Ed Hellwig, Executive Editor
Assessing the highs and lows of a 50, 60, or God forbid, 70 thousand-dollar luxury sedan is a bit trivial. After all, any car that commands a sticker price similar to many Americans' annual family income ought to be good, wouldn't you think? So it should come as no surprise that Infiniti's all-new 2002 Q45 is an excellent car, offering all the comfort and performance a typical driver will ever want or need.
Unfortunately for Infiniti, the Q45 is not alone in offering excellence for a price. Lexus debuted an all-new flagship sedan just last year, and of course, the folks at Audi, BMW and Mercedes offer a full range of precisely engineered luxury four-doors of their own. In such illustrious company, mere excellence isn't always enough. The difference between a front-runner and a back-marker oftentimes comes down to the details. It may be fast, but is it the fastest? It looks good, but do the others look better?
From a purely aesthetic standpoint, the 2002 Q45 certainly packs more of a punch than its predecessor, although last year's model was so forgettable that few will likely even be able to make the comparison. Nothing about the Q's design is particularly dynamic, but considering that its perennial rival, the utterly featureless Lexus LS 430, has found its fair share of customers, eye-catching style apparently isn't a prerequisite for success.
Stretching 3 inches longer than the LS 430 and barely half a foot shy of even Cadillac's biggest sedan, the Q45 conveys much of its sense of luxury through an imposing size. Parked next to a Civic, the Q looks like a lineman sitting next to the water boy, but its substantial girth can be misleading, as the Q packs plenty of motivation for its 3,800 pounds of heft.
Since its debut just over a decade ago, the Q45 has always leaned toward the sportier side of the luxury sedan equation, so when Infiniti's engineers went to work on this latest version, they made sure to load it with hardware that would maintain that athletic image. Under the hood rests an all-new 4.5-liter V8 engine tuned to produce 340 horsepower and 333 lb-ft of torque.
Comparing that horsepower output to its closest rivals (Lexus LS 430 at 290 hp, BMW 540i at 282 hp, Mercedes E430 at 275hp), the Q45 has them all beat handily -- at least on paper. Subsequent track-testing revealed a Q with noticeably less gusto than its lofty horsepower figure suggests. Although Infiniti estimates a 0-to-60 time of 5.9 seconds, our best run yielded a somewhat less impressive 6.7 seconds. Even in the more horsepower-friendly quarter-mile category, the Q45 only managed a 15.1-second pass. Considering that we were able to wring faster times (6.4 and 14.8) in both categories from a slightly heavier LS 430, we can't help but wonder: Where did all the horsepower go?
Granted, few, if any, Q45 owners will ever notice the difference, but if you're going to claim to have the biggest gun in this high-powered corral, you better be able to back it up. To its credit, the Q45 performs admirably in typical day-to-day driving situations. Merging and passing on the freeway are exhilarating, with the powerful V8 spinning toward its redline with a smooth, pleasing hum that only eight cylinders of its caliber can deliver.
Transmission shifts from the five-speed automatic are buttery-smooth, with only minor confusion when it attempts to anticipate your needs rather than react to them. A sequential shift feature allows drivers to select gears manually by moving the shifter forward or back in a separate gate, but as with most transmissions of this type, gear changes come after a slight delay, making them too vague to depend on for spirited driving.
Several critical comments were cast toward the somewhat hard-to-modulate throttle and its slow response. Despite a sophisticated electronic powertrain control system intended to manage engine power, throttle position and gear selection for optimum smoothness and performance, more than one editor complained of difficulty maintaining a constant speed and an annoying hesitation upon initial throttle application. Sure, it's not a sports car, and there's always cruise control, but this is the big leagues. We want it all to work perfectly.
And that perfection should extend to the car's driving dynamics, as well. With a completely redesigned suspension underneath, we were expecting a little more from this self-described sport sedan. There's no doubt that it exudes a more playful character than its listless predecessor, but whether or not that qualifies the Q as a desirable backroads dance partner is another story.
Our test model was without the optional Sport package that would have added larger 18-inch wheels and tires and driver-adjustable suspension settings. Whether a larger footprint would have helped is hard to say, but since much of the Q45's problem lay in controlling its sizable proportions, a stiffer suspension would have surely helped settle it down a bit in the corners.
Jump from turn to turn, and the Q rises up and floats from one side to the other causing a momentary, yet unnerving lapse of composure. This would be unremarkable behavior for a large luxury sedan, if it weren't for the nearly unflappable demeanor of a BMW 7 Series in similar situations.
The speed-sensitive steering is noticeably light around town, making the big car seem that much easier to maneuver in tight spaces. During more spirited driving, however, the system fails to trim down on the boost enough to provide a strong connection with the road. If there's a bright spot in the Q's high-performance repertoire, it would surely be the brakes. The four-wheel vented discs stopped the Q in a remarkably short 118 feet from 60 mph, with little, if any, fade.
