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The 2007 Infiniti M series is enough to give German automotive engineers insomnia. The M35 and its more powerful sibling, the M45, demonstrate that Japanese luxury brands are steadily learning from their mistakes, improving their product and posing an increasing challenge to the traditional luxury cars from Europe.
The Infiniti M successfully blends aggression and sophistication for stylish visual flair. Its rosewood-trimmed interior is luxurious, with comfortable seats and a full array of standard safety equipment. Every model features the requisite luxury accoutrements, including keyless push-button starting.
The M35 can be rewarding to drive. Its V6 engine is one of the most powerful available. Enthusiast drivers will particularly like the M35 Sport, which features a firmer suspension and active rear steering. The V8-powered M45 delivers even stronger acceleration; the M45 is also available as a Sport model.
Those who live in slushy, snowy climates should be wary of the Sport versions of either M, however. These cars are equipped with sticky speed-rated tires, which are designed for lots of grip on dry pavement, and aren't much good for anything in snow. Better to choose the all-wheel-drive Infiniti M35X, which comes with general-purpose, all-season tires. The M35X adds an element of confidence and security in sloppy climates, without a significant toll in fuel economy.
Sedans in the $50,000 range comprise one of the most competitive chunks of the new car market, loaded with good cars like the Audi A6, BMW 5 Series, Cadillac STS, Jaguar S-Type, Mercedes-Benz E-Class, Lexus GS, and Acura RL. The Infiniti M leans toward the sportier end of this spectrum, particularly in Sport trim. We strongly recommend a look at the Infiniti M35 or M45 for anyone looking for a car in this class.
The Infiniti M35 ($41,450) is powered by a 275-horsepower V6 engine. The M35X ($44,550) is an all-wheel-drive version of the M35.
Leather seats with heating and ventilation come standard on the M35, and the driver's seats offers 10-way power adjustments. Also standard: Brazilian Rosewood trim, a 160-watt six-speaker AM/FM/cassette stereo with 6CD changer, power sunroof, Bluetooth cell phone interface, voice activation of many controls and a seven-inch LCD screen that displays most vehicle information. Standard wheels are 18 inches in diameter.
The M35 Sport ($44,250) is, as the name suggests, a sportier version of the rear-drive M35. The Sport adds a sport-tuned suspension with Rear Active Steer (RAS), 19-inch alloy wheels, aluminum interior trim, and auto-leveling high-intensity xenon headlights with Adaptive Front Lighting System (AFS), which swivels the lights to shine around in turns.
The M45 ($49,100) and M45 Sport ($50,550) are identical to their M35 counterparts, except that each is powered by 325-hp V8.
An available Premium Package ($8,900) includes almost every available option: navigation system, RearView camera, Lane Departure Warning, intelligent cruise control, DVD-based Mobile Entertainment System for rear passengers, heated and power-reclining rear seats, power rear sunshade and rear passenger climate and audio controls.
Standalone options include XM or Sirius satellite radio ($350); the DVD entertainment system ($1,500), 18-inch chrome wheels ($1,000), an aerodynamic body kit ($1,590) and a rear spoiler ($290).
Safety features include dual-stage front airbags, front-passenger side-impact airbags, and curtain-style head-protection airbags for all outboard seats. All Infiniti M models feature Vehicle Dynamic Control skid-management electronics, traction control, and an advanced ABS system. Optional safety equipment includes the lane departure warning system, RearView camera, preview braking and pre-crash seat belts. In front-offset and side-impact crash tests conducted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, the M35/45 got Good ratings, on a scale that includes Good, Acceptable, Marginal, and Poor.
Luxury automakers increasingly strive to present a strong family resemblance among various models. Witness BMW or Jaguar: Most of their cars are instantly recognizable worldwide as BMWs and Jags. That hasn't always been true of Infiniti. The last generation M45, for example, did not really look like any other Infiniti model.
No more. Infiniti created a distinct identity with introduction of the stylish G35, and the new M series follows through. The M looks like a bigger brother to the G35 sedan. It has the distinct Infiniti badge located in the center of its grille, with familiar horizontal bars and a chrome lip at the top. The edge of the hood cuts into the headlight cover with three jeweled lamps behind, creating a sophisticated yet fairly aggressive look.
The back edge of the hood is high enough to hide the windshield wipers, and it helps the top of the fenders flow back and up into the A-pillar. The wedge-like side profile continues front to rear and ends in a high trunk height, creating something like a hatchback look in the rear. A short overhang at both ends of the body helps give the M its aggressive look.
The rear of the car is perhaps its weakest feature from a design point of view, although the LED light clusters and quad tail pipes generate some visual interest.
The titanium-hue, five-spoke 19-inch alloy wheels on the Sport models are particularly striking, as each spoke is made from two thinner spokes. Sport, indeed. The blacked-out headlight backgrounds help differentiate the Sport models in front. Apart from these small differences it's possible to tell any of the M models apart.
