With a more than $22,000 price gap between its I35/G35 entry-level luxury sedans and the top-of-the-line Q45, Infiniti found itself faced with just such an “opportunity.” Spanning the gulf is the big idea behind Infiniti’s “mid-luxury” M45 sport sedan, which shares many Q45 attributes, most notably its DOHC 4.5-liter V-8, five-speed automatic transmission and rear-wheel drive.
That’s where the additional content comes in, for Infiniti thinks they’ve “identified the missing element in competitive vehicles ¾ V-8 power at an affordable price.” And when you look at the numbers, it’s a pretty persuasive argument. Starting at $42,300 (plus $545 destination charges), the M’s list price is between $5000 and $7000 less than that of the Lexus GS 430, BMW 540i, Cadillac STS, Audi A6 4.2, and Jaguar S-Type 4.0. It’s even about $1000 less than the six-cylinder S-Type 3.0. Among the eight-vehicle competitive set Infiniti cited for its M45, only Lexus’ GS 300 and BMW’s 530i (both sixes) are less expensive. Don’t just look at the money —the M’s 340 horsepower and 333 lb-ft of torque (identical to the Q45) are well above all five V-8-powered cars above.
Why is this important? Because unlike the upper reaches of luxury market where the Q45 plays, sales in the “mid-luxury” segment increased 230 percent between 1991 and 2000, reaching a total of 300,000 units. “It’s a highly growing, very profitable segment where we haven’t had a presence,” said Skip MacLean, Manager of Infiniti Product Planning. “The M45 can be a stepping stone for people on their way to a Q45.”
But MacLean will be the first to tell you that the cars have very different characteristics. “The M is more a muscle car; it’s cozier inside, more driver oriented, with things like the narrower four-spoke steering wheel. The Q45 has a bigger presence, with more open space inside, and dramatically different styling. They’re not just the same equipment wrapped in different trim.”
Striking the resemblance
So what are the differences? The M45 is slightly smaller than the Q in almost every key dimension: wheelbase, 110.2 inches vs. 113; height, 57.6 vs. 58.7; width, 69.7 vs. 72.6; and overall length 197.2 vs. 199.6. Comparing equally equipped models, the Qs will outweigh Ms by “about 120 pounds” according to MacLean. The M45 “is basically the (Japanese home market) Gloria with everything changed but the sheet metal.” (The Q45’s Japanese equivalent is called the Cima.)
Minimal size differences don’t even hint at the difference in driving dynamics between the two cars. In keeping with its sports sedan mission, the M45’s suspension has a firmer road feel (“for better control and stability,” said MacLean), thanks to stiffer shock dampers and bushings and thicker stabilizer bars. While driving through Sonoma County, the M’s steering felt a bit tauter than the Q’s. “Mechanically, all the steering parts are the same,” said MacLean of the electrically controlled, speed-sensitive power rack & pinion steering. “But the firmer suspension and smaller steering wheel do make a difference.”
That four-wheel independent suspension consists of struts and coil springs up front, along with the aforementioned stabilizer bars. In back there’s a multi-link setup and coil springs. It’s all connected to 18-inch alloy wheels wearing 235/45WR Bridgestone performance tires. (Michelin all-season tires are a no-additional-cost option.) Those tires and wheels (“the biggest things we could stuff into the wheel wells”) combined with the M45’s wedge-shape profile, low wide front end and black finish chrome grille give the car a purposeful stance.
The five-speed automatic has the expected manual shift mode and MacLean admitted that had the Q45’s development come a year or so later, both it and the M would’ve received a six-speed automatic, which soon will become the norm in the luxury segments. The M gets the Q’s revised-for-‘03 final drive ratio of 3.133:1 for improved acceleration. Fuel economy for both is an estimated 17 mpg city/23 highway.
The M45 doesn’t disappoint in high-end mechanical and safety features, as four-wheel disc brakes with both brake assist and electronic brake force distribution are standard, along with vehicle dynamic (or stability) control with integral traction control. Besides dual-stage front airbags, both “regular” side airbags and side-impact curtains are standard.
2003 Infiniti M45Enlarge Photo
Also requiring the Premium Package is the $2700 Technology Package. Unfortunately, none of our press-drive cars was so equipped, so we didn’t get to experience the laser-base Intelligent Cruise Control or the DVD-based Infiniti Navigation System. The latter also upgrades the pop-up information screen in the dash from 5.8 inches to 7 inches. Among the most interesting stand-alone options is the availability of either the XM or Sirius satellite radio systems ($400), and “traditional” color wood trim to replace the Bird’s Eye Maple ($300).
So M45 prices quickly can rise well above list, giving it yet another thing in common with its sibling, the Q, whose tab also can rise well above its $51,045 base. Still there’s no denying that the M is a pretty good value, given its content. Consider the gap filled.
2003 Infiniti M45
Base price: $42,845
Engine: 4.5-liter DOHC V-8, 340 hp/333 lb-ft torque
Drivetrain: Five-speed automatic with manual shift mode, rear-wheel drive
Length x width x height (inches): 197.2 x 69.7 x 57.6
Wheelbase: 110.2 in
Curb weight: 3851-lb
EPA City/Hwy: 17/23 mpg
Safety equipment: Driver & passenger front airbags; side airbags & side curtain airbags; anti-lock brakes with brake assist & electronic brake force distribution; vehicle dynamic control with integral traction control.
Major standard equipment: Cruise control; air conditioning; Bose premium 225-watt CD/cassette audio system; six-CD in-dash changer, power windows, seats, door locks and mirrors; analog clock; leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob; birds eye maple wood trim, 18-inch alloy wheels & W-rated tires.
Warranty: Four years/60,000 miles (basic), six years/70,000 miles (Powertrain) Lifetime (Anti-corrosion)