Thumbs Up: Comfortable, roomy and fast
Thumbs Down: Intrusive stability control, excessive tire noise
Buy This Car If: You really like the Infiniti marque, and need a bigger, faster sedan than the G37.
The Infiniti M56 is a comfortable and fast family sedan, that demonstrates surprising agility when the road gets twisty. The ten speaker Bose audio system flat-out rocks, regardless of the type of music you’re into, and the Infiniti navigation system is the hands-down best in the industry. There’s plenty of luxury in the M56, including climate controlled front seats, leather upholstery and Japanese Ash trim, and the Infiniti Drive Mode Selector allows the driver to choose between four distinct power settings, to accommodate any driving condition. By any standard, the Infiniti M56 Sport is a superb automobile; it’s only flaw is that it’s up against some heady competition.
More on that later, but first let’s talk about the car’s strong points. Introduced in 2011, the M56 replaced the M45 in Infiniti’s lineup. The biggest change is the addition of horsepower, with the new 5.6 liter V8 replacing the outgoing 4.5 liter V8. The net result is an increase of 95 horsepower and 81 foot pounds of torque, which makes a huge difference in performance. Styling is all new for 2011, and continues Infiniti’s rounded contour, muscular flank design. Infiniti says it’s based on shapes occurring in nature, but whatever the influence I find the design to be clean and attractive. Love it or hate it, you have to admit it’s distinctive and stands out in a crowd.
Climb inside, and the first thing you’ll notice is the ventilated leather, climate controlled seats. Substantially wider than the seats in the Infiniti G37, the M56 buckets are designed with an emphasis on comfort, not lateral support in corners. They’re still bolstered and more than good enough for enthusiastic street driving, but they don’t offer the same grip as the sport seats in the G37. Both driver and passenger seats are power adjustable and both feature varying lumbar support, so long road trips are enjoyable for both driver and passenger. Given the copious amount of rear head and leg room, rear seat passengers won’t be complaining, either. Somehow, the M56 feels like a big car on the inside, but never feels portly behind the wheel.
Glance at the dash and the rest of the interior, and you’ll find an eye-pleasing blend of tones and textures. A soft touch black plastic is used atop the dash to reduce glare, while the interior’s tan color is picked up in the lower half of the dash. Aluminum accents are used on the doors and in the center console, and they offset the dark Japanese Ash wood trim nicely. Grab the sculpted, leather wrapped steering wheel and you begin to appreciate how much thought went into Infiniti’s interior design. The wheel is well shaped for spirited driving, and controls for audio, cruise and phone are ideally placed and easy to learn. The paddle shifters, part of the Sport package, are well marked with + and – icons, so even new drivers won’t have to guess on which paddles produces a downshift. To the right of the steering wheel, Infiniti’s nav system (have I mentioned that it’s the best in the industry?) sits in a recessed well atop the dash. Buttons for the climate control and audio duplicate on-screen functions of the infotainment system, which makes learning how to use the systems far less cumbersome. The Infiniti Controller, which can be used to adjust climate, map, audio or vehicle information settings, remains my personal favorite driver / infotainment system interface.
Instruments are an aesthetic marvel. Both the speedometer and tachometer feature textured backgrounds and knurled bezels, giving them the appearance of an expensive wristwatch. Primary numbers on both instruments are softly illuminated, making them easy to read at a glance. The instrument cluster also contains coolant temperature and fuel gauges, and the tachometer and speedometer are split by an LCD information display that shows driver selected vehicle data and current gear setting (particularly useful when rowing your own gears with the paddle shifters).
Press the start button, and the 420 horsepower, 5.6 liter V8 instantly comes to life. Next, choose from one of four driving modes that modify the engine’s throttle response and the transmission’s shift points. ‘Snow’ is self explanatory, and is meant to be used when traction is compromised. ‘Eco’ limits throttle opening and short shifts the seven speed transmission to optimize fuel mileage. ‘Standard’ offers a reasonable blend of performance and fuel economy, and will probably be the default mode for the majority of drivers. Finally, ‘Sport’ allows the driver to unleash the acceleration potential of the car, as the engineers intended. It’s no secret that I spent the majority of my time behind the wheel in ‘Sport’ mode, as I much preferred the instantaneous throttle response and elevated shift points it gave me. Zero to sixty, in sport mode, come up in just under five seconds, yet I was able to achieve 19 mpg in my mix of city and highway driving. The EPA rates the M56 at 16 city, 25 highway, and my own mileage seems to back that up well.
On the road, the M56 feels like a much smaller, more nimble car. Even at speed, turn in is surprisingly quick, and the car presents less understeer than you’d expect when driven hard. The M56 equipped with the Sport package, like my tester, incorporates Infiniti’s 4-Wheel Active Steer system, which allows limited steering of the rear wheels to enhance steering response. Coupled with the Sport package’s retuned suspension, it gave the car a neutral, balanced feel without compromising ride quality. Brakes were also very good, although the Nissan R Spec high friction brake pads do take some getting used to. Like the early semi-metallic brake pads, the R Spec pads have different grip levels cold and warm, which makes the brakes harder to modulate as the pads warm up. Even cold, they provided excellent stopping distances, but I’d prefer a bit more consistent brake feel.
Only two things stood out as negatives during my time behind the wheel: tire noise was excessive for a luxury flagship car, even one with sporting intentions, and the traction control is far too intrusive. Like BMW’s Dynamic Stability Control, Infiniti’s Vehicle Dynamic Control cuts engine power and brakes the slipping wheel when traction is lost. This may be a good thing under certain circumstances (sliding on ice, for example), but it makes brisk acceleration a challenge in all but a perfectly straight line on dry pavement. Unlike BMW’s DSC, the Infiniti VDC can’t be completely deactivated, which would limit the M56’s appeal to serious driving enthusiasts.
My 2011 Infiniti M56 Sport had a sticker price of $58,415, including destination charge. Options on my tester included the $2,000 Sport Touring Package (Bose Premium Audio, Forest Air System, Power Rear Sunshade), the $195 Trunk Set (Trunk Mat, Trunk Net, First Aid Kit), the $350 Illuminated Kick Plates, the $3,650 Sport Package (20” Wheels, Sport Front Fascia, Sport Suspension, 4-Wheel Active Steer, Sport Brakes, Paddle Shifters, Sport Seats, Sport Steering Wheel) and the $370 R-Spec High Friction Brake Pads. Total sticker came to $64,980, which puts the Infiniti M56 on the same level as some serious competitors. A comparably equipped Mercedes-Benz E550, for example is $65,675, while a comparably equipped BMW 550i will run $69,225.
And that may be the only real flaw with the Infiniti M56. It’s a very capable and comfortable car, but at the same price as a well equipped Mercedes Benz E550, most buyers will opt for the Benz. Even the BMW is in the same price range, and let’s not forget about the Cadillac CTS-V, which also prices out in the mid sixties. With so many excellent sport sedans to choose from, the Infiniti just doesn’t do enough to stand out from the rest of the herd. That’s a shame, because the M56 really is a noteworthy car.