Thumbs Up: Nimble, still relatively quick with the V-6
Thumbs Down: Optioned-out, price grows quickly
Buy This Car If: You’re looking for a sportier take on a Japanese luxury sedan
Japanese premium brand Infiniti built its business in the United States market by delivering luxury cars that still had a performance edge. If you wanted the best ride comfort, Lexus was more up your alley; if you wanted reasonable comfort with a generous side order of handling, Infiniti was where you shopped.
The original Infiniti M, launched in 1990, was a GT coupe based on the Japanese market Nissan Leopard. Meant as a stop-gap car, it rounded out a product line topped by the full-size Q45, and lasted only through 1992.
In 2003, Infiniti revived the M nameplate with the launch of the M45. As before, the car backed up the range-topping Q45, but the Q was a hard sell to the U.S. market. In 2005, Infiniti moved just 1,129 Q45s here, so the decision was made to drop the car after the 2006 model year. The M became the range-topping sedan for Infiniti, who offered the car in both V-6 and V-8 variants.
Though praised by reviewers, the third generation Infiniti M failed to grow the brand’s market share like Nissan had hoped. Many blamed this on the car’s utterly anonymous styling; after all, shouldn’t a halo car look as distinctive as it feels behind the wheel?
For the 2011 model year, Infiniti introduced an all new M-sedan, with an undeniable presence and improved performance. Since the M was now the star of the show, the car grew two inches in length (though not in wheelbase) and nearly two inches in width, giving it more interior room than the brand’s old flagship sedan, the Q45.
While the M carries off Infiniti’s current design language with understated elegance, there’s no denying the fact that its lines aren’t for everyone. We like the muscular haunches of the front fenders, and appreciate the way the character line sweeps back from the top of the front fenders, across the doors, before arcing upward again at the rear fenders. Even the greenhouse doesn’t use a conventional, flat-bottomed form, giving the car a very organic feel when viewed from the front.
In profile, however, the M is a stunner. We appreciate the attention to detail, like the dull brightwork around the daylight opening or the Hofmeister kink that looks to be an homage to BMW’s design instead of a copy. Even the ridge atop the side sills, at the door bottoms, looks good and adds to the M’s athletic lines. The easy way out would have been to stick a meaty chrome strip on the door lowers and call it done, so Infiniti deserves credit for not going this route.
From the rear, we see a bit of Mercedes-Benz E Class in the design, but that’s not a bad thing. Aside from a pair of chrome trim strips used to define the real estate reserved for the license plate, the rear is largely devoid of ornamentation. Sure, the chrome-tipped dual exhausts give up the car’s semi-sporting mission, but our M37 lacked the usual sport sedan farkles, such as a prominent deck lid spoiler and an aerodynamic rear diffuser. We say that’s a good thing, since the M’s primary mission is going fast, not looking fast.
Like all Infiniti models, even the interior carries off its own unique sense of style. The stitched instrument surround lends an upscale feel, as does the Japanese White Ash wood trim (included as part of the Deluxe Touring Package), and we’re fans of the way Nissan’s premium division blends colors, shapes and textures. As with the outside styling, the interior is best described as “elegant contemporary,” but it’s also supremely functional. We appreciate the car’s easily-accessible audio and climate controls, and we’ve already professed out love for Infiniti’s intuitive infotainment system in earlier reviews.
Instruments are standard Infiniti fare, familiar and functional. Despite the fact that Infiniti serves up a 180 mph speedometer, it’s still readable at the type of velocities most drivers travel on a daily basis. We like the watch bezel look of the speedometer and tachometer, which gives the otherwise ordinary instrument cluster a bit of style.
Front seats serve up a near-ideal blend of long-distance comfort and lateral support for spirited driving. There’s plenty of adjustability, and both driver and passenger get the benefit of adjustable lumbar support. While all M models get heated front seats, you’ll need to select the Premium Package if you want the four-season comfort of heated and cooled front seats.
Rear seats are also designed with day-long comfort in mind, and there’s ample head and leg room for all but the tallest passengers. Though rear seats don’t recline (or fold to accommodate oversized cargo), they’re angled comfortably and bolstered well enough to keep rear seaters in place on canyon roads. Second-row occupants don’t get the added benefit of heated or cooled seats, but they do get their own HVAC vents for comfort.
Under the stylish hood of the M37 sedan lurks a 3.7-liter V-6, good for 330 horsepower and 270 pound feet of torque. While the M37 isn’t quite up to the go-fast standards set by its M56 and M35h siblings, it still manages to return an acceptable performance. The run from 0 to 60 mph, for example, takes less than six seconds, but don’t expect fuel economy to be significantly better than the M56. In fact, the M37 returns 18 mpg city and 26 mpg highway, which is only 2 mpg better in the city and 1 mpg better on the highway than it’s V-8 stablemate. If you’re looking for performance and fuel economy, the M35h hybrid is your ride: it serves up a 0 – 60 mph run of 5.2 seconds (same as the M56) while delivering 27 mpg city and 32 mpg highway.
On the road, the M37 is far more agile than its sheer size would suggest. Thanks to a well-sorted suspension, the full size sedan changes direction with an eagerness usually associated with much smaller cars. Thanks in part to the optional Performance Wheel and Tire Package, grip in corners is tenacious, especially in light of the fact that the car wears all-season tires. There’s little body roll, and the steering feels properly weighted, which can inspire you to carry quite a bit of speed into corners. Push hard enough, and sensible understeer is the order of the day (at least until the car’s electro-nannies correct your errant ways). While the M56 may be faster, we also find it to be a bit nose-heavy, where the M37 feels more eager to be driven hard. It may be a tick slower, but somehow its more entertaining than its bigger brother.
Infiniti loaned us the 2013 M37 for the purpose of this review. Base price on the car was $49,095, including a delivery charge of $895, and options included the $3,050 Technology Package (Blind Spot Warning and Intervention, Lane Departure Warning and Prevention, Intelligent Cruise Control, Distance Control Assist, Intelligent Brake Assist with Forward Collision Warning, Front Pre-Crash Seatbelts, Active Trace Control, Eco Pedal, Adaptive Headlights); the $3,900 Deluxe Touring Package (Japanese White Ash trim, semi-aniline leather seating, Bose audio, Forest Air system, sueded headliner, double-stitched meter hood, power rear sunshade); the $4,200 Premium Package (hard drive based navigation, Infiniti voice recognition, NavTraffic and NavWeather, Zagat restaurant reviews, Infiniti Connection, rear sonar system, climate controlled front seats, heated steering wheel) and the $1,600 Performance Tire & Wheel Package (20-inch aluminum wheels, all season tires, sport brakes) for a total sticker price of $61,845.
For comparison, a similarly-equipped BMW 535i would sticker for $66,845, while a comparable Mercedes-Benz E350 Sport would price at $65,195.