Elegantly redefined. by Mike Knepper
Competition is stiff in the semi-rarefied air around $50,000. One can choose from Cadillac, Mercedes-Benz, BMW, Jaguar, Lexus and Infiniti. Of that august group, the Infiniti Q45 has had the most difficult time attracting and keeping a sizable audience. We've never quite understood that. The Q45 has style, performance, luxury; the whole nine yards.
Perhaps the style has been the problem. It's lacked the conservative, classical luxury car look of Mercedes,
BMW and Lexus. And Jaguar's style is a thing unto itself.
For 1997, the Infiniti folks say the Q45 is clean-sheet-of-paper new. That's hard to see at a glance. Although the differences from last year's model are significant, they are subtle. The sheetmetal has been reshaped to give the more traditional look lacking in the past. And although the V8 has dropped in displacement, the power-to-weight ratio is unchanged, because the new car is lighter than its predecessor.
The exterior redesign has given the Q45 an elegant look which is distinctive, and slightly reminiscent of Jaguar sedans. It is still stallion sleek with a long, sloping nose, a thin roofline and steeply raked rear glass. A big change in the look is the absence of the third side window, which made possible the wider rear roof pillar, which in turn is responsible for much of the freshened appearance. Losing the third window meant gaining rear windows that go all the way down, a rarity in today's designs. There's also a strong character line that separates top from bottom.
It's a rare thing to have a car company say, "hey, look at us--our engine is smaller this year," but that's what we have here. The engine is called "new", but in reality is a refinement of the 4.5-liter, dual overhead cam, 32-valve V8 previously used.
The numbers are, at first glance, puzzling. Displacement is down to 4.1 liters. Horsepower has gone to 266 from 278. Torque is 278 pound-feet, down from 294 at 4000. However, because of weight saved in the refinement process, the power-to-weight ratio is unchanged from last year. (This Q45 weighs 3879 pounds vs. 4039 last year.)
So why go to the trouble and expense of changing the engine? The smaller displacement and internal refinements in reducing weight and frictional power losses have meant an increase in efficiency. Fuel consumption has gone up from 17/22 city/highway to 18/23, which means the Q45 no longer falls within gas guzzler territory. The new engine takes some load off the front wheels to give the big sedan a more nimble feel. Although peak torque is still 4000 rpm, there is more usable torque lower in the power range and that means better low-speed acceleration.
By the way, the engine has a second, or improved, generation of variable valve timing, which adjusts according to engine speed and load. Variable valve timing is a key element in the new engine's efficiency. Although it sounds complicated, the system is not another thing to go wrong and should be considered a plus.
The new V8 drives the rear wheels through a four-speed automatic transmission and viscous limited-slip differential with traction control.
The suspension got refinements as well. The MacPherson strut front suspension is 44 pounds lighter, which improves the front/rear weight distribution, which in turn has a positive effect on handling.
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 less passenger discomfort under hard braking and acceleration.
The Q45t (touring), from $50,395, 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 but three colors--beige, stone beige and black--but who could (tastefully) ask for more?
The instrument layout is well considered with everything within sight and/or reach. The occupants intentionally sit low in the car--not dramatically so, however--so there is an added sense of security, 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 and separate air conditioning for the rear seats. That $48,890 base price (including destination) also brings with it the usual vast array of comfort and convenience 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.
Regarding safety of the crash kind, the Q45 has dual front airbags and front seat belt pre-tensioners. However, the new Q45 still lags its direct competitors from BMW, Mercedes and Lexus in terms of side airbags, the next horizon in side impact protection.
Regarding safety of the perpetrator kind, 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
When we learned of the displacement reduction, our first concern was the Q45's impressive V8 performance had been compromised. Not to worry. The new engine retains the Q's impressive thrust. Throttle response is instant, whether you're moving away from a stoplight, making a tight freeway merge or passing.
This V8 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 V8s.
The Q45 has always had a more driver-involved feeling than the LS 400, less so than the BMW 5-Series and the M-B E-Class, and that characteristic continues. We think it's a good compromise most drivers will find satisfying.
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 very 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 even more nimble than before.
Steering is quick, the suspension softish but not cushiony, which is good. 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 facial make-over was successful. The new look is better. The fiddling with the engine was also successful--no decrease in performance with an increase in efficiency.
The Q45 has a small window sticker edge compared with its major upscale competitors, and its all-around competence continues to be impressive.
We think the recipe for the new Q45 should expand its range of fans.
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