2012 Infiniti M56 Expert Review:Autoblog
What is an Infiniti? That's a pretty harsh question to be asking 20 years after the brand's debut, but sadly, it's pertinent. To be fair, the possible answers to this question got much narrower in 2003 when Infiniti introduced a legitimate BMW 3 Series competitor, the G35 (now G37). The situation further clarified that same year when the "Bionic Cheetah," known to the rest of us as the FX showed its (then) quite handsome face. But it was the 2005 introduction of the second generation M sedan that announced most loudly Infiniti's luxury-performance aspirations: to kick BMW in the back of the pants.
When it debuted, the M (specifically M45S) was a better sporting sedan than the BMW 545i. It had more power, it arguably handled better, and the heavily larded-on high-tech gizmos were worlds more user-friendly than BMW's first-generation iDrive (two minutes to tune in a radio station sucks). Only problem was father time, who simply wasn't kind to the ultimately frumpy looking M. While the rest of the world's sporting, mid-size sedans evolved into better, sharper, faster machines (see the astonishingly good Mercedes-Benz E-Class), the Infiniti M languished on the vine. A good car? Yes, for sure, but by its less-than-notable refresh in 2008, the M had became an also-ran. All it really had going for it was a lower price than the competition, which isn't exactly a strong selling point in such a cachet-conscious segment.
Recently, Infiniti invited the U.S. motoring press down to mostly-sunny San Diego to meet and drive its new 2011 M cars. Lo and behold, we think we may now know what an Infiniti is.
Photos by Jonny Lieberman / Copyright ©2010 Weblogs, Inc.
From the outside, there's little question Infiniti has stepped up the M's game in a major way. Drawing swoopy inspiration from the Essence concept, the new M is lower, wider and just a smidgen longer. Infiniti hammered home the point that the new car is the first Infiniti product to sport Essence-derived lines, but by no means will it be the last. They showed us a few pictures of the new QX56, and while we sadly can't share them with you, please take our word for it that the new QX is world's better looking than the frankly obscene old version.
Back to the M. The 2011 model looks unabashedly Japanese from its organic curves to its low-slung stance, and is a welcome return to the avant-garde sedan gauntlet thrown down by the original Q45 two decades prior. We find the heavy-looking, overly wrought grille to be a little much, but at least it's distinctive. The car's best side is either the right or the left. We love the long front doors, the relatively short (but still plenty big) rear doors and the rising, falling and then rising again belt line that terminates into a truncated-looking trunk. Squint hard enough and you can see what the Porsche Panamera should have looked like. The stance is just about perfect, the only flaw being that the 20-inch wheels somehow look slightly undersized. Go figure. The big picture is that with the exception of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle-lookin' FX, Infinitis are fairly anonymous. The 2011 M changes that.
Inside is an evolution of what we've come to expect from Infiniti. Not a lot of bling or wow, but solidly business class, clean and arguably luxurious. In the negative column is button creep. For better or for worse, the new M lacks its German rivals all-in-one controller pucks (iDrive, COMMAND, MMI) and instead chooses to mimic Lexus by covering nearly every non-wooden surface in the cabin with a button. Including the starter, we counted 55.
On the good side are large patches of leather covering the instrument binnacle and acting as driver and passenger center-tunnel knee bolsters, the latter being key for when you're banging the car around a back road. Speaking of carving out corners, the leather-wrapped steering wheel is nice and chunky, though perhaps a touch too wide in diameter. We're also happy that Infiniti upgraded the nav screen (now eight inches) as the old, illegible, tiny screen was the previous car's sorest spot.
Like the third-generation Q45, Infiniti will put some really nice wood into the new M if you opt for it (side note: there were internal rumblings concerning an all-new Q flagship, but the 2009 economic tsunami nipped 'em in the bud). In the case of our photo subject, you're looking at silver-impregnated, sunburst white ash (part of the Deluxe Touring Package). While that particular wood is very nice, some of the plastics and rubbery compounds used elsewhere in the cabin aren't. For instance, there's a long strip of aluminum-look plastic inlaid into the fancy pants wood that kinda screams "Not quite."
