Cast your mind back, if you will, to a time when Toyotas were Toyotas and Nissans were Nissans (and not long after Nissans were Datsuns). Thanks to Acura and Lexus, Americans were just getting used to the strange idea of a Japanese company fielding not just a luxury car but an entire luxury brand. This was 1989, and Cadillac DeVilles and Lincoln Town Cars were still selling just fine, thank you.
Nissan’s Infiniti brand entered the market about a year after Lexus, and the way they did it was downright weird. Instead of showing cars, the first Infiniti ads showed water, geese and other scenes from nature — but never the car itself. See the Infiniti Q45 models for sale near you
When Infiniti finally revealed the Q45, people understood why the brand had been so camera-shy: It was a rather ugly thing, with a grille-free nose decorated only by a Texas-belt-buckle-size Infiniti emblem and sides largely unadorned except for giant oval-shaped door handles done up in chrome. The interior was uncomfortably similar to that of the Maxima; the designers’ minimalist theme meant the Q45 got a monochromatic dash, which was a contrast to the warm wood-trimmed interior of the Lexus LS400. This was an early example of what would become a long string of strange and ugly designs from Nissan.
Clearly, the LS400 beat out the Q45 for styling — but most critics picked the Q45 as their favorite. From a driver’s perspective, the Infiniti had some advantages over the Lexus. Its 278-horsepower 4.5-liter 32-valve V8 (which some Q45 fans say was intentionally underrated) had half a liter and 28 hp over the LS400. Plus, handling was no contest: While the LS drove like a glorified Toyota, the Q45 felt like a proper sport sedan — all the more so if you opted for the adaptive suspension system, added in 1991, or the 4-wheel-steering system that was all the rage at the time (it was featured on sporty cars like the Honda Prelude, the Mitsubishi 3000GT, the Dodge Stealth and Nissan’s own twin-turbo 300ZX).
As it turned out, advertising a feeling rather than a car wasn’t a successful strategy. Though it was the better car, dynamically speaking, the Q45 failed to sell as well as the Lexus LS400 or the Acura Legend. That said, some of the Infiniti’s mechanical bits did it no favors: Buyers didn’t care for the quick, heavy steering, and the transmission (which was programmed to start in second gear) made the car feel sluggish off the line.
Nissan tried to save the Q45 with a 1994 refresh: The nose sprouted a grille, and the dash finally got the wood trim that many dealers had been adding on their own. But it was too little, too late. When the second-generation Q45 appeared in 1997, Nissan phoned it in. The Q45 was now a rebadged JDM Nissan Cima, which had a smaller engine and a cheaper suspension than the original Q. The third-generation car of 2001 was a much better effort, but Americans were done caring; sales were so slim as to be nearly imaginary. Infiniti killed off the Q45 after 2006, and no one seemed to miss it, least of all Infiniti’s corporate minders — after all, buyers had by then discovered what may well be Infiniti’s best effort, the G-Series. Find an Infiniti Q45 for sale