The Morning Call and's view

Baby boomers might think they’re smarter than their parents, but they haven’t shown it in their car-buying habits.

In the ’70s, boomers bought small cars, rejecting the gas-guzzling Detroit behemoths. They favored slick engines in cars with great fuel economy. They rejected the fake opulence and badge engineering, thinking they were smarter than that.

So here it is 1997, and what are boomers embracing? Large four-wheel drive behemoths that guzzle gas. Many of them are buying sport utilities that are little more than better-trimmed versions of lesser vehicles. Badge engineering hasn’t gone away.

Don’t make any mistake. Infiniti’s QX4 is a wonderful vehicle, but so is its less-expensive sibling, the Nissan Pathfinder. And the Infiniti loves gasoline, being EPA rated at 15mpg city, 19 mpg highway. The test vehicle got 20 mpg in mostly highway driving.

Of course, the QX4 does make some attempt to distance itself from its poorer relation.

The most visible is the grille up front, with its striking horizontal division. The other big difference is the QX4’s more sophisticated, four-wheel-drive system.

Originally developed for Nissan’s Japanese-market Skyline GT-R sports coupe, the system automatically allocates up to 50 percent of the power to the front wheels after gathering information from the throttle sensor, engine sensor and anti-lock braking unit. So there’s no shifting on the fly, as in the Pathfinder. In addition, drivers also can select two-wheel drive mode, low-range four-wheel drive or permanently engaged 4WD.

The chassis and power train mirror the Pathfinder’s. That means a single overhead-cam engine displacing 3.3 liters. This 12-valve engine produces adequate but hardly overwhelming power, with 168 horsepower and 196 foot-pounds of torque on tap.

Keep in mind that the ride is just as car-like and satisfying as the Pathfinder’s, with little pitching and good control. This is one of the least truck-like trucks for street use, making it a nice ride for those whose biggest off-road adventure is mowing down the bush at the end of the driveway. More power would help differentiate this truck.

So would a different interior, although the QX4’s interior is a pleasant place to spend time. The compact exterior dimensions dictate a compact interior. Four will ride in comfort, five less so. Leg room up front is sufficient, although long-legged drivers might wish for more seat travel. Seats are comfy, covered in a leather that feels rough for the price class. The only other complaint is the cheesy test-tube wood covering the dash. For the money, the real thing should be evident.

But the heated seats warmed quickly, and will toast the expanding bottom of any boomer. It’s a boon on frosty mornings. The split rear seats with headrests fold quickly, ready to haul lots of stuff.

The power sunroof wasn’t boomy, and opened up the interior on warm days.

Safety c oncerns are addressed with an anti-lock braking system and dual front air bags. The anti-lock braking didn’t engage during the test, and the front disc/ rear drum brakes stopped adequately — but why aren’t rear disc brakes fitted in a vehicle supposedly upmarket from Nissan? It didn’t seem to affect brake performance.

The sound system was first class, however, and proved a pleasure to listen to. Other luxuries included a built-in garage door opener, keyless entry, power outlets and the luxury of Infiniti level service.

In the end, it’s the service and the extra prestige of Infiniti that will propel customers into the QX4 over the Pathfinder — just like their parents, who opted for a more expensive Mercury instead of the cheaper Ford.

Gas guzzlers and their customers never change, only their shapes.

1998 Infiniti QX4 Standard: 3.3-liter overhead-cam V6, four-speed automatic transmission, four-wheel drive, power-assisted rack-and-pini n steering, power front disc/rear drum brakes with ABS, P245/70R16 tires with aluminum alloy wheels, fog lamps, front and rear bumpers, running boards, eight-way power driver’s seat, four-way power passenger’s seat, split fold-down rear seat, leather seating surfaces, storage armrests, floor mats, leather-wrapped steering wheel, parking brake, shift lever, automatic climate control, power windows, remote releases, cruise control, tilt wheel, cup holders, cargo area cover, rear power outlet, intermittent wipers, intermittent rear glass wiper, rear defroster, roof-mounted console, dual illuminated vanity mirrors, keyless entry with alarm, 150-watt, six-speaker Bose audio system with AM/FM-cassette-CD, dual air bags. Price: Not available EPA rating: 15 mpg city, 19 mpg highway Test mileage: 16 mpg Acceleration: O-60, 11.2 seconds

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