Avoidable Contact: Infinity Jest.

Jack Baruth
by Jack Baruth
avoidable contact infinity jest

I want to tell you this, although I know many of you will not believe. I want you to close your eyes and give me the gift of your trust for a few minutes, to travel through memory and dream and ambition with me. I want you to experience the “theater dim” of the interior lights. To open the throttle on the Bose-by-Nissan stereo. To feel the perfect response from the small sedan’s leather-wrapped steering wheel, to catch a slide as the four-wheel-steering kicks in at the most bizarre time during an irresponsible freeway maneuver. To pose Yakuza-style in the baddest sedan on the block, B-pillars swimming barely seen beneath the glass. To feel the 276-horsepower, quad-cam V-8 punch you back into the impeccably tasteful interior.

Then, and only then, if you can dream with me, if you can believe what I believe, then you might be able to look through the stupid Q-names and the dumb-assed rocks-and-trees marketing and the aftermarket Skyline badges and the unfocused-looking Pathfinder rebadge and the Jersey shore types crowding each owner’s meet and just hold this idea in your head:

Infiniti didn’t always suck.

Because it is part of my job to know, I will eventually put away my disgust long enough to internalize the ridiculous new naming convention employed by the not-really-autonomous luxury arm of Nissan. What I know offhand is this: the G37 successor will be called the Q50. This arrant stupidity is roughly equivalent to Rolls-Royce introducing a new small car and calling it the Phantom Eight. Or calling the new Acura ILX the Legend Plus Five. Or calling the swoopy 2014 Lexus IS the Lexus LS510hL. I could go on, and I encourage you to do so when you are wasting time with your work buddies at lunch (“Hey! I’ve got one! The new Mercedes CLA coulda been the S650!”) but you get the idea. The just-unveiled Infiniti Q-ship system has the previously unknown-to-science ability to make the utter marketing dolts at Lincoln and Cadillac look like geniuses just for not calling the MKZ and ATS the Continental Mark XIV and Fleetwood Talisman Brougham Eldorado, respectively.

The G37 becomes the Q50. The G37 coupe becomes the Q60, and why shouldn’t it? The M37 and M56 both become the Q80, which sounds like a plastic-bodied camera they sell people in the “pro-sumer” department of Best Buy. Meanwhile, the trucks all take a nomenclature cue from the QX56, a vehicle so unspeakably crass it depresses the space-time curve around it for kilometers and causes cordovan Alden penny loafers to spontaneously evolve into Chinese-sewn Kenneth Cole white-trash square-toe monstrosities as all notions of human decency are shattered beyond hope or recognition in its lumbering, cetacean wake.

In other words, they’ve named the trucks after the worst product they’ve ever made, and named the cars after a product they haven’t made since… don’t you say 2005. Don’t you dare fucking say two thousand and five. I’m watching you. Don’t open your mouth. I’m serious. According to my son, I am big and tough. He’s only three years old, but that doesn’t necessarily mean he’s wrong. Be careful.

The Infiniti Q45, in its majesty and glory, died in 1996. Dead. Dead as Caesar. Except, of course, in Japan, where it lived a happy and fruitful life until after the whole Y2K thing had settled down and the Japanese people no longer needed the shining light of excellence the Q45 undoubtedly provided in those dark, fearful times.

Oh, that original Q45. It appeared seemingly out of nowhere, heralded not by John the Baptist but by a series of bizarre and deliberately opaque advertisements where the car wasn’t shown at all. Arty. Interesting. Classy. Meanwhile, Lexus was carpet-bombing the media with endless images of its S-Class-by-Nikon, each and every one of them with the humiliating italicized “$35,000” featured front and center. The Lexus LS400! It’s a CHEAP JAPANESE S-CLASS RIPOFF! DID YOU GET THAT MEMO! CHEAP! JAPANESE! S-CLASS! CHEAP! Ugh, it was slimy, and they had the nerve to have a fake British accent in the TV ads, too. It was beneath contempt.

The LS400, too, was beneath contempt. In retrospect, we know it to have been a fabulous feat of loss-leader engineering, but at the time it looked like the equivalent of JC Penney’s “Hunt Club” polo shirts. Yeah, it was cheap, yeah it probably lasted longer, but who’d be seen in such an obvious copy? $35,000! CHEAP CHEAP CHEAP FAKE BRITISH ACCENT!

Enter the Q45. We, the cognoscenti, nodded approvingly. The LS400 had a fake Mercedes grille? The Q45 had no grille. The LS400 had a fake Mercedes interior by way of a Corolla? The Q45 had center-seam seats, a dashboard sweep that predicted the current Audi mode fifteen years in advance and not a bit of wood, fake or otherwise, to be seen. The LS400 had a nifty four-liter, 250-hp V-8 that made it as fast as the BMW 735? The Q45 had a bigger, stronger, more majestic V-8 that bitch-slapped the Germans back to the drawing board, where they would eventually make Nikasil V-8s and embitter an entire generation of victims, er, owners, but that’s another story.

