While the Infiniti “G” models, especially the coupe, are widely praised for their sporty attributes and fetching style, the “M” is largely ignored. Why the lack of interest? We put the Infiniti M under our microscope to find out why Nissan’s luxury flagship remains so neglected.
It may not quite look it, but the M is meant to match up against the luxury sport sedan juggernauts produced by BMW (5-Series) and Mercedes-Benz (E-class). If you are surprised by that statement, you will probably be downright shocked to know that it stacks up competitively. Durability is a major plus for the M, with a reputation in the auto world of being truly a no-hassle, no repair, alternative to the Bavarians. The M comes as either a six-cylinder M35, or as the M45, with an eight-cylinder engine. Both are available in either rear or all-wheel drive.
All M35s come with a 3.5-liter V6 that produces 303 horsepower and 262 pound-feet of torque. In rear-wheel-drive form, the M35 gets a seven-speed automatic transmission with manual shift control and downshift rev-matching, while the all-wheel drive M35x has a five-speed automatic. One strong point for the M is an advanced suspension design that is firmer and more responsive than the car’s lukewarm exterior may exude. As a byproduct, motoring around town can feel a bit harsher than you may expect from a luxury car. This is even more noticeable on the highway with a significant amount of engine and road noise. To phrase it positively, we’ll describe these “flaws” as allowing the driver to be “in tune” with the road, rather than shielded from it. All M45 models make use of a 4.5-liter V8 that provides 325 horsepower and 336 pound-feet of torque in both versions. The M45’s five-speed automatic transmission has manual shift control and like the M35, a sporty rev-matching feature.
Rear-drive M45s impressively accelerate from 0-60 mph in just 6.0 seconds. The decision as to which power plant to opt for is made more difficult not only because of the similarities in horsepower, but the nominal fuel economy gains of the six-cylinder. If we had a choice, we’d go ahead and opt for the V8, if only because it manages highway speeds with a softer tone. Standard safety items include a Traction Control, Vehicle Dynamic Control and four-wheel anti-lock brakes with brake assist. Infiniti provides six airbags on the M, including front-side airbags and full-length head curtains. A lane departure warning system helps to keep the car in its lane. While most rivals offer a system that alerts the driver when the car is leaving its lane, Infiniti’s device can actually vary the speed of each wheel to make slight steering adjustments that help keep the car in its lane.
The V6 M35 doesn’t save much at the pump when compared to its larger engine sibling. EPA estimates for the M35 are 16 mpg in the city and 22 on the highway. The M45 gets the same 16 in the city and just one mpg less in highway driving.
Saying something isn’t attractive is different than saying it is ugly. M models are not strikingly pretty, but they aren’t ugly either. Instead they reside in the gray area of clearly being put together well, but mostly unnoticeable. Saying that, we feel hypocritical in saying that as we think the G class sedan and coupe are quite attractive. So why is the M shunned when it bears such a strong familial resemblance to the G? Who knows. It just doesn’t pull it off. Perhaps it is because our expectations are that as the flagship it be a more imposing presence. In that way, potential M buyers must decide if the nominal space increase of the M is worth the added jump in price. The M35 and M45 are indistinguishable from the outside except for rear badging.
Inside, the interior is well appointed and well built, with firm seats that are highly adjustable, comfortable and heavily bolstered. Like the outside, it isn’t quite as opulently designed as some of its rivals. Like it or not, it distinguishes itself from the competition with a more modern aesthetic that emphasizes smooth surfaces and a cockpit feel than the wood and cushy leather of the traditional European luxury car.
The typical appointments you’d expect are present including leather upholstery, heated and cooled seats, with optional packages that add things like navigation, a console-mounted DVD player, adaptive cruise control, reclining/heated rear seats and 14-speaker Bose surround-sound audio. Infiniti doesn’t offer a single user-interface that controls entertainment, climate and navigation systems like Mercedes’ COMAND or Audi’s MMI system. Instead, each system has separate controls, which annoys those who like single-interface systems. But certainly there are as many who feel interface systems are an equally frustrating hassle.
The 2009 M’s trunk is fairly large among the luxury sedan crowd with 14.9 cubic feet able to accomodate cargo. The rear seats, unfortunately, do not fold down.
Base rear-wheel drive M35 models start at just under $46,000 and move up to $48-grand for all-wheel drive. To get into a V8-version will cost around $52,000 with another $2,500 for all-wheel drive. While it is only a small time player now, if Infiniti ever decided to revamp the M’s styling to reflect its performance potential, it would take a serious bite out of the luxury market.