Un­der­ap­pre­ci­ated

Amer­i­can style, V-8 power, and rear drive—straight from Ja­pan

Automobile - - Contents - By Brett Berk

The 2003-04 In­finiti M45 had an un­de­ni­able, un­der-the-radar lead-sled ap­peal with a V-8 en­gine and rear drive.

WEL­COME TO UN­DER­AP­PRE­CI­ATED, a show­case for out­lier ve­hi­cles from the late 20th and early 21st cen­turies, cars that pre­sented fresh ideas or in­no­va­tive tech­nolo­gies but failed to con­nect with con­sumers then and re­main un­der­val­ued (read: bar­gains) to­day.

In­finiti was a bit trou­bled at the end of the 1990s. Un­like its com­peti­tors from Toy­ota (Lexus) and Honda (Acura), af­ter its first decade in the U.S. mar­ket Nis­san’s up­scale brand had failed to crack the magic 100,000 an­nual sales mark. In an ef­fort to boost its for­tunes and im­age, the brand added the mid­size M45 (in­ter­nal code Y34) sedan in 2003.

The M was in­tended to patch a medium-size hole in the In­finiti sedan lineup, slot­ting be­tween the smaller G and the larger Q. Like sim­i­lar ve­hi­cles from its Ger­man and Ja­panese brethren—E-Class, 5 Se­ries, GS—it was a step up from en­try level and a step down from top tier. But its core play was its per­for­mance-to-price ra­tio. With a base price of just $42,300 and a nat­u­rally as­pi­rated 4.5-liter V-8 from the Q-ship pro­vid­ing 340 horse­power and 333 lb-ft of torque, it was close in out­put to high-test ex­ec­u­tive sedans from the likes of Mercedes-Benz’s AMG or Jaguar’s R sub­brands but at a cost closer to their ba­sic six-cylin­der mod­els.

“The M45 had the power and per­for­mance of the Q45 flag­ship, as well as many of its lux­ury ap­point­ments, in a lighter, less ex­pen­sive pack­age,” says Kyle Baze­more, di­rec­tor of com­mu­ni­ca­tions for In­finiti North Amer­ica. “And the out­put of the M45’s V-8 was quite im­pres­sive—in fact, one of the high­est power rat­ings of any stan­dard, non-spe­cialty en­gine on the mar­ket at the time.”

Fea­tur­ing a bit less mass than its big brother, the M45 was able to hus­tle to 60 mph in about 5.7 sec­onds, which was quite an achieve­ment for the time. Per­haps more im­por­tant than this was the way the M45 looked. The sedan had a beveled front and rear, mus­cu­larly

“IT DOESN’T LOOK LIKE ANY­THING ELSE, I KNEW IT WAS RARE. BUT NO­BODY KNOWS WHAT IT IS.”

rounded flanks, and a pert if lengthily over­hang­ing tail that con­spired to give it a kind of sneer­ing Amer­i­can me­nace. It looked like a mod­ern in­ter­pre­ta­tion of some­thing El­wood En­gel (Chrysler’s de­sign chief dur­ing the mid-’60s) might have penned, along the lines of a scaled down Im­pe­rial Crown sedan: an­gu­lar, squat­ting, wide-eyed, and ready to roar.

“It doesn’t look like any­thing else,” says Joe Wu, a 19-year-old col­lege stu­dent at Uni­ver­sity of Cal­i­for­nia, River­side, who stum­bled into buy­ing the 2004 M45 you see here for $3,000 when he was look­ing for a Lexus LS 400 to act as his daily driver, a way to keep miles off his 1986 Toy­ota MR2. (The M45 has roughly 131,000 on the odo). “I knew it was rare. But no­body knows what it is, so I thought it was in­ter­est­ing.”

Alas, this con­tentious de­sign was in many ways the car’s Achilles’ heel, as it didn’t re­sem­ble any­thing else in the In­finiti lineup. This wasn’t ex­actly out of the or­di­nary. For much of the brand’s first decade, its styling was some­what grab-baggy in its dif­fu­sion—a blocky con­vert­ible next to a sleek ex­ec­u­tive sedan next to an in­flated truck-based SUV next to a spruced-up front-drive com­muter. This was the re­sult of Nis­san’s pro­cliv­ity for poach­ing an ex­ist­ing if some­times out­moded Ja­panese Do­mes­tic Mar­ket (JDM) ve­hi­cle, stuff­ing in a big­ger en­gine, and slap­ping on a gaudy In­finiti badge. This was cer­tainly the ori­gin story for

“THE M45 WAS AVAIL­ABLE FOR ONLY THE 2003 AND 2004 MODEL YEARS, IN WHICH A TO­TAL OF 8,067

WERE SOLD.”

the M, which be­gan its life as a V-6-pow­ered Nis­san Glo­ria. Sadly, the M’s retro-in­spired styling, while au courant in the in­dus­try at the time, with VW’s New Bee­tle and Ford’s Thun­der­bird re­dux, didn’t sit well with cus­tomers who were in the mar­ket for a con­tem­po­rary Ja­panese near-lux­ury of­fer­ing.

What those cus­tomers ap­par­ently wanted was a high-rid­ing, cramped, all-wheel-drive hatch­back shaped like a creasy high-top sneaker. Some­thing like the trend­set­ting In­finiti FX sporty cross­over, in­tro­duced about the same time. Although an­nual sales of the Y34 gen­er­a­tion of M45 peaked at just more than 4,500 units in 2003, the FX im­me­di­ately sold at an an­nual rate of around 30,000.

“The M45 was avail­able for only the 2003 and 2004 model years, in which a to­tal of 8,067 were sold,” Baze­more says. “Each of these rep­re­sented in­cre­men­tal sales to In­finiti, which would un­doubt­edly be lost to other lux­ury brands. But for 2005, the In­finiti M line was com­pletely re­designed to have more of a fa­mil­ial look with the [then-re­cently] in­tro­duced G sport sedan and FX per­for­mance cross­over.”

BY BRETT BERK PHO­TOG­RA­PHY BY JADE NEL­SON

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.