(first posted 5/7/2014) You can’t help but pity Nissan who, after making a good name for itself, saw its reputation and influence sink following its name change and a string of dowdy cars. Despite a high level of quality and inspired model line-up during a short-lived renaissance in the early ’90s, profits began to dwindle and with twenty-three year’s hindsight, the story doesn’t get much rosier. When you consider how hard they tried, it’s especially sad given how many resources went into what was possibly their most ambitious model, the Infiniti Q45.
Nissan, of course, wasn’t unique in pulling out all the stops during their late ’80s product development. Japan had been experiencing unprecedented growth, and following a 1985 treaty with other major powers, had to contend with the deliberate devaluation of the US dollar concurrent with a natural appreciation of the Yen. There was enormous incentive to elevate the sophistication of Japanese automobiles across the board, given the inevitable price increases. The ensuing period created some impressive machinery, evident in such over-engineered mainstream efforts as the Toyota Previa, and even more workmanlike cars like the Subaru Legacy and second-generation Isuzu Trooper displayed a drive upmarket.
Nissan also wasn’t the the only Japanese automaker to suffer from some degree of an inferiority complex at the high end of the market, but may have felt it more than some others, namely Toyota and Honda. While all three decided that separate nameplates were necessary to sell luxury cars, Nissan might have been unique in having also gained a reputation for dullness with its mainstream models. Cars like the Stanza and Sentra were dangerously conservative and increasingly seen as also-rans. The Yokohama-based company therefore faced a situation where it needed to update its very, very plain bread and butter models while proving itself to be a world-class producer of first-rate luxury automobiles. While it was a big challenge, it must have seemed very doable, with all the easy money on hand and a strong home market.
When it came to the Nissan’s newest wave of cars in the very late ’80s, it was obvious they had done their homework and the solution to the company’s most ambitious desires, when finally introduced, was a convincing effort to create the best sedan possible for the price ($38,000). And while it was conceived with European competition in mind, first and foremost, the new Infiniti had a distinctly Japanese, high-tech vibe to it. This latter trait may have proved to be its undoing.
The most obvious place to begin is with the Q45’s styling, but before doing so, I’d like to challenge readers to abandon–however briefly–the notion that Japanese cars suffer derivative design. Can we see bits and pieces of other cars in the Q45? Of course; the most commonly suggested source of inspiration was the Jaguar XJ40, but there are also similarities with the Audi Typ44 and even the Ford Taurus. But as anyone who’s ever been self-aware of their own prejudices can attest, one often looks for evidence to support stereotypes, and you have to wonder if the Jag, the Audi or the Ford were ever as widely accused of co-opting other carmakers’ design cues.
The Taurus was hardly the first grilleless design, nor was the Audi the first popular sedan with a six-light greenhouse. The take-away here is that true originals are quite rare and that new cars are hardly ever developed in a vacuum. I’d hardly call the Q45 characterful–and it wouldn’t be unfair to call it blunt from some angles–but it’s a handsome, recognizable shape, with an athleticism imparted by a strong shoulderline and large, simple taillights. It’s a shame Infiniti erred on the side of restraint, though, because they ultimately would up with too subtle of a design.
A less subjective aspect of the Q45’s image was of its excellent performance. As Japan’s then number-two automaker, Nissan allocated substantial resources for a dedicated engine and platform, ensuring that from the first test drive, their new sedan would be taken most seriously. To that end, a 32-valve, quad-cam design was an obvious choice, though a healthy 4.5 liter displacement, all-aluminum construction and variable intake valve timing were leading-edge touches. As expected, it was routed to the rear wheels using a four-speed automatic which, until 1993, started out in second gear. With 292 naturally aspirated lb-ft of torque and optional traction control (and then, only after 1990) this was a wise move, as was standard fitment of a limited slip differential, but slow sales prompted Nissan to make all sorts of changes, some good and others, not so much. Performance, at any rate, was class-leading. The engine was rated at 278 horsepower, reportedly rated conservatively. Typical test results saw a top speed limited to about 150 miles per hour, with sixty reached in about seven seconds flat and the quarter mile completed in about fifteen and a half seconds at over ninety miles per hour. That was fast car territory.
Powertrain performance was clearly excellent and the chassis was up to par. Oddly enough, the Lexus LS400 tended to get the nod over the Infiniti when it came to at-the-limit handling, but that could have been a function of its lighter weight and more modest power. The difference here was academic, though journalists’ impressions of the Q45’s road manners ranged from highly favorable to slightly dissatisfying. By the time renewed competition surfaced in the form of the BMW 540i and Mercedes 400E/E420, the Infiniti was off most journalists’ radar and besides, had begun suffering the effects of dumbing down through taller gear ratios, softer chassis tuning and even a slower steering ratio.
For those who were paying attention, though, two interesting options were offered. The first was a touring sedan which boasted, among other things, an electric rear-wheel steering feature to enhance stability at higher speeds (also seen on the S13 240SX and Z32 300ZX). The second, much more impressive, feature was a “Full Active Suspension,” the first such system offered in the US market. Finding a car so equipped is rare, as it was a $5000 option, and a complex piece of machinery which few current Q45 owners would be likely to repair today, though to be fair, such could also be said for the simpler (and not necessarily comparable) Lexus air suspension system.
Driven by a central, high pressure hydraulic pump, the FAS system could push down individual tires to maintain a level ride, negate pitch and roll, and vary damping all at once. Working only during rebound–and not jounce–it was technically only a semi-active system, but was far more advanced than any variable shock-valve damping or air suspension in its ability to actively move the suspension through its travel rather than restricting the ability of pavement imperfections and G-forces to do the same. Coupled with a four-wheel multilink design and rear-wheel steering, it was very impressive, but at about twenty percent of the car’s overall cost with a fuel mileage penalty to boot, it was somewhat of a flop. Given such systems’ inability to change a car’s reaction to small, high frequency pavement imperfections, and the low-likelihood of test drives at triple digit speeds on imperfect roads, it’s unlikely potential customers could notice a difference.
What potential customers likely did notice, unfortunately, was the misguided interior decor. For all the criticism directed at LS400 for its derivative exterior styling, Lexus did an excellent job at establishing its own interior design language, not only through its electroluminescent gauge package, but also with matte-finish LCD displays and well-spaced, near-flush switchgear. It would appear that Infiniti did not learn from Audi, who was compelled to redesign its 5000’s interior, likely before the 60 Minutes fiasco.
Not only did the Infiniti’s interior not include wood, it also suffered from an abundance of padded vinyl finishes which imparted a cold look. The quality was there, but the overall look was waxy. It photographed very well and must have seemed inspired during the design process, but in the real world, it came across as antiseptic once the newness wore off. It’s all very Sharper Image, bringing to mind the furniture of the late ’80s which fell out of favor quickly and has yet to come back in style.
Our featured car, with its rear spoiler and rare five-spoke wheels, is of indeterminate trim. The lack of a height adjustment knob in the console means this does not have the active suspension, but I wonder if it could be equipped with four-wheel steering. With a two-tone interior (as envisioned by design consultant, Poltrona Frau) and single airbag, it’s an early production car. In fact, it could even be an early 1990 model, given the seat adjustment buttons on the door (which were changed after Mercedes complained). That ghastly pink steering wheel cover–ribbed for no one’s pleasure–doesn’t say anything positive about the current owner’s sense of style. Not visible is the matching pink car seat in the rear. Like any proper, massively depreciating luxury car, the Q45 rapidly found its rightful place in the very bottom of the used car market, alongside the likes of the BMW 7-series or Lincoln LS. A slow-selling machine, the Infiniti was moved off the lot using generous lease deals and the result is often as you see here. Failure is always depressing, but witnessing the collapse of very grand expectations can be a crushingly bleak spectacle and I was honestly surprised to find this car at all.
