When it comes to executing its oft-discussed ‚Äúrevival plan,‚ÄĚMotor Co. Ltd. did not forget to invite its Infiniti luxury division to the party.
Infiniti is pinning its hopes on the redesigned and re-engineered Q45 flagship sedan to drive enthusiasm back into the 12-year-old luxury marque.
‚ÄúWe need to separate Infiniti ‚ÄĒ our identity ‚ÄĒ from Lexus,‚ÄĚ says Steve Kight, Infiniti director of marketing. The Q45, officials say, is the first manifestation of this new identity and ‚ÄĒ like what the coming-next-year, image-building Z car is expected to achieve for thebrand ‚ÄĒ signals Infiniti's direction.
Whichever direction the brand is heading, the new Q is going to get there in a hurry. The all-new 2002 Q45, first and foremost, brings a significant horsepower boost, plus a raft of tech-heavy features. The new emphasis on performance and technology, officials say, is key to an effort to separate Infiniti's identity from the Lexuses and Acuras of the world.
The luxury sedan is powered by a 4.5L DOHC V-8, producing a pounding 340 hp at 6,400 rpm and 333 lb.-ft. (451 Nm) of torque at 4,000 rpm, as compared to the previous incarnation, a 4.1L DOHC V-8 and its comparatively measly 266 hp.
This third-generation V-8 (based loosely on the outstanding ‚ÄúVQ‚ÄĚ V-6 engine range), which Infiniti boasts can launch the new Q from 0 to 60 mph (97 km/h) in a scant 5.9 seconds, convincingly outpowers the V-8s in the Lexus LS430, Mercedes-Benz E430 and540i. The engine is paired with an all-new 5-speed automatic transmission, an improvement on the last generation's 4-speed gearbox.
The Q45 works to unite the best of both worlds and it succeeds. The throaty growl of 340 hp, tight handling, 40% improvement in torsional rigidity and right-on braking declare performance, while the floating-on-clouds ride exudes luxury. The result: This large sedan feels much smaller than its 113.0-in. (287-cm) wheelbase and 199.6-in. (505-cm) length.
Although the performance is admirable, Infiniti is not trying to attract only those who seek power. The vehicle's much more narrow niche includes those who also like to play with the latest gadgets ‚ÄĒ from fuel-consumption readout screens to electronically reclining, power-heated seats in the rear. Infiniti recognizes that the demographic is small; in fact, officials are keeping quiet on an official sales target, only to hint that it falls somewhere between niche player and volume-beginner, or presumably anywhere between 10,000 and 25,000 units.
Whatever the volume, the Q45 provides plenty to keep that tech-enthusiast demographic happy, including a complex vehicle information system, which, with the option of a DVD-based navigation system, comes with a 7-in. screen. A camera mounted near the rear license plate projects the rear view onto the instrument panel while the car is in reverse.
It also has a voice-recognition system, featuring-developed technology, in which the driver can command the car to turn up the heat or change the radio station. And speaking of the radio, audiophiles will get a kick out of the eight-speaker, 300-Watt Bose audio system, complete with noise compensation technology that keeps the driver from needing to adjust the volume as road noise changes.
In August comes a laser-based intelligent cruise control system, where the driver can select a following distance from vehicles ahead of it.
Styling, though not exactly bland, could be characterized as subtle, with the exception of the headlights. What Infiniti calls ‚Äúthe most powerful headlight system in the world,‚ÄĚ due to its seven-lens projector, high-intensity discharge (HID) system, also serves as the vehicle's most powerful design statement.
Infiniti officials say the Q45, in showrooms this month starting at $50,500, is the first of six all-new performance vehicles slated to bow in the next few years. Vehicles destined for the streets include a production version of the XVL concept, first shown at the 1999 Tokyo Motor Show. The XVL, a front-engine, rear-drive, high-performance compact sports sedan is meant to drive volume into the luxury division, which has suffered in comparison with its Japanese competitors. Infiniti also plans to build a production version of the FX45 concept car, a crossover vehicle shown for the first time at this year's North American International Auto Show.
All of Infiniti's six new vehicles will be built on platforms unique to Infiniti in North America. And none of the six, if Infiniti comes through on its promises, will be chasing after Lexus.
Vehicle type: Front-engine, rear-wheel drive, 5-passenger 4-door sedan
Engine: 4.5L (4,494 cc) DOHC V-8; aluminum block/aluminum heads
Power (SAE net): 340 hp @ 6,400 rpm
Torque: 333 lb.-ft. (451 Nm) @ 4,00 rpm
Compression ratio: 10.5:1
Bore x Stroke: 36.2 √ó 3.26 ins. (92 √ó 82.7 mm)
Transmission: 5-speed automatic
Wheelbase: 113 ins. (287 cm)
Overall length: 199.6 ins. (507 cm)
Overall width: 72.6 ins. (184 cm)
Overall height: 58.9 ins. (150 cm)
Curb weight (auto): N/A
Market competition:5-series; Cadillac Seville; Lexus LS430; Mercedes- Benz E430