Infiniti's new Q45 flagship reflects the soul of the original Q. Sometimes the way to the future lies in the past. Just ask Infiniti.

The all-new third-generation Q45, clearly a giant step forward, mirrors the performance image of the original Q, yet it is wrapped in the kind of graceful, muscular styling fitting for a flagship vehicle. The combination of power and elegance sets a tone that will be reflected throughout the rest of the vehicle line as the company seeks to refocus the brand with six new products in the next few years.

Remember the first Q45? It hit the market about the same time as the Lexus LS 400 and Acura Legend. It had a robust engine, 278 horsepower and no grille. For a luxury car, its cabin was relatively austere. The seats were firm and covered with tightly stretched leather. Not one sliver of wood trim could be found anywhere. A tiny, analog clock sat proudly in the center of the dash. Unlike its Japanese competitors, the original Q had a definite performance personality. It was a driverÕs car, not a luxury cocoon. As succeeding generations evolved, the performance edge was dulled. It gained a chrome grille and more traditional styling. It never seemed to know exactly what kind of car it was supposed to be.

Now, more than a decade later, the Q is back with a purpose and a clear identity. The 2002 goes Òback to the soul of the original,Ó said Steve Kight, director of marketing, and it was developed under a philosophy summed up with two letters: NE. No Excuses. That explains why an all-new 4.5-liter V-8 engine with 340 horsepower was developed for it, and why options include future-tech items such as a rear-vision video camera that projects an image on the instrument panel when the transmission is put into reverse.

As a flagship, the new Q is placed at the top of the Infiniti product pyramid where it can act as a beacon for the brand. Prices start at $50,500, and the vehicle goes on sale April 1. Sales, said Kight, are expected to be on the order of 10,000 to 15,000 a year, depending on demand. Volume sales will come from a production version of the rear-drive XVL concept car, for example, but no date has been announced for its introduction.

A new direction demands fresh styling, and this model doesnÕt look anything like past ones. The roofline is low and sleek, while the front is dominated by huge light clusters that include revolutionary high-intensity-discharge headlights that have seven small lenses arrayed like a Gatling gun. Aside from creating a unique look, these lights, according to Infiniti, are the most powerful in the world and spread the light so accurately that fog lights are no longer needed.

Luxury is obvious throughout the vehicle. The interior reflects a hand-crafted look with soft leather and blonde, natural or graphite colored birds-eye maple trim. A vehicle information system, as well as the optional navigation system and rear-vision video camera, plays through a color L CD screen in the center of the instrument panel. The 300-watt stereo from Bose even has noise-compensating technology for a pure sound.

The new DOHC V-8 has its roots in the Infiniti Indy Racing League engine. It has four valves per cylinder, lightweight pistons, titanium valves, continuously variable valve timing and a variable length induction system. Infiniti says it yanks the vehicle to 60 miles per hour in 5.9 seconds, which is quite quick for a sedan of this size. The transmission is a five-speed automatic that can also be shifted manually.

Brakes are vented discs at each wheel, and of course, anti-lock is standard. An electronic system automatically distributes braking force from front to rear depending on load, which Infiniti says shortens stopping distances by 10 to 15 percent. A brake assist system applies maximum braking force in a panic stop even if the driver does not. A vehicle stability program is standard, too.

The 113-inch wheelbase is two inches lon than the current model, yet overall length remains roughly the same. It rides on a fully independent suspension that uses aluminum control arms to save weight. The rear suspension is derived from that in the Skyline GT-R. The standard suspension is tuned to deliver crisp handling but a sport suspension is also optional. Seventeen-inch wheels are standard, 18-inchers optional.

In addition to front and side airbags, a full-length curtain airbag inflates over the side windows for head protection in case of a side impact. Fixed anchors for child safety seats are built in, as well.

Three option packages are available: sport, premium and navigation. The sport package costs $1,500 and consists of active damping suspension, 18-inch wheels and graphite wood trim. The premium package, $8,000, includes the active damping suspension and 18-inch wheels from the sport package, rear video monitor, power reclining rear seat, rear window sunshades and rear-seat controls for cooling and audio. The navigation package, $2,100, is a DVD-based navigation system.

I will have a regular test-drive once production vehicles are available.


The base price is $50,500.


Four years or 50,000 miles.

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Engine: 4.5-liter V-8
Transmission: automatic Rear-wheel drive
Wheelbase: 113 ins.
Curb weight: N/A
Base price: $50,500 As driven: n/a Mpg rating: n/a