Like its less than expected acceleration performance, the Q's lack of supreme athleticism is hardly reason to cast it aside as deficient. Lounging around town, the Infiniti's soft, isolated ride will surely endear itself to anyone looking for a car to separate them from the road below rather than feel every twist and turn of it. And of course, the Q45's interior provides all the trappings you would expect in a high-dollar luxury car, making slow, calm cruising seem all the more appropriate.
Step inside, and you're greeted with an exquisite cabin draped in soft leather and bird's-eye maple wood trim. The electro-illuminescent gauges are both beautiful to look at and easy to read. The signature Infiniti analog clock resides front and center, while the stereo and climate controls are housed in a single panel just below a 5.8-inch LCD screen that displays their various settings.
Passenger room is ample throughout. The 10-way power adjustable driver seat never ceased to provide perfect comfort and support, and the power adjustable tilt/telescoping wheel accommodated various driver postures with ease. Rear seat room has been improved substantially over previous models, and judging by the soundness of some of our editor's naps, it's safe to say that comfort is in abundance there, too.
A spectacular Bose sound system fills the cabin with near perfect sound reproduction via eight separate speakers. Noise compensation technology attempts to mitigate the interference from traffic outside, but with minimal road, wind or engine noise coming from the Infiniti itself, it was hard to discern where to assign credit for the quiet cabin.
Overall, the Q45's interior is as comfortable and inviting as any other luxury sedan in its price range, but it's not perfect. The lovely chromed cassette deck is surely one of the most elegant around, but why has Infiniti placed this outmoded piece of equipment front and center and buried the CD changer in the glovebox? The flimsy center console seemed ready to break free at any time, and the transmission shifter was less than cooperative when asked to slide through the shift gates repeatedly.
Although visually appealing and technologically innovative, the Q's climate and radio controls are an ergonomic disaster. With no fewer than 3 dials, 20 buttons, 1 joystick and a computer screen, just dialing up a little cool air or some talk radio requires quality time with the owner's manual. In all fairness, the system is hardly any more arcane than some of its European rivals', such as Mercedes' COMAND system, but that doesn't make it any less of a blemish.
It's too bad, really. Take out the bulging control panel, throw in a few classic dial controls, and the Q would have an interior that would trump even Europe's most elegant luxury sedans in terms of style and design.
Then there's the highly touted voice-activated control system that allows a driver to keep his hands on the wheel and adjust the various systems through spoken commands. Because we've seen this trick before on other makes and models, we're confident when we say that the Infiniti's system is one of the better ones available. However, no matter how well they can make a car listen, we still find little use for this extravagance. Why go through the trouble of pressing a button, voicing a command, waiting for the system to recognize the command, have it repeat the command back, and then execute the command, when instead you could just simply reach out and do it yourself with one push of a button? Then again, the Q's Byzantine radio controls almost drove us to use the voice system, but that doesn't make it any more practical.
So is the new Q45 an excellent car? Absolutely. Is it better than the competition? Not quite.
The new design, while not stunning, is at least elegant enough to put it in the same league as its competition. The engine promised superior power, but failed to back it up when it counted. Despite its sporting intentions, our base model's underpinnings couldn't deliver the kind of rock-solid stability that we've experienced in other sedans of this caliber. The interior, while beautiful, is overly complex and annoying to operate.
If it were the only luxury sedan you ever drove, you would never miss a thing. But if owning the best of what's around matters, don't settle on the new Q without driving the competition first.
System Score: 9.0
Components: There's this old TV show called Knight Rider, starring David Hasselhoff as a crime-fightin' crusader who talks to his car like it's a noble steed. No, his character isn't demented like Don Quixote. The car actually listens to his commands then does his bidding. Now anyone with a fat wallet can buy "The New Q" and get the same feature minus the ability to lay a tactical oil slick.
To get the new Q to listen, simply press a button on the steering wheel. The stereo cuts out and the Q pays attention as long as the driver uses the predetermined phrases found in the manual. If the second-generation Visteon Voice Technology recognizes your command, a robotic entity repeats the order and acts on it. In addition to operating the climate control and optional navigation system, this co-pilot can help you control the radio, an elegant cassette deck or a six-disc CD changer mounted in the glovebox.
Bose AudioPilot, a technology that uses a microphone to "listen" to the cabin, adjusts aural output to reduce the effects of engine noise, downshifting big rigs or backseat drivers on sonic quality. Amplification of this product is a 300-watt digital affair, which means any hiss you may hear is probably from the recording studio, not the trunk.
Benefiting from this technology are eight high-quality Bose speakers. Up front, you'll find three 2.5-inch tweeters sprinkled across the dash and two 6.5-inch woofers in the front doors. In back are two 5.25-inch drivers in the rear doors and a monstrous 12-inch sub in the rear deck.
