Base Price (MSRP) $50,500
As Tested (MSRP) $58,500
Infiniti has completely redesigned its flagship luxury sedan, the Q45. With this latest generation, Nissan's luxury division aims to strengthen the identity of the Q. According to Infiniti, the new Q “represents a total revision and rethinking of the flagship performance luxury sedan.” No small thing.
The rear-wheel-drive Q45 comes with a new 4.5-liter twin-cam V8 producing a very healthy 340 horsepower (up from 266) and 333 foot-pounds of torque. The transmission is a five-speed automatic with a manual shift mode.
It's available as one model, which retails for $50,500.
High-end electronics are standard, including traction control (TCS), Vehicle Dynamic Control (VDC), Electronic Brake Force Distribution (EBD), tire pressure monitors, high-intensity xenon headlights, and Voice Control for the climate control and eight-speaker Bose 300-watt audio system, including a six-disc CD changer.
Major options include a Navigation Package ($2100), which uses a DVD-driven system with seven-inch LCD screen and 3D Birdview of the map on the screen; a Sport Package ($1500), including a tightened active damping suspension and 18-inch, eight-spoke wheels with low-profile tires; a Sunshade Package ($500), including a power rear window sunshade and manual rear door sunshades; full-size spare tire and wheel ($180); and heated front seats ($450).
Or you can get the Premium Package ($8000) that includes all of the above plus the Rear View Monitor, a video screen that shows what's behind the car, as well as power reclining rear seats, rear seat audio and climate controls, and B-pillar face vents.
The Q45 has a presence that draws second looks, if not stares. We stopped in front of a hotel and porters were all over it. It's being promoted as a big car that feels small, but its styling says full-size luxury all the way. It's the same overall length as the previous-generation (2001) model, but slightly wider, taller and longer in wheelbase, increasing interior space from 97.4 to 107.1 cubic feet.
Huge headlamps make the Q especially distinctive from the front. There are 18 bulbs within two huge sealed lenses shaped like right triangles with fat edges. The four largest bulbs comprise two each for high beams and parking. The other 14 are high-intensity xenon-fired low beams, seven highly visible bulbs on each side forming a circle like a Gatling gun.
Such a radical appearance brings radical expectations, the ability to turn night into day. Infiniti claims that they're the world's most powerful, twice as powerful as those on the $79,000 Mercedes-Benz S-Class (“Warning: high voltage,” declares the manual). Infiniti says the low beams are the brightest, based on lumens (a measure of light intensity), and have a better dispersion pattern, providing long range illumination in a narrow beam, as well as wide angle illumination in the foreground, making foglamps unnecessary. (Most factory foglamps are nearly worthless anyway.) The pattern of the low beams is designed to reduce glare to oncoming drivers by cutting the beam sharply on the left side. A switch on the dash allows the driver to adjust the angle of the headlights, a feature we liked. Four positions seemed like overkill, though; we either aimed them high for max visibility or low for traffic or fog (they do indeed eliminate the need for auxiliary foglamps). The problem will be that it's easy to forget where the lights are aimed.
Overall, the front view of the Q presents a handsome shape, a sweep, as if the lines were poured on. No chrome. A wide-mouthed grille, fully but sparsely filled by four long horizontal titanium-colored slats, with a chrome Infiniti emblem in the center. A subtle front bumper and fascia includes natural-looking air intakes at the bottom.
The wheels are a nice touch, a confident statement, spidery six-spoke 17-inch alloys or more spidery eight-spoke 18s. The silhouette suggests the Chrysler Concorde or LHS, although Infiniti reps were slightly aghast at our vision. We think the rear end is clean and nice. You can see Nissan all over it. Altima or Maxima on a luxury scale, and a bit racier. The roof seems to have more rake when viewed from the rear.
There are a ton of interior features, some of them bordering on the fantastic.
