It was 2002 when I decided to branch off from my corporate position in the auto industry and inaugurate Automotive Rhythms. At that point I had accumulated five years of experience in the business and was ready to embrace the world of automotive journalism on my own. On the other side of town, Infiniti had just launched an all-new product, the Infiniti M45, which was to be a BMW 5 Series, Audi A6 and Mercedes-Benz E-Class spoiler. The new-to-the-scene four door sports sedan had caught a little buzz and was the talk of the town. Rightfully so, I made a request that would enhance my respect for the Infiniti brand and the M for some time to come.
The long, powerful and angular silhouette of the M45 along with its 4.5-liter V8 and 340 horsepower made this Japanese neophyte a worthy competitor to the much pricier German troops. So we requested a long-term 2003 model which was awarded to Automotive Rhythms for three months. That period, along with a subsequent one-year loan with the second generation M45 showcased Infiniti’s uncanny ability to engineer a superb sports sedan. And with the demise of the flagship Q45 in 2006, Infiniti had no choice but to ascertain the M45 would carry the brand like Drew Breeze in the Super Bowl. With a landslide vote, the M45 became Automotive Rhythms’ first recipient for “Car of the Year.”
Now in its third iteration, the 2011 M will debut as either a rear-wheel drive or an all-wheel drive M37 — M37x for all-wheel drive versions; or M56 (M56x = AWD) whereas the alphanumeric naming convention denotes the size of the engine. The $46,250 M37 and $48,400 M37x receive a very stout 3.7-liter V6 with 330-horsepower while the $57,550 M56 and $60,050 M56x are supplied with a prodigious 5.6-liter V8 with 420-horspower. New engineering technologies add better breathing to both engines while the V8, in addition, receives direct injection. The powerplants feature more power, they are cleaner, and the added fuel efficiency clearly make these better than previous generation engines. This was felt right off the bat during our first drive in San Diego where we operated from the U.S. Olympic Training Center which develops U.S. athletes. “It’s an impressive feat of engineering to not only gain 95 horsepower and 81 pound-feet of torque while also improving fuel efficiency by up to four mpg for the new V8,” said Ben Poore, vice president, Infiniti Business Unit. “Most of all, however, we think buyers will be impressed by the smooth, responsive performance of both the new V6 and V8.”
Infiniti has always maintained a successful formula for pumping out magnificent horsepower numbers. A 7-speed automatic transmission with manual intervention comes standard on both engines. Huge magnesium butterfly paddle shifters are mounted on the steering column when your vehicle is equipped with the Sports Package. Yet, I prefer my paddles/shifters to rotate with the steering wheel.
To compliment your M37 or M56 with comfort and sophistication, five additional option packages are available with the first being the $3,350 Premium Package; standard on the M56 and optional on the M37. Then you have the $3,800 Deluxe Touring Package; the $3,000 Technology Package; the $3,650 Sport Package, and the $2,000 Sport Touring Package. Keep in mind however, neither two of the Sport options are available on the AWD x models. The Premium Package will give you the majority basics needed for today’s commute including an 8″ touch-screen navigation system with XM Traffic and Weather, a 9.3 gig hard drive for music storage, Bluetooth streaming audio and a 10-speaker Bose audio system. Add the Sports Package if you want the assertive 20″ rims, sports suspension and brakes and the new 4-Wheel Active Steer which allows tighter cornering at low speeds and stability at higher speeds. If sound reproduction is on your wish list then include Deluxe Touring which steps you up to the 5.1 channel, 16-speaker Bose surround system. I spent some time with this system playing everything from hip-hop to classical. Impressive is an understatement.
Infiniti has taken a page from its own history to establish the current M’s true positioning in the sports sedan market. Power, style, and technology is what will keep you in contention with 5 Series, E-Class and A6. New to the M is Infiniti Drive Mode Selector which allows drivers to engage the vehicle in either Standard, Eco, Sport or Snow depending on road conditions. The transmission and throttle are adjusted accordingly. Lane Departure Prevention and Blind Spot Intervention help keep drivers alert and compensate for unintended lane changing by applying brake pressure to ease the vehicle back into its lane.
The M cabin is very warm and intelligent. Infiniti states each interior has been articulated with the skills of Japanese craftsmen. They spent a lot of time looking at materials, and landed with the genuine Japanese ash wood and soft-touch leathers. Navigation mapping is one of the most advanced I’ve seen yet in a 2011 model. I’m still unsure of the center stack configuration and its multitude of controls and tabs. I need more time with it to determine if it’s as equivalent to BMW’s iDrive or Audi’s MMI.
Design, performance and technology is what defines the new M. It’s lower and wider and stands more aggressively. It’s infused with enough engineering to practically drive itself. Is it 2020 yet? The new M is light years ahead of the game.