If you think a talking car is creepy or can't get the Q to understand you (it misunderstood this reviewer only once and it was my fault), there are plenty of manual controls. The steering wheel houses buttons for voice activation, volume and multi-function controls for each medium. On the dash, there's a large volume knob with a button that causes the high-mounted color LCD screen to devote itself to audio functions. Large rocker buttons beneath the display correspond to six on-screen functions at a time, but things get tricky if you want to adjust the bass, treble, balance or fading. After using a different button to access these functions, you must operate a tiny joystick that's similar to the annoying nub of a mouse found on some laptop computers. Folks in the back get their own audio controls mounted in the rear armrest if the owner drops more than six G's on the Premium Package.
Performance: This is an outstanding premium factory audio setup. If you like "the Bose sound," read no further. This is as good as it gets. If you don't, an argument could be made with quibbles about warmth or depth, but few would listen. They'll be too busy nodding their heads to thunderous bass and crisp highs while the sonic filter keeps distractions in check.
In short, the sound produced is superb. The center channel found just above the LCD screen provides the perfect amount of fill while allowing good separation of the left and right channels. Passengers in the front aren't blasted by the trio on top, but get a face full of sound. Mid bass is handled by the lower door speakers, but seems to come from everywhere.
The low-range sub has no problem with music ranging from live cellos to the punishing bass of Kool Keith's latest album, Spankmaster. There's no buzzing trunk, and since the 300 watts at work are digital, little of the speaker's effort is wasted on hiss. This is the case for all 8 drivers. Highs and voices are perfectly reproduced at all volumes. Your ears will fail before the amp or speakers do.
The LCD screen in our test vehicle was clear and legible even in direct sunlight, but does require some reading while driving, unless you let the Q do the work for you. Most functions can be controlled by voice, and the impatient can use the steering wheel buttons for the most common adjustments.
The only weak link in the system is the glovebox-mounted CD changer that requires drivers to make a long reach to fiddle with its crummy six-disc magazine. Heck, you can get a six-CD in-dash changer in the Ford Escape, and you don't have to mess with the flimsy plastic sleeves in the clip that Infiniti provides.
Best Feature: Voice-activated controls and impeccable sound quality.
Worst Feature: Precarious CD changer placement and annoying CD magazine.
Conclusion: Most drivers will find that this Bose-engineered system has every feature they will ever need, except an in-dash CD changer.
Contributing Editor Erin Riches Says: The Q45 was everything I would expect from a luxury sedan. Silent. Powerful. Comfortable. Endowed with amenities. But I didn't care. I was merely along for the ride.
Of course, I enjoyed the car's V8. Every freeway maneuver was effortless. The Q was always the first car off the line at stoplights, and I didn't even try. Cruising at 80 felt like a mere 50. And the brakes were fantastic, as they quickly and seamlessly skimmed off speed. These attributes alone are reason enough to buy a Q45. But those with any desire to drive will find their enthusiasm undermined by the Q's Cadillac Seville-like steering and ultra-soft suspension. Really, it was disappointing a big, beautiful steering wheel (with blonde wood trim) that could be spun with a finger during city driving. At higher speeds, the steering ratio tightened up, but the suspension was never concerned with the driver's enjoyment. Certainly, the Q is agile for its size and it's a perfect highway car the suspension absorbed absolutely everything in its path without losing its quiet composure. But a moderately curvy road elicited little response, only a vague boat-like feeling. So the Q45 is not a sporty luxury sedan at all. How can this be one of the Nissan Maxima's betters?
Life inside the cabin was serene, save for what I thought was a little excess road noise which was easily muffled by the pleasant Bose sound system. I had trouble using the joystick on the center stack to make audio adjustments, so I tried out the voice recognition technology. The system was easy to use, once I picked up on the required terminology the system wouldn't recognize my request to "please turn on the stereo," preferring "audio system on" instead. The climate controls were easy enough to adjust without voice assistance. The driver seat provided an extensive array of adjustments and this, combined with the steering wheel's lengthy telescoping range, allowed me to find an ideal driving position. The rear seats seemed comfortable, too, though they don't have the legroom of the extended-wheelbase BMW 7 Series models. The interior materials were suitably lavish pale, supple leather and rich wood accents though the center stack panel would benefit from a more inviting texture.
The Q45 has an engine and a luxury menu worthy of its distinguished competitors. And it has a much lower MSRP. Now, why can't it be a sport sedan hiding behind the big, safe, comfortable guise of a full-size luxury sedan like the BMW 7 Series?
Senior Road Test Editor Brent Romans says: The 2002 Q45 is a major improvement over the 2001 Q45. Then again, there was a lot to improve upon. For most of 2001, Infiniti was selling only one Q45 for every 20 BMW 7 Series sedans sold.
