Infiniti's Stylish Nod To The Past

The most exciting feature of Nissan's new midsize luxury sedan, the Infiniti J30, is its styling. Instead of the high, chopped-off rear deck that has been the aerodynamic standard ever since the Ford Taurus was introduced in 1985, the J30's rear slopes dramatically toward the ground.

It's the way cars used to look, and the vaguely retro J30 evokes the classic lines of a 1961 Jaguar Mark X. At the same time, it is clearly modern, with flush-mounted projector headlamps and integrated, body-colored bumpers.

Infiniti designed the $33,000 J30 to ply the middle ground between its $20,000 compact G20 and the line's flagship Q45, now a pricey $44,000. Like its stablemates, the J30 is a practical four-door sedan. But its contours trick the eye into believing it's a coupe. That feeling continues inside, with lush walnut surrounding the driver and cozy leather seats that snugly cradle the lower body. Yet lots of glass and ample shoulder room open up the top of the car.

If the J30 has a problem, it's that the car is too cozy. Rear-wheel drive, unusual in this class, contributes to the car's superior ride and stable, surefooted handling. But the necessary drivetrain hump and engine layout mean that the backseat is a tight squeeze for three--or even two--adults. The rear-wheel-drive layout limits the car's cargo space as well.

Nissan borrowed the 3.0-liter V6 engine from its 300ZX sports car for the J30, and it shows. Refined to reduce noise, the motor still delivers 210 horsepower--more than the Lexus ES 300, Acura Legend, or Mazda 929.

Infiniti believes that luxury-car buyers should not be nickel-and-dimed with options, so virtually everything, from the sunroof to the compact-disk player, comes standard. The only factory option is a $1,700 touring package, with a stiffer suspension, four-wheel steering, special spoke wheels--and a rear spoiler, an ungainly wedge that undermines the sophisticated lines of the trunk.

GREEN MACHINE. The car also reflects Japanese auto makers' new emphasis on ecology and safety, with plastic parts labeled for recycling and all the latest protective features. The J30 has two air bags up front, seat-belt tensioners that secure passengers a split second before air bags inflate, and reinforced roof pillars that would safeguard occupants if the car rolls over. But what will be prized most is the J30's countenance, the sense of nostalgia with the convenience of the contem-porary.

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