For the longest time I could remember, the third generation Infiniti M has always been my favorite luxury sedan. Funny thing is, I have never actually driven one. Its sporty looks and the fact that it was based off the same platform as the Nissan Z sports car gave it performance credibility. This generation was a Consumer Reports Top Pick, and it was well received by the press. The strange thing is that the M wasn’t always a luxury sedan. Rather, it was a two door in either a coupe or convertible configuration. In 1989, Nissan introduced its luxury division, Infiniti, to take on the Germans. As one of the first two models to be produced by Infiniti, the 1989 M30 Coupe and Convertible were a rebadged Nissan Leopard. Alas, it lasted only three years in production. According to Wikipedia, it is rumored that less than 12,000 M30s have been sold, making it the rarest Infiniti ever made. It was not until 2002 that the M was revived as a rebadged Nissan Gloria, this time as a luxury sedan. My friend Madison’s father had a silver M45 when I was little, and I remember being fascinated with it. The second generation M was long and narrow, and this gave it a futuristic appearance. The fact that it was powered by a 340 horsepower V8 which was a a lot back then added to its appeal. Sadly, due to its high price and unremarkable handling, it trailed the BMW 5 Series and the Mercedes-Benz E-Class. Sales were so low that this generation only lasted for two years. This time, Infiniti wasn’t taking any chances. In 2006, it debuted an all new and redesigned M, again another rebadged Nissan sold as the Nissan Fuga in Japan. This time, the Infiniti M was based off the “FM” (front-midship which basically means the engine is pushed behind the front axle for better weight distribution) platform that underpinned the Nissan Z sports car as well as the sporty Infiniti FX SUV and G sedan. In addition to having a chassis derived from a sports car, the M also was powered by Nissan’s well-received “VQ-series” engines. I was both nervous and excited to review this car to see if it really did live up to my expectations. Continue reading
Wow, the 4Runner has come a long way from when it debuted in the mid ’80s. The first generation was derived completely from the Toyota Pickup/Hilux, and the only modifications made to the 4Runner was the addition of an integrated fiberglass top, and it was sold in a two door configuration only. It was so similar to the truck that it did not even come with rear seats when it was imported into the U.S from Japan (Dealers installed them after they were imported). The 4Runner became a hit due to its combination of off roading credibility, versatility, and affordability. Toyota redesigned the 4Runner in 1989, and the result was vastly different. It was still based off the Toyota Pickup/Hilux, but instead of sporting a pickup body with a fiberglass top installed, it utilized a unique all steel body, and most were sold in a four door body style. The 4Runner was redesigned in 1995, and it was as much of a departure as the second gen. For starters, it was no longer based off the Hilux truck, but rather shared a platform with the Toyota Land Cruiser Prado (Lexus GX), and it became a more luxurious and comfort oriented SUV in contrast to the simple and rugged nature of previous 4Runners. For 2003, the 4Runner underwent another redesign, this time catering to American tastes as it gained an optional V8. This generation lasted till 2010 to this 4Runner that you see here. Having the chance to review a first and third generation 4Runner, I am interested to see how it compares. With a no frills nature and manual transmission, the 1986 4Runner was delightfully simple and rugged whereas the 1997 4Runner that I reviewed was comfortable and not as capable as the first off road but still good to drive. With this 2011 4Runner, what piques my interest is how it stacks up, as a 4Runner and as an SUV overall.
In contrast to the success Volkswagen garnered in the Roaring Sixties, by the time the 1970s approached, Volkswagen was in trouble. The Beetle’s appeal was waning as it became outdated and competitors’ vehicles were leaving it in the dust. Introduced in 1973, the original Passat was a version of the Audi 80/Fox sedan (VW owns Audi), but the thing is that it was actually called the Dasher in North America despite being named the Passat everywhere else. It received positive reception for its practicality and responsive handling but did not sell that well. The Passat was redesigned in 1981-1982. Again, even though everywhere else it was known as the Passat, Volkswagen sold the Passat as Quantum in North America. Finally, the third generation brought the Passat name to North America in 1990. As the years passed, it slowly grew in size and fame. By the time the fifth generation appeared in 1998, the Passat was regarded as an excellent family sedan. With this generation, the Passat moved upmarket with a focus on luxury and comfort. It is actually based off the first generation Audi A4. For 2001, the Passat received a refresh.
Contrary to what most people think, the Z3 was not the first Z to start off the Z series (Z3 and Z4). That title goes to the Z1. During 1989-1991, BMW built the Z1. The Z1 featured many innovative touches such as doors that slide down in their sills and a removable plastic body. This car could be driven with all of the body panels completely removed. They were never sold in North America, and the Z1 was discontinued after just two years and with 8,000 models produced. After noticing the success of the Mazda Miata roadster, BMW decided it wanted a piece of the action. Introduced in 1996, the Z3 made its debut in the James Bond film, Golden Eye, which BMW used to promote the car. The BMW Z3 emphasized its mix of modern BMW mechanicals with retro styling cues from the BMW 507 (a classic BMW roadster). It gained new interior and exterior revisions in 2000.
After watching the 1994 Toyota Rav4’s success in the compact SUV market, Toyota decided to use its Lexus division to launch a luxury SUV. Introduced in 1998, the Lexus RX was considered one of the world’s first luxury SUVs. Using an enlarged version of the sixth generation Camry’s platform (shared with the Lexus ES also), the RX combined car like performance with ground clearance akin to an SUV. Its success prompted other rival companies to take notice. The Mercedes-Benz M-Class and the BMW X5 are the results. As the RX reached even more sales, it grew in size. Whereas the original was a compact SUV, the second generation (2003-2008) was labeled as a midsize SUV. This iteration also introduced the world’s first production luxury hybrid, the RX400h. Lexus redesigned the RX in 2009. It received a facelift in 2012 which included mechanical improvements as well as revised exterior and interior updates that brought it in line with Lexus’ latest design philosophy. Continue reading