8
- BMW 745i
- Cadillac DeVille
- Jaguar XJ8
- Lexus LS 430
- 7Mercedes-Benz S430
Technical Data: 2003 Infiniti Q45 Premium
|Price as tested||$85,800|
|Type||4-door, 5 passenger luxury sedan|
|Layout||front engine/rear wheel drive|
|Engine||32-valve DOHC V-8, 4.5 Litres|
|Horsepower||340 @ 6,400 rpm|
|Torque||333 lb-ft @ 4,000 rpm|
|Transmission||Five speed automatic with manual shift mode|
|Tires||P245/45VR18 all-season performance|
|Curb weight||1,744 kg (3,845 lb)|
|Wheelbase||2,870 mm (113.0 in)|
|Length||5,069 mm (199.6 in)|
|Width||1,844 mm (72.6 in)|
|Height||1,491 mm (58.7 in)|
|Trunk capacity||385 litres (13.6 cu. ft)|
|Fuel consumption||City: 13.6 l/100 km (21 mpg)|
|Hwy: 9.2 l/100 km (31 mpg)|
|Warranty||4 yrs/100,000 km|