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