The new Q45 Infiniti flagship is a curious mixed bag of delights and frustrations. It seems as if it was designed by a number of committees who didn’t communicate particularly well.
The exterior styling team, to my eyes, was at pains not to make too strong a statement, and they evidently think a lot of the Chrysler New Yorker’s shape.
This is the mid-luxury segment, where a little more latitude is available than in the next class up, where the restraint associated with Old Money is expected.
The Q45, now entering its third generation, has formidable competition in this, the 50-grand-plus arena. Think Lexus LS430, BMW 540i, Mercedes-Benz E-Class, none of them, to be sure, a striking shape, but perhaps better realized than the Q.
The idea here is create a luxurious environment, easily perceived by the unwashed, with the dynamics necessary to allow at the least the illusion of 95th percentile performance, that term being broadly taken.
And indeed, the big Infiniti comes with an impressive set of numbers. The current edition is exactly the same length overall as its predecessor – about 4 gold cards’ thickness shy of 200 inches – but is more cab-forward, incorporating 1.6 more inches between front and rear axles. It’s also nearly an inch wider and a bit taller than the Gen II machine, all of which makes for a more stable platform with more interior space.
And oh, what an interior. Luscious wood and leather, electroluminescent instruments, stunning stereo, class-leading navigation system . . . what’s wrong with living in a car?
I should interject at this point that the Q45, right out of the box, is loaded with all the power assists and amenities one expects at the $50K level. However, one might well consider transforming it into something really special with the $8,000 premium package, with which the tester was endowed. This gets you an active damping suspension system, long an Infiniti speciality; 18-inch alloy wheels with champagne finish instead of the standard 17-inchers, with 45 profile tires instead of 55; a DVD-based navigation system with integrated vehicle information system, whose screen has been upgraded to 7 inches from the standard 5.8; a RearView monitor; power reclining rear seats; heated front and rear seats; rear audio and climate controls; a power rear sunshade and manual rear-window sunshades.
The very coolest among all these desideranda is the rearview monitor. It’s a color TV camera mounted near the rear license plate. It kicks in automatically when the car is put into reverse, projecting a relatively low-resolution but eminently usable color image onto the vehicle info screen. It incorporates electronically-generated grid lines to give the driver an idea of where the boundaries of the car are.
I found it was sufficiently sensitive to provide a usable picture at night when the only illumination was from the car’s own taillights and backup lamps.
The navigation system is also noteworthy. It is DVD-based, as are most these days, meaning it packs enough data to cover the whole contiguous 48 states down to street level. Early systems used CD-ROMs, and one had to use as many as 6 for that coverage – oh, how last millennium.
The really distinguishing feature of this nav system, however, is its three-dimensionality. Most of these systems are like looking at a scrolling, two-dimensional map. The Q45’s is like cruising over the terrain at 1,000 feet, with streets superimposed on the view.
The drawing gets a bit vague away from civilization, but near built-up areas, one senses the land contours and there are cartoonish icons for things like gas stations, eateries and city halls, or even a zoo.
It’s quite useful and entertaining, although it follows the general practice at each startup of making the operator agree not to fiddle with it while underway. Yeah, right, although this one attempts to circumvent that paradox by employing voice recogn technology.
Many functions, including the radio, are controllable by vocal instructions, or so the theory goes. It had enough trouble with my dulcet tones that I soon wished for a more straightforward set of knobs and pushbuttons, which would not require taking one’s eyes off the road to manipulate.
One other interesting datum furnished on the color screen was a readout for the tire pressure at each wheel. (An alarm is sounded if pressure gets too far out of line.) It agreed with the pressures I had hand set, and also reflected the rise in pressure that comes with elevated velocities. Slick, and the next step, I suppose, is developing a system that keeps pressures at a specified number.
So much for the static view of this luxocar. It is, after all, a transportation device, and as such, is more grossly overqualified than ever.
The engine is a 4.5-liter, 32-valve V-8. This replaces last year’s 4.1, thereby returning legitimacy to the vehicle’s name, and makes an impressive 74 more horsepower and 55 more foot-pounds of torque. The new numbers are 340 hp (@6,400 rpm) and 333 foot-pounds (@4,000). ThatÕs sufficient, I found, to propel the 3,801-pound machine to 60 mph from a standing start in about 6.5 seconds – a sprint worthy of a sporty car. The real fun is in the domain of 70-120 mph, where the responsiveness of the rev-loving engine is really impressive. The power is sent to the rear wheels via a five-speed electronically-controlled transmission. This was one of the smarter gear-changers I’ve encountered, seeming to pick the correct gear for most circumstances and effecting changes with a fluid ease. It was a little resistant to the notion of forced downshifts, but quickly adapted to the test driver’s propensity for exploring the trans-6,000 part of the tachometer.
Needless to say, the Q wants premium fuel, and in generous quantities, although it does avoid the “gas guzzler” penalty. EPA estimates are 17 mpg city, 25 highway. My log shows 19.7, reflecting a rather adventurous style of motoring.
In its handling, the Q45 put me in mind of a Toyota Camry – it does better than one would think, given the absence of communication with the driver.
Equipped with both traction control and stability control, it was amenable to being tossed about with some vigor. The stability control (here called Vehicle Dynamic Control) uses an array of sensors and a microprocessor to invoke power diminution and selective brake application to prevent the car from going into a slide when the driver’s demands exceed the realities of traction. When I switched off the stability control, I could get the rear end to come out, but recovery seemed a little sloppy.
The “active damping” suspension serves to provide a fine ride and a sense of stability on all kinds of roads. It works by sensing what’s going on between rubber and road and stiffening or easing the shocks to accommodate. It’s a pallid imitation of the old fully-active s uspension Nissan once employed to stunning effect on the Q45, but soon abandoned because of its complexity. The scaled-down system is still quite useful.
The Bose audio system was delicious as ever, though slightly disadvantaged by an in-glass radio antenna. And it’s hard to understand why the six-disc CD changer was relegated to the glove box, although I suppose it could be argued that’s much more convenient than the trunk.
Neither the gummint nor the insurance people have smashed a 2002 Q45 yet. I’d be reasonably confident of surviving a crash, based on its mass, the front and side air bags and the new-for-2002 full-length side curtain air bags.
A big plus in avoiding crashes is the braking system. Large vented discs front and rear, with antilock, of course, as well as brake assist, made for impressively short stopping distances with excellent pedal feel.
The research firm Edmunds says its price surveys indicate that you might be able to get a Q45 with th rmu package for about three grand off the sticker price. Some of the competitors may seem cheaper, but tack on as options some items included in the Q45’s sticker.
The tester, in addition to the big-bucks package, had a full-size spare tire/wheel ($180) and splash guards ($120), for a total, with freight, of $59,345. Payments on that would be $1,204, assuming 20 percent down, 10 percent interest and 48 installments.