But simple improvement over the last Q isn't really the issue here. More important is how much the new car improved, and whether it is enough to match Audi, BMW, Lexus and Mercedes. I had high hopes for this car ever since it debuted at the 2000 New York Auto Show. While I certainly enjoyed my time behind the wheel, I was left rather unmoved by the experience.
That's pretty surprising for a car with 340 horsepower. Three hundred and forty! Jeez, that's a lot. There are very few cars that offer more than 300 horsepower for the Q's price. And sure enough, those horses make for exhilarating performance in a straight line. Mat the throttle for a passing maneuver on the freeway, and the Infiniti launches forward on afterburner. You can even act like a yob; turn off the VDC system at a stop, give 'er some gas and turn the wheel. Wheeee, power oversteer fun in daddy's luxury car!
For those considering a Q45 purchase, I'd highly recommend the Sport package. Our test car didn't have it, and the stock suspension wasn't up to the task of handling the speeds that 340 hp generate. Driven even at moderate speeds on twisty roads, our test car felt unsettled by too much body movement. I wouldn't have a problem with this, if the Q45 were solely a luxury car. But performance figures highly in Infiniti's marketing; shouldn't the Sport package be standard?
The Q45 is good, but I have a sense that Infiniti rushed development time a bit in order to match the recently released LS 430. The car doesn't make a strong enough statement in luxury, styling, performance or technology. I think I'd take an LS 430, or wait and see what the new 7 Series will be like.
Senior Editor Christian Wardlaw says: Too much hype sets up unrealistic expectations, and with all the advance promotion and positive press for the Q45, including glowing opinion coming from our own staff of writers, I expected a budget-rate BMW, Benz and Lexus killer. Thus, I was disappointed.
Our particular Q45 was a stripper. The sunroof and heated side mirrors with auto dimming function had both been deleted. Heated seats were not included. Neither was Infiniti's impressive Birdview navigation system, or the trick rearview monitoring system. Without the optional Sport package, the Q45 had trouble backing up claims that it was the performance-oriented super-sedan from Japan.
Therefore, I felt like I was driving a nicely trimmed Toyota Avalon with inferior ergonomics. The Q45's center stack is artfully presented, but nightmarish to operate. I know, I know, once you've owned the car for a while, everything becomes intuitive, just like anything else in which familiarity has been bred. But why can't it be intuitive from the start? And why didn't Infiniti pony up for backlit steering wheel controls that operate the stereo and cruise control? And why is a cassette deck showcased with such beautiful attention to detail in the lower portion of the dash instead of a six-disc CD changer? And didn't anyone from product development notice how the vents bracketing the dash toss an ugly reflection onto the side windows, right where you're looking to see in the sideview mirrors?
Much bally-hooed since the car's introduction, the Gatling-gun headlights look great and operate perfectly to illuminate dark roadways. Sadly, they are the Q's only distinctive exterior styling cue. The spoked 17-inch wheels could have been yanked off a Maxima, the grille design is unremarkable save for the large Infiniti badge, and the rear end reminded me of a Volvo S40 to a certain degree.
Driving the Q45 was a forgettable experience. Well, except for the irritating throttle response. I recall that as frustrating. Infiniti has installed something called an Electronic Torque-Demand Powertrain Control system in the Q45. This manages engine power, throttle position and transmission gear selections to optimize power and smoothness. During my time behind the wheel, I found the throttle to be unresponsive during initial tip-in. I also found that when held at a constant position, the Q45 would sometimes lose speed, necessitating added pressure on the go pedal.
Delayed throttle response resulted in a driving experience I'd call surging. Ever ride with someone who gasses the car, then lets off, then gasses the car, and then lets off? That's how I wound up driving the Q. Additionally, the transmission sometimes seemed confused about when to change gears. For instance, when rapidly accelerating from a light in city traffic and then attaining cruising speed, the tranny would hold second gear for too long, keeping engine revs high, and then finally select third. Notably, without harshness.
Did I like anything about the new Q? The Bose audio system produces great sound once you figure things out, the buttery-soft leather seats are extremely comfortable, and the engine is a model of refinement. But it didn't beg to be driven, which doesn't match the brand image Infiniti wishes to portray. At our test car's price, give me a BMW 540iA, please.
"I have had my new Q45 for five days.... Every time I drive it, I am more impressed with it. In normal urban driving situations, it feels like a silky, quiet luxo cruiser -- even with its sport suspension and 18-inch wheels. But, when you push it, it is just exhilarating! The engine is powerful and smooth. For a big car, it handles well, too. I am also impressed by the fit and finish. The materials and details are flawless. As for the seemingly controversial looks, I like them. Most people are impressed with it. I have received much positive comment about the car, and most of the time it is people driving BMWs, Mercedes, and Jags who notice it." DonFenn, "Infiniti Q45," #316 of 422, May 27, 2001
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