Everything about the LS400 was fake. Everything about the Q45 was real. Plus it was bitchin’ fast. Also available at the dealership was an authentic Nissan Leopard JDM coo-pay, pressed into service as the M30. It was slick and futuristic and it sure as hell wasn’t a Camry. Since nobody had a functioning crystal ball at the time, this wasn’t seen as the source of the brand’s descent into sales-report hell and perennial second-tier status. It was considered to be a source of pride.

Just to pound the point home — just to put the final nails into the coffin of that stupid experiment in middle-class buffoonery over at Toyopets Ltd — the G20 arrived shortly after and OMG IT WAS A PRIMERA AND STUFF. Tasteful to a fault. Handling to die for. Not a centimeter larger than it needed to be. Infiniti. By. A. Knock. Out!

Your humble author, having been forced to pull the eject handle on a rather promising postgraduate collegiate career by a combination of bad temper, worse judgment, and incandescent youthful arrogance, arrived for My First Real Job with Infiniti of Columbus in the spring of 1994. The M30 had bowed out and been replaced by the J30, which was the combination of a Jaguar and a 300ZX and in many ways was the most satisfying sedan money could buy. The Q45 had been lightly refreshed with a grille and some wood but just when you thought the soul was gone, they hit back with the (partially) active-suspension Q45a, a genuine Japanese technical masterpiece and still monstrously quick in a straight line. I couldn’t wait to sell them. The whole lineup kicked ass. Heck, my own father had abandoned the Germans to pick up not one, but two J30 sedans.

Six months later, I was out on the street again without a penny in my pocket but with a considerably greater understanding of how the luxury-market battle in the country was actually going. The G20 wasn’t appreciated by customers; they drove the ES300 back-to-back with it and found the four-cylinder G to be slow, noisy, cramped, and Sentra-esque. The J30 was too expensive and only moved as a $399 magic lease.

The Q45 — that gorgeous, machined-billet, time-shifting, four-cam masterpiece — was showroom poison. Nobody wanted one. It cost more than the Lexus LS and, as I would hear time and time again from thirty-four-year-old second wives distractedly evaluating the metal while hanging succubus-like from the leather-tanned arms of their Boomer boys, it “looked weird”. Only six years into Infiniti’s existence, the flagship was forced to lower its flag and retreat back to the homeland.

In its place, my successor salesmen were burdened with… a Nissan Cima. So check this out: In Japan, the Q45 was simply the current generation of the Nissan President. The President, as you might guess from the name, was the best sedan Nissan offered. The Cima was the car beneath it. By replacing the President in the United States with the Cima, Nissan pulled…

well, you know what they pulled…

That’s right. The 1997 Infiniti Q45: Nissan’s Bonneville Model G. Hell, it even looked like one. Actually, it was worse than that, because while the “Model G” legitimately rode on the GM G-platform, the new “Q45” had a 4.1-liter engine. The Cima-Q45 was derided as a “Japanese Buick” by the color rags. I don’t even want to talk about it any more. The Q45 was “rebooted” as a super-Cima with an actual 4.5-liter engine in 2002, but the market had long since stopped caring about the idea of a full-size Infiniti and when it disappeared nobody realized it was gone, no doubt because unsold ones were still cluttering dealer lots.

That’s not quite the entire story of the Infiniti “Q”. There was a rebadged Nissan Pathfinder, called “QX4”. It was typical Nissan monkey-see business: when Lexus rebranded their well-respected Land Cruiser as the “LX”, Nissan felt compelled to trot out the miserable unibody Pathy to “compete”. I wish I could make the quotes around “compete” bigger back there. Just imagine I’m wiggling my fingers at you when you read it again. “Compete”. The QX4 was such a non-success the “QX” badge was then slapped on a horrifying variant of the despicable Titan Pathfinder Armada Brake-Chewer Deathsled, (note: not actual vehicle name, but more of a nickname, really) said vehicle being recently deposed by the current QX56, soon to be QX6000SUX or something like that, which combines the depressing aspect of Dickens books with the side aspect of Moby Dick.

Infiniti has had precisely one successful product of any note since the mid-Nineties: the G35 sedan and its successors. They are increasingly Baroque-looking 3-Series competitors which, in the right configuration, can be pleasant to drive. To its credit, Infiniti offers a six-speed manual, rear-wheel-drive, sport-suspended G37 sedan and coupe. I’d tell you to check them out, but the dealers prefer to stock AWD automatics, so just forget about it.