Twenty-four year old LS400s, on the other hand, remain a relatively common sight. They were brisk sellers, with higher resale, often benefitting from attentive owners. And why not? They were brilliant machines. They were also, in comparison to the Infiniti, somewhat cynically conceived, offering not a single challenging element as far as their character or appearance was concerned. And while they did a handy job of establishing a new brand, I’m not so sure the reputation has endured; these days, chaste RX350s and ES350s pay the bills for Toyota’s luxury brand. Sales of the IS, GS and LS sedans are unimpressive, perhaps reflecting an eroding status. Continued healthy sales (for now) of high-profit Camry derivatives will at least enable some future effort to restore competitiveness should the company reassess its priorities.
That is something which certainly cannot be said for poor Nissan, who lost a pile of money in bringing forth a host of technically and aesthetically progressive cars in the late ’80s and early ’90s, only to have customers go elsewhere in search of glamor–even when the result was as well developed as the Q45. It’s difficult to blame them, given the success enjoyed by more daring newcomers like the Audi 5000 and Saab 9000 in higher-priced segments. What they didn’t understand, unfortunately, was that newcomers in an even more established, traditional market can’t afford to make waves. Customers might be willing to pay a lot of money for prestige, but in such an image conscious field, few have enough faith to invest in a new concept which has yet to prove its snob appeal. In this sense, launching Lexus was already a gamble, and hindsight clearly proves Toyota’s humble, almost apologetic approach to have been wiser, at least initially.
The rules obviously are obviously different depending on what audience is being targeted. The irony is that, after spending the 1980s boring more open-minded buyers in mainstream segments–the same people who made Honda dealers a fortune–Nissan chose to aim its boldest statement at the most fundamentally insecure social climbers; the exact sort most ready to discount the Q45 based on its national origin. In doing so, it would seem they overestimated their customers.
Sigh, the rich are boring…
Nice write-up. In addition to the issues you note, I recall a few more from when the car launched:
The grille-less face was criticized, as was the highly stylized Infiniti logo on the nose. IIRC, one auto scribe likened the “grille badge” to Hulk Hogan’s belt buckle.
The car was launched with an extremely esoteric ad campaign, referred to as “Rocks and Trees,” that highlighted Infiniti’s Zen-like philosophy but never showed a car. These ads ran for a really long time for a teaser campaign, and compared poorly with the Lexus approach that touted how well made and thoughtful the LS400 was, effectively positioning it as a smarter choice compared to German brands. Poor Infiniti was just very Japanese, without clearly showing how that was a benefit to status conscious buyers.
For some reason, I recall another description of the logo, something like “Zoro goggles on a bed of macaroni.” Car & Driver, I think.
The car was launched with an extremely esoteric ad campaign, referred to as “Rocks and Trees,” that highlighted Infiniti’s Zen-like philosophy but never showed a car.
The joke at the time was the ad campaign was very successful, sales of rocks and trees went up 30%…
It was a head-scratcher. The ads might have worked as a mystery-teaser campaign followed up by a more nuts-and-bolts promotion of the car’s virtues, but the Zen campaign was all there was. Nissan just didn’t have the credibility, then or now, to pull off something so unconventional as a newcomer in the luxury market.
I had just started working in advertising in the summer of ’88, and stopped by a color separator to look at some proofs. Lying out we’re proofs of the new Infiniti campaign, and I remember thinking WTF? Years later, I actually worked with the writer of the campaign, but felt it best not to discuss that campaign.
In contrast, the Lexus teaser ads, with the focus on precision components, did exactly what it needed to do – reassure American consumers that A Japanese carmaker could make a top-end car. Which sounds silly now, but at the time it was a real concern. The Japanese were perceived as doing econocars through basic sedans well, but not luxury cars.
Indeed, at the same time, I was working on ads for Oce, a Dutch maker of medium and high-volume copiers with a Japanese-sounding name. We had to create ads and materials that emphasized Oce’s Euopean heritage, because while a Cannon, Sharp and Brother had swept the small-copier market, their mid-sized models had a rep for breaking down.
I actually know what a “color separator” is!
I like this a lot,V8 RWD comfortable 4 door sedan it ticks the right boxes for me.I don’t think I’d choose one over a Vauxhall Monaro or Chrysler 300 as it looks a little plain compared to them.I’ve yet to see one in the UK,Infiniti are sold here but while Lexus is commonplace after 25 years or so Infiniti is thin on the ground.
Some commenters made this link for me a while back: The Cue-X design study was the anticipatory concept for the Q45, no grille and nearly all. Out of the Nissan Technical Centre, I couldn’t find reference to specific stylists but I believe it was a pre-US in-house job. In fact I think the Cue-X bested its euro twin, the 4 door Ferrari Pinin. The Q45, however, loses in translation or I would be driving one right now. Nice article Perry.
The exterior was so any-car conservative I always felt these were true “Q-ships.”
The “boring” badge to me always looked more like 1/2 of the female anatomy than a road disappearing into infinity.
Best I could find is this page from the Cue-X brochure. Sketch on right is captioned August 1984 and bears signature or initials GAM. These sketches also bear similarity to the 1987 Arc-X which is credited to Shigeru Miki.
Their ad campaign was strange and off the mark too. Very hard to comprehend. Most did not show the car at all. They just ruminated about “the true meaning of luxury” or something and had lots of ads featuring rocks and trees.
We still have a joke in our family about one ad: Consider the urishi tree – Is it not like a luxury car.
When a new car is introduced most people do not know what it is until the ad people tell them. Infiniti completely screwed this up.
I think those ads would have probably worked better if there would have been an internet back then where you could have provided a link to people where the could see the actual car, back in 1989 it was more of a
“Whats with these trees and narrator?
Whats an Infiniti?
Oh well…..back to Perfect Strangers”
This was one of my first thoughts when reminiscing about this car today. In late 90/early 91 my best friend was looking to replace his 85 190E. The economy was good, he had been promoted to VP status and he wanted to move up. The three cars under consideration were the Q45, LS400, and a W124. He was very well acquainted with the W124 because it had been out for years, it was his aspirational car, and it was widely available at his dealership. OTOH, the Q and the Lexus were new and dealers had limited supplies. In addition, Infiniti had mucked up their advertising but not letting us see or know much about the car. Today a lot of our questions would have been answered via the internet before we visited the dealerships. The LS had more exposure, was more available, and had a stronger identity as a M-B fighter from the get go (plus it was deliberately underpriced by a big company that could afford to do this at the time).
The other issue was status. My friend was a little reluctant to go with a new luxury marque with no assurance of reputation, resale, dealership experience, etc. And the Q was made more mysterious by its limited exposure prior to launch. Of the two of us, I was most enthusiastic about it because of my 85 300ZX Turbo, a well-engineered, fine quality car. But my friend, who actually enjoyed driving the Q (he found the Lexus too soft and bulky feeling compared to the other two cars) decided to buy a new 91 300E. M-B had upgraded the interior and added the attractive lower body cladding for 91 and while the 300E was more expensive, it instantly conveyed the image he wanted; and as Paul has so well expressed many times, it was, despite some electrical gremlins, a car that was wonderful to drive, svelte in size, and eminently practical.
It’s too bad because for quite some time Nissan produced a luxury sports sedan that was quite successful (my 99 Maxima GLE was one of the best cars I ever owned) and later produced the hugely successful G35/37 that managed to offer the value advantage of the original Lexus (no longer true of the Q50) and had a clear identity from the get go. As others point out here, Nissan/Infiniti have still not done the latter with their large sedans and now, ironically, have diluted the brand identity of their most successful product by slathering the Q designation over it and every other model Infiniti sells.
