by Greg Wilson
After years of playing second fiddle to the Lexus LS400 and LS430, the 2002 Infiniti Q45 strikes back with a number of ‘best-in-class’ features
Remember when Infiniti and Lexus came to Canada in 1991? The first cars they introduced were their top-of-the-line luxury sedans, the V8-powered Q45 and LS400. These were the first Japanese luxury sedans to compete with traditional luxury marques like Mercedes-Benz, BMW, Cadillac and Lincoln.
Both the Q45 and LS400 were excellent automobiles, but the LS400 proved to be more popular, and as time progressed the Q45 seemed to fall further and further behind its Japanese rival. When Infiniti redesigned the Q45 in the 1997 model year, they attempted to prop up sales by dropping the asking price by $7,000, but the revised Q had problems: its new styling was criticized and it offered a smaller, less powerful 266 horsepower 4.1 litre V8.
Meanwhile, the Lexus LS400 was winning owner satisfaction awards from J.D. Power and Associates, and it was getting roomier and more powerful – in 1998, the LS400’s 4.0 litre V8 increased from 260 to 290 horsepower, and in 2001, the LS430 was completely redesigned with a larger cabin and more luxury features.
Infiniti’s answer to Lexus, and others, is the completely redesigned 2002 Q45. It can now boast a number of ‘best-in-class’ features – the most horsepower in its class, the best power-to-weight ratio, the largest interior in its class, and technologically-advanced interior features such as a menu-driven screen for audio and climate controls, a host of luxury and safety features that match or exceed its rivals, and the brightest (and weirdest) headlights.
Wider, taller, but not longer
The 2002 Q45 is about the same length at the previous model, but has a longer wheelbase (+ 40 mm) and is wider (+ 23 mm) and taller (+ 46 mm ) than its predecessor. It can now boast the most interior room in its class, but not by much – interior volume is 2891 litres – that compares to 2888 litres for the Lexus LS430, and 2820 litres for the Mercedes-Benz S430.
The rounded contours of the new Q45 give it a slippery 0.30 drag coefficient (vs. 0.32), however that’s not good enough to beat the LS430’s extremely low 0.25 drag coefficient.
The most striking feature of the 2002 Q45’s styling is the large, multi-lens projector high intensity discharge (HID) headlights – they’re about 25% brighter than the LS430’s headlamps. Seven individual lenses combine to provide a broad low beam, and additional halogen high-beams, parking lights and turn signals are also located under the clear plastic cover. Infiniti says the low beam is wide enough that additional fog lights are not necessary.
Most horsepower in its class
The Q45’s new 340 horsepower 4.5 litre V8 has 333 lb-ft of torque – up 74 horsepower and 55 lb-ft from the previous engine. This is more horsepower than the LS430, Audi A8, Mercedes-Benz S430, and BMW 740i sedans, and gives the Q45 the best power-to-weight ratio in its class.
The big Q45 will go from 0 to 60 mph in 5.9 seconds, a breathtakingly quick time for a large sedan. That compares to 6.2 seconds for the Lexus LS430, and 6.8 seconds for the Cadillac Seville (Infiniti-supplied figures).
An all-new high-torque capacity electronically-controlled 5-speed automatic transmission with a manual shift mode is standard. The new transmission is almost 50 pounds lighter than the 4-speed transmission it replaces.
In addition, a new electronic torque-demand powertrain control system manages engine power, throttle position, and the transmission gear selections to optimize smoothness and performance when driving.
I found the Q45’s performance to be very quick, but so subdued that you barely notice how fast the car is accelerating. This is very similar to the feeling I got in the 2001 Lexus LS430. The Q45’s interior is so quiet, and the transmission so smooth, that the physical sensations that normally accompany Newton’s Laws of Physics just don’t apply here. Perhaps this has something to do with the Q45’s powertrain control system which is supposed to even out the bumps in the torque curve.
Handling deceptively good
The Q45’s new, redesigned four-wheel independent suspension provides improved damping for better control. I was quite surprised at how well it corners – there’s very little lean, or brake dive under hard braking. Big luxury cars often sacrifice firm handling for a cushy ride, but the Q45 offers a satisfactory combination of both.
The Q45 features a 40 per cent increase in overall torsional rigidity, a revised vehicle speed-sensitive power rack-and-pinion steering, and 4-wheel disc brakes with ABS and electronic brake force distribution to control front and rear brake force depending on vehicle load. There’s also a brake assist system to help during panic braking and shorten stopping distances by 10 to 15 per cent.
As well, all Q45’s offer standard Vehicle Dynamic Control, a computerized anti-skid system to prevent loss of control on slippery roads.
High-tech interior is roomier
The fully redesigned interior is larger by 9.3 cu. ft. (106.9 vs. 97.4). The cockpit features a hand-stitched leather and wood steering wheel and large, round instruments with electro-luminescent illumination. A blade-less key is used to start the ignition.
A new 5.8 inch multi-functional LCD screen is mounted high in the centre dash area – it displays vehicle information ranging from climate control and maintenance updates to vehicle settings such as auto door lock and headlight delay. The system takes some getting used to because major controls such as radio volume and temperature use manual controls, while other functions use a menu system on the screen. There’s also a voice recognition system for the 300 watt premium Bose audio system and climate controls, but you have to learn the right words and phrases to operate it.
Other luxury features include a 10-way driver’s seat with memory and 8-way front passenger’s seat, dual-zone climate control system with automatic temperature control and Infiniti’s signature in-dash analogue clock.
Rear seat passengers have more legroom than before, and for the first time in my experience, sunshades for the rear and side windows are offered. Q45 Premium models have heated rear seats, a power adjustable backrest, an oversized centre armrest with rear audio and air conditioning controls, and additional air vents in the B-pillars.
While interior room has improved, the cabin doesn’t feel significantly larger than the LS430. And I was bothered by the dashboard design – I thought it protruded into the cabin, and offered a rather mixed blend of styling influences. As far as rear legroom goes, the Q45 is roomy, but it’s not until you get into the long wheelbase BMW 740il, Mercedes-Benz S430 LWB, or Jaguar Vanden Plas, that you find really generous rear legroom.
Standard Q45 safety features include dual stage front airbags, front-seat side airbags, front-seat active head restraints, side curtain head airbags, and tire pressure monitoring system.
Two models: Luxury and Premium
The 2002 Infiniti Q45 Luxury model retails for $73,000. The Q45 Premium model, which adds 18 inch wheels and tires, electronically adaptive suspension, rear power reclining heated seats, rear audio/climate controls, is $78,000. That’s a bargain when you compare it with its competitors: the LS430 ranges in price from $80,000 to $94,500; the Mercedes-Benz S430 $93,750; the BMW 740i $89,900 to $93,900; and the Jaguar XJ8 $82,500 to $91,500.