Back to all those buttons. The new M, like the old M, is simply dripping with technology. We'd need an Infiniti M-sized owners manual worth of space to explain them all. Instead, we'll cover our favorites. Forest Air is Infiniti's attempt to make air conditioning luxurious once more. Essentially, Forest Air (depicted by a button covered with trees) oscillates the speed of the air coming out of the vents. It's supposed to mimic a fresh breeze and therefor be more refreshing. While Forest Air sounds absolutely gimmicky, we really enjoyed it in practice.
Next, we've got Active Trace Technology, also known as ACT. Like a lot of new automotive technologies coming on line these days, ACT is yet another way to utilize the ABS. For you racing types, think of it as automatic trail braking. For the rest of you, ACT selectively unbrakes certain wheels depending on the angle of the steering wheel. In theory this allows you to transition out of corners faster and more smoothly. In practice, when you're in Sport mode (and we were absolutely in Sport mode), the level of ACT interference fades into the background. It mind sound a bit spooky, but like the other new M technologies we're about to mention, you can turn it completely off by fiddling around in the nav system.
Y'all ready for this one? Blind Spot Intervention (BSI). When another vehicle is detected in either of the M's rear corners, a yellow light illuminates on the A pillar as a warning. Nothing new there. However, should you then decide to steer into said obstacle – let's say you're trying to change lanes to the left – both right-side brakes are gently applied. Actually, forget gently. If you really cut the wheel, the brakes come on rather hard. The result is that you are pulled back into your previous trajectory. Though Infiniti assured us that if you really do want to smash into the car next to you, you can muscle your way through BSI. Obviously, we were extraordinarily skeptical of this (or any such) driver interference technology. But, we tried it out, and we're here to tell you that it works as advertised.
The 2011 M also can be equipped with Lane Departure Prevention (LDP), an evolution of the previous car's Lane Departure Warning, a technology that's carried over to the new car. LDP works exactly like BSI, only instead of reacting to a car in your blind spot, LDP reads the stripes on the road and oppo-brakes the wheels to keep you in line. This one we didn't like so much, but we can see its usefulness.
There's also Intelligent Brake Assist (IBS), which uses the radar cruise control system to detect an obstacle in front of the car and then gently moves the accelerator pedal up against your foot. Again, it's sounds frightful, but in the real world it works well, essentially nudging your foot from the gas to the brake. It's more of a recommendation than an actual intervention (it really is a gentle push as opposed to a vicious shove) and is probably best used in stop-and-go traffic. Like all that we've discussed, if you don't like it, switch it off. Being even more fair to Infiniti, the new M ships with all the driver intervention tech in the off position, requiring you to turn it on in the first place.
The 2011 M comes in two main flavors, the M37 and the M56. The M37 (finally) gets Nissan's righteously good VQ37 3.7-liter V6 that's been in use for some time in the G37 and Nissan 370Z. For M duty, the VQ is tuned to 330 horsepower at 7,000 rpm and 270 pound-feet of torque at 5,200 rpm. The big news is what's lying in wait under the hood of the M56 – a 5.6-liter direct-injected V8 that produces 420 hp at 6,000 rpm and a brutal 417 lb-ft of torque at 4,400 rpm. Both engines are mated to Nissan's seven-speed automatic transmission that features rev-matched downshifts. If you opt for the Sport Package on either car, you also get proper column-mounted, leather-covered aluminum shift paddles.
For the purpose of this review, we're talking about cars equipped with said Sport Package that include bigger brakes and calipers front and rear, 4-Wheel Active Steering, upgraded springs and shocks, more highly bolstered seats, 245/40/20 summer tires and a big fat red S on the trunk lid. Caveat emptor: The Sport packs aren't cheap. Not only does the Sport Package cost an additional $3,650 over the $46,250 and $57,550 base prices of the M37 and M56 respectively, but you are forced to also get the Technology Package that lists for around $3,000. Is the $6,650 worth the stretch? To us, yes, but you've been warned.
