Review and photos by
Bob McHugh, CanadianDriver.com
Infiniti, the luxury division of Nissan, pulled the wraps off the 2011 edition of its flagship M series sedan earlier this year. It comes in both rear-drive and all-wheel drive versions and has been completely redesigned inside and out, with very attractive long and slinky exterior styling lines.
The M was designed around an idea called “organic body glove,” according to Ian Forsyth, director of product and corporate planning at Nissan Canada. “We wanted to build a vehicle that’s adaptive to the environment, different road types, different styles of driving and fits so well that it becomes an extension of the driver,” he said.
Since Infiniti abandoned its Q series, the M has become the flagship sedan of the luxury division. Under the hood, there’s now a choice of V6 and V8 engines; both have small increases in displacement and substantial increases in power. Yet, because of new technology advances, the new M consumes even less fuel, despite the power improvement.
Infiniti Drive is a new feature that allows the driver to choose between Normal, Sport, Eco and Snow driving modes, via a rotary dial on the centre console. Each mode adjusts throttle sensitivity and transmission mapping, to help optimize performance and/or fuel economy. Green and yellow lights on the instrument panel provide additional feedback on driving efficiency while in the Eco mode. The system also provides physical feedback through the gas pedal, giving a slight pushback when driven inefficiently.
A new start price of $52,400, for the rear-drive M37 with a 3.7-litre V6, is $3,100 less than the 2010 model. The new rear-drive M56, with a 5.6-litre V8, sells for $66,200, which is $3,350 less than the 2010 version of the V8 powered M. All-wheel drive adds $2,500 to the cost of an M, which then becomes the M37x or M56x. There are optional Premium ($3,800), Touring (Premium plus $5,100 — AWD only) and Sport (Premium plus $7,200 — RWD only) packages; a fully loaded M56x tops out at $73,800.
The increased power and torque offered by both engines comes from the use of continuously variable valve timing technology on both the intake and the exhaust valve systems. New variable valve event and lift (VVEL) technology has also been applied to the intake valves on both the V6 and V8 engines. In addition, the V8 engine now comes with direct fuel injection. The changes push V6 power up nine per cent to 330 horsepower, while V8 power is up almost 30 per cent to 420 horsepower and torque is increased 24 per cent to 417 lb-ft. Surprisingly, fuel consumption is lower by 1.7 L/100 km on the highway (M56x) and 0.8 L/100 km on the highway (M37x). Both engines are mated to a new seven-speed automatic transmission; it has manual mode operation and steering wheel paddle shifters are available.
New standard features, in addition to Infiniti Drive, are power-folding side-view mirrors, front door handle courtesy lights, active noise control and a rear-view monitor, plus enhancements to the Intelligent Key memory (which now includes audio, navigation and climate control settings).
The new M is a launch pad for an interesting collection of new technologies. There’s an active warning system called Blind Spot Intervention; in addition to alerting a driver to a vehicle in its blind-spot zone, selective brake intervention is used to help safely direct the M back into its lane of travel. A “Forest Air” system reduces unpleasant odours entering the cabin and provides a breeze-like airflow. Sensors automatically open and close air intake ports to reduce the intrusion of dust, other vehicle exhaust or unpleasant odours into the cabin. It uses filters and an air purifier to help remove allergens, mould and viruses in the air and it includes humidity control feature.
A special Sport Package is offered on the rear-wheel drive models, and the Touring Package includes a Bose Studio Surround sound system with digital 5.1-channel decoding and 16 speakers.
Lower and wider, the new M has a long hood and short rear deck, which give it a high-powered profile that’s in tune with its longitudinal rear-drive powertrain. The M showcases Infiniti’s new design language and it’s a significant departure from the nice but simple styling lines of the outgoing model. It features a more fluid look with a lower belt line, a wavelike front, and sculpted fenders that wrap around big wheels, which range from 18 to 20 inches in diameter. The new M has a lower and more aggressive stance, with a wider track (38-mm front, 25-mm rear) and a 76-mm reduction in height. Its wheelbase remains the same, but the overall length is up, making it larger than key rivals.
In addition to the multitude of new features, Infiniti has raised the quality level of materials used and pays even greater attention to user-friendly details. Particularly impressive is way the audio and HVAC system controls have been integrated into its beautifully crafted and stylish dash design. The M’s seating is generous, comfortable and supportive. Rear seat room and trunk space is better than most in this class. Overall, it’s a spacious, classy and relaxing environment to spend time in.
The M has a number of innovative technologies designed to help a driver avoid dangerous situations. In addition to the already mentioned blind-spot systems, they include Lane Departure Warning (LDW) and Lane Departure Prevention (LDP) systems. The LDW and LDP systems use a camera behind the windshield to detect lane markers in front of the vehicle. If the driver crosses the line, but does not heed the warning and return the vehicle back toward the centre of the lane of travel, the LDP system will actively assist the driver with a gentle application of the brakes. Other available safety features include Intelligent Brake Assist (IBA) with Forward Collision Warning (FCW), Front Pre-Crash Seat Belts and Active Tracing Control, which adjusts engine torque and the control of braking at each of the four wheels helps enhance cornering performance.
My test car was the M37x, which is the V6 version with all-wheel-drive. There’s a minor fuel-consumption penalty with the all-wheel drive system. Its seamless operation was imperceptible on the dry road conditions experienced during my time with the M37x, yet it’s a good feature to have in a Canadian winter.
The 330-horsepower V6 has more than ample power and torque for most users. It’s a little noisy during its warm-up period when started cold, but only noticeable with the windows open. Other than that, it’s a sweet engine that makes nice sounds when pushed to its higher limits. The technology parade was a bit daunting at first, but you learn to live with and love most of them. The lane-departure system I found to be the most intrusive, particularly when driving on a winding country road with good sightlines. That said, there’s an “off” button for those times when you might want to intentionally wander close to or over the line.
Being able to select driving modes using the Infiniti Drive feature is a clever feature. The change from Normal to Sport is subtle yet effective. In the Eco mode the gas pedal push-back felt a little strange at first, but you can push through it if you need to get by something in hurry.
Stylish and sophisticated, the all-new Infiniti M37x is a comfortable and easy-to-drive premium luxury sedan with a bevy of new advanced technologies.
Pricing: 2011 Infiniti M37x
Base price: $54,900
Options: $8,900 (Premium Package of hard-drive navigation system, voice recognition, Bose premium audio, 9.3GB Music Box hard drive, Bluetooth streaming, climate-controlled front seats and heated steering wheel, $3,800; Touring and Technology Package of premium Bose surround-sound audio, adaptive front lighting, intelligent cruise control, lane departure warning, lane departure prevention, distance control assist, intelligent brake assist with forward collision warning, blind spot intervention system, active tracing control, Eco pedal, Forest Air system, power rear sunshade, premium leather upholstery, genuine wood accents, suede-like headliner, premium soft-touch materials and premium stitched meter hood, $5,100)
A/C tax: $100
Price as tested: $65,790
Crash test results
Bob McHugh is a British Columbia-based freelance automotive journalist. He is a member of the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada (AJAC).