Performance and luxury with distinctive styling. by Mike Knepper
Base price $48,890
As tested $48,890
The combatants are the elite: Mercedes-Benz, BMW, Jaguar, Audi, Cadillac, Lexus, Infiniti. And in the big picture they don't amount to a cheeseburger in the fast-food world of automotive sales. But the people who make them and the people who buy them are very serious about their luxury cars. That's why there's a lot of punching and rolling around and, yes, some name calling in the attempt to get your name on the bottom line.
Arguably, no one is fighting harder than Infiniti. How? By building a very good car. Powerful, quiet, roomy, comfortable. However, those descriptions can be used for any of the others. So what's a potential luxury car owner to do? Study the specs and the list of standard features. They'll be pretty much the same also. Compare prices. Same. That leaves two things, both highly subjective: how do they look? How do they drive? That's what it boils down to and both questions lead to somewhat subjective answers.
The Q45 does not have the classical luxury car look of Mercedes, BMW and Lexus, nor does it have the aggressive styling of the Cadillac STS.
So what does the Q45 have to offer in terms of styling? Last year, when some changes were made, the Infiniti folks said the Q45 was clean-sheet-of-paper new. That was hard to see at a glance. Although the differences from the previous model were significant, they were subtle. The sheetmetal had been reshaped to give the car the more traditional look. The previous model had a distinctive look, but the lack of a big chrome grille meant it didn't appeal to everyone.
The Q45 has an elegant look that is distinctive, and slightly reminiscent of Jaguar sedans. It is still stallion sleek with a long, sloping nose, a thin roof line and steeply raked rear glass. A strong character line separates the upper flanks from the lower.
Infiniti's Q45 looks like a thoroughbred. But what about its performance?
It's a rare thing to have a car company say, "Hey, look at us--our engine is smaller than it was." But that's what we heard last year. The previous generation Infiniti engine, a 4.5-liter, dual overhead-cam, 32-valve V-8, was all the rage when the Q45 was originally launched because the car delivered thrilling performance. Slam the accelerator to the floor while cruising along and it nearly leaped off the pavement and quickly accelerated past 100 mph.
The new engine is a refinement of the previous 4.5-liter V-8. The displacement was reduced to 4.1 liters, but the folks at Nissan have been working hard to reduce the weight of the car while extracting more power and efficiency out of the engine.
Infiniti's 4.1-liter engine generates 266 horsepower, and 278 foot-pounds of torque. Both of those numbers are slightly lower than the old 4.5-liter engine, but because of weight saved in the refinement process the power-to-weight ratio is unchanged. Infiniti has maintained the stellar performance of the Q45 and that's good news. Even better, Infiniti managed to increase fuel efficiency to 18/23 mpg city/highway, keeping the Q45 away from official gas guzzler territory. This engine is based on the same powerplant as the Infiniti Indy V-8 used in the Indy Racing League cars.
Another benefit of the newer engine is that it is lighter, which takes some load off the front wheels. This gives the big sedan a more nimble feel and improves its handling on twisty roads. Although peak torque is at a relatively high 4000 rpm, there is usable torque low in the power range and that means better low-speed acceleration. There's lots of power here and Infiniti says the Q45 accelerates from 0 to 60 mph in about 7.8 seconds.
The engine has variable valve timing, which adjusts valve opening and closing according to engine speed and load. Variable valve timing is a key element in the engine's efficiency. It's a proven technology and is a big plus.
The V8 drives the rear wheels through a four-speed automatic transmission and viscous limited-slip differential with traction control.
The MacPherson strut front suspension was designed to provide good handling without compromising on that luxury car feel.
In the rear, the Q45 has a multi-link arrangement designed to keep more tire contact patch on the road, and more patch means more grip. Anti-dive and anti-squat characteristics mean improved grip under hard braking and acceleration.
The Q45t (touring) has a slightly more aggressive suspension tune for a sportier feel.
The Inside Story
Prestige cars traditionally offer a lap-of-luxury interior environment. The Q45 cleaves hard and fast to the traditional approach. What isn't covered in leather is covered in woodgrain. The leather is some of the best in the business: buttery soft and perfectly stitched. It comes in three tasteful colors, beige, stone beige and black.
Occupants sit relatively low in the car, though not uncomfortably low, providing a sense of security, a feeling of being surrounded by body structure. The power front seats adjust in 10 directions and have power lumbar supports.
There is a two-position memory for driver entry and exit, an eight-speaker Bose sound system and Homelink, a transmitter system for opening gates and garage doors.
That $48,890 base price (including destination) brings a vast array of features that are essential in this class: power tilt/telescope steering, cruise control, speed-sensitive wipers, timed rear window defroster, dual vanity mirrors, power windows, locks, and trunk and fuel door. Separate climate controls for the rear seats help ensure passengers in back are comfortable.
The Q45 comes with dual front airbags, side air bags that deploy from the front seats and front seat belt pre-tensioners. There are pick-resistant door locks. If, somehow, the castle has been breached, the perpetrator will run up against the Infiniti Personalized Protection System that combines 60,000 possible key codes with a new, numerically random rolling code generated by the engine's computer each time the ignition is turned off.
A nice touch we liked is the Interior Light Logic feature. It turns the interior lights on very brightly in the open door for easy entry and exit without blasting the rest of the cabin with intense light. We also liked the pin light that bathes the center console and front door panels with soft light that makes finding and operating controls a bit easier.
Ride & Drive
Performance has always been an Infiniti trait. Throttle response is instant, whether you're moving away from a stoplight, making a tight freeway merge or passing.
This V-8 is among the smoothest and most satisfying around today, easily holding its own with the Lexus and BMW offerings and perhaps even a touch smoother and quieter than the Mercedes-Benz V-8s. The Q45 has always been more of a driver's car than the LS400 and that tradition continues. The engine and transmission are connected electronically so smooth, precise shifts are based on speed and load. On the road, the feeling is of a seamless flow of power with no hesitation or jerkiness between shifts.
The suspension produces as advertised. The car feels firmly planted -- stable as a train in a straight line, controlled in turns. Whether it's the weight loss over the front wheels, the suspension tune or a combination of both, the Q45 feels very nimble for a large luxury car. Steering is quick, the suspension is well damped, but doesn't float. Visibility is good. Overall comfort is good. This car is as much at home lazing around town as it is devouring miles of interstate. It's a nice place to be.
The Q45 is a very satisfying car to drive: excellent performance, good handling, a well-damped ride, the works. It makes its own design statement. That brings us back to what we said before. Look at, drive it. Then decide for yourself. As for us, we like it.
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