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Forget about the last INFINITI M45, it was a misfit. The all-new 2006 INFINITI M is modern sophisticated and stylish luxury sports sedan available with a V6 or V8 engine.
Unlike the previous-generation model, the new INFINITI M is no wall flower. Its styling fits in with the more expensive INFINITI Q45 and the less expensive INFINITI G35. The new INFINITI M looks aggressive but sophisticated. Inside is a luxurious cabin trimmed in leather and rosewood or aluminum with comfortable seats. Optional Bose Studio Surround turns the car into a mobile concert hall.
The M35 is fun to drive, particularly the M35 Sport with its sportier suspension tuning, and offers decent performance from its V6 engine. The M45 delivers exhilarating acceleration performance, benefiting from one of the most powerful V8s in its class. The all-wheel-drive INFINITI M35X is designed to offer more stable traction and handling in wintry conditions.
The new M shows that INFINITI has truly arrived on the scene in this ultra competitive luxury segment. We recommend checking one out before spending $50,000 on a luxury sports sedan. The new INFINITI M should prove to be a tough competitor to the Acura RL, Audi A6, BMW 5 Series, Cadillac STS, Jaguar S-Type, Mercedes-Benz E-Class, Lexus GS and others. All these cars use rear-wheel drive or all-wheel drive. The new INFINITI M offers a choice of either along with a variety of features that make it a compelling choice in this class.
The INFINITI M35 ($39,900) is powered by a 280-horsepower V6 engine with a five-speed automatic transmission. M35 comes standard with a host of luxury items including requisite power features such as a 10-way power driver's seat and a six-way passenger seat trimmed in ultra-soft leather seating surfaces. Brazilian Rosewood trim accentuates the modernistic interior. The stereo features a six-disc CD changer with MP3 playback. Bluetooth connectivity is included for your cell phone. A power sunroof, an intelligent key with push-button ignition, a vehicle information system with seven-inch LCD screen, and voice activated controls are also standard.
The M35X ($42,400) is an all-wheel-drive version of the M35.
The M35 Sport ($42,700) is, as the name suggests, a sporty version of the rear-wheel-drive M35. The Sport adds a sport suspension with Rear Active Steer (RAS) and larger 19-inch cast-alloy wheels. Inside, aluminum pedal accents and genuine aluminum trim, in place of wood, gives it a sportier look. Front seats are climate controlled. It comes with auto-leveling high-intensity xenon headlights with the Adaptive Front Lighting System (AFS) that swivels the lights to see around in turns. The engine and transmission are identical to the other two M35 models.
The M45 ($46,750) is identical to the M35 except it is powered by a 335-horespower V8 engine in place of the V6. The M45 Sport ($49,550) is a V8 version of the M35 Sport.
Three option packages are available on all models: The Journey Package ($2,750) includes a Bose two-channel premium audio system with eight speakers, climate-controlled front seats, HomeLink universal transceiver, advanced RearView monitor (a rear bumper camera), advanced front lighting with xenon HID headlamps and automatic leveling, front pre-crash seatbelts and compass. As some of this equipment is already included in the Sport model the package costs less for the Sport model ($1,700).
The Technology Package ($4,200) includes items in the Journey Package as well as a DVD navigation system with a larger eight-inch LCD screen, Intelligent Cruise Control, Bose Studio Surround, Lane Departure Warning, and XM or Sirius satellite radio.
The Premium Package ($10,500) includes the contents of the Journey and Technology packages plus a DVD-based Mobile Entertainment System, heated and power reclining rear seats, power rear sunshade and rear passenger HVAC and audio controls with lockout.
Stand-alone options include XM or Sirius satellite radio ($350); navigation system ($2,000); DVD entertainment system ($1,500); wood trim for Sport models ($600); 18-inch chrome wheels ($1,000); aerodynamic body kit ($1,390); rear deck spoiler ($280).
Safety features that come standard include Nissan's Advanced Air Bag System (AABS), which includes dual front and rear side curtain as well as front seat mounted airbags and dual stage driver and front passenger seat airbags. Traction control (VDC) helps deliver the power to the road under all conditions. ABS allows the driver to brake and steer when trying to avoid an accident. Brake Assist helps ensure full braking force is applied in a panic stop. Electronic brake-force distribution (EBD) improves braking stability and helps shorten stopping distances. A tire pressure monitoring system comes on all models. Optional safety equipment includes the lane departure warning system, preview braking and pre-crash seat belts.
We found the new INFINITI M fun to drive and it did not feel like a big car at all. Part of the reason why the car doesn't feel too big is because aluminum body panels have been used for the hood, trunk and doors making the body weigh less while also lowering the center of gravity. Also, the electrically controlled rack and pinion power steering was precise with good road feel.
We spent most of our time in the 2006 INFINITI M35 Sport model, but we also drove an M45. Lower weight helps the V6 engine provide enough power to propel the M35 at a decent rate. The five-speed automatic transmission works well with quick shifting. Drivers who want more control can use the manual mode, which works better than in some cars as the shift lever has a short throw more akin to that of a manual transmission in a sports car.
We were satisfied with the V6's performance until we drove the M45 with the 335-horsepower V8. It's a rocket ship providing exhilarating acceleration. Not surprising, as INFINITI claims it is the most powerful V8 among its competitors. What's more the fuel consumption is only a couple of miles per gallon worse, no doubt because the V8 is not working as hard. Unfortunately it ups the cost by almost $7,000, compared to the M35 models. (BMW and Mercedes buyers also face a big premium for the more powerful engines.)
The Sport models feature include what INFINITI calls Rear Active Steer. Don't worry it doesn't mean the rear wheels turn to any great degree. In fact they only move a maximum of one degree, which is unnoticeable visibly. The actuator that turns the rear wheels is powered and controlled electrically. What it does is adjust the rear toe angle in either an opposite phase going into a corner or the same phase exiting a corner and it only operates at mid- or high-speed. That helps turn the car into a corner more quickly and helps stop it from sliding out on exit. Without trying two cars back to back it's difficult to determine how effective it is in reality. All we can say is that the Sport model proved to be very stable, handling more like a good lightweight sports sedan when purposely doing some abrupt lane changes at speed.
The optional Lane Departure Warning (LDW) system uses a camera to detect lane markings and warns a driver with a buzzer when the car starts to wander into the next lane. It only operates above 45 mph and is de-activated when the turn signals are used. In addition it detects the amount of movement of the steering wheel in order to avoid giving out warnings when one is purposely changing lanes. The system is probably a good idea especially when driving late at night on empty freeways or toll roads.
The M35X comes with the same all-wheel-drive system found in the G35X and the FX35. During a short drive in an M35X we didn't notice any differences in ride quality from the rear-drive models. Nor did we notice much difference in handling, though we only drove at a sedate pace. The M35X could be an excellent choice for driving in slippery conditions.
The RearView monitor system is impressive. It has a camera located in the back bumper that projects a view toward the rear view onto the LCD for the navigation system. It's a great safety item as it can help a driver see objects or children behind the vehicle that are otherwise hidden from view. INFINITI's version goes one step further as it displays a line on the screen that indicates the course one is headed along as the steering wheel is turned. It's a really neat idea that works. Drivers still need to pay attention to ensure nothing is behind the car, however.
The all-new 2006 INFINITI M models offer plenty of luxury touches to appeal to luxury buyers. They also offer enough performance to appeal to buyers of sports sedans. Additionally there are plenty of user-friendly hi-tech touches to appeal to techie buyers. We like the value offered by the INFINITI M35 with the Journey Package and navigation system.
New Car Test Drive correspondent John Rettie is based in Santa Barbara, California.