Still, the G37 has some genuine brand cachet. Unfortunately, to a lot of people the G37 is a car driven by people who can’t afford a BMW and who also use a lot of hair gel. So that’s bad. Still, it cannot be denied that the Infiniti G-something is a well-known item with an established fanbase and name recognition even among people who don’t like or understand cars.

No longer. The G37 is now the Q50. The inoffensive and somewhat popular EX and FX are going be tarred with the QX brush. This time, we don’t need a crystal ball to know what will happen. Sales will slump. A buying public which still spells the brand name “Infinity” after twenty-three years in the market won’t bother to learn the Q-uestionable new designations. Resale value will approach nil as used-market buyers try to understand why a Q80 costs so much more than a Q60. The long-suffering dealers, who went though a lot of trouble buying shoji screens in 1990 so they could do whatever was supposed to be done with the shoji screen besides conceal young salespeople taking a nap on the expensive mandatory leather showroom couches, will suffer some more.

A new plan will debut in… oh, let’s be generous and give it four years. In the meantime, plenty of people will offer opinions as to what should be done, what should have been done, and so on. I’d like to offer some hugely nostalgic and product-centric plan for Infiniti, the way I did for Lincoln a month or so ago. Build an all-new Q45, deserving of the name, and as far ahead of the Germans now as the original one was in 1990! A snub-nosed supersedan with an all-conquering powertrain and a timber-free interior! Just build the great car and watch the greatness return!

In this case, I won’t even bother. You see, people used to care about Lincoln. To some degree, they still do. But nobody ever cared about Infiniti. The G37 would be more popular with a Nissan Skyline badge. The rest of the stuff would be more popular in a landfill. This is what you do. Close the dealers, repurpose the factories, give it up. You’ll never beat Lexus at the game of being Lexus, and you’ll never beat BMW at the game of copiously defecating all over BMW’s legacy while simultaneously blowing 100,000-plus lease-deal angel-eye crapwagons out the door. Admit defeat and walk away.

Before you turn out the lights, however, I want a few minutes alone with an original 1990 Q45. Triple black, if you can manage it. If you have one in the archives. I want to open the door with that gorgeous big chrome pull-handle that looked so perfect but froze solid in the winters. I want to sit in the tailored interior that didn’t have wood or a Nakamichi logo screen-printed in tacky-ass gold letters on the console. I want to hear the big V-8 roar. I want a few minutes to show my respect to the product. We always say “May the best man win,” and when we say that, we acknowledge that plenty of times, the best man doesn’t win, he falls, he fails, he fades from history.

Good-bye, Infiniti Q45. You didn’t suck.

Join the conversation
2 of 101 comments
  • Davew833 Davew833 on May 10, 2013

    I worked in the parts & service dept. of the local Infiniti dealership when I was in college from 1991-93. I don't remember there ever being a black-on-black Q45. Perhaps the most striking color combination of the time that I remember was a burgundy red metallic with black and white leather interior. My manager often joked about the Q45 looking like a glorified Ford Taurus, but they were amazing to drive, especially since my personal ride at the time was an 80-hp mid-eighties Honda Accord. I thought the Q45 was the ultimate sleeper-- nothing ostentatious about it in its natural form, except the weird "belt buckle" hood ornament (which I still have a few of). Unfortunately, our sales staff felt the need to "tart" them up with gold plated emblems, aftermarket wheels, chrome wheel arch "lips", wood dash overlays, pinstripes, etc. It was my job to put most of that stuff on!

  • Spartan Spartan on Jun 25, 2013

    I had a G37 for a few years. 6MT Coupe, black on black, all options. Helluva car, too. I just hate they threw that brand equity out the window for this "Q" business. They could have dropped the numbers after the lettering and been done. Infiniti G Infiniti EX Infiniti FX Infiniti JX Infiniti M Infiniti QX If they didn't want to confuse people with engine displacement, just leave it as it was above. This new naming scheme is just terrible and they'll pay for it dearly over the next xx number of years.

  • Jalop1991 I say, install gun racks.Let the games begin!
  • EBFlex For those keeping track, Ford is up to 24 recalls this year and is still leading the industry. But hey, they just build some Super Dutys that are error free. Ford even sent out a self congratulatory press release saying they built Super Duty’s with zero defects. What an accomplishment!
  • Norman Stansfield This is what you get when you run races to keep the cars bunched together for more excitement. F1 doesn't seem to have this problem after the first few laps.
  • SCE to AUX Too many cars = more wrecks. With today's speeds on essentially the same old track, starting with half the cars could reduce the congestion at the end. Or maybe it would increase the problem because the herd wouldn't thin early on.I say no overtime - finish at 500 miles and no more.