Such a beautiful interior! Such a fine engine! And yet so many things about the 2002 Q45 disappointed us in the course of its year here in Ann Arbor. This seems to be the continuing conundrum of Infiniti's lovely Q-ship, a car with great promise and personality, a car that from its inception has been plagued with nagging quality glitches and character flaws that just plain take the lux out of luxury.
We decided to include the Q45 in our Four Seasons fleet after an impressive initial outing in Italy. This third-generation Q seemed to hark back to the original car, itself flawed in luxury attributes but spunky as hell under the hood. It was roundly referred to back then as the Japanese BMW to Lexus's Mercedes-Benz of an LS400. The reality was that the Infiniti was not a BMW contender but rather a direct shot at the Lexus, with serious sporting BMW pretensions. The squooshy second-gen Q45 moved away from both those marques to our dismay, as Lexus continued to refine its deeply staid, deeply luxurious mother ship.
We were pleased to see Infiniti back on track and loved this third Q's redesign, especially the cabin, which we placed in the pantheon of great interiors. And its engine was a rocket, with 50 horsepower more than the Lexus LS430's V-8. We ordered up a Q with all the trimmings, neatly combined in the $8000 premium package, which includes, among other things, eighteen-inch wheels, an active-damping suspension, a "Birdview" 3-D navigation system, and our favorite techno trick, a rear-view monitor. Even jaded editors who initially thought a backup camera was hokey decided they kind of really, well, liked the televised rear view. The only time it got weird was in severe cold and snow, when the screen looked purple and psychedelic.
We discovered early on that the rocket lost a bit of its thrust somewhere between Infiniti's 5.9-second 0-to-60-mph claim and the dyno test performed on the Q by our sister publication Ward's Engine & Vehicle Technology Update. The good news was that Ward's found Infiniti's ratings of 340 horsepower and 333 pound-feet of torque to be accurate. But upon grilling engineers, we learned that the 0-to-60-mph claim was achieved "in optimum atmospheric conditions" using "the lightest possible base cars, along with featherweight drivers," as opposed to plushbottom journos and their heavily optioned test cars. According to numbers recorded by our Mr. Wizard, Don Sherman, you can expect your own personal Q45 to be about 0.7 second slower in the stoplight grand prix.
Despite this readjustment of expectation, compliments on the engine's robust personality poured into the logbook, perhaps a balm to soothe the many other complaints. "The engine is terrific," noted executive editor Mark Gillies within a week of the Q's arrival, "as are the quality of the autoshifts."
As much as the engine rocked, the body rolled. Not a good thing to our delicate sensibilities, which need a good freeway ramping on a monthly basis. In addition, the active-damping part of our expensive option package never seemed in sync with Michigan roads. In technical terms, "the car strikes me as underdamped and oversprung. Wheel impacts are noticeable, yet body control during apelike cornering maneuvers goes away," wrote Gillies. In simpler terms, production editor Jennifer Misaros noted that the Q "feels big and somewhat bouncy and out of control on rough side streets," and copy editor Matt Phenix summed it all up as "just damned annoying." Exactly.
Interestingly, the Q45 wasn't nearly as annoying outside Michigan, according to Gillies (who drove one in California), contributor Ronald Ahrens (who took ours to Omaha, where no one understood it, either), and online editor Greg Anderson, known for his frequent, casual, high-mileage interstate jaunts. All noticed a marked improvement in ride quality, cornering, steering, and damping. In every state, though, throttle tip-in remained a nuisance. We noticed it in the pilot cars and mentioned it to engineers, who said they would fix it. They didn't. "I nearly gave myself and my passenger whiplash trying to get back up to speed coming out of a slow corner," wrote Misaros. Takeoff, concurs senior editor Joe Lorio, "is syrupy unless you really boot it." We found it overly noticeable in stop-and-go traffic, as irate motorists dove into the hole in front of us that opened every time we hit the gas and nothing happened.
As beautiful as the interior is, the controls of various features seem jumbled across the console. Reach for the radio knob, and you turn the temp up or down. Nothing is intuitive; everything you operate takes your eyes from the road, which is why we labored so hard to speak clearly so that the voice-recognition system could operate some things for us. And it did work. The nav system amused us with its bird's-eye view of our world, then frustrated us with its fiddly selector buttons and bog-slow operation. Give us Honda's navigation system, or give us a map.
Delving deeply into the computer revealed a wealth of good stuff, including exact tire pressures at all four corners (which hipped us early on to an impending flat) and precise fuel and range information, crucial to someone like this writer, who likes to see just how close to empty she can push those fill-ups. Back-seat passengers universally praised their sumptuous quarters, which featured sunshades, heated and power-adjustable seats, and their own climate and audio controls.
Our annoyances rarely led to a service call, we must say, aside from a lingering problem with gasoline spewing from the tank filler. Infiniti issued a service bulletin on this apparently common ailment, and a new fuel tank with modified filler neck was installed under warranty. The problem was not solved.
We decided to act like Germans and install real snow tires for the winter, a set of Pirelli Winter 240 SnowSports, which were worth every penny of the $1000 we paid for them; notes in the logbook likened the Q's winter performance to that of a snowplow. (Here in Michigan, we know from snowplows.)
By the 30,000-mile service, our last with the car, the driver's seat had a silly millimeter of annoying freeplay, the radio was working intermittently, the magnetic latches for the armrest-compartment lid were loose, the power steering fluid had deteriorated, the cabin air filters were dirty, and the Q had developed a shimmy at highway speeds, which turned out to be caused by warped brake rotors. Undoubtedly our fault. The bill was not pretty.
The upshot? The Q is not a bad car, but "disappointing" cropped up again and again. Design editor Robert Cumberford summed it up well: "Everything about this car is almost good but not quite. It's certainly not a bad car, but it doesn't measure up in the category."