It smells of good leather and fine carpeting. It is the odor of wealth, which is appropriate, considering the nature of the car, the 2000 Infiniti Q45 sedan.

The Q45 is a richmobile, the top of the line at Infiniti, Nissan Motor Co.'s luxury division.

The car is in its 10th year and second iteration, which is a softer, plusher version of its former self.

I prefer the original Q45, which came with a muscular 278-horsepower V-8 and an exceptionally nimble suspension system. That car competed well against BMW and Mercedes-Benz performance sedans.

By comparison, the current Q45 is a Rolls-Royce without portfolio, a gilded chariot for the mini-mansion class. As such, it is better suited to the pampered traversal of highways than it is to hard running and heavy breathing. It should come with a sign: "No Sweat Allowed." It also should come with a chauffeur as standard equipment.

Infiniti tried to put more pizazz into a touring edition of the car, the Q45t. It added larger tires and wheels — 17-inch diameter for the Q45t vs. 16 inches for the tested base model. It also gave the "t" version a driver-adjustable, electronically controlled suspension system. Those extras offer better handling, which should help you maintain vehicular and personal composure while being left in the wake of a 5-series BMW.

Ah, but what am I complaining about? The Q45 coddles. Its supple Cordova leather seats hug and massage the body. Even the eight-way power controls in the front seats are friendly. Normally, I hate power-operated seats, especially those with automatic settings. They seem to have minds of their own. But the seats in the Q45 do exactly as they're told.

It's easy, with all of this, to forget that the front-engine, rear-drive Q45 is no Autobahn screamer. That's because the passenger cabin relieves performance anxiety. It's laden with standard goodies, including one-touch automatic front windows with a safety reverse mechanism; a Bose 200-watt, eight-speaker sound system with an in-dash CD player; a gold-rimmed, Tiffany-type analog clock and a power-operated rear sunshade.

The one aesthetic disappointment in the whole affair is Infiniti's use of plastic wood inlays — on the door panels, center console and steering wheel — in the base Q45. A special 10th-anniversary edition of the car gets real burled walnut. Hmph. I guess there's class discrimination even within the upper class.

Still, I enjoyed my drives in the test mobile, especially along some relatively traffic-free back roads in Maryland. What it lacks in alacrity, the Q45 possesses in confidence. It moves resolutely, quietly — so quietly, it is sometimes difficult to hear its 4.1-liter, double-overhead-cam, 32-valve V-8 engine.

That engine develops 266 horsepower at 5,600 rpm and 278 pound-feet of torque at 4,000 rpm. It pulls two tons of weight — 4,007 pounds, to be exact. Much of that weight rides atop a four-wheel-independent suspension system designed with McPherson struts, stabilizer bar and subframe-mounted coil springs up front and a similar arrangement in the rear.

Brakes include power four-wheel discs, vented front and rear, with standard antilocks.

In 2002, Infiniti will roll out a completely redone Q45 — a sportier, more powerful version that is more akin to the original. It was on display at the 2000 New York International Auto Show, and it looked really good. I eagerly await its production. Gentility, though seductive, was never my thing.

Nuts & Bolts

2000 Infiniti Q45

Complaints: The current Q45 was designed when both Nissan and Infiniti were losing their collective way, desperately trying to figure out who, what and why they were. The upshot of that soul-searching was a raft of me-too products, shameless imitations of rivals or betters. The current Q45, which has more than a few Rolls -Royce cues, especially along the side panels, was a product of that turmoil.

Praise: What's amazing is that the current car turned out as well as it did. It is extremely well crafted, and if you're more into plush than rush, you should feel quite at home in this one.

Ride, acceleration and handling: Pleasant ride, unexceptional acceleration, competent handling.

Head-turning quotient: People oohed and aahed. What can I say? Americans remain impressed by royalty.

Capacities: Seats five. Fuel tank holds 21.4 gallons (premium unleaded gasoline is required). Cargo volume is 12.6 cubic feet.

Mileage: Barely 23 miles per gallon in mostly highway driving.

Price: Base price is $50,595. Dealer invoice price on base model is $44,939. Price as tested is $51,120, including $525 destination charge. Price does not include applicable fees and taxes, including the federal luxury tax.

Purse-strings note: A solid, full luxury car. Compare with Lexus LS400, Acura RL, BMW 5-Series, Mercedes-Benz E-Class, Cadillac DeVille DTS, 2000 Oldsmobile Aurora, Lincoln LS.