It was quite eye-opening to drive the two Ms back to back. The M37S is a high-reving freak that's more than happy to spend an hour spinning along at around 5,500 rpm. Even though Infiniti's boffins managed to make the new M37 weigh six-pounds less than the outgoing M35, 3,858 pounds is still quite a chunk of car. That said, the impressive 3.7-liter V6 had enough power to motivate the big sedan quickly and satisfyingly. Yeah, you have to get on the pedal to get to the power, but that's the good part. Infiniti doesn't give out performance numbers, but we'd guess 5.5 seconds to 60 mph is about right. One quick note about the transmission, and this applies to both cars, is that it's a shame Infiniti didn't pull the trigger and put in a dual-clutch system. While you as the driver do get to pull the trigger (fine, paddle shifter), the shifts take way too long. Also, gas mileage is up by 1 mpg compared to the old M35 – 18 city/26 highway.
By contrast, the hulking M56S is much more of a grand tourer than the rev-loving M37. Torque comes on way lower down the rev range and there's so much more of it. The 5.6-liter V8 also makes more guttural, low-frequency sounds than the buzzy V6, so much so that the two cars hardly sound (let alone feel) related. Curiously, and despite its impressive power numbers, the V8 didn't come across as explosive as we thought and hoped it might. For comparison's sake, the Audi RS4 also makes 420 hp (and one hundred fewer torques) yet feels like it's being shot out of a cannon. A big cannon. The M56 on the other hand, feels more like the Lexus LS600hL. There's endless, inadequacy-compensating power on tap, it's just not a quick car. We suppose you could blame the M56's 4,028 pound curb weight (up 70 pounds over the M45), but we suspect that gearing and sound insulation is to blame. Still, the M56 probably hits 60 mph in five seconds flat, it just doesn't feel all that explosive. Mileage is unchanged compared to the M45 at 16 mpg in the city, but a vastly improved 25 mpg highway (the M45 clocked 21 mpg on the road).
While the new engines are no doubt welcome news to enthusiast types, the biggest improvement (and really this car's killer app) is the 4-Wheel Active Steering, or 4WAS. Unlike the more aggressive (and in reality, not that great) systems you might remember from the late '80s and early '90s, Infiniti's 4WAS only moves the rear wheels in phase with the front wheels by a maximum of one degree. Admittedly, that doesn't sound like much and at low speeds you simply don't notice it. But crank up the engine's volume and get ready to be impressed. 4WAS helps eliminate both under- and oversteer, but more importantly the M just feels planted when you reach a turn's apex. Not just planted, but nimble, athletic and confident, especially in conjunction with some left-foot trail braking. Put it like this: We knew going in that both Ms would be fast, but an honest to goodness handler? Color us remarkably impressed. If you're wondering, the optional four-wheel-drive systems offered on both cars kill the handling. They also add weight and aren't available with the all-important Sport Package. We're sure that traction control alone (plus snow tires) will see you and your new M through the winter.
Now comes the hard part – which one to buy. We suppose it depends on what you're into. For the corner-carving set, there's no question that the lighter, much more tossable M37S is the Infiniti to get. The M37 changes direction better than its V8 sibling, sounds crazier, behaves more predictably and is lots of fun to pound around a winding road. However, if big, wafting, luxurious road trips are your thing, you've got to choose the M56S. Its smoother, more refined and quieter V8 nicely satisfies the first part of the luxury-performance descriptor.
Which one would we drive home in? After about ten minutes of consideration, we're saying the The M37S. Surprised? We suspect that on a race track the M56S would be able to pull on the M37S in the straights, but that the lighter, more nimble M37S would make up all the time lost in the corners. And if the roads you like driving don't have any straight parts, well, the choice is that much easier. Either way, the 2011 M almost totally answers any questions we may have had about Infiniti. Almost.
Photos by Jonny Lieberman / Copyright ©2010 Weblogs, Inc.
