San Diego, CA - Infiniti has launched the third generation of its flagship M sedan and it is good enough for the automaker to gain more traction in the luxury car segment.
For the record, I'm talking about the 2011 Infiniti M37 and M56 which go on sale in the spring. Both engines are direct fuel injected and both have an eyebrow raising feature.
The M37 has a 3.7 liter V6 that makes an eye popping 330 horsepower and 270 pounds-feet of torque. That's best in class. The M56 has a 5.6 liter V8 that makes 420 horsepower and 417 pounds-feet of torque.
The surprising feature of the V8 is that although it makes 95 more horsepower and 81 more pound-feet of torque than the engine it replaces, the car has 4 mpg better fuel efficiency. That's a because of the Infiniti M's new seven-speed automatic transmission which also equips the M37.
Not only does the Infiniti M have a lane departure warning system, it has a lane departure intervention system as well. In other words, if the M37 or M56 warns that it is headed out of the lane and the driver doesn't adjust, the braking system will be applied to keep the car in the lane. The same thing will occur with the Infiniti M's blind spot warning system.
The Infiniti M also has four different drive modes, active noise control and trace control that adjusts torque and braking at each wheel to enhance cornering. The optional sport package includes a feature called four-wheel steer. Depending on speed and steering angle, the rear wheels are steered in-phase with the front wheels.
The adjustable cruise control will bring Infiniti's M to a complete stop, if the car ahead stops. And the Infiniti M will resume following at the proscribed distance when the vehicle ahead pulls off without the driver ever touching the brakes or the accelerator.
All this is and was really impressive. But luxury is not conveyed through technology or in the press kit, it is conveyed through design: both exterior and interior. In other words, does the 2011 Infiniti M look good? That's subjective to each buyer but there was a subtle allure for me.
The Infiniti M's silhouette reminded me of the old Infiniti J; long snout and short deck lid. It was a bit lower and two inches wider than the model it replaces. Bulging front wheel wells that sloped down into the headlamp housing and a hood that curved out from the base of the windshield to form a subtle power dome and then extended out and down to meet the grille gave me a sense of the car's lack of drag and speed.
Infiniti did away with the aluminum trim of the old model. Japanese Ash or Japanese white Ash is standard trim in the 2011 Infiniti M. And the ambiance it conveys rates with the luxury sedans of Germany.
I got the chance to drive the M37 rear-wheel-drive and the M56x all-wheel-drive. Both engines were responsive and gear shifts were imperceptible. My only complaint was that the lane departure warning tone kept going off. But that's the price you pay for aggressive driving on a two-lane road.
There are four models of the Infiniti M but I think there are six: The M37 rear-wheel drive starts at $46,250, The M37x (all-wheel-drive) starts at $48,400. The M56 rear-wheel-drive starts at$56,550 and the M56x (all-wheel-drive) starts at $60,050.
My extra two are versions of the M37 and M56 that have the Sport Package; an option available only on rear-wheel-drive models. The package includes a sport tuned suspension, special front fascia with dark finish headlights and grille, 20-inch wheels and four wheel active steer, sport seats, sport steering wheel and shift knob and aluminum pedals.
For my $3,650, that's enough differentiation to qualify as another model. Oh, add on an $865 freight charge to all base prices. There was a bunch of other equipment like Bluetooth and heated and cooled power seats but the bottom line is that the Infiniti M is a full blown luxury sedan with the creature comforts, ride quality, quietness, technology and overall ambiance to compete with world class luxury brands.
The challenge is for Infiniti to keep chipping away with quality products to gain share in a down market with its lineup that now includes a new M37 and M56 and hold onto it.