Dave Barry’s joke about it was that when they finally did show a car it was a Hillman Minx (a callback to earlier in the column when he noted his dad had one).
Infiniti’s model rebrand was a wasted opportunity – they should’ve gone to model names, maybe even carrying their Japanese ones straight over (Skyline, Fuga, etc.) so new badges wouldn’t even be needed.
Other than a few exceptions, Nissan styling has never imptessed me. When they jumped out of boxy they went all the way to the far end of styling extreem.
Another one of those prime examples of how prescient H. L. Mencken was. Nissan comes out with something wonderfully different, mechanically neat, and visually stunning. Toyota copies last year’s Mercedes-Benz.
Guess which one was the sales success?
Never got to drive a Q45 (very much my idea of a luxury car), although I have driven the first generation LS400 (well built, but otherwise meh), and the last generation Acura Legend (puts the Lexus to shame).
In America, there is no place to status-subtlety when you’re selling a luxury car. American’s just have to show off.
What a find – I haven’t seen one of these in eons. I’m pretty certain this is a basic 1990 model because Infiniti had to change the seat controls in 1991.
I never drove one of these, but a friend’s parents bought a 1990 Lexus LS400 that I did drive, and my dad had a ’90 Legend. At the price point, Lexus, Infiniti and Acura were really far ahead of anyone else. Pity that Infiniti advertising.
I always liked this generation of Q45, especially the early models before they tacked on a somewhat incongruous grille (a move that rarely works well stylistically but sometimes helps sales–see the 1993 Ford Crown Vic.) V8, RWD, at least somewhat athletic even in base trim, much more so with one of the interesting suspension/steering options. Subtle, yes, but in a confident, clean-lined, elegant way. One might still find its way into my driveway at some point as it’s a car I’d like to have some seat time in, though that interior is worse than I remember.
Nice writeup, also!
Interesting that you mentioned the 1992 Crown Vic, I always thought the greenhouse and profile of the Vic looked a lot like these early Q45’s, and the grille-less front end sealed the deal, the Crown Vic was obviously bigger and had a more rear over hang, but they did look a bit similar.
I have always preferred this first generation Q45’s styling to that of the first generation Lexus LS. The LS is definitely more conservative, although that’s usually what sells in the large luxury car segment. As you mentioned the Q45 had a very bland, familiar look to it. Looking back on them today, both seem rather dull when compared to European competitors.
I truly think the power of marketing was crucial to the LS’s (and Lexus’) success. With their pyramid of champagne glasses balanced on the LS’s hood with running motor, Lexus created enough snob appeal to be taken seriously. By adding the ES, it greatly broadened its appeal. Lexus emphasized luxury image over performance. In this segment many buyers are more concerned with conveying that image over the actual performance of the car.
I’ve read somewhere that Toyota took some of the best notes from the Mercedes Benz S class and Lincoln Town Car play books and got the LS400. Let’s be serious too, I would bet you most folks buy even Benzes and Bimmers for their snob appeal rather than for their ability to carve corners at speed. I see too many fancied up bluehairs driving them now to think otherwise.
That’s pretty much my impression of the early Lexus, if I catch one out of the corner of my eye I think I see a Benz. Having driven a couple, I certainly like the more American car feeling suspension. Its a pretty sweet mix, in my mind and although I’m an inveterate Brougham fan, I’m glad they had enough sense not to try to revisit that exterior style for an American market at that time in history.
As to this era of Infinity, it reminds me a lot of a Japanese take on an STS but with way more generic styling. This particular example looks like it has the wheels off of a 2000ish Buick LeSabre. Meh, is right and for luxury, “meh” is a death sentence.
On a bike ride the other day I saw a clapped out early LS400 – about the condition the of typical ’80s Caprice I occasionally see. Easily the worst looking LS400 I’ve ever seen.
It also seemed Caprice like with its noisy V-8 rumble and saggy trim, open windowed stance. It made me think how American the car really is. A car that Cadillac should have been building instead of all the FWD crap it was doing.
I see a few ratty LSs every once in a while down here, they pop out of bad neighborhoods from time to time.
Basically, that was what I was thinking-LS400, the car Caddy should have designed.
However, they were in no place to do such a thing, at least not straight up what Toyota/Lexus did. That would have involved eating a lot of humble pie, turning out a Caddy that looked like a Benz.
However, they least they could have done was give their N* era rides a less fickle engine.
The plans for a Voyage/Solitaire like “super Cadillac” were in the beginning stages around 1989-1990. Cadillac show cars like the 1988 Voyage, 1989 Solitaire and 1990 Aurora(not the Oldsmobile one) all hinted at a flagship Cadillac, the Voyage/Solitaire were AWD using FWD architecture like an Audi, the Aurora was a real RWD Cadillac concept using DOHC V8. I think the first GM financial crisis of 1991 which resulted in the ousting of Bob Stempel and other “car guy” engineer board member put it on the back burner, and the eventually in the dumper.
“A car that Cadillac should have been building…”
I’ve been saying that like a broken record since the time the LS400 came out. It was exactly what the Seville should have been. And note that the LS400 was a big success from day one without either a Touring/Euro version, or a Brougham version. Just one self-confident expression of the modern American luxury car; supremely quiet, soft-riding, and with superb quality.
The LS400 was the car that really dinged Cadillac. Mercedes had to change their game somewhat, and adapted. Cadillac struggled. And they still don’t have a car to compete with the LS and such.
I am another fan of the big Q. I have always considered this a very handsome car. I remember when both this and the big Lexus came out. Mercedes was reaching into the higher 5 figures, so there was certainly room for some competition.
The Lexus came across as more of a “traditional” luxury car, while the Infiniti seemed to be more in the “performance luxury” category. Sort of like the 57 Imperial had been. But we all know how that one fared against the 57 Cadillac.
Like some others, I remember the odd advertising campaign. Nissan was an underdog to Toyota, and the same pecking order played out in the big leagues.
Beat me to it, JP!
The Infiniti is clearly the Imperial of Japanese luxury marques, right down to being an eight-letter word that starts with “I” and means, “Why’d you get THAT one?”
If I had a big enough garage I’d add a J30 to my fleet.
“right down to being an eight-letter word that starts with “I” and means, “Why’d you get THAT one?””
Best comment of the day, Capn! I am with you on Infinit, though mine would be an early M45.
I wanted to make this claim as well, but for some reason, didn’t.
I don’t have ready access to my Encyclopedia, but didn’t the ’57 Imperial sell fairly well, in comparison to earlier and later Imps? And I’m not quite seeing the analogy, inasmuch as the ’57 Imperial wasn’t exactly positioned as a “driver’s” car.
But 1957 was quite a while back…so maybe I missed that.
But clearly, the Q45 was much more driver-oriented than the LS400, which intrinsically boxed it in somewhat, since it clearly didn’t have the obvious luxury touches expected in the price class.
I was very attracted to the Q45 when it arrived, and rather lusted after one. But it didn’t last, especially when they put that dreadful little grille on it, a surrender flag if ever there was one.
Clearly, the Q45 had the right stuff to be successful under the skin, but certain design/cosmetic/marketing touches let it down. Sad story…
The 57 Imp sold well indeed – for an Imperial. But by Cadillac standards, it was way, way back there. I always thought that the 57 Imperial with its Hemi V8 and its Torsion-Aire suspension setup was indeed the road car of its class. Chrysler always relied on “engineering bling” back then and got a dose of hot styling to go with it. However, the Cadillac was much more conservative mechanically and sold on quality, presence and (relative) class.