New Car Test Drive
Fast M Hybrid joins sporty luxury sedan lineup.
The 2012 Infiniti M line of luxury sports sedans with rear-wheel drive enters its second year of production, the sweet spot according to some. The Infiniti M37 and Infiniti M56 were completely redesigned for 2011, so they carry over to the 2012 model year mostly unchanged.
However, a new Infiniti M Hybrid has joined the lineup for 2012. The 2012 Infiniti M35h uses a hybrid gas-electric powertrain that pairs an electric motor with a 3.5-liter V6 good for 360 net horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque. The 2012 M35h holds the Guinness World Record for the world's fastest-accelerating hybrid. Yet the Infiniti M Hybrid gets an EPA estimated 27/32 mpg City/Highway, or 29 mpg Combined.
The Infiniti M37 makes a class-leading 330 horsepower from its 3.7-liter V6 engine, while the 5.6-liter V8 in the Infiniti M56 is good for 420 hp and 417 foot-pounds of torque.
The M37 and M56 come with a choice of rear-wheel drive or all-wheel drive. All Infiniti M models use a 7-speed automatic transmission with manual shift override, which yields satisfying acceleration in the lower gears, and four driving modes including Normal, Sport, Economy and Snow. Infiniti M models with the Sport package get magnesium paddle shifters with blip-throttle downshifting.
The Infiniti M comes loaded with active and passive safety features include a lane-departure warning system that alerts a driver who veers toward a dividing line, and a blind spot warning system that, when ignored, will apply the right front brake to guide the car back into the lane in which it belongs. There's Active Trace Control, which adjusts engine torque and the control of the braking to individual wheels to help the car get around a corner in a skid. There's an Eco Pedal that gives the driver feedback to encourage eco-driving behavior. And there's the Forest Air system, which helps reduce the intrusion of unpleasant odors into the cabin and provides a natural breeze-like airflow. Infiniti designed this as a true luxury car and, based on our experience, there is nothing luxurious about unpleasant odors in the cabin. We know this, we are automotive experts.
Active noise control is used to quiet the cabin, a dual microphone system that listens to the ambient noise created by the powertrain, the mirrors, the body, and the tires and produces sound waves that cancel those noises. It doesn't cancel out voices, however, so if you shout you will be heard by the other passengers. But this is indeed a quiet car, even at full-throttle while going a hundred miles per hour it's quiet inside.
For audio enjoyment, there are three different sound systems on the M cars, including two Bose upgrades. The Premium Package includes a two-channel, 10-speaker sound system by Bose, the Deluxe Touring Package adds a 5.1 surround sound system with a subwoofer and 16 speakers arrayed throughout the interior.
Competitors to the 2012 Infiniti M line include the Lexus GS, Acura RL, Audi A6, Mercedes-Benz E-Class, and BMW 5 Series.
The 2012 Infiniti M lineup includes the V6-powered, rear-wheel drive M37 ($47,700), the all-wheel-drive M37X ($49,850), the V8-powered, rear-wheel-drive M56 ($59,200), all-wheel drive M56X ($61,700), and the new hybrid-powered M35h ($53,700).
The Infiniti M37 comes with leather upholstery, heated eight-way power front seats with driver memory function, power lumbar support, power tilt-and-telescoping steering column, dual-zone automatic climate control, Bluetooth connectivity and a six-speaker audio system with satellite radio capability, single CD player, iPod connector and auxiliary jack, bi-xenon headlights, a sunroof, fog lights, power-folding heated mirrors, automatic wipers, rearview camera, keyless ignition/entry, auto-dimming rearview mirror, 18-inch alloy wheels.
The Sport package ($3,750) includes 20-inch wheels, a unique front fascia, summer tires, sport-tuned suspension and brakes, four-wheel active steering, sport seats and steering wheel, and distinct exterior trim. The Sport Touring package ($2,000) adds a power rear sunshade, air filtration system and 16-speaker Bose surround sound system.