Infiniti put a lot of effort into making its navigation system more useful. Allegedly, it's simpler. A Quick Reference Guide to the Vehicle Information System and Navigation System has been written since our test, and will come with the Q45. For safety reasons, you can't program the destination while the car is still moving. You turn the display off by going into the settings menu, and selecting Display Off (see page 4 in the manual); it would be easier if there was a button you could hit in one step. Learning these systems requires some reading and can be frustrating before it's mastered. Earlier, we had been lucky to have Infiniti's product planning manager, Skip MacLean, a broadly experienced engineer, along for a 90-minute ride along the Columbia River from Portland to Hood River. He was certainly deft at operating the system, and demonstrated the cool 3D Birdview part, like looking down at an illustration of the ground from a hang glider. Like many navigation systems, it offers a choice of routes: shortest time, shortest distance, it can even point you to the nearest ferry, should you prefer to travel by sea. It will also tell you the location of the nearest ATM, hotel, restaurant or rest area; when running low on gas, it will ask you if you want it to find the nearest gas station. The screen is 7 inches with the optional navigation system, or 5.8 inches when ordered with the standard Vehicle Information System.
The navigation display also serves as the rearview monitor, which comes with the $8000 Premium Package. When you're in reverse, the screen displays where you're going, eyed by a tiny camera over the license plate. Unlike shuttle buses, it's in living color; but at night the car's backup lights aren't bright enough for the camera lens, and in the sunshine it's hard to see the screen. Still, it can be useful for spotting children on tricycles and other objects that you want to avoid.
Unlike most cars, the climate control system can respond to voice commands. Press a button on the steering wheel, wait for the beep, tell the dashboard what you want, and a woman's voice will reply in the perfectly efficient tone of a supersecretary, “Climate control temper-a-ture, six-tee seven degrees.” We felt silly trying the use the system without knowing how: people begin to stare when they see you shouting commands at your car. The future will tell whether this becomes a desirable feature.
The Q's plush interior is lightened by Bird's Eye Maple burl wood, Italian leather, and lots of glass, including a large sunroof that comes standard. Cool, functional electroluminescent gauges come out at night.
The console is massive, thanks mostly to the navigation system, using switchgear that's a combination of big black buttons and silvery dials. Big plush armrests, two sizes of concealed cupholders, big firm seats. There's a hatch under the center armrest for flat things, below which lies another deeper compartment.
In the back, there are lush armrests with cupholders. Side curtain airbags that deploy from the roof protect both the rear- and front-seat passengers. There's an optional power sunshade in the backlight (rear window). Trunk space measures only 13.6 cubic feet, about two-thirds the size of the Lexus LS430.
You can program all sorts of things to set themselves, when you get in or out: the steering column lifts, the driver's seat adjusts, interior lights illuminate or delay, or not.
We liked the tire pressure sensor a lot. Except it doesn't identify which tire has which pressure, it just reveals the numbers (37, 38, 37, 36 on our car) in a column on the VIS screen, rather than an intuitive rectangle.
There's some confusion within the marketplace of what defines a “performance luxury car.” For example, the Q45's seats are luxury: big and firm, 10-way power adjustment including lumbar, great for long freeway trips. But there's not enough bolstering to keep you from sliding around during the type of cornering the car is capable of.
Overall, the Infiniti Q45 is an excellent effort that entirely succeeds with the engine and handling balance. We got plenty of seat time in two separate models, both of which offered distinction and character. The ride quality is firm yet sophisticated.
The four-wheel independent suspension features revised front geometry, and a redesigned rear multi-link system that is lighter and has less friction. Infiniti hyperbolically offers that the Q45 feels like a car “half its size,” and although the handling was responsive (with the Sport package, including 18-inch wheels), we had little doubt of the car's size when we were cornering. Still, when you pitch this big baby it stays with you. You can push it until after the tires squeal, but it doesn't fight you for control. We found the speed-sensitive power-steering rate to be a bit insensitive (slow-reacting) when the input was subtle, like on long curves.