So much for the defense of my less-than-perfect analogy. 🙂
To add to JP’s point, I was thinking not so much of the ’57, but of how both the Q and the Imp couldn’t really settle on a stylistic identity. They’d try a theme for a few years and then toss it, which isn’t how luxury branding is supposed to work.
My ex-BIL bought one of these new, in all black. It was incredibly fast. That’s all I really remember about it.
Friend had one and you are right. That car would fly. Incredibly fast and he drove it that way. Bought it because it was so fast and because everyone else was buying Lexus and wanted something different.
I remember these being somewhat popular where I grew up with rich people who for whatever reason didn’t want a giant SUV or a German car.
They certainly are sleek, in retrospect.
And I don’t think I’ve seen one in the wild in the last 5 years. You’re right that the early Lexus 400s are still everywhere and these have virtually disappeared.
They are getting thin on the ground, they are cheap, unloved, and expensive and complicated to repair in most cases, a friend of mines brother-in-law has 2, he didn’t pay more than $1000 for each. I think he bought the 2nd one as a parts car for the first, but he was able to get it running and let one of his kids drive it for a bit. He is handy and able to keep these going, but for most people, they just wouldn’t really put up with it, its the same sad story for EVERY old luxury car in most cases.
The last place I saw several Q’s was…..the U Pick U Pull yard.
Just give me that blue W126 in the picture!
I believe that the model were looking at here does have the Nissan HICAS 4 wheel steering, the different wheels and the spoiler I recall were part of the package, if it were an active suspension car, it would have a little “a” after the Q45 badge, the active suspension is rare, I think I’ve only ever seen one on the road before, and Q45’s weren’t all that rare down in Miami, though I remember seeing more LS400’s initially than these.
I remember liking these when they came out, they seemed to be the more sporty choice of new Japanese luxury sedan, I liked the whiteish linen colored interior option and there were some interesting exterior colors like a deep metallic plum color. The styling to me seemed very clean and business like, with a little bit of that early 1961 Continental minimalist-bahaus design.
One of the things that reviewers knocked was the lack of wood for the interior, though Nissan did offer what I can only describe as a “sparkly-glitter infused purpleish plastic”(why? because…Japan)dash option instead of wood for some markets, but not for the US, where it would have probably gone over as well as mint flavored Drano.
Nissan later sent the Q to the Broughams Gym to bulk up with a pseudo Lincoln/Mercury style grill…..”see!! SEE! Now we got a grille, now you will LIKE US!!…Right? No….more fluffy padded and pleated seats and of course it got WOOD. Even the Q’s minor appearance as Gene Hackmans ride in The Firm couldn’t help it.
The next Q was replaced by something that looked like a mix of a Japanese taxi and an Grand Marquis, but it HAD A GRILLE……and wood too! Though that didn’t help, and those lead to what was the final unfortunate looking “gatling gun” headlight final Q45.
I think it’s a Sport with the HICAS not FAS.
Thats what I was thinking too, the active suspension cars were usually badged as a Q45a
Sorry was speed reading late to work. You are right.
Not during the first year it was on the market in 1991.
!!!! Carmine, I’m so glad you remember that odd interior trim option. Once every few years, I decide to trawl the internet for some trace of it, and I can’t find anything. So I’m glad I’m not hallucinating.
The car mag in which I saw it mentioned (probably Automobile) described it as “Japanese lacquer,” so I imagine it looked like one of those pretty, decorative wooden boxes. And it cost a fortune–a couple thousand dollars, I think. I think it involved flecks of real gold.
I’ve never seen a picture of it, but I’m always excited when an automaker decides to try something original for interior decor. Wood and metal are nice, but some of us are ready for a change (it’s been over a century, after all!).
I tried to find a picture of the trim, I remember the gold flecks in it, there was a picture in Automobile, I tried finding something on the net, but nothing.
Sounds similar to the finish that was on the interior of some JDM-spec R50 Terranos. Pics below, it was a kind of semi-sparkly blue mica kind of colour. That spec was imported new into NZ and sold as a Pathfinder, and quite a few customers decided they didn’t like it, and got us to change it to the wood trim instead. It was a costly exercise, with the main console and all 4 window switch trims needing to be changed. Then the wood kind of clashed with the blue of the fabric anyway!
And one that shows the colour a bit better. It certainly was different, but I thought it was quite cool.
Similar, but more like the black plastic that Infiniti already had on the dash, but with gold flecks and a purple-ish/green swirl pattern, like a thin film of oil on water.
and those lead to what was the final unfortunate looking “gatling gun” headlight final Q45.
Wow, I had to look this up… didn’t have any clue there was a 3rd gen Q45. I must have seen one at some point, but I guess it didn’t register. I’m not sure how that happened, because when they were new I was way into the G35 and M45.
Did anyone else not realize this car existed? I can’t say it looks bad, but it does make me think “this is what a fullsize Kia would have looked like circa-2005 if they had chosen to rip-off Buick styling”:
My dad owned one. The first engine grenaded, the second one was fine.
Lots of cool tech for the time, but he ultimately found it to be an unsatisfying drive. I got behind the wheel a couple of times, and the steering was much too vague and light. The back seat was kind of cramped for such a large car–not at all like the Lexus LS. Great headlights, though.
Somewhat off-topic: I think Nissan peaked (in the US) with the “4DSC” Maxima. It was supremely balanced and honest: it hit its mark better than any other Nissan I can think of. (I don’t mean to denigrate the GT-Rs, of course, but when you through that much money at a car, it damn well better be great!)
I think I agree with you. I worked with a guy who bought one of the early Maxima 4DSCs – a bright red one. That car was seriously cool in 1990 or so.
Gen3 was a rebadged Nissan Cima; a luxxed-up version was sold as the Nissan President. We have them ex-Japan – here’s a pic of a couple for sale here at the moment; Cima on left, Pres on right:
Which is an interesting flip, as the 1st gen Q45 was a short wheelbase version of the HG50 Nissan President with a different grille and tail treatment.
Lexus LS sales for the first few years exceeded 30,000 per year while the Infinity Q45 was around 12,000. They were both consider very good value for the price. Probably a marketing ploy to get a foothold in the luxury car market.
I wonder if the Infinity’s lack of a radiator grill had any effect on engine cooling. My 98 Aurora also had no radiator grill and on very warm to hot days would run warm (above normal) in city traffic. My 2002 Seville, with a radiator grill, never ran the slightest bit above normal, even on hot days. The 2007 SRX V8 also never ran warm with outside temps above 100, and the A/C keeping the interior cool from front to back.
I think the price issues were primarily the result of the exchange rate issues Perry mentions. The prices of the JDM equivalents of these cars (and of their Lexus rivals) stayed pretty consistent, but the exchange rate quickly went from maybe 150 yen to the dollar to barely 100, sometimes less. That is a tough position to be in for an exporter.
As a point of comparison, between 1990 and 1994, the list price of the Japanese-market Toyota Celsior, the LS400’s JDM equivalent, went up by about 5 percent — nothing dramatic.
It is incorrect to say about the late 80s / early 90s renaissance cars from Nissan that “customers went elsewhere”. Those were terrific cars that sold well and had very high prices. They made money for the company.
More likely it was felt that after an investment like that profit should have been even better so why not go a little easier next time, given that the domestics were faltering and Koreans not yet a threat. Same sales, same price, lower cost should equal more profit, right?
Wrong. The cars that came next didn’t fetch the same price and that’s what almost bankrupt the company. It didn’t help that Nissan’s Camry figher at the time was that red Stanza in Perry’s article.
