When I go hunting for cars to feature on our new Future Classic segments, I try to look for unique, unappreciated cars with a lot of character, style and performance for cheap. The second-generation Infiniti M nails it on all counts.
Some of you may be nodding your heads in agreement right away. But for others, I can practically hear your exasperation after you read that first paragraph. "Infiniti? Character? You need a one-way trip to the loony bin, George!" you must be screaming into your computer or smartphone or fax machine.
Hear me out, though. It's true that while Infiniti has long made respectable luxury cars with decent performance, character and brand identity have never been their strong suits. Even as they prepare to rename all their cars with a Q prefix, it's hard to tell who or what they want to be exactly.
But Infiniti has managed to crank out a few unique gems in their history, and curiously, they usually start with "M." Remember the M30, the convertible coupe from the early 90s on a Skyline platform with a 300ZX engine? Slushbox or not, that was a neat car.
And so is the the second-gen M, known in America as the M45, which was only around for two model years in 2003 and 2004. It's easily one of the most interesting cars they have ever made, and one that could be well-sought after in a few years by people looking for style, luxury and V8 oomph on a budget.
Let's start with the styling. It's one of the most distinctive-looking cars Infiniti ever made, perhaps even the most so. Until recently the brand lacked a truly cohesive design language that stood out among the luxury sedan masses, but the M45 is something really different.
It's big and bold, with a long body and tons of front and rear overhang like a Japanese take on a big American RWD luxury sedan. Sure, the Q45 was the flagship back then, but it didn't look nearly as cool as this. Angular and powerful, the M45 stands out a decade later.
Dare I say that it looks kind of like some of the Art & Science Cadillacs that came after it? Car and Driver wrote in 2003 that the M45 looks like "one of those anycars patched together for bank ads," but I respectfully say they're full of shit.
There's also the fact that this is one of those rare import cars that probably got better, not worse, after it was imported to the U.S. In Japan, it was the Nissan Gloria (Nissan's JDM car names are generally strange to American ears, when you really think about them; I mean, Silvia? Fairlady? Bluebird?) where it came only with six-cylinder engines, although one of them was the RB25DET, and that's pretty cool.
No, Nissan did a testicular transplant when the Gloria went under the knife and became the M45. Here it got the company's 4.5-liter V8, which was good for 340 horsepower and 333 pound-feet of torque. These days, that doesn't seem like a lot, considering we have Mustangs with 420 horsepower (And on a side note: what an age of performance we live in), but the M45 could hang back in the day.
Let's put those numbers into perspective: back then, the Mercedes E55 AMG had 350 horsepower and the Jaguar XJR had 370 horsepower. The M45 had more power than an E39 BMW 540i, but less than an M5. In other words, it was in good company with a pretty solid amount of power, and I would say that even today, 340 horses are nothing to sneeze at, nor is the sub-6 second zero to 60 mph time. It was also quite a bit cheaper than its V8 competition.
Of that motor, Automobile had this to say:
Nissan's VK45DE V-8 engine is Cadillac-quiet, Lexus-smooth, and Honda-potent. Peak outputs of 340 horsepower at 6400 rpm and 333 pound-feet of torque at 4000 rpm compare favorably against BMW's V-8s, excluding the hairy-chested one powering the M5.
Not bad. Not bad at all.
On the inside, things are... period appropriate for a Japanese luxury sedan, I'd say. Nicer than the American luxury cars, not as nice as what the Germans (or even Lexus) had to offer, but still with a premium feel. That LCD screen probably hasn't aged terribly well, though.
Since this is Infiniti, you would expect a lot of cool gadgets. And the M45 delivers in that department. Besides the hands free cell phone integration system, there's a trick key fob that immobilizes the car if the wrong one is used. Also, the M45 and Q45 had a very slick solid state system to individually cool and heat the front seats.
Deficiencies? There are a few. It only came with a five-speed automatic, so fans of sport sedans who like to row their own gears should look elsewhere. It also wasn't terrific in the handling department, with sluggish steering and understeer that meant it couldn't really run with BMWs on the back roads.
The M45 wasn't perfect, but it's still a good buy. And here's the best part: the price tag at current. A search on Cars.com shows that an M45 can be had for well under $12,000. Twelve grand for a stylish luxury sedan with a 340 horsepower V8 and gadgets! That's a hell of a deal, if you ask me.
The M45 may not be a hot item on auction blocks one day like a Bullitt Mustang or a 1 Series M Coupe. But it's a solid, cool-looking cruiser that can be obtained for mad cheap. Plus, it's not super common, having been sold for merely two years. It's also vastly more interesting than the M that followed it.
Future generations may look more fondly on the M45 than we've seen before. In the meantime, I'll give a thumbs up to whoever I see in one.
This is Future Classics, a new, semi-regular feature where we identify amazing and unappreciated cars from the late 90s, 2000s, and today that could be highly coveted by future generations. You may want to pick one of these up while you still can!