The traditional definition of a Q-ship is a vessel that appears harmless, yet harbors deadly weaponry. Infiniti's M-series fits that description rather well. Around since 2006, the M35 isn't new to the scene, but for 2009, the M has emerged from dry-dock with a series of upgrades to help lure buyers away from its Germanic competition. Previous battles have proven that The New doesn't always emerge victorious when undertaking sneak attacks, and the M35 ambushed us straightaway.
Photos Copyright ©2009 Dan Roth / Weblogs, Inc.
It's possible to criticize the M35 as an anonycar, but its lack of flash allows it to slip past unnoticed as easily as its .28 Cd slices through the air. The car looks good, even without origami flame surfacing or chromed-up fender vents. There's just enough brightwork outside, and Infiniti has done an admirable job of giving all its sedans a familial resemblance. Indeed, a quick glance might register a distinct G-note to the uninformed onlooker, but the M is less swoopy, more square and, of course, bigger.
Knee-jerk shoppers might default to a Lexus or something from Deutschland, but the M35 is a well turned-out package that usually garners the response "oh yeah" when mentioned. It's competitive in its class, though the quiet styling may be off-putting to buyers looking for more presence. If understatement is appealing, the M35 has the potential to be a temptress to true car people. The 3.5-liter V6 is fitted further towards the firewall and the driven wheels are in the proper place. The details are attended to both inside and out, making the M35 feel fussed over, like a quality piece of machinery. Evidence of this is found in the scalloped rim around the gauges and the super tight body panel gaps -- the kind of minutiae that analytical personalities get excited about.
Nissan's widely-praised VQ35HR V6 delivers more wallop than the spec sheet suggests, with the revised mill feeling significantly stronger than its claimed 303 hp and 260 lb-ft of torque. The seven-speed automatic gearbox offers a wide spread of ratios and a loafing, relaxed highway cruise. Around town and on the open road, the transmission is wonderfully responsive and quick about its business without snapping your head back, and when the mood strikes you, there's a manual mode that can be controlled through a set of steering wheel-mounted paddles. Downshifts bring rev matches, so you can feel like a hero even if you don't know how to heel-toe, and a Drive Sport shift mode brings the aggression when you're ready to forget about wafting and get down to business.
The leather-wrapped, button-laden steering wheel is connected to a rack that can feel overly light and slightly numb one moment, and near perfect the next. The helm's wonkiness is disappointing in a vehicle that works incredibly well otherwise. There's tramlining as the wheels follow ruts and it's sometimes difficult to put the M35 on a proper line. Sweeping turns often required fine-tuning halfway through to dial out some steering angle.
The chassis tuning could use a semester in a Bavarian finishing school, too. When the going gets bumpy, the fully-independent suspension flails around, confused rather than confident. Infiniti offers a sport package among its comprehensive selection of options, which adds electric actuators to tweak the rear wheels in corners, better seat bolstering, a re-tuned suspension, and some cosmetic accents. Even though the ride is comfortable, some additional chassis discipline would make the M35 feel all the more solid. Maybe smoother roads would yield different results, but on recession-neglected surfaces, the M35 gets a little tripped up.
A dynamic stumble here and wrong wheel there can be forgiven when a car is a nice place to pass time, and the M35 proved to be a pleasant vehicle to pilot. Interiors have long been a point of differentiation between the "real" and the "intenders," and Infiniti has sorted out how to make a cabin every bit as inviting as its old-world bogies. Unfortunately, Nissan's luxury arm seems to have come down with the same case of buttonphilia that mars other premium brands, making the center stack difficult to operate by feel without a fair amount of practice. While the symmetrical layout looks good, the multifunction knob is surrounded by a series of same-sized buttons that lends complexity to even the simplest of tasks. Some controls, like the HVAC blower, are a bit of a reach, and would be better off as a knob instead of a rocker. There's a high level of dependence on the LCD, where the temperature mode, radio, nav, and other details are all displayed. That high level of GUI interaction could be troublesome to the tech-averse, but we can undestand it from a simplified aesthetic standpoint.
Infiniti has become masterful at loading its vehicles with tech, and the M35 has plenty of three-letter acronyms. There's AFS, LDP, VDC, ICC, and those are just the systems that pertain to driving. Our car also had an entertainment system by Bose that included a DVD screen for the rear seats, rear seat audio controls in the armrest, wireless headphones, auxiliary inputs, a remote control, and an internal hard drive. It's almost as if Infiniti tried to tech-up the M so the driver could pay attention to the premium stereo instead of the road beneath.
The acronym-fest is typical of recent Infinitis, and the systems themselves are becoming more common in this segment. The LDW (Lane Departure Warning) system works in conjunction with the Lane Departure Prevention (LDP) setup, using a variety of sensors to warn if the driver steps out of line. The "Prevention" portion comes into play by applying selected brakes in an attempt to nudge the car back into its lane. It works, although its thorougly disconcerting if you're not ready for it. AFS steers the headlamps into turns, VDC is stability control, and ICC is radar-based cruise control. Fortunately, most of the gadgets have "off" switches, but annoyingly, the cruise control's self-regulating following distance is not defeatable. Note to automakers: Some of us don't like our cars to act like they're smarter than we are.
Along with the other technologies fitted to the M35 is a voice recognition system that lets you play Michael Knight, though it gets confused when you say "Turbo Boost, KITT" and a Bluetooth-compatible stereo for hands-free yacking. The automatic toys continue with rain-sensing windshield wipers, climate control, a fob that allows you to lock/unlock/drive the car without a key -- even the paint heals itself. The long list of standard and optional equipment adds up to a car that weighs at least 3,900 pounds and returns mileage numbers of 17/25. That weight makes the way the M35 moves all the more surprising, and the 25 mpg highway number could easily be nudged upward with a disciplined throttle foot.
The 2009 Infiniti M35 is a pleasantly composed package. It's comfortable and teched to the hilt. The trunk is big, as is the back seat, and the interior doesn't want for quality against its rivals. The powerful V6 obviates the need for the more expensive, thirstier V8, though the available AWD system might be attractive to buyers in snowy climates. Despite our criticisms with the chassis and steering, the M35 makes quite a case for itself, and adding in all the options puts it firmly into the mid-$50,000 range. That's a decent price for a luxury sedan as capable as the M, and you give up nothing other than a badge -- which makes it even more appealing to the Q-ship crowd.