As for the Q I always liked the car except for the belt buckle and lack of wood. Those issues were addressed later but it was too late. Rumor has it the structure was so stout around the A-pillar that junkyards had a hard time crushing the bodies. I never see any of these around nor similar aged Lexus. We think we see 1990 LSes on the road but if you take a second look those are almost always gen 2 or newer cars.
The CUE-X (Concept for Urban Executive) was a very original design and Infiniti was so close to greatness. Mechanically the cars were awesome and could hit 150+mph.
Some of the best Japanese cars I’ve seen came out of the early 1990s. I loved the first Lexus LS400 and the ES250. I loved the first Infiniti Q45 and M30. I loved the Toyota Previa.
Nissan engineering is usually first rate. The only tick in the Q that I know of is the tensioner for the cam chains. These cars, at $1-3k in daily driver condition, are very good for the money. Not the best mileage in the city, but if the highway is most of your commute, you could do a lot worse. I guess that’s damning with faint praise? The reason I buy old lux cars is the steep depreciation and the owner profile. They tend to take car of a $40k aspirational purchase. The damn grille badge isn’t visible from behind the wheel.
Funny how Infiniti managed to grab a piece of the insecure social climber demographic, who by now were all sporting propellers and four rings as badges of honor, later on with the G35 and G37. IMHO it’s probably the marque’s only bonafide hit considering the rest of the lineup. One look at the M (soon to be Q70) shows they’re still a bit gun-shy about pursuing the big luxury sedan market.
The Q45 itself seemed like a marvelous car – the equivalent of a Hugo Boss suit to the LS400’s Brooks Brothers style. Wanted to own the former but ended up with the latter, which isn’t a bad thing except for the “what coulda beens” and all that.
“Nissan…saw its reputation and influence sink following its name change ”
The 80’s were a good time for Nissan, despite the name change. The Senta nearly was the #1 selling car, and the Maxima gained upscale buyers. Also, the “Hardbody” pickups were doing well.
Just some old hippies loved ‘Datsun’ name, even though the cars had ‘Nissan’ on the motors, etc. Get over it.
I have always liked these, especially the crazy ornate front logo.
I read somewhere at the time that the reason for bland styling but intricate details on cars like these had to do with the intense congestion on the streets of Japan. The idea was that the Japanese were more likely to see the cars up close, and therefore were attracted to micro, rather than macro, styling.
True? No idea. Interesting theory, though.
I think there’s something to that, combined with the fact that even “big” Japanese cars generally weren’t all that big. “Expensive” became sort of synonymous with “ornate.”
Copying Citroens active suspension didnt work eh, RR tried to improve on it too and ended up licence building the original, and you get passive rear steer stability free from PSA, these Infiniti arent very appealing.
Did ’93 – ’96 Caprice jump to anyone else’s mind when first scrolling to the lead photo?
I’ve always felt like the original Q45 had character, just not one that was necessarily to my tastes.
The dilemma the Q45 presents is that it seems more iconoclastic than necessarily compelling and offered a lot of potentially uneasy tradeoffs. It was one of the most powerful cars in its class for a while — but the automatic did the obnoxious old Mercedes trick of starting in second unless you floored it. It wasn’t as bland-looking as the first LS400 — but the gigantic belt buckle motif is reminiscent of overly ornate tooled cowboy boots. It handled well, but any edge it had in that department was dependent on one of the optional suspension packages with complex electronics (active suspension on one, Super HICAS on the other). It added up to a lot of, “Well… I don’t know.”
The LS400 was more conservative on the surface of it, but its execution became the more impressive the more you examined it. It rode really well and was really, really quiet. The powertrain was seriously slick. The dealers were actually nice to you and you could get a fully loaded model for about the price of a BMW 535i. If the worst thing somebody could say about a car like that was that it looked sort of like last year’s Mercedes, c’est la vie.
With comments in, I’m going to deviate from my normal kneejerk about how good it looks and put on my marketing hat.
The first point I would make is the massive leap of faith required to believe the Japanese were entering the premium luxury market at the time. With the parents of my friends being the target market, I was privy to many BMW v MB conversations and justifications. This is a conservative mindset, and to a certain extent, these buyers needed to be gladhandled into this new realm. Lexus was more successful because they asked less in that leap. Performance and packaging were as needed, pricing was not too cheap (an important point) but most crucially they referenced their design from Mercedes with a nod to their Toyota range.
Whereas the Infiniti was using a design language without strong direct reference. The closest I can think of is the ’rounded’ Aston Martin Lagonda where the Cue-X was referencing the sharper first iteration Lagonda (neither being the 4 door DBS derivative). Not a strong enough link and not a car to reference unless you’re talking to people like me who buy primarily on a combination of looks and individuality. Because really, the AML was a product disaster.
There is a reason Hollywood keeps regenerating its known entities (particularly superheroes), and that’s because its easier to market something that is familiar than something that is completely new. Lexus seems to understand that whereas Infiniti took too brave a step as Perry writes. The Japanese premium luxury segment has only recently been able to produce an individual visual identity for their vehicles, witness the Lexus spindle in Edward’s NY Show post. How long after the launch of Lexus did this spindle find its way onto the cars face? A long time. Time for the value (not price) buyer to help build that ephemeral thing called ‘brand equity’, as which point Lexus has now moved to the next stage.
Infiniti was too different. I don’t recall any of its advertising, but from the above accounts they took the wrong approach. The model example for the Toyota/Nissan relationship should be the same as Hertz/Avis in the 60s. ‘We try harder’ helped Avis counter Hertz’s market dominance, but unfortunately for Nissan that proposition underpinned the whole of this new Japanese Premium Luxury category and the winner was Lexus.
The leap in credibility was massive, and the risk of buying an unknown unknown versus a ‘sort of recognisable’ unknown was too much.
I don’t know about that Don. The front end appearance and interior not having wood were real deal breakers in the US. Had they gotten those areas right it would have been a much better outcome. Perhaps not a grand slam like the LS but a home run as opposed to the double or triple.
Except for those aspects the design was easy to understand and not at all challenging. A copy wouldn’t have done any better than a Q with a prettier face and wood, from the get go.
The success of the Lexus came from its breakthroughs in refinement, workmanship, tech and value (low price). It was better than a Mercedes in all of those areas. The Hyundai Equus and Kia K900 are not better than a Mercedes in any area, just cheaper.
As long as a car like that doesn’t look weird it will sell well. The LS being a Mercedes lookalike was as much of a negative as it was a positive, at least in the conversations I overheard.
There were plenty of designs that came out of nowhere to establish or revive a brand… the ’61 Continental, ’84 Audi 100, Lexus SC and Infiniti’s own J30 come to mind. Those were original and completely successful. They also lacked any fatal flaws.
To say it another way, if you put a Q body without the flaws on an LS it would have sold just as well.
I don’t disagree with you overall, calibrick. No grille to people who recognise the RR parthenon, the BMW kidneys and the MB whatever-you-want-to-call-it-but-I-know-it-when-i-see-it as very crucial signifiers was a major misstep.
But I think the no-grille no-wood actually did make this look and feel weird to the sort of people who built then and still build now massive mock Regency homes from a handful of architects in the higher echelon suburbs here in Melbourne. I’m sure every major city has it’s generic and conservative ‘rich-person’ style of home.
I heard the same pos/neg conversations you did about the Mercedes look for Lexus, but enough people had a pos view to consider it. And a conversation was actually taking place. Whereas the conversations I never heard about Infiniti might have been more along the lines of ‘what exactly is it; a zen mobile, a power punch, my breakout opportunity that I’m not really looking for?’
