1990 Infiniti M30

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chicagotribune.com
The M30 coupe is the forgotten soldier in Nissan`s war against luxury cars.

The Infiniti M30 is the $23,500 2-door coupe partner of the $38,000 4- door Infiniti Q45 sedan.

The Q45 and its rival, the $40,000 Lexus LS400, have gotten most of the attention in the struggle against the best the domestics and Europeans have to offer in the luxury segment.

The M30, at about half the price, has gotten about half the exposure. Ditto for its low-cost luxury rival, the Lexus ES250 sedan from Toyota. Not surprisingly, the M30 accounts for about half of Infiniti`s total sales since first introduced Nov. 8, 1989.

The folks from Infiniti are counting on M30 sales to perk up when a convertible version is offered starting in July, though that`s about two months later than the peak popularity season for ragtop buying. M30 styling is rather plain, just like the Q45, and the addition of a convertible certainly will help dress it up.

We test drove the 1990 M30 coupe and found it to be a puzzling car. At times we enjoyed it far more than anything in the Mercedes-Benz 190 or BMW 3 series lineups. At other times we found it aggravating and hardly worthy of a $23,500 price tag and the designation luxury coupe.

There were a series of contradictions that we found unsettling. For example, getting into the front seat and finding a comfortable driving position was no easy task. The steering wheel rests too low. The wheel is adjustable but just doesn`t rise to a level that keeps it out of your lap.

Power seats are standard, but rearward movement stops short. And there was no downward adjustment to compensate for the low steering wheel.

Yet that same wheel stores an air bag to protect the driver in a frontal impact. And when you turn on the key, the instrument panel lights up the letters ``ABS,`` the antilock braking system designed to bring the machine to a safe stop despite highway conditions or despite whether you got a little carried away in pressing the accelerator pedal.

The suspension on the rear-wheel-drive M30 provides a push-button choice for comfort or sport setting. The comfort mode is the most pleasant for most driving situations. Sport is a bit stiff.

The 3-liter, fuel-injected V-6 develops 165 horsepower-and seems to whip those horses at the slightest touch of the pedal. Quick response with little noise. The engine seems to loaf at 60 m.p.h. The standard four-speed automatic offers the push-button choice of overdrive once you get up to cruising speed. Yet, you can`t fully appreciate the performance because not only is the wheel too close to the driver, the seat is a bit too stiff to thoroughly enjoy long-distance cruising. The seat employs side wings to help hold the driver in place in those tight corners and turns, yet the seat back feels like a slab of lead.

Another annoyance is the rear seat, or at least what passes for one. The M3 0 is built on a 103-inch wheelbase and is 188.8 inches long, ample size for a two-door coupe to offer a rear seat that can handle two adults in comfort. Yet, after fighting past the driver`s seat to get in back, you find poor head and leg room. Our head rested against the rear window, our legs nestled well into the seat ahead of us. Ironically, the seat bottom and back is more cushioned in the back seat than up front.

You have to wonder how much more rear seat room will be sacrificed when the convertible version appears. At least with top-down motoring you won`t have to worry about head room.

Unlike most cars, the M30`s radio controls are high on the instrument panel directly to the right of the wheel. It`s a novel location and easier to use than having to reach and bend over to fiddle with knobs situated low in the dash. But the steering wheel obstructs view of the control buttons.

Fuel-filler door and trunk-release dials are in the instrument pane to the left of the steering wheel. It`s a choice location that makes both very easy to use. But again a contradiction in that the easy-open lid exposes a large though not very deep trunk. Flat luggage would fit well. Tall grocery bags wouldn`t.

As for niceties, the stowage compartment in the center console serves as a convenient arm rest, the 19 m.p.g. city/25 m.p.g. highway mileage rating was above average for so powerful a performer, and the shift interlock mechanism that prevents moving out of park without applying the brake first prevents potential uncalled-for acceleration problems.

We tried the ABS system and in several simulated panic manuevers found it to be among the best we`ve experienced for fast, straight-in-a-line stopping capability.

The M30 is a one-price car. The only options are phone and compact disc player. Both are dealer, not factory-installed, options, which means the dealer is free to charge what the market will bear. The average for a phone is $950, for the compact disc player it`s been running $900 to $1,200.

Standard equipment includes automatic transmission, air conditioning, power brakes (with ABS) and steering, rear defroster, power door locks/seats/ windows, driver`s side air bag, cruise control, AM-FM stereo with cassette, power moon roof, digital clock, trip odometer, 15-inch radial ply tires, tilt steering, leather interior trim, tinted glass and intermittent wipers.



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