1990 Infiniti Q45

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$3,995
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chicagotribune.com
The Nissan Infiniti looks like a Jaguar, rides and handles like a Mercedes, and is priced more than $5,000 less than a BMW.

In other words, Nissan wasn`t taking any chances. It borrowed the best the competition had to offer and wrapped it into one machine.

After having driven the $35,000 Lexus LS400, Toyota`s new full-size luxury offering, we expected the $38,000 Infiniti Q-45 sedan, Nissan`s full- size luxury rival, to come from the same mold.

Lexus and Infiniti both represent new Japanese entries into the luxury car market dominated by U.S. and European nameplates. They also seem to have mimicked European designs, with Lexus sheet metal looking very Mercedes-like and Infiniti strongly resembling the Jaguar sedan.

But they are quite different in a head-to-head matchup.

Infiniti is bigger and a bit roomier. It`s built on a 113.2-inch wheelbase and is 199.8 inches long; Lexus` wheelbase is 110.8 inches and it is 196.7 inches long.

Infiniti is powered by a 4.5-liter, 32-valve, 278-horsepower aluminum block V-8 teamed with 4-speed automatic. Lexus features a 4-liter, 32-valve, 250-h.p. V-8. Infiniti is more powerful. The first time you press the pedal, you get a smooth but persuasive burst of energy.

For the ability to lead the pack, however, you`ll have to be content with a 16 mile an hour city/22 m.p.g. highway fuel economy rating that saddles the Q-45 with a $500 federal gas guzzler tax. Lexus comes in at 18/23 and avoids the tax.

The 4.5 V-8 is so smooth and peppy, we doubt luxury car buyers will be put off by a $500 tax. Bob McCurry, head of Toyota`s U.S. operations, told us the tax might send some Nissan customers Lexus` way. Don`t count on it, Bob.

Infiniti`s suspension is more European and Lexus more domestic-like, meaning the Q-45 suspension is a bit stiff and taut and provides more road feel and Lexus is softer sprung for more boulevard-type ride and handling.

Those moving from a European sedan probably will favor the Infiniti suspension, and those moving from a Cadillac or Lincoln will be familiar with the Lexus suspension.

Infiniti and Lexus come with antilock brakes and driver`s side air bag as standard. The antilock brakes worked fine in both. We didn`t have to use the air bags, but it was nice to know we had them in reserve.

Lexus has a leg up on Infiniti, if you`ll excuse the expression. The Lexus LS400 offers traction control as a $1,600 option that includes heated seats as an unrelated companion.

With traction control Lexus has the same road holding ability when the vehicle is moving on wet, snowy or icy pavement or loose gravel as it does when the car is stopping under those same conditions with antilock brakes. Infiniti will add traction control to the Q-45 sedan in 1991.

If given the choice between Infiniti`s powerful 4.5-liter V-8 and Lexus` traction control, we`d have to give the edge to t raction control.

Infiniti`s interior room front and rear is very spacious. The trunk is more than ample to hold luggage and/or the golf clubs.

Noteworthy items in the Q-45 include a programmable power steering wheel (Lexus has it, too), which moves up and retracts toward the dash so it`s out of the way for easier exit. When you turn the key on it moves out from the dash and into the driver`s favorite height position.

Other niceties include an accurate sweep hand clock in the center of the instrument panel (we told you the car was Jaguar-like); a stowage compartment in the rear parcel shelf; radio controls that pop out from the dash and rear- seat ashtrays that pop out from the doors; heated outside mirrors; 60,000- mile, platinum-tip spark plugs; a feather light spring-held hood; front- and rear-wheel mud flaps; and a service manual that`s the size of ``War and Peace`` in pocketbook form that provides schematics of all systems and diagrams of where o find all components.

We enjoyed Infiniti` s simplistic approach to luxury and convenience without the pretention of a Mercedes or BMW. If you need to activate a system, just look at the dash and there`s a clearly labeled button that requires only a light touch.

The Q-45 is not without some other annoyances, however. The primary one is that Nissan shouldn`t have waited to add traction control. The other is a small point but one that will grow in prominance over the next several weeks. The heater in the test car was slow to act and the controls aren`t easy to understand or use to direct heat to feet or face separately or at the same time. It needs revision.

Q-45 basically is a no-options vehicle. Everything is standard except a $2,500 touring package that includes four-wheel steering and a deck lid spoiler to set the car off from other Q-45s.

The U.S. automakers lost the war with the Japanese over dominance in the economy car market. If the European luxury carmakers don`t start paying attention to the size of their price stickers they`ll have to start waving a white flag, too.

In addition to the Q-45, Infiniti offers a smaller M-30 2-door sports coupe built on a 103-inch wheelbase and that is 188.8 inches long. It`s powered by a 3-liter, 162-h.p. V-6 teamed with a 4-speed automatic. It features antilock brakes and driver`s side air bag as standard. Base price is $23,500.

We`ll review the M-30 in depth later, but for now after just a brief test drive we`d advise those looking at a Mercedes 190 or any BMW 3 series to check out the M-30 first. The V-6 performs like a V-8.




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