In terms of ride quality, the suspension levels out the bumps really well on a straight road. But when the bumps get more complex, and come in corners, the suspension seems to dip at the corners and sides, and you get subtly rocked. This feeling could be from the limited seat bolstering, however.
The suspension can be set in a Sport mode, but in the two cars we drove, we couldn't feel much difference between the Normal and Sport mode when the driving was sporty. Normal mode was firm enough to be good in the twisties. But we did feel a big difference over sharp bumps. You don't want to be in Sport mode over potholes or at slow speeds. So we couldn't find much use for Sport. If Normal were softer, then both modes would be used.
New run-flat tires (17-inch only) are also available. They might significantly change the feel of the ride, making it harsher, but this is speculation as we have not tried them out. Earlier run-flat tires had very stiff sidewalls, and tiremakers continue to improve the ride quality.
The new 340-horsepower engine really starts to kick ass at 3000 rpm. The Car's Own Brain (Electronic Torque-Demand Powertrain Control) keeps much from happening from a dead start, but at three grand the powertrain is set loose. The mid-range response is great, with a whopping 333 foot-pounds of torque at 4000 rpm. The engine makes a wonderful growl (“the sucker roars,” said our taped notes), which you can mostly only hear with the window down. It is, after all, a luxury car.
The Q45 will do 0-60 in just over 6 seconds and the quarter-mile in just under 15 seconds. Its horses carry it to first place in the power-to-weight division, against the BMW 540i, Mercedes E430 and Lexus LS 430 (and its base price is lowest, by $700, $2000 and $3500, respectively). Technically, the new 32-valve engine features continuously variable valve timing, a variable flow intake manifold, titanium valves, microfinished camshafts and crankshaft, and lightweight pistons.
The sweetest thing about the Q45 is its full-throttle upshifts at about 6500 rpm. The new five-speed automatic transmission is 50 pounds lighter than the four-speed it replaces, with the extra gear improving acceleration and fuel mileage. The new transmission is also designed to handle more power. On the downside, it shuddered on us at slow speeds, upshifting into second gear, as if it were confused by a throttle signal (“What does this guy want?”), which may have been the case.
The manual mode is to the right of the Bird's Eye Maple lever, and moves forward and back rather than side-to-side, engaging with a satisfying click. But “manual” is rarely if ever taken literally with transmission designer/programmers, and we found the program shifting more than we wanted it to-overriding our wishes and plans!-so we pretty much stopped using it, and just let the transmission shift where it wanted to. It did fine, but we were disappointed that gear selection had been offered, then effectively taken away from us. We wanted to play more.
The four-wheel anti-lock vented disc brakes are beefy. (Fronts are 11.4 inches by 1.1 inches thick, rears measure 11.5 by 0.6 inches.) The system includes Electronic Brake Distribution, which balances front and rear brake force depending on the load. Passengers and cargo upset the brake balance in any car, and EBD is designed to correct this, stopping the car quicker and more controllably. There's also Brake Assist, which reduces pedal effort under hard braking. It's a simple mechanical system that reduces pedal pressure during panic stops when ABS is activated, unlike the German electronic systems that take over your brake pedal, presuming to know better than you, what you want the car to do. Infiniti says that during testing of the system, stopping distances were reduced by 10 percent to 15 percent.
As for the Vehicle Dynamic Control, which takes over the throttle and brakes at individual wheels when traction gets dicey - we pushed the Q45 until the VDC corrected us, which it did subtly on a hard, sharp curve with loose gravel over pavement; we would have slid a few feet, but VDC caught the car. There's also a traction control system, which we liked better than the Mercedes system because it doesn't cut the throttle so radically or for so long.
Infiniti is also offering more of the technological future, with Adaptive Cruise Control, which will maintain a set distance between your Q45 and the car ahead of you. Look ma, no feet.
Infiniti Q45 offers horsepower, technology, freshness, and styling. It's also an outstanding value in the performance luxury class.
© New Car Test Drive, Inc.