Review and photos by
Jil McIntosh, CanadianDriver.com
Over the last few years, Infiniti has been playing with its drawing pens in all the right places. Once stodgy and forgettable, the brand’s styling has morphed into strong yet organic lines. This all comes together in the redesigned 2011 M sedan, the company’s flagship line, a slippery, sinewy model that looks like it’s splitting the air when it moves.
My tester was the M56x, with a 5.6-litre V8 under its hood, and all-wheel drive powering its wheels. It’s a lovely car inside and out, but it suffers from a bit of an identity crisis, trying too hard to straddle the line between sporty and sedate. It’s not thrilling enough when tossed into the corners to be a sports sedan, at least not in the sense of what Audi or BMW sends out in the segment, and its harsh ride, the result of its sportiness, really isn’t what I would have expected in a luxury car. It’s still generally nice to drive overall, but Infiniti needs to determine exactly where to position this particular model.
The M56 starts at $66,200 in rear-wheel drive. My all-wheel tester started the cash register ringing at $68,700, while the range-topping M56 Sport model is $73,400. It’s also available as the M37, with 3.7-litre V6, in the same three configurations and running from $52,400 to $63,400.
My car was further optioned with the Deluxe Touring & Tech Package, at $5,100, which added a number of luxury features, including a Bose surround sound stereo, power rear sunshade, soft “semi-aniline” leather seats, and real wood trim infused with metal, which looks oddly fake, but is really pretty nevertheless. The “tech” part of the package adds several of Infiniti’s newest electronic features, some good, some annoying: intelligent cruise control, lane departure warning, lane departure prevention, blind spot warning, blind spot intervention, “Forest Air” conditioning and the new Eco Pedal.
The new 5.6-litre V8 replaces the previous 4.5-litre V8 found in the 2010 M45. That model made 325 horsepower and 336 lb-ft of torque; the new version is a considerable step up, to 420 horses and 417 lb-ft of torque. Various engine refinements, and a switch from a five-speed automatic to one with seven cogs, also results in better fuel economy. The M45 was rated at 15.1 L/100 km (19 mpg) in the city, and 10.2 (28) on the highway. In contrast, the M56 is tagged at 13.4 (21) and 8.5 (33). In combined driving, I averaged 11.5 L/100 km (25 mpg).
There are certainly no complaints about engine performance. The 5.6-litre V8, a version of which is also used in the new 2011 QX56, delivers smooth, linear power all the way up the throttle, and the seven-speed transmission shifts gears very smoothly, consistently keeping the engine in its sweet spot. There is a manual mode, but only at the shifter: steering wheel-mounted paddles are found solely on the Sport trim line. The steering is nicely weighted, but the car doesn’t dance around corners as a sports sedan should. While it never feels unsettled, it’s stodgy, which might partly be due to the extra 54 kilograms of weight that the all-wheel system adds. The ride is sports-car-firm, but there’s not enough agility to back it up. The electronic stability control is also too eager to show off what it can do, shutting me down far earlier than I would have expected on dry roads.
Overall, between that and my tester’s numerous nanny systems, the impression is that Infiniti has sent out a driver’s car that it doesn’t expect people to drive. I could see all of this on, say, a Nissan Versa, where the price point draws in many buyers who aren’t inclined toward the more spirited stuff, but if you’re going to send out a sports sedan, it should let me get sporty. We’ve seen the lane departure and blind spot warnings before, which only warn if I’m creeping over the centre line or unaware of another vehicle alongside. Now, the Touring & Tech Package adds separate prevention systems: if I don’t obey the warning and move back over, the car will partially brake the wheels on one side, nudging me back where I belong. The warning and prevention systems are independent of each other, so you can have warning only, warning and prevention, or everything off.
The Eco Pedal can be turned on in conjunction with Eco mode, accessed via a console-mounted dial that also includes snow and sport modes. (I don’t know how much fuel the Eco mode saves, but given how sluggish the car becomes, the pump payoff better be considerable.) If you’re driving too aggressively, the throttle pedal sends a message by pushing back against your foot. It feels as odd as it sounds, which is why I tried it a few times and then ended up shutting it off again. It is meant to just be a reminder, though, since it’s easy to press past the resistance if power is required, such as when passing.
What makes the firm ride seem out of place is the ultra-lux interior. Infiniti has been improving its cabins by leaps and bounds, and the M56x is a work of art. The twin-cockpit design wraps around driver and passenger, with the wood accents flowing from door to dash and back to door again. The quality of materials, and their fit and finish, are very high. The big centre stack would look more at home in an SUV than a car, but I’m not going to complain, because the big buttons are simple and easy to use. The company’s navigation systems are easier to use than most, and when I called out commands to find and take me to a specific address, the system figured it out the first time, without any need to repeat anything. I don’t know if it’s some long-lost accent I have or what, but very few voice-activated systems can do that without asking me to repeat myself at least once or twice.
There is one electronic device in the add-on package which I really like: the “Forest Air” system. When engaged, it automatically controls humidity and air quality. Once the cabin reaches the desired temperature, the “forest” part kicks in: the fan speed almost imperceptibly fluctuates, and randomly sends out a breeze through the vents. Perhaps it was just my imagination, but the interior felt much fresher than in other cars, and it’s a really nice feature.
The M56x is roomy both front and back; rear-seat passengers are in for a treat with this big sedan. There is a pass-through for the trunk, but the rear seats don’t fold down. The trunk is 99 cm long, and 142 cm across at its widest, but it’s triangular and tapers to only 70 cm wide near the rear seats.
So what to make of Infiniti’s top-line sedan? It’s beautiful, it’s comfortable, and it has one very sweet driveline under it all. I really wanted to love it, but after piloting it for a week, I could think of many other ways I’d spend almost $74,000, including moving down a notch to the exceptional Infiniti G37, with lots of money left over for gas. The M56x needs to be tuned one way or the other, for sport or for luxury. If it’s going to be on the sports side, then Infiniti has to trust us enough to let us drive it the way it’s meant to be driven, and loosen up the electronic babysitters a little. Rather than be all things to all drivers, it needs to target select ones, and then become the best it can be for them.
Pricing: 2011 Infiniti M56x
Base price: $68,700
Options: $5,100 (Deluxe Touring & Technology Package of Bose 5.1 surround sound system, 16 speakers, power rear sunshade, semi-aniline leather seats, genuine wood trim with metallic, intelligent cruise control, lane departure warning, lane departure prevention, blind spot warning, blind spot intervention, forest air conditioning and Eco Pedal)
A/C tax: $100
Price as tested: $75,790
Crash test results
Jil McIntosh is a freelance writer, a member of the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada (AJAC) and Assistant Editor for CanadianDriver.com. Her personal website can be found at http://www.JilMcIntosh.com