I also agree about out-of-nowhere hits, but the examples you cite came from brands with previous form except the SC which was a counterpoint halo to the very conservative 4 door and the J30 which seemed to remedy the miscalculation of the Q45 and was designed by Jerry Hirshberg out of the US to be a much more conventionally styled car.
As an aesthetic type, I don’t think the Q45 is an out-there design. I do think to the target market it was too far out of the ‘comfortable’ zone for a new interloper.
Styling that matched the personality a little bit better, something along the lines of a Quattroporte, would have been easier to understand, I agree with that. The look of the LS was always clear about what to expect inside. The Q suggested performance like a Jag when in reality it could crush the best from Germany. In retrospect it should have been an obvious power punch.
The J30 may have been designed in San Diego but it was far from conventional. It was way out there, much more so than the Q (ignoring the front end). It was a big hit in Cali with professional women.
The Q45 was the only Infiniti they sold (barely) in Australia, they were $140,000 and only sold around 100 units across 2-3 years. By comparison the Lexus LS400 was about $100,000, and the equivalent 7-series or S-Class would have been $160-180k – I would have to look at an old magazine to check.
I remember thinking the styling of the Q45 was a bit challenging for its market where every European competitor was on a 20+ year evolutionary path. The Lexus fit in, the Infiniti did not.
Playing it safe design-wise is a viable option for a new brand looking for volume, as long as there are other unique selling points.
Stepping out of what’s typical is also a good strategy. Sometimes it works (Tesla, Saturn), sometimes it doesn’t (Edsel). In general more risk = more reward and in luxury it’s all about the reward.
Looking at Lexus today I see an evolution of their original play-it-safe strategy and pretty awful sales. The safe strategy also has risks, long term, unless you want to dump money into making everything best in class forever. Lexus didn’t.
I’d have to disagree about the “LS being a Mercedes look-alike”. While this is a subjective issue, a good look at either the W124 and/or the W140 compared to the original LS400 makes it clear that they really aren’t all that similar (I don’t have ready access to pictures right now).
Yes; the LS400 may have come across as “more Mercedes-like” than some other cars, certainly the Q45. But its hardly a crib of Mercedes design.
Oddly, that changed with the gen3 LS,which was a shockingly obvious crib of the W140, which by then was already old hat and being replaced by the next S Class. But that LS was embarrassing, design-wise.
The gen1 LS400 was both original enough not to come off as a crib, yet familiar enough to not be challenging. That was a smart move.
THANK YOU. The LS400 did have SOME Mercedes cues, but it had its own look, especially inside, but also outside, with the wrap-around door frames, the one piece windows on the rear door, etc.
Is that Chinese for a W140-Ford Scorpio cross-breeding ?
(I mean the last gen Scorpio, you know, the clown car)
I think its Korean for ‘squint your eyes’
That is where Lexus really got it right, they gave it a Mercedes-esque look but NOT a slavish copy thereof. Its body language said “established luxury” as well as there is something new and different here. Its ride said the same thing-established luxury but not the same ol’ same ol’.
Fun fact Don: the Pyeonghwa-Junma was sold new in New Zealand as both the Daewoo Chairman (http://www.trademe.co.nz/motors/used-cars/daewoo/auction-703305912.htm) and SsangYong Chairman (http://www.trademe.co.nz/motors/used-cars/ssangyong/auction-681860612.htm). Looks like a Mercedes because it’s basically the W124 E-Class with revised looks. Has Mercedes running gear.
I certainly see a Mercedes W126 in a first gen Lexus LS. The W140 was introduced after the original LS.
I would add that I think Toyota also managed to create a more coherent brand vision for Lexus. The USP in the early days was quality, comfort, and VIP treatment, the latter two being particular sore points for the Germans as far as a lot of American buyers were concerned.
Not only was that a coherent vision, it was also a scalable one, which I think is part of the reason the ES became a success and became their volume seller. You could take the very competent (if not particularly exciting) CV10 and CV20 Camry and make it a reasonably credible Lexus even though it was not a 3-Series rival and really never tried to be.
The vision for Infiniti was less clear, which I think also hampered their cheaper models for quite a while. There was nothing particularly wrong with the G20 or the J30 (other than maybe the latter’s styling — definitely an acquired taste), but their relationship to each other or to the Q45 was not especially clear. Even the Maxima-based I30, which was Infiniti’s bestseller in the late ’90s, didn’t match the sales of the Lexus ES (which it was pretty obviously intended to ape), not because the Camry/ES/Windom was necessarily a better car, but because it had a better-defined image and market position. It wasn’t until the G-series cars that Infiniti found an identity for its entry-level car, although shuffling the model ID as they’re now doing is a mystifying decision. (It’s like Nissan hired some Lincoln marketing people.)
Also, I don’t think the Q45 and LS400 were quite as big a leap as you describe for U.S. buyers. The Japanese had been moving steadily upmarket for a decade or so, spurred in part by the voluntary import limits. Honda had done pretty well here with the Acura Legend, which wasn’t quite as ambitious as the Q45 or LS400, but still created a context for them in the over-$20,000 realm.
Lexus and Infiniti arrived as the Boomers, who had been buying Japanese for a while, were hitting their peak earning years, so the timing was right. The competition was also at a lowish ebb: Honda hadn’t tried to step beyond the Legend, Cadillac had spent much of the decade failing to establish credibility with younger buyers, Audi had been kneecapped by the unintended acceleration, and BMW and Mercedes had been caught napping when it came to basic value-for-money stuff. (The list price for a 1990 Mercedes 190E 2.6 was more than $31,000, which wasn’t far off from where the LS400 started.)
So, both the market and the competition had left an obvious opening. It was still a big step, but I don’t think it was a leap-between-buildings stunt as far as credibility was concerned.
The biggest leap, I think, was that the Q45 and LS400 were quite different from anything either Nissan or Toyota had tried before. Both of them had other luxury cars, but they were very much shaped by the peculiarities of the home market, a lot of which didn’t really translate. That’s a huge challenge, especially when you know everyone is watching to see if you’ll fall on your face.
I don’t disagree with you too on these points. The market was ripe and the Japanese were ready. But the buyers here at least were snobs. Some brands overcame this snobbery because they were at least European. But Japanese? Maybe for my sound system, but not for my external wealth signifier. I grew up around some of these people and as Calibrick also mentioned the resistance was very strong. But as you point out, Toyota had a better idea of what was required and kept on keeping on. I still don’t get what Infiniti is about today.
I should add that the attitude of Boomers and younger people toward Japanese cars was significantly more accommodating here than it was in the U.K. and probably there. British critics, certainly, have always scoffed at Lexus and Infiniti as arrivistes. That may have been the case with the real old money one-percenters in the States, but that wasn’t the audience for these cars.
In the U.S., if you were, say, an affluent 42-year-old Boomer looking to trade up from your Audi 5000 or E30 3-Series and missing the reliability of the Accord or Stanza you owned before that, a Lexus or Infiniti was not a huge stretch at all. Likewise, the older buyer who was sick of the Jaguar always being in the shop, but kept hearing good things from friends, children, or neighbors about their Cressida or Legend. (The excellent word of mouth on the latter can’t have hurt Lexus and Infiniti one bit.) The real high rollers, the ones who could let the chauffeur worry about the maintenance and always had to have the top of the top of the line in all things, weren’t likely to give Lexus and Infiniti a second look, it’s true. However, the upper middle class was not nearly so resistant. Again, this isn’t just a matter of hindsight; Honda had moved quite a few Legends before Lexus and Infiniti arrived.
