Nissan's upscale Infiniti division lacks the status of an Acura, BMW, Mercedes-Benz or Lexus, but the Infiniti M sports/luxury sedan is a solid alternative to those top foreign sports/luxury sedans.
More folks are discovering that fact, considering that sales of the athletic-looking M were up in the first nine months this year. The M deftly splits the difference between the softer Lexus and harder-edged BMW.
Car and Driver's November issue compares the BMW 5-Series, Mercedes E-Class and Lexus GS sedans with the Infiniti M45 Sport. It concludes that the Infiniti is the winner, calling it the "best buy of the bunch." Road & Track awarded first place to the 2006 M45 Sport after testing it against BMW 5-Series and Lexus GS for its June 2005 issue.
The revamped, rigidly built M arrived in early 2005 as a second-generation 2006 model. It shares its basic design with the Infiniti G35, but it is larger, costlier and more powerful. All Ms have standard leather upholstery, sunroof, power tilt/telescopic steering wheel and keyless ignition -- you just push a button to start or stop the engine.
With a redesign for 2006, no major changes are made for the 2007 M. But the latest M has realigned option packages and more standard equipment, including a 10-way front power passenger seat and climate control seats on various trim levels.
Pricing of the optional Technology Package, which contains a navigation system and rearview monitor, has been cut $1,250 to $2,950. And a new $2,500 Advanced Technology Package includes a Bose Studio Surround sound system with 14 speakers and XM or Sirius satellite radio. It also has a rather gimmicky lane departure warning system with a chirping warning sound that (thankfully) can be switched off.
Wheels continue to be more of an integral part of a car's design, so the 2007 M has a new $990 18-inch wheel design with a diamond cut finish -- although that wheel isn't offered for the slightly more serious Sport versions of the M.
The base M is the M35. It has a strong 3.5-liter, 275-horsepower V-6 and rear- or all-wheel drive. List M35 prices go from $41,450 to $44,550.
The top-line M45 has a 325-horsepower V-8 and only rear-drive. The base trim level costs $49,100 and the price is $50,550 for the M45 Sport, which has features including a revised suspension and 19-inch (versus 18-inch) alloy wheels.
The M35 or M45 aren't cheap but are loaded with comfort and convenience equipment found on luxury models. Safety items include traction/anti-skid control, anti-lock brakes and front side and curtain side air bags.
The Sport versions get an exclusive Rear Active Steer system, which automatically steers the rear wheels slightly to aid handling.
The $44,250 M35 Sport is a good alternative to the costlier M45 Sport. It lacks the V-8's power, but also has 19-inch wheels and a revised suspension. It does 0-60 mph in 6.3 seconds and can hit 96 mph in the quarter-mile run.
The M45 Sport races to 60 mph in 5.3 seconds and finishes the quarter mile at 101 mph, but how fast can you really go in today's congested traffic?
The sleek M looks good with either engine, and a $1,590 aerodynamic body kit on an M45 Sport I tested made the car look especially racy with such items as front/rear lower fascias, body side sills and a rear spoiler.
The V-6 provides an estimated 18 mpg in the city and 25 on highways with rear-drive and 17 and 24 with all-wheel drive. The V-8 provides 17 and 23. Infiniti recommends premium fuel for the M35 and requires it for the M45.
Both highly sophisticated engines work with a responsive five-speed automatic transmission with an easily used manual shift feature.
The M is a big, heavy car that is quick on its feet. Steering is precise, although some might feel it's a little heavy (better that than overly light). The ride is supple, but is most comfortable with the non-Sport versions. All M trim levels exhibit confident handling with little body lean when taking curves. Stopping power is impressive, although brake pedal action is rather soft.
The M easily seats four tall adults, with an especially roomy rear-seat area. However, the back seat could use a longer cushion for better thigh support, and the center of that seat is too hard for comfort. A wide pull-down armrest with covered cupholders is best used for the center position.
Wide doors with large handles allow easy entry to the church-quiet, upscale interior, and all doors have substantial inside pull handles so occupants can easily close them.
Front bucket seats are very supportive for spirited driving. Gauges are easily read at night, but should be more legible in bright sunlight. Secondary controls are on an odd inclined plane near the top of the center dashboard, but are clearly marked and have a precise feel. The navigation system is fairly easy to operate, but it's hard to halt the front power windows in an intermediate position when they're shooting down or up.
The big trunk has a high opening, but its somewhat short opening can impede cargo loading. The lid pops well up and out of the way and has an easily used pull-down handle to prevent hands from getting dirty on its outside metal.
The engine compartment has one of the largest plastic covers I've seen, and makes it seem as if Infiniti doesn't want anyone opening the hood to do anything but check the engine oil level.
The M is a no-excuses player in the sports/luxury sedan field, and its price advantage is icing on the cake.
2007 INFINITI M
LIKES: Rivals top sports/luxury sedans. Luxurious. Available all-wheel drive. More features.
DISLIKES: Angled dashboard controls. High trunk opening. Rather heavy steering.