90s Japanese Luxury Car Purchase Dilemma: Q45, LS 400, or RL?

Murilee Martin
by Murilee Martin
90s japanese luxury car purchase dilemma q45 ls 400 or rl

Since my daily-driver ’92 Civic is about to become a much less civilized car (plus it’s finally made the transition from “somewhat rough” to “total beater,” I need to start shopping for another DD very soon. Since I’ve developed a fascination with Japanese luxury cars of the 1990s (the era before the Japanese Big Three de- Yakuza-ized the souls of their American flagships and started out-German-ing the Germans), I’ve decided it’s time I owned one. The question is: which one?

Ah, the LS 400. Plenty of them were eaten by The Crusher during the Cash For Clunkers era, but most of these big, dignified V8 sedans are still on the road today. It’s easy to picture a mid-level Nagoya loanshark making his rounds in a discreet gunmetal-gray Celsior, maybe with a couple of kneecap-busting heavies riding in the very comfortable back seat. You might not need to send your muscle out of the car to encourage timely payments from your clients, but the understated menace of the Celsior lets everyone know the option is there. Sadly, Toyota must have ditched their Yakuza consultants from their focus groups by 2000, because the LS 430 and successors were just very comfortable appliances. You can pick up a very nice LS 400 for about five grand, though it costs a bit more if you need to go VIP style with one.

The Infiniti Q45 is a much goofier car than the LS 400. Its V8 has about 40 horses over the early LS 400’s engine and Q45 buyers got variable valve timing, active suspension, and four-wheel steering. The reliability wasn’t quite up to LS 400 standards (watch out for those timing chain guide failures!) but there’s a huge helping of that Japanese love of technology for its own sake that’s sadly lacking in most of this century’s Japanese vehicles. The average age of a Q45 owner tends to be much lower than that of LS 400 owners, and the Q45 didn’t hold its value quite as well, which means most of them have had the crap beaten out of them by now. In addition, I must have a 1990-1993 model, with the strange grille-less face. I might not be able to find a low-mile, solid example, but we’ll see. I’m also tempted by the J30, but it’s just not as extreme as the early Q45.

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  • JEC JEC on Sep 19, 2011

    The Q is a sweet ride on the cheap. Fast, handles surprisingly well (get Tokico Blue shocks to really improve the cornering for very reasonable money) and is very comfy. Downsides? Not fun to fix, the timing chains NEED to be addressed, the trannies are fragile at high miles, the driveshafts wear out and need new rubber bushings, and you should avoid the active suspension/four wheel steering models at all costs if you want to stay out of bankruptcy. It also sucks fuel at a rather alarming rate; mid teens in the city is good, YMMV, I got between 8.5 and 12 mpg in downtown Montreal with mine, but a decent 28-30mpg on the highway (Imperial units). An 85 litre tank made for a long cruising range but a minor heart attack at every fillup. It felt more sprightly and fun than a comparable BMW or Merc of that era, if not as well screwed together. My point of comparison was a 92 420SE W140 which felt like the proverbial rolling bank vault. I drove an early LS; my impression was extremely boring and slow for a V8, but surprisingly tight considering how well used and abused that example was. The Q is the fun choice by far, but it isn't the best built. 1990-93 is the best Q motor wise. That was the VH45 series which was seriously overbuilt, aside from the chain tensioners. They had sodium filled valves, polished conrods and crank, much stronger internals, and a higher output than the later cheaper-to-build 4.1L. It was a cost-no-object sort of engine that was replaced by a bean-counter friendly V8 in the later models. I miss the fun of the Q, but I don't miss the fuel bill or the many repairs I had to do to it (or that nagging driveline vibration that wasn't getting any better..).

  • Verobeachbob1 Verobeachbob1 on Sep 27, 2012

    Hey hey hey! Zillion postings. I am a new member commenting on CC, and my wife and I have had nothing but Lexus 8s for the last 17 years. Does that make us car snobs?

  • MaintenanceCosts Gorgeous, even if the W124 coupe is even better. Too bad about that paint color, though.
  • Fred I don't know about those big screens. Is there a way to minimize the display, so it's not so distracting? Especially at night the glow doesn't make it easy for me.
  • Arthur Dailey Toronto Blue Jays' games are only available on AM radio. As I am 'on the road' quite often when the Jays play that is my only option for listening to the game. So an AM radio is something of a 'must have' for me.
  • JMII My brother tracked one of these for several years... it will embarrass other sports cars. He sold it to someone who still rips it around on track days. Given my previous VW experience I wouldn't touch it but these are surprising quick and handle well for hatchback credit going to a decent AWD system. $16k seems crazy, but Rs aren't that common and this one appears to be in great condition and seems well sorted.
  • Arthur Dailey I meant the grille and the profile along the passenger area. Look closely and it is reminiscent of the Journey.