25 November 2016

The Infiniti Q45’s luxury may seem routine now, but it’s still special

In the early 1990s, I was young, and so was Infiniti. The brand born from contemporary trends rather than necessity, with more allusions to Japanese notions of nature than automobiles, headlined a late-century renaissance of the luxury car market. It was a noble experiment for Nissan to dabble in luxury and to shift focus from the everyday market to the exclusive. It was a brilliant idea. At the center of the product offensive was the Q45, the flagship that no American enthusiasts were aware of. It was stately in a way that the Maxima was not, and it caught your attention from the first moment it rolled by.

Despite a marketing campaign that placed greater precedence on nature than actual cars, it worked. I wanted the sedan that no one else yet had: The one with the exotic-sounding features and the rounded, subdued, almost owl-like design. I loved that the -45 in the name corresponded to the displacement of the sweet-sounding V-8. And how many other luxury sedans – or any car at all – came with a badge on the hood that looked more like Byzantine Empire cloisonné art than automotive brightwork?

The Q45 was conceived at a time when luxury and high-performance were distinct entities. It didn’t have to be sporty to be premium, allowing Nissan engineers to develop and refine the Q45 as the ultimate indulgent luxury on four wheels. It embodied yacht rock before the nascent music genre was even a shimmer of a thought, transmogrifying “easy listening” into an automobile. As Infiniti searched for a cohesive identity in the early 1990s, the Q45 was the brand’s anchor, providing a jumping-off point for discussing the essence of luxury.

In short, the Q45 represented something cool, while the traditional luxury establishment stood for something much stuffier.

The Q45t (the ‘t’ being the mid-range trim-level, situated between the base and the ‘a’) pictured here belongs to Nissan North America, which has kept it lovingly intact at a storage facility that doubles as a temporary museum, near its headquarters in Nashville. On the odometer are fewer than 3000 original miles, making it a most sought-after, low-miles example.

But to drive the Q45t is to love it. Getting behind the wheel of a basically brand-new Q45t, almost a quarter-century since it rolled off the production line, is a humbling experience. First, it smells new. The leather has the same buttery softness, with only minor signs of wear, as it must have in 1993. The doors shut with the same, soft thud as I remember from a couple of lucky carpool afternoons while growing up. Today, the interior feels a little smaller inside then when I first experienced it, but the passing of time has a way of playing small tricks on the mind.

Its 4.5-liter V-8 remains a jewel. In 2016, you can count the number of luxury sedans fitted with V-8 engines on one hand. The shift to smaller-displacement, fuel-efficient engines has turned the naturally aspirated, sweet-performing V-8 into a relic. Unlike some artifacts that went out of style, like the cassette player, the V-8 is a treasure that’s in demand. Sure, a turbocharged engine can operate frenetically and produce more horsepower, but where’s the harmony in that?

I had the chance to finally get behind the wheel of this Q45t for mere minutes, fearing the addition of more miles to the odometer, but immediately understanding the serenity – even on the most performance-minded version. You could be in a rush and never feel it. Every bit of its user interface, to bring up millennial buzzwords, is simple without feeling oversimplified. Sure, its luxury features, like climate control and a CD player, have moved to the mainstream or the recycle bin by now, but you still get the sense that this was something special for its day. In traffic, eyes turn to the Q45, even when they’re not really supposed to anymore.

Stepping out of the Q45t and returning it to the Lane Motor Museum, where it’s stored among Nissan’s Heritage Collection, I paused. The desire was back. Was the Q45 the dream car of my youth? Not exactly. But it is on my garage bucket list, once again.

1993 Infiniti Q45t
4.5-liter V-8 engine, 276 horsepower, 292 lb.-ft,
Four-speed automatic transmission, rear-wheel drive

4 Reader Comments

  • 1
    Gurdon Hornor Belle Mead NJ November 30, 2016 at 17:15
    I bought a 1991 Q45 in 1995 and drove it like a madman for five years until it had 175,000 miles on it. Never had a single significant problem! It had a Stillen supercharger and upgraded Stillen suspension and exhaust, all done at a local "Z" shop. It had around 360hp upgraded if I remember correctly, and during that time period it would blow away virtually anything on the street, coupe or sedan, in a decidedly wicked sleeper fashion. It had a really unique and totally awesome roar at full throttle, which shocked the crap out of many unsuspecting passengers over the years! I sold it and was the first to get a G35 in my area. Although a competent and nice car, it never compared to it's big brother!
  • 2
    Steve Capchak CA November 30, 2016 at 17:42
    this was a real game changer in it's day. I had the pleasure of experiencing a new one and was frankly, blown away by the quality and workmanship. Most have since gone to their graves after they git the secondary market, but it sure was a remarkable car at a time when there was still a lot of smoke and mirrors out there!
  • 3
    Bob Ricewasser Monrovia, CA December 1, 2016 at 22:47
    We had a pre-production Q-45 donated to the automotive technology program at the Community College where I taught. It was a loaded car and probably the most expensive vehicle that was donated to the school at that time in the 90's.
  • 4
    Richard New York January 3, 2017 at 21:17
    I had the extreme privelege to be given a brand new Q45 in 1990 as a courtesy car with less than 20 miles on it . I worked with the sponsor Infiniti at the U.S.Open tennis championships as the car debued. I also happened to be huge Car and Driver magazine fan. I had that machine for two glorious weeks. Driving around N.Y.C. with a pearl white Q45 was a dream everyday . When you opened the hood and viewed the engine bay the word exotic and out of this world came to mind. For it's time no front engine V-8 came close. The aluminum intake plenum looked like a giant spider with each leg going to cylinder! And there was a little badge placed over the radiator which gave the figures 278 h.p. and 292 lb/ft. like it was put there to answer the question in your head. Back then a definite Hot rod. In fact with numbers like 0-60 in 6.7s , 1/4 mile 15.0s and topspeed of 153 m.p.h. there were only a handful of 4 door sedans on market that could outrun this thing! The engine idled so quietly that on a occasions you would try and start the car while it was already on. And a couple moments later after stomping on the gas you're hearing what only can be decribed as a bigcat under the hood screaming to the 7000 r.p.m.redline. I can still hear that sound in my head after all these years. (And by the way only Lexus and Audi had 32 valve V-8 's in 4-door sedans at the time and none hit 7000 rpm) That powerplant was a masterpiece which complimented the understated and elegant exterior and interior extremely well, and to this day one of the nicest numerics on the instrument cluster I 've ever seen. I recall the exterior drawing comparisons to jaguar on many occasions by onlookers at gas stations, stoplights, malls, etc. But to me it had the look of it's smaller cousin the Nissan Maxima though every line was more thoughtful and elegant. So after totaling about 2200 miles in two weeks the dream was over we had to turn the keys in to the local dealership.One of the saddest days in my automotive life, especially when the car seemed to getting stronger every day. In total there were about 45 cars given to 45 lucky drivers roaming the streets of New York that summer. In my book this car Is definitely a true modern classic that deserves it's place among the other great classics. I thank you for remembering a car I would never forget !!

Join the Discussion