Not too long ago, the Infiniti M was the lesser sibling to the flagship Q. It was the middle child. During the 2006 model year, when the Q was less than a year from being dropped from the lineup, Infiniti gave the M a strong shove in the back in the form of a 4.5-liter V8 and quietly told it to climb up on the soon-to-be-vacant throne. With the Q gone and unlikely to return anytime soon, the Infiniti M is now tasked with being the automaker's flagship sedan.
Completely redesigned for the 2011 model year, the Infiniti M is bigger and better than its predecessors ever were, but it still can't fill the Q's empty shoes. Shorted the substance and stature to battle the Lexus LS, the newest Japanese luxury sedan is relegated to fighting wars with the aged Lexus GS and Acura RL. But those two are the easy enemies. BMW, Audi, Mercedes-Benz and Cadillac are the ones fielding today's worthy adversaries.
We spent a week with the "entry level" Infiniti M37. While it isn't the range-topping M56, it does boast a proven 330-horsepower V6 and a luxuriously appointed cabin. Did we miss the eight-cylinder power? Should the Sports Package be a required purchase? What unique features does the gizmo-laden four-door offer? Most importantly, how well will it fare in this lion's den of a segment? Hit the jump to find out.
Photos copyright ©2010 Michael Harley / AOL
Basking in the warm glow of the sunset and waiting for its time in front of the camera, our Malbec Black over Java M37 sedan looks absolutely stunning – especially when compared to the quirky 2003 model (which itself was based on the Japanese domestic market Nissan Gloria). Modernly sculpted, with a very fluid shape, there is no denying its family resemblance or Infiniti character.
Our test vehicle, a 2011 M37, carried a base price of $46,250 (plus an $865 destination fee). Like most you will find on the dealer's lot, ours is fitted with several significant option groups.
The Technology Package:
- Eco Pedal
- Intelligent Cruise Control
- Blind Spot Warning (BSW) and Blind Spot Intervention (BSI)
- Lane Departure Warning (LDW) and Lane Departure Prevention (LDP)
- Distance Control Assistant (DCA)
- Intelligent Brake Assist (IBA) with Forward Collision Warning (FCW)
- Front pre-crash seatbelts
- Active Trace Control
- Adaptive Front lighting system (AFS)
The Deluxe Touring Package:
- Bose 5.1-channel, 16-speaker premium audio
- Forest Air system
- Semi-aniline quilted leather
- Wood trim with silver accents
- Stitched upholstery instrument hood
- Synthetic suede headliner
- Power rear sunshade
- Satellite Navigation with an eight-inch VGA touchscreen
- Voice command recognition
- Streaming audio via Bluetooth
- 9.3GB music box hard drive
- Climate controlled front seats
- Heated steering wheel
The list didn't end there. Our M37 was also fitted with a trunk mat, trunk net, first aid kit and illuminated kick plates. After adding nearly $13,000 worth of options, the bottom line on our window sticker read $59,460.
That's a lot of money, but Infiniti wants you to realize that the M37 is a lot of car.
Like nearly all of the vehicles we test, the 2011 Infiniti M37 spent a week with us. While it wasn't fortunate enough to join us on any fancy road trips, the four-door was used as a photo platform for our recent Volkswagen Jetta TDI Cup vs. Honda CR-Z comparison, and it did a whole ton of running around with the family. Suffice to say, there was plenty of time to put our arms around this sedan and figure out what parts we liked, and which ones left us a bit, well... frustrated.
Without question, we were impressed by the luxury and passenger accommodations. The front seats, with their quilted-leather upholstery and climate controls, were very supportive and comfortable, although big hands might have a difficult time reaching the control switches on the side of the seat when the door is closed. The "silver powder accents" on the wood was stunning, and the rest of the industry cranking out wood that looks more like plastic should take note. And most importantly for those not sitting up front, the rear seats offered generous legroom made the 5 Series we recently reviewed look cramped in comparison.
We also liked many aspects of the M37's driving dynamics. The 3.7-liter VQ six-cylinder engine, rated at 330 horsepower and 270 pound-feet of torque, is the workhorse of the Nissan/Infiniti lineup. Rightfully so, as the all-aluminum powerplant seems tireless. It pulls aggressively from all over the tachometer, only seemingly winded as it approaches its high redline (an impressive 7,500 rpm). Down on power compared to its eight-cylinder brother in the M56 (loaded with 420 horsepower), the rear-wheel-drive M37 still sprints to 60 mph in less than six seconds. Its growl is enjoyed from the cabin and the annoying vibrations we've come to accept from Nissan's VQ-Series engine seem to be finally isolated. The standard brakes are strong, and they feel easily up to any task, and brake dust didn't seem to be an issue with the wheels still appearing clean after a week of driving.
Even without the Sport Package (which adds 20-inch alloys, performance tires, 4-Wheel Active Steer and more), the M37 handles very well. Thrown into a corner, its sport sedan underpinnings (Nissan's shared rear-wheel-drive FM platform) come alive. It's not a track star, but on public roads it's much more capable than 99 percent of its drivers will ever require. Interestingly enough, we deliberately dove late into a tight bend and cranked the steering wheel over to see how the sedan would handle being severely unsettled. When the tail end came around, the front seatbelts automatically reeled us firmly against the backrest.
Sporty driving behind us, the M37 provided a soft side. At normal cruising speed, the cabin is hushed and peaceful (the car is fitted with "active noise control" as a standard feature, and it seems to work effectively). Highway cruising also gave us an opportunity to "play" with the electronic wizardry – which is overwhelming. We like the AFS, ICC and LDW, but the LDP, DCA, IBA and FCW drove us nuts (as do the acronyms). The "Eco Pedal" is designed to help save fuel by pushing back against your throttle foot when you are a bit too aggressive. In practice, it increased 0-60 mph times to about 20 seconds and feels eerie... almost like a little animal is pressing back to prevent itself from being squished. We got the heebie-jeebies and quickly turned it off.
We were also bothered by the vast array of buttons on the dashboard. Regardless of how many times we drove the M, they really never became intuitive. The round multifunction dial, designed to control most of the electronic features (navigation, vehicle settings, audio, etc...), is up high on the dash, making it a stretch for tall drivers. Why not place it down where the transmission setting dial is located, on the console between the front seats? We'll never know.
Our other biggest gripe was the transmission, which will drive your average enthusiast mad. The seven-speed automatic seems to take whole seconds between gear shifts. When tooling along at 60 mph and a quick pass is required, a stab of the accelerator pedal causes the transmission to dawdle for precious moments before it shifts. By that time, we have our arms out the windows flapping our hands for more speed.
A sports sedan connoisseur will not enjoy the M37. But, don't let that dissuade you. This entry-level M isn't targeting enthusiasts. Instead, this sedan is configured for those who appreciate modern styling, cutting-edge technology, world-class luxury and enough sport to prevent embarrassment in a canyon. If that is your aspiration, this may be your ride.
Photos copyright ©2010 Michael Harley / AOL