2004 Infiniti Q45 Expert Review:New Car Test Drive
New Car Test Drive
An outstanding value among performance luxury cars.
The Infiniti Q45 is an outstanding value among performance luxury cars. Its powerful V8 engine delivers excellent performance and makes a wonderful growl. Like BMW and Mercedes cars, the Infiniti Q45 uses rear-wheel drive for better handling. It's balanced well for driving on twisting roads and it's very stable at high speeds. Its ride quality is firm yet sophisticated.
The Q was completely redesigned last year (for 2002). For 2003, the Q45 gets a number of refinements, including a numerically higher final-drive ratio for quicker acceleration.
More standard equipment has been added to both Q45 models this year. Heated front seats, puddle lamps, and a full-size spare tire are now standard on all 2003 Q45s. Premium models come standard with satellite radio and climate-controlled front seats.
Infiniti Q45 comes with a 4.5-liter twin-cam V8 producing a very healthy 340 horsepower and 333 pounds-feet of torque. The transmission is a five-speed automatic with a manual shift mode.
For 2003, the Q45 is available in two trim levels: Luxury ($52,000) and Premium ($61,600). Both come with a high level of standard luxury and convenience features. All interior surfaces are covered in rich textured materials, including soft leather and genuine Bird’s Eye Maple wood.
The Luxury model comes with a long list of high-end electronics, 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 system. The eight-speaker, 300-watt Bose stereo includes a six-disc CD changer. Heated front seats and a full-size spare tire are now standard as well.
The Premium version adds an adjustable sports suspension, 18-inch titanium-color alloy wheels, 245/45VR18 tires, a power sunshade for the backlight (rear window) and manual sunshades for the rear windows, climate controlled front seats with heating and cooling functions and perforated leather inserts, DVD navigation with a seven-inch LCD display, satellite radio, heated power-reclining rear seats with memory, rear controls for audio and climate and rear climate vents in the B-pillars and front seatback grips. Also included are the RearView Monitor and Intelligent Cruise Control, features we will explain later on.
Options include chrome-finished 18-inch wheels ($1600). The navigation system is available on the Luxury model as a stand-alone option. The new Journey Package ($4,000) includes the navigation system, Intelligent Cruise Control and sunshades, plus 17-inch run-flat tires (eliminating the full-size spare).
The Infiniti 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 102.1 cubic feet.
Huge headlamps make the Q especially distinctive from the front. There are 18 bulbs within two big sealed lenses shaped like right triangles with fat edges. The four largest bulbs are 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 the Q45's lights are among the world's most powerful, twice as bright as those on the $73,000 Mercedes-Benz S-Class ('Warning: high voltage,' declares the manual). Infiniti says the low beams are the industry's 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 fog lamps unnecessary. (Most factory fog lamps 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 fog lamps). 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 silhouette suggests the Chrysler Concorde, although Infiniti reps were slightly aghast when we suggested that. 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.
The wheels are a nice touch, a confident statement, spidery six-spoke 17-inch alloys or more spidery eight-spoke 18s.
The Infiniti Q45's plush interior is swathed in Italian leather and warmed by Bird's Eye Maple burl wood. Lots of glass, including a large sunroof that comes standard, lightens the cabin by day. Cool, functional electroluminescent gauges come out at night.
The seats are luxurious, big and firm, with 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.
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 and two sizes of concealed cup holders complement the big firm seats. There's a hatch under the center armrest for flat things, below which lies another deeper compartment.
Back-seat passengers are provided with plush armrests with cup holders. 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 of what the Lexus LS430 offers.
The Q comes with 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. Like most of these systems, however, there is a learning curve and it's extremely important to avoid letting yourself get distracted while driving. A quick reference guide is provided and Infiniti designed the system so you can't program it while the car is moving. You turn the display off by going into the settings menu, and selecting Display Off, but it would be easier if there was a button you could hit in one step. Infiniti's system features a cool, three-dimensional bird's-eye view, 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, a feature we've found useful. The standard Vehicle Information System screen is a 5.8-inch unit, but that expands to 7.0 inches when you order the navigation system.
On Premium models, the navigation display also provides a view to the rear on the monitor. When you're in reverse, the screen shows where you're going, eyed by a tiny camera over the license plate. Unlike the video on shuttle buses, it's in living color. the backup lights aren't bright enough for the camera lens at night, 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.
The climate control system responds 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 replies in the perfectly efficient tone of a super-secretary, '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.
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. It doesn't identify which tire has which pressure, so it reveals the numbers (37, 38, 37, 36 on our car) in a column on the VIS screen, rather than in an intuitive rectangle.
Overall, the Infiniti Q45 represents an excellent effort that entirely succeeds with its engine performance and handling balance. We enjoyed plenty of seat time in both models, both of which offered distinction and character.
The ride quality is firm yet sophisticated. Compared to the previous generation, the latest Q45's four-wheel independent suspension features revised geometry up front, and a redesigned multi-link system in the rear that is lighter and has less friction. Infiniti claims somewhat hyperbolically that the Q45 feels like a car 'half its size,' and although the Premium model's handling was responsive (with its sport suspension and 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. It's easy to control when the tires squeal, and doesn't fight you for control. We found the speed-sensitive power-steering rate to be a bit insensitive, reacting slowly when the input was subtle, as 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 turns, 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 Premium model's adjustable suspension can be set in a Sport mode, but we couldn't feel much difference between the Normal and Sport modes 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.
Run-flat tires (17-inch only) are also available. Nissan says they can run 50 miles at 55 mph after a puncture. They might significantly change the feel of the ride, making it harsher, but this is speculation as we have not tried them out. Run-flat tires have very stiff sidewalls, bit tire makers continue to improve the ride quality.
The 340-horsepower engine really starts to kick ass at 3000 rpm. A computer (Electronic Torque-Demand Powertrain Control) keeps much from happening from a dead start, but at 3000 rpm it sets the engine loose. The mid-range response is great, with a whopping 333 pounds-feet of torque at 4000 rpm. This year's numerically higher 3.133:1 final-drive ratio makes the Q45 feel livelier still. The engine makes a wonderful growl, which you can mostly hear only with the window down. It is, after all, a luxury car.
On paper, the Q45 wins the power-to-weight race against the BMW 540i and Lexus LS 430. The Infiniti's 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 current model's five-speed automatic transmission is 50 pounds lighter than the four-speed it replaced, 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 shift lever, and moves forward and back, 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 manual 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 big. The syste.
According to Infiniti, the Q45 represents a total revision and rethinking of the flagship performance luxury sedan. That's no small thing. Yet the Q45 delivers value and technical innovation in this highly competitive segment. Infiniti Q45 offers horsepower, technology, freshness, and styling. It's also an outstanding value in the performance luxury class.
Luxury ($52,000); Premium ($61,600).
Options As Tested
splash guards ($130).
Infiniti Q45 Premium ($61,600).
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