Americans are by no means immune to snobbery, but an awful lot of them — even among the quite affluent — are profoundly unwilling to be inconvenienced by their cars, however exciting or full of character those cars may be. That’s a big part of the reason the Japanese manufacturers have been able to carve out a huge chunk of the market while the British, the French, and the Italians have generally remained marginal players.
No, we have deep penetration in our market of Japanese cars. I think paying a multiple for prestige when the gains are really only incremental, means brand can’t be explained by rationality in purchasing decision. As to the burgeoning demographic groups, this one reason the timing was right.
btw I had shortlisted the 93 Cressida when the right w116 popped up. Would still buy one today.
Agree it was a big leap but not a huge one. The time was right.
I love both you guys, but launching a new marque is a massive leap. See Edsel and Saturn for worst-practice examples. Hindsight makes it look like it was a fait accompli.
In Australia the LS400 and Q45 were a big leap. I’d have to check on old prices but I would guess the Honda (not Acura here) Legend would have been about $60-70k for the new 1990 model, no doubt an increase on the previous generation.
The Lexus’ closest predecessor was the Cressida Grande that would have been about $50k and it sold for about $100k. The Q45 at $140k was a world away from the newly-introduced Maxima that was stylistically challenging enough in its own right, but on the right side of the mark if that makes sense.
These prices were still a lot cheaper than the European competition. I will have to dig out a road test that compared the Lexus/7/S/XJ6 and Holden Caprice which was much cheaper (say $60-70k), I don’t think they had an Infiniti though, but the Euros were from very hazy memory maybe $150k for the Jag and another $20-30k for the Germans.
The recession was hitting hard in the early 1990s, Mercedes came out with a special 180E stripper version of the 190E that sold for $45k with crank windows, hubcaps and no AC, to avoid the 25% luxury car tax that came in above that price. For reference the exchange rate at the time was AUS$1 to US$0.78.
There was a huge difference to the execution of Lexus and Infiniti, which I imagine could be quantified by the difference in what was spent on them that I expect the Lexus budget would be several times that of Infiniti. The LS400 had extraordinary lengths taken on every aspect, the dealership model was the same. While the Infiniti equivalent was impressive, I didn’t get the same impression there.
Don, John H, I just had a read through the October ’93 issue of Wheels where they compared the Q45, LS400, Jag Sovereign, Merc 400SE and BMW 740iL. The test was due to the launch of the facelift be-grilled Q45 (I didn’t realise Australia didn’t get the grilleless iteration).
The test was actually 5 business executives and a 300km drive, swapping cars as they went. The execs voted the LS number one, followed by the 400SE, 740iL, Q45 and Jag. Wheels agreed the Q45 and Jag were last, but voted the BMW first ahead of the LS and Benz. Of the Q45 they said “its handling has neither the balance nor assurance of [the others]…wallows too much…interior [is] more than a little naff…severe ambiance misjudgment…looks are already dated.” I can’t imagine why they voted it last!
Pricing was 740il $238,180; 400SE $219,292; Sovereign $142,251; LS400 $140,610; Q45 $133,935. Cressida was dead by then; Honda Legend was $82,820.
Nowadays most of the above are long gone in NZ. The remaining examples are usually lowered, tinted, fitted with large wheels and larger exhausts and driven by young men after a bit of cheap class.
It’s a ridiculous choice, isn’t it? THe G actually established Infiniti as a brand with some cred, but I suppose their somewhat brash image is something Infiniti wants to get away from. That, at least, is the ONLY reason I can think of. But they needn’t have bothered with the renaming, because with the latest edition’s steer-by-wire, their image will change anyway!
+1 to both of you. It gets a lot worse. The G37 was an incredible value proposition in its class – almost equal to the Lexus LS400 in its day. The Q50 was greatly decontented and many features that were standard on the G37 second tier Journey with Premium Package are now spread out across very expensive option packages. For example, back-up sensors, power tilt and telescopic steering column and memory seats – all standard on my G37 – are now part of a $3200 Touring Package. And this package forces you to take the steer-by-wire system. To get a decently equipped Q50 pushes the sticker price to $52K. And as Consumer Reports and others have noted, this is not a $52K car. Time will tell but I fear that Infiniti has mucked things up again. Symbolic of their uncertainty was the last-minute decision to continue to produce and sell the 2013 G37 well into 2014.
Maybe they know something I don’t, but I totally agree. The G was exactly the kind of car Infiniti should have been building all along: something tilted slightly more towards performance than luxury, without becoming just another BMW wanna-be. Why Nissan tries to distance themselves from their enthusiast rep over and over again is something I will never understand. Most of their greatest hits in the U.S., in terms of both sales and critical reception, have had a distinctly sporting appeal.
I don’t know enough about the new “Q” version of the “G” to say just how much of a departure it is, but the whole renaming thing seems misguided.
Poor Q45 – looks like it is now owned by someone living in the projects….
Well, I’m not sure, but that looks to me like the Bloomington projects.
I got to ride in a first gen Infiniti Q45 when it first hit the US market. I thought it was the sweetest riding car I’ve seen. It was also the nicest looking car. Today, I’d prefer the Q45 over anything offered today by Infiniti. It’s the same with the Lexus. Lest I forget, that I also like the first generation Subaru Legacy.
Isn’t it sad that this wonderful car needs to be analyzed as a cautionary tale? From what I can tell, the only thing wrong with it was that we were collectively too stupid to appreciate it; too obsessed with making sure our richy poo neighbors knew how fancy pants we were. “B-b-b-but it doesn’t have wood!” Ugh… trying to make sense of the Q45’s failure right after being subjected to all of those godawful, and comparatively successful, 80s Cadillacs is really bumming me out. It wasn’t just the ads or the less than stellar interior that sank this car; no, it was primarily the lack of obvious clues that blurted out “look at how fuckin’ good we doin! YEE HAWW!!”
I wish we lived in a world where this car could have existed, and been successful, as a Nissan. I have never understood all the abstract nonsense that people equate with “luxury” – exclusivity, image, origin, etc. This is all a load of crap… yet paying good money for a good product makes perfect sense to me. The Q45 being a bust is proof that the more tangible parts of its definition really don’t count for shit.
EDIT: Re-post – I hit the wrong reply button. This was meant as a standalone comment, not as a reply to Perry’s up above. My bad!!
I remember just how striking this car was when it came out in 1989/90, and when the LS400 and Q45 finished 1-2 in a Car and Driver comparison test against the Jaguar XJ40, BMW 7-series, the W126 S-Class Mercedes and one of the downsized Cadillacs around at the time. Looking at this Q45 now, it looks a lot like the Nissan Maxima from that same era. I know Honda (Acura) has given up chasing the bigger Mercedes and BMW cars, but have Lexus and Infiniti done the same? I don’t really rank the LS460 (is that what it is now?) in the same category as the A8, S-Class and 7-Series, and to my knowledge, apart from the G37 (or Q50 – that new nomenclature is so convoluted it’s unbelievable) and M45, Infiniti only seem to be making crossovers and SUVs these days.
The LS now occupies a kindof weird spot – the top of the line model, the LS600hL starts at $120k and is definitely an S-Class/7-series competitor, but you can get the LS460 for something like $70k (!!) which is clearly a rung below the Germans. It’s also practically ancient at this point, so when the new model comes out in a year or two this might all change.
Infiniti has long given up chasing the big cars. Their flagship model is now the M (or whatever it’s Q name is) which is more like an E-Class/5-series equivalent.
I’m not a fan of today’s Lexus or Infiniti cars. Basically, they’re less attractive than they used to be. I miss the Infiniti Q45 of the first generation, and the first gen Lexus LS400. Both were different and upscale, something Toyota and Nissan either could not or refused to offer under their own names.
