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Underrated Lookers: The Y34 Infiniti M45

August 15, 2011 by Matt

2003 Y34 Infiniti M45

During the course of any model year, the automotive press and community investigate the merits of hundreds of different cars. Given the amount of sheetmetal that passes in front of the eyes of the typical automotive journalist, it’s inevitable that the styling of a few otherwise worthy-looking cars would be simply passed over as a matter of expediency. Today we take a look at an example of one such aesthetic diamond in the rough: The ’03-’04 Infiniti M45.

2003 Y34 Infiniti M45

Assigned the factory model code Y34 and only present in the US market for 2 years, the ’03-’04 M45 was hastily adapted from the Japanese-market-only Nissan Gloria, then nearing the end of its model run, in order to plug a BMW 5-series and Lexus GS-sized gap in the Infiniti model range. Its styling, then, was a bit long in the tooth from the get-go, in addition to being ill-tailored for the American market. So the cards were stacked against it, and the automotive press was cool in their appraisal of its looks; Edmunds wrote:

The M45 offers the sort of sheetmetal that would never get accused of walking on the wild side; viewed head-on, it calls to mind the infinitely unobtrusive Ford Crown Victoria, with a front end that’s broad and low. Wide rectangular high-intensity discharge xenon headlamps light the way, flanking a prominent, chunky grille. In back, rear overhang is significant.

Whatever the merits of the above critique, I think the car is a timeless classic. It will be said that in order to truly appreciate its lines, it helps to view it in the flesh. Last school year, a silver Y34 was always in the line of cars when I dropped my son off in the morning, and I couldn’t take my eyes off it. Overall, the quality that stands out is proportion. Contrasting with more modern vehicles (even the current iteration of the M45) whose distribution of visual masses is more or less identical from car to car, differentiated only through details like splashes of chrome or sheetmetal flourishes, the Y34 M45 achieves its distinctiveness not through bling, but through relative sizing of key components like the greenhouse, beltline and overhangs. The upshot is that as automotive detail fashions (twin exhaust tips, clear taillights, etc) come and go, the emphasis on proportion gives the car a more tailored, classic feel, meaning the Y34 looks fresh even 8 years after its introduction. And even from a distance, when all you see are the proportions, you’ll never mistake it for anything else on the road, so it achieves a kind of distinctiveness in spite of itself. I love it; I’d drive one.

Editor’s note: This post is part of an ongoing series featuring cars whose design I find appealing, in contrast to mainstream opinion. Read the other installments here:

Filed under: Aesthetics, Infiniti, Underrated Lookers

11 Comments

  1. John D says:

    It certainly is a duck of a different color. I, too, find myself staring at it with a difficulty in looking away. But I wouldn’t say it’s necessarily good looking. It certainly is unique and, like you said, still looks fairly fresh (styling-wise), but I think what keeps me staring is more akin to disbelief than beauty. While it certainly has some striking features, they are just put together in such a way that leaves one uncertain about it. No…not good looking, but strange and unique. Hard to believe that this is the way the car was ‘meant’ to look coming out of the design shoppe. I perceive it as more of an accident of attractive components. And the proportions are just way too wrong for this era. If it was made in the 1930’s or 60-70’s, maybe. But no…it’s just too disjointed and seems a bit ‘lost in time’ for me. I will pass. But congrats on digging up a car sent to our shores that I never knew existed. Consider my horizons broadened.

    Cheers.

    • Matt says:

      I do agree the proportions are mismatched to current trends, which basically involve pushing the wheels as far toward the extremities of the car as possible in order to maximize cabin volume. From everything I’ve heard, the interior of the Y34 is tiny relative to the size of the vehicle. That said, you have to admire a company that prioritizes the look of the car to such a degree, kind of like with the Merc CLS. I respect that.

  2. John D says:

    Plus the face is just way too happy for my liking. Straight from the ‘cartoon network’ if you ask me. (I would be more specific, but there is a reason I am not more knowledgeable about such things…)

  3. Shawn says:

    I think the Y34 is beautiful as well. My biggest complaint is the interior is kind of a cheap looking mess in comparison to the understated exterior. And we should also mention what a sleeper it is – the same engine from the Q45 in a body several hundred pounds lighter. They go super cheap now if you can find one and I’ve been tempted many a time.

    • Matt says:

      The interior is pretty plastic looking, especially with the monochrome first-generation LCD screen. And yeah, all the reviews lauded the VK45’s big power. I’ve seen prices around the $9K range. Not cheap, but not bad either, considering what you’re getting.

  4. gizmo says:

    Tripped over this article, thanks. Years later and I still love this car, a Japanese version of a Cadillac. I picked 1 up a year ago from a retired Dr, garage kept since new. It is affectionately known as the boat by my friends and family.

  5. Tarek says:

    I had always loved the chisled look of the ’03 M. I’ve heard Porsche was a contributor of the design. Mine is a example in Red Garnet Fire Pearl with 35k miles as of 2/15. It isn’t perfect (no car is) but it’s incredible power and high speed stability is remarkable. With rear suspension based on the 300ZX it handles quite well also. I’ll keep the car a long time, it’s like a sneaky, naughty child that you love dearly.

  6. Marcus says:

    I’m glad that this car made the list. And what you described about its unique proportions is completely true. It’s almost as if this M45 was a true spiritual successor of the J30. When you compare the TL/ES to the established 5-series/E-class game, both Acura and Lexus fade into the background. There’s nothing memorable about them.

    This M45 however, actually had some attraction and flavor. I often joke with my friends that this is the Japanese Jaguar. And despite this being an adaptation of a Japan Gloria, Infiniti compels me more so than an actual S-type. It’s like a post-modern interpretation of a Jaguar.

    It’s a shame that the iteration after this M45, completely discarded all reference to its predecessor. Since Infiniti has been lacking in brand heritage, and has been searching for it with every new design era, they could really use another M45 with these similar proportions.

    • Matt says:

      The third-gen (’04-’08) TL had some visual spice to it. I’ve always like its wedge profile and door-handle-and-character-line slash across the side.

      That said, the M45 really stood out. Japanese Jaguar is a pretty good description of it in a lot of ways. Nicely put.

      Infiniti is slowly clawing its way back into a position of relevance. At least their styling is better executed than Lexus’s these days. An “Eau Rouge” performance division would really inject some life into the brand, IMO. We’ll see.

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