The Infiniti M56 includes everything on the M37 plus heated and ventilated front seats, a heated steering wheel, navigation system with voice recognition and real-time traffic and weather updates, as well as an upgraded, 10-speaker Bose audio system with digital music storage. The M56 Sport package ($5,650) includes 20-inch wheels, unique front fascia, summer tires, sport-tuned suspension and brakes, four-wheel active steering, sport seats and steering wheel, distinct exterior trim, power rear sunshade, air filtration system and 16-speaker Bose surround sound system.
Hybrid M35h models come with all standard features found on the M37 plus unique display screens. It also comes with Infiniti's Vehicle Sound for Pedestrians (VSP), which generates sound to alert passersby (to compensate for the car's quietness).
Options include a Premium package ($3,450) that adds a heated steering wheel, heated and ventilated front seats, a navigation system with voice recognition and real-time traffic and weather, as well as a 10-speaker Bose audio system with streaming Bluetooth audio and digital music storage. The Deluxe Touring package ($3,900) adds a power rear sunshade, an in-car air purifier, upgraded leather upholstery and interior trim, and a 16-speaker Bose surround-sound stereo. A Technology package ($3,050) includes adaptive headlamps, an Eco pedal that provides driver feedback to encourage fuel-efficient driving, a blind spot warning system, lane departure warning, adaptive cruise control, and forward collision warning system. Standalone options include 18-inch alloy wheels ($650), a rear decklid spoiler ($450), midnight black grille ($430) and an aerodynamic kit ($2,000).
Safety features that come standard on all models include dual-stage front air bags with seat belt and occupant classification sensors, side-impact air bags, and roof-mounted curtain air bags for front and rear-seat outboard occupant head protection. Active safety features on all models include anti-lock brakes (ABS), and electronic stability control.
The Infiniti M echoes other Infiniti designs with its flowing, curvaceous lines that are swoopy and sophisticated, yet strong and muscular. The body and underbody are aerodynamically pure, leading to a very low 0.27 drag coefficient, and that leads to a quieter interior, among other things.
The long hood and short rear deck conveys that the Infiniti M is a rear-wheel-drive sedan, with the severely laid-back windshield and the flowing fenders and body lines accentuating its sportier nature. Illuminated door handle cutouts make the Infiniti M stunning in the dark.
Everything in the cockpit of the Infiniti M is luxurious to see, touch and use. The steering wheel is substantial yet feels manageable in hand, and the wheel controls are within easy reach. The navigation screen is easy to read and has an attractive interface. Bluetooth phone pairing is easy.
We found the voice recognition system can be unreliable, however. It took us multiple tries for the system to understand our commands, even without any cabin noise. It can also be rather laborious to get through all of the system's prompts, but it gets faster once you become familiar with the setup.
The center stack is loaded with buttons. Their layout is logical, though we found oddities. The HVAC power button and fan controls are in the center beneath the navigation screen, while the temperature controls are off to the sides.
Cargo space in the M37 and M56 is average for the class at 14.9 cubic feet. But due to the battery pack in the M35h, trunk space measures a mere 11.3 cubes. The trunk release button will unlock the deck lid, but not pop it up, which requires some clawing and fumbling, especially with full hands.
The intelligent key system used on the Infiniti M incorporates the normal unlocking and locking features but adds audio setting, climate control settings and navigational settings to the memory in the key, an interesting and useful feature not offered on most luxury cars.
An auto entry/exit system lifts the steering wheel and slides the seat back to create more space when the driver opens the door or turns off the engine. While this might be convenient for tall drivers or those of larger stature, it can be tough for smaller drivers to depress the brake pedal, necessary for starting the car, with the seat back so far.
Similarly, the seats accommodate those with large frames well, but average and petite-sized females may find it difficult to get comfortable.
We found the Infiniti M56X to be a strong performer. The added weight of the all-wheel-drive system is more than overcome by the additional 95 horsepower and 81 foot-pounds of torque from the new, larger engine and the deeper gearing in the silky-smooth, quick-shifting 7-speed transmission.
