Review and photos by
Haney Louka, CanadianDriver.com
Even though Nissan’s luxury division has long since dropped its flagship Q45 model, the spirit of the car that launched the Infiniti brand back in 1989 is still very much with us in the new M56S.
The original Q was a driver’s luxury car; a model that helped to establish Infiniti as a Japanese alternative to BMW. It was firm and responsive and lacked the luxury frou-frou that adorned the rival Lexus LS 400. It was also chock-full of technology for its day, although it would be embarrassed by many of today’s economy cars in that department.
So the original Q was a hit with me, but I was 15 at the time; hardly a member of Infiniti’s affluent target market. Buyers in the segment gravitated towards the more lux Lexus and the Q quickly faded into the background. Subsequent generations lost their focus as Infiniti tried to figure out what it would take to increase sales and brand recognition, but little could be done to save the Q.
Fortunately, as the final nails were being hammered into the Q’s coffin, the competent second-generation M35 and M45 sedans were making names for themselves as legitimate competitors to established mid-lux models like the Lexus GS and BMW 5 Series. They possessed the performance and luxury buyers in this segment wanted, with forgettable styling being perhaps the only major count against them.
Now a new generation of M greets us for 2011, with more of everything – performance, luxury, and technology – with styling that is sure to grab the attention of those who dismissed it last time around.
Starting at $52,400, the M37 is $3,100 less than the 2010 M35X, which included all-wheel drive as standard. Step up to the AWD M37X, and that starting price becomes $54,900, which is still a few hundred dollars less than the outgoing car, an impressive accomplishment considering how much more car the 37 represents.
While the M37’s 3.7-litre V6 gets a 27-horse bump over the outgoing 3.5-litre unit, the big news is found under the hood of our V8 tester: as its name suggests, the M56’s eight-pot mill now has a 1.1-litre advantage over its M45 predecessor and generates 420 hp and 417 lb.-ft. of torque, substantial gains of 95 horses and 81 lb-ft respectively.
The M56, at $66,200, comes with an exhaustive list of features, including 18-inch alloys, ten-speaker audio, a hard-drive based navigation system, heated and cooled front seats, heated steering wheel, xenon headlights, and leather upholstery.
Our tester was the $73,400 M56S which adds a brake upgrade, 20-inch wheels, four-wheel active steering, Bose surround audio system with 14 speakers (four of which flank the front seat headrests), sport seats, power adjustment for the tilt and telescoping wheel, shift paddles for the seven-speed automatic, adaptive front lighting, power rear sunshade, front distance control with collision warning, blind-spot intervention, and lane-departure prevention.
Both the blind-spot and lane-departure systems actively work to keep you in your lane by applying the brakes on the side of the car that’s opposite the direction of errant travel. For the blind spot system, it starts with a light mounted near the rear-view mirror. If the driver ignores this and signals to change lanes, an audible warning is activated. Intervention only engages if the driver begins to follow through with the lane change.
The lane-departure prevention system is made possible thanks to a windshield-mounted camera that is capable of identifying lane markings. If the car gets too close to the markings without the driver signalling a lane change, a warning will chime and the brakes on the opposite side subtly engage. I have to commend Infiniti on such practical application of technology to enhance safety on the road.
But what I’m not crazy about is the general feeling that the car is driving itself and simply looks to me to provide occasional input. It’s quite a contrast to have a car with such sporting potential (and intrinsic ability) feel like it’s trying to take away driver involvement.
On my first drive in the car I actually found that I was fighting to keep it going in a straight line. That’s partly due to the massive 245/40R20-inch tires that cause the car to dart on our rutted roads, but it’s also because the response from the four-wheel steering is somewhat exaggerated. The system turns the rear wheels slightly in the same direction as the fronts, causing an unnatural transition. I never thought I’d complain about too much steering response, but here we are. It just doesn’t settle down like a big car should.
I did get used to the system as the week wore on, and the steering quirks weren’t nearly as noticeable towards the end of my week-long drive. And that’s good news, because I found the rest of the car to be a complete pleasure.
With its curvaceous new exterior, the M is now challenging Audi for prettiest car in the mid-lux crowd; not surprising since the A6 is due for a 2012 refresh. But to these eyes, none of the others in its class comes close in the looks department. Some may make a case for the Benz E-Class or Jaguar XF, but for me the M’s looks are tops. Our tester’s Aspen Pearl paint did, however, prompt one naysayer to call me “gramps” as I got out of the car. I’m pretty sure he wasn’t looking at the 20-inch wheels when he made that remark.
Infiniti has furnished the M’s interior with design and materials befitting a luxury brand’s flagship model. The centre-mounted analog clock is an Infiniti trademark and successfully mimics a well crafted timepiece. The ambience is one of smooth leather, dark wood, and brushed metallic accents – the kind of place in which one loves to spend time.
Even though there is a central control knob to manipulate several on-screen functions, one can bypass this complexity and operate common climate and entertainment functions using more traditional and intuitive dash-mounted buttons, a boon when trying to learn the car’s controls quickly.
Despite its tendency to try and occasionally take over driving duties, I find the M56S to be an appealing entry in the mid-lux segment, combining plenty of creature comforts with genuine performance attitude and much of the original Q’s DNA.
Pricing: 2011 Infiniti M56S
Base price: $66,200
Options: $7,200 (20-inch wheels, four-wheel active steering, Bose surround audio system with 14 speakers, front sport seats, power tilt and telescoping wheel, shift paddles, adaptive front lighting, power rear sunshade, front distance control with collision warning, blind-spot intervention, lane-departure prevention)
A/C tax: $100
Price as tested: $73,500
Crash test results
Haney Louka is a Professional Engineer, a member of the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada, and a long time automotive enthusiast.