- Feel old yet? Infiniti just turned 30.
- Throughout the 1990s, Infiniti’s products helped define the brand as a design and engineering powerhouse.
- New product is on the way that may, or may not, ensure that Infiniti gets to 60 years.
In 1989, before Infiniti showed its first car, before there were Infiniti dealers, there were rocks. Rocks, water, rocks and water, a budding stem, trees. Thirty years ago, Infiniti’s first advertising campaign presented the brand as a philosophy of sorts, and instead of cars, the ads featured scenes of nature and natural beauty. That changed when the cars officially arrived, but that’s how the brand defined itself early on and stood apart from its competitor, Lexus.
Infiniti launched with two cars: the rebadged Nissan Leopard, dubbed the M30, and the Q45. The M30 was an existing Japan-domestic-market (JDM) coupe. Aside from rear-wheel drive, the only other noteworthy parts of it were its by-then-dated angular styling that came straight out of the Apple II era. It wasn’t the least bit interesting and already a few years old when it arrived stateside. It had 160 horsepower and only came with a four-speed automatic. Infiniti would go on to make a convertible version of it, and, from what I remember, most were painted pearlescent white.
Aside from those early ads, the brand stood apart from Lexus’s Mercedes play by being the Japanese luxury brand that’d chase enthusiasts. The vehicle that made that play was the 278-hp, 4.5-liter Q45 sedan. It ran to 60 mph in 7.9 seconds and cost $38,000 when the least expensive V-8–powered Mercedes-Benz S-class cost $61,210. Infiniti started with a clean sheet and crafted an unadorned and elegant machine that didn’t imitate the German brands, to a fault
In the ’80s, luxury cars had grilles, and they had wood inside. The first Q45 had neither. The interior had leather and high-quality plastics, but no wood. We raved about driving it in a comparison test in our December 1989 issue: “I’m tired of writing superlatives about this car.” But we also wondered why Infiniti neglected to put a grille on it. Instead, the Q45 had what looked like a belt buckle with snakes. Actually, Japanese tapestry inspired the design, but to most Americans it looked like a bundle of snakes. Years later, when the Q45 was refreshed, Infiniti slapped a chrome grille on the nose, and, to our knowledge, the brand hasn’t spoken about Japanese tapestry since.
Infiniti is the house that the Q45 built, but there were plenty of other noteworthy Infinitis. The first-generation G20 arrived in 1991. A rebadged Nissan Primera, the G20 looked like a tiny BMW and became the brand’s entry-level luxury car. It started at $18,135 and shared its SR20 2.0-liter four with 140 horsepower and a 7500-rpm redline with the C/D favorite, the Nissan Sentra SE-R.
Infiniti launched the Jaguar-like J30 in 1992. Elegant and upmarket, it didn’t have a hard edge on it, and it took the ovoid theme further than the ’90s Taurus. It wasn’t a sports sedan, but the design made a mark. By the end of the 1990s, the second-generation Q45 arrived, but it lacked the flavor of the original.
In 2003, Infiniti introduced two important vehicles: the G35 sports sedan and coupe and the FX crossover. Aimed directly at the BMW 3-series, the G35 proved to be a spectacular success and a C/D favorite. Subsequent generations managed to maintain the magic blend of sporty handling and luxury of that first one. Eventually, the G35 evolved into today’s Q50 and Q60 coupes.
The first-gen FX, available with a V-6 or a V-8, also proved popular and helped cement the brand’s future design direction. Its look was ahead of its time and still appears fresh enough to be sold today. If anything, the original’s styling needed nearly nothing and was a tough act to follow. The second-gen FX didn’t look much different.
Looking toward the future, Infiniti is planning to introduce five vehicles in the next three years. There’ll be a sporty SUV dubbed the QX55 arriving in 2020, followed by a new flagship sedan with an electrified drivetrain and a fully electric SUV. We’ve yet to drive any of those vehicles, which might be the perfect opportunity to bring back the nature-centric ads.