One drawback for both the V6 and V8 versions, however, is that both of these more powerful engines require Premium gasoline.
The 5.6-liter V8 engine's sound is muffled back to provide the car with a luxury feel, and the 7-speed double-overdrive transmission certainly lowers engine rpm at highway speeds; nevertheless, the throttle response is extremely quick, and the M56 accelerates with authority. And it does so quietly. This is not the 5.6-liter V8 used in the Nissan pickup trucks. Rather, is a larger version of the Infiniti 5.0-liter V8, the division's first engine fitted with direct fuel injection cylinder heads and other technologies such as variable valve timing and intake valve lift, and a variable intake tract, yielding a combination of low-end torque, high-rpm power, and very good fuel economy for an engine this size in a heavy luxury car.
The Infiniti M56X has a heavy steering feel aided by its heavier nose and tendency to understeer, but it acquits itself quite well on curvy roads, with lots of help from the suspension system, which uses mechanical twin-piston shock absorbers instead of electronic ones. It's plush and sporty at the same time without the harshness added by the 20-inch tires and wheels that come with the Sport package.
We found the braking to be exemplary, with a nice, high pedal, progressive actuation, and excellent ABS performance on panic stops. The standard brakes on our M56X were 12.6 inches front and 12.1 inches rear, but the Sport package brakes are huge: 14 inches front, 13.8 inches rear. Infiniti M brakes come with ABS, Electronic Brake-force Distribution and Quick Brake Assist.
We found the lane departure warning system to be unnecessarily aggressive. In congested urban areas like Los Angeles where constant maneuvering is a way of life, the system's incessant beeping proved irksome. Like the townsfolk in the 'Boy Who Cried Wolf,' after awhile we stopped listening.
The Infiniti M35h doesn't feel much different from other hybrids. Hybrid gas-electric powertrains aren't known for feeling seamless. In the case of the M35h, you can feel the system kick in when the gasoline engine takes over, when the regenerative brakes kick in, and when the fuel-saving stop/start system engages. Drivers who are used to this type of ride won't find it any more or less obtrusive here.
Shifting into the different driving modes in the Infiniti M35h hybrid makes for very different driving experiences. Selecting Eco mode renders the M virtually gutless, creeping off the line and slogging along at low revs; Eco is the most efficient mode. In Sport mode, instant torque from the electric motor combined with ready power from the 3.5-liter V6 make for a snappy getaway, but those eager on the throttle should beware of obnoxious wheel spin off the line. Normal mode strikes an appropriate balance between power and economy.
The Infiniti M is a solid alternative in the entry-level, midsize sedan market. Its attractive yet understated good looks, pleasing driving dynamics and bevy of available technology make it a good choice for those looking to take the road less traveled. Options can run the price up fast, however, and the M35h hybrid comes with a premium price.
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent Laura Burstein reported on the Infiniti M35h from Los Angeles, with Jim McCraw reporting on the M56X from San Diego.
Infiniti M37 ($47,700), M37X ($49,850); M35h ($53,700), M56 ($59,200), M56X ($61,700).
Options As Tested
Technology package ($3,000) with intelligent cruise control, Lane Departure Warning, Lane Departure Prevention, Distance Control Assist, Intelligent Brake Assist, Forward Collision Warning, Blind Spot Warning, Blind Spot Intervention, front pre-crash seat belts, active trace control, Eco Pedal, Adaptive Front Lighting System w auto-leveling headlights; Deluxe Touring package ($3,800) with power rear sunshade, semi-aniline leather seating, wood trim with metallic finish, seat bolstering, suede-like headliner, door inserts, upgraded 16-speaker Bose audio system, enhanced HVAC system; Premium Package ($3,350) with heated and cooled front seats, heated steering wheel, hard-drive navigation system with real time traffic and weather with 8-inch display and voice recognition; 18-inch aluminum-alloy wheels ($650).
Infiniti M35h ($53,700).
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