Late here, but a Q45 fan. We only ever got a handful new as evaluation cars; I used to see one of them (the NZ-new ones) daily from 2010-13 as it was owned by the business next door to my old work.
A friend had one back in about 2002ish; it was ex-Japan. It was an early grilleless model but had what appeared to be the facelift Q45 grille. Close investigation revealed the grille was an aftermarket high quality replica grille that fitted over the original nose (the belt-buckle was still behind it!). I considered buying it from him, but the interior quality wasn’t as good as expected – especially the dashboard – and there was no foot room under the front seats which negated all the rear seat room. The gearbox blew up which prevented me proceeding. Still great looking cars though!
One interesting point is that the home-market version of the Q45 (Nissan President) had the traditional large grille from the start.
In Japan, the President was a high-level government minister type car, so there was some image maintenance going on there.
Somebody at Nissan liked the Q45 styling enough to adapt it to the Presea (a LWB B13 Sentra with frameless windows).
I’ve seen the JDM version of the car, and while its styling isn’t any different, the front end was changed for the US market buyers, to almost a grille-less front end. I found it more attractive than when it gained a grille later.
The President looks like it has a longer wheelbase
Japan got two wheelbases (and thus both have turned up ex-Japan here too), but I think only the LWB had the chunky grille. I bought the brochure recently, will dig it out and check.
You wouldn’t have the Cue-X brochure perchance? I found that page above as an image on the superweb.
Yes, I do have the Cue-X brochure – unlike many of my 5,000+ collection which I bought more recently, I actually got the Cue-X one brand new as a 12-year-old at the 1986 NZ Motor Show. One of Dad’s Honda workmates also gave me the full show Press Kit and there’s more on the Cue-X in there I believe. I think the Cue-X itself may have been there too, but I can’t find any evidence on the ‘net and the press kit is packed away in storage. Regardless, I was very interested in the Cue-X at the time, it was the first “real” concept car I’d become aware of. Maybe I should dig out the brochure and press kit and write a post on it!
Just wandered through my President brochure, both wheelbases had the Chunky grille. The SWB version (same as the NA Q45) was badged the President JS; the LWB was badged President Sovereign or Type D. Some very unusual options pictured in the brochure which are definitely worthy of a CC post (which I’ll have to write now I’ve said that!). Brochure excerpt below:
When you get a chance, I’d love to know whether the Cue-X brochure mentions names of stylists. Now that you’ve tantalised with the possibility of a post on the President, I’m now waiting in giddy expectation.
It would’ve been neat to bring the extended wheelbase version to North America. 🙂
I have figured out the problem with this car, and it is that it is a modern car for a post-modern world.
captain crunch here. Though arbitrary to some, the q45 was quite like ‘oops all berries’ version of my cereal. The q45 was destined to have become a classic, but the nissan self abortion ad campaign left infiniti in shambels. I recall tasting away at some pbcc(peant butter captain crunch) while scarfing down a hysterical episode of SNL(saturday night liverpool) when a commercial for Shinto japanese inner peace came on. I immediately began choking on my pbcc, half in rage, because i believe all religion to be mean viscous, vivacious lies. Clearly we are a result of magical sorcery. As i flung tiny pellets of pbcc at my television screen, and screamed, my wife (5th) was attempting to calm a laxate me. Soon after my choking epidemic do i find out that the commercial i had witnessed for japanese inner peace ritualism was ACTUALLY A car commercial.
The q45 qwas athletic, astounding, algebraic in its suspension, but it missed its mark, atheist. Should it have shown more magical sorcery capabilities and atheistic attributes it would have beat BMW/MERCEDES. And we all no where nazi germany tilts is prayers too, ….occult practice.
^^^^^^^^^^^^^ comment above me
Do yourself a favor look up user ”captain crunch” comments. Funniest sh!$ on this site. Guys a weird genius. Love it!!!!!!!
Captain crunch are you retired snl writer?
I think the 1994 update did a good job out in front but I had no idea Infiniti watered it down drivewise by then. The 1997 was definitely a lot more cushy and less sporty. Infiniti learned this too late. American consumers for large sedans were usually older and wanted comfort. Still sad because the original Q45 was a fine sedan. I picked up a 1998 LS400 recently and the engine and transmission are near perfect. Suspension needs a lot of upkeep however.
Looking at this whole situation I often wonder how Mazda’s canceled Amati luxury brand would have fared. Their top end model was the Amati 1000 with a W12 engine. And they had a gorgeous coupe called the Cosmo Eunus which was sold as a sub-brand of Mazda in Japan only I believe. I love late 80’s and early 90’s Japanese sedans. So distinct. Anyone remember the 1988 – 90 Mitsubishi Sigma? That was their “luxury” sedan and is very distinct looking inside and out.
The exterior design reminds me somewhat of the early 90s Delta 88.
I’ll never really understand why Nissan wasn’t more successful in the U.S. in the 1980s. Before the masses cry, yes they were! hear me out.
I’ll bet more Americans had their first introductions to Japanomobility with a Datsun in the 70’s than any other Japanese car. Toyota was growing, but Honda only offered the Accord and the Civic which were too small for most Americans and only available in two door hatchback body styles at first. Those of you with a passion for automotive reading will recall that Japanese light duty trucks, like the Toyota, Datsun, Mazda/Ford Courier and Isuzu LUV were some of the big sellers then. In addition to the trucklet, Datsun offered a fairly large range of cars from the hideous and economical B210, itself available in a wide range of body styles, all the way up to the fancier 610s and 710s and 810s. Datsun’s Maxima was a more reasonable, popular, and better priced version of the American Four Door luxury compact than Toyota’s Cressida. Later Datsun/Nissan equivalent of the Toyota and Honda products didn’t have any glaring defects; The sentra didn’t seem obviously worse than the Corolla or Civic, but the Corolla and Civic became the standards. The Stanza wasn’t notably more awful in any way than the Camry or Accord, but everyone wanted a Camry or Accord. Why? Nissan even offered the 200 SX sporty coupe, the pulsar with very sporty styling and not so sporty underpinnings, and the 300ZX. But Nissan was a distant third in the 80’s, barely above the second stringers like Mazda and Mitsubishi and Isuzu.
The Infiniti marketing campaign was widely mocked, but the car should have overcome that. I suppose one important reason it did not was that buyers who wanted a luxurious Nissan already had the Maxima, which could be kitted out very plushly and was sporty; almost no one knew what a Cressida was and it felt a little like a K car LeBaron, a lot of makeup on an otherwise ordinary car so Toyota and Honda buyers really were waiting for somewhere to go beyond the Camry and Accord.
I never understood why people were so enamored of the Lexus, a friend had one. it was small, especially in the back. Now it’s pretty much the industry standard, although I find them unbelievably bland, and their commercials are snotty.
I agree with Daniel M, it looks a lot like an Eighty Eight (the Delta had been dropped by this point).
But I know I would not buy an Infiniti today, my friend had a 2006 M35. Most miserable car I’ve ever ridden in. Those seats are ROCK HARD like church pews. After 5 minutes I was squirming. We never could go anywhere in that car because the seats were miserably rock hard.
I think it boils down to the fact that the Lexus looked like a Mercedes, and the Infiniti looked like a Taurus. Which one do you think luxury car shoppers willing to give a Japanese car a go, would prefer? Add to that the fact that a lot of luxury shoppers care less about performance than the emblem on the front, and its no surprise which one did better.
As for the ad campaign, Infinit’s misstep in that regard certainly didn’t help, but what really mattered was what the car looked like when the shoppers went down to the dealer and saw what looked like a Taurus.