Infiniti likens the shape of the M sedan's dashboard to an elongated and flattened letter M. It's unusual, but in a positive manner. The switches and knobs for climate controls, sound system and other functions are all placed on an almost horizontal surface in the center of the dash, below a large LCD screen and dual vents. They're all easy to see and operate. This big multi-function control knob in the center is simpler and more intuitive than the systems in some of the other cars in this class, such as the BMW 5 Series, thanks to its clear layout and markings.
Infiniti, like an increasing number of automakers, has gone quaint on us. Harking back to olden days, one has to push a starter button to fire up the engine. That's possible because the M comes with an intelligent key that does not have to be inserted in the ignition. The car senses its presence in your pocket or purse and automatically unlocks the doors for you. Whether we're all going to like this technology enough to embrace it, we're not sure. On the upside, the key can also be programmed to deliver various functions such as pre-opening windows and setting seat and mirror positions.
The standard M35 and M45 have subtle, real rosewood trim with a subdued semi-gloss finish. Sport models have genuine aluminum trim in place of the wood, although the rosewood is available as an option ($600). Chrome trim rings around buttons and gauges subtly enhance the luxury look.
The driver's seat proved comfortable, especially in the Sport model, which features larger side bolsters. It's easy to find an ideal position with the 10-way power adjustments. The ventilated seats warm or cool the derriere with a fan.
There's lots of technology available here and it works well. The optional Bose two-channel audio with Studio Surround sound is exceptionally good. Audiophiles should get it.
The navigation system works well. We like using the birds-eye view, which presents the map in a 3D format that creates a sense of distance and perspective. The voice activation system works well, too, if not quite as well as the system in the Acura RL.
Rear-seat passengers will be happiest with the Premium Package, which adds heated, reclining back seats. The controls are located inside the rear-seat center armrest. The package also includes a DVD system with an LCD that folds out of the ceiling and is controlled with a remote. Separate rear-seat climate control is included with this package.
Even without the Premium Package, the rear seats offer plenty of leg and headroom.
Although the exterior appearance makes the trunk look large, its 15 cubic feet capacity is barely average for this size car, and the opening is on the small side as well. Worse yet, when equipped with the optional full-size spare tire it only holds 11 cubic feet of cargo. At least it has scissor type hinges, which, unlike gooseneck hinges, don't intrude into the usable space. A pass-through opening is provided for carrying skis and other long items.
Overall, we found the living quarters in the M very pleasant. People who bought last year's model agreed. They loved its interior and features, according to a study by J.D. Power and Associates, the market-research firm. In Power's Automotive Performance Execution and Layout (APEAL) study, the 2006 M cars ranked first in the mid-size premium segment, ahead of the Audi A6, BMW 5-Series and Lexus GS.
The Infiniti M does not drive like a big car at all. Part of the reason is aluminum. The hood, trunk lid and doors are all aluminum, reducing the body's weight and helping lower its center of gravity. Also, the electrically controlled rack and pinion power steering is precise, with good road feel.
The Infiniti M35 has one of the stronger V6 engines available and it propels the M35 at a decent rate. The five-speed automatic transmission works well and shifts quickly. Drivers who want more control can use the manual mode, which works better than similar systems in some cars, thanks to a short-throw shift lever more akin to that of a manual transmission in a sports car.
The V8-powered M45 is a rocket, and it gives you the urge to floor the gas pedal just to feel the exhilarating acceleration. What's more, the fuel mileage is only a couple of miles per gallon lower than the V6.
The Sport models feature what Infiniti calls Rear Active Steer (RAS). This system turns the rear wheels up to 1 degree, which can't even be seen. This 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 the rear-wheel steering is on the road. We haven't done that, but we have driven the Sport model and found it to be very stable, handling more like a good lightweight sports sedan in lane-change maneuvers.
The M35X comes with the same all-wheel-drive system found in the G35X and the FX35. We were less impressed with the overall effect of the M35X. The strength of the V6 engine is lots of power and torque, which in turn means good response and acceleration. Yet this is neither the most fuel efficient nor the smoothest V6 on the market, and that bit of not-so-luxurious coarseness seemed to be magnified in the M35X's all-wheel-drive powertrain, or at least in our test car. The AWD system itself is not as smooth or seamless as those in some other luxury cars, like Audis. During hard bursts of acceleration, the front wheels can generate a front-wheel drive-style torque-steer effect, in which power from the engine twists the steering wheel in the driver's hands. Moreover, as power spreads out amongst the four wheels, it can create a driveline lash that comes across to the driver as a jerk somewhere in the bowels of the car. It adds up to a less-than-luxurious experience we haven't noticed in rear-drive Infiniti Ms. However, the M35X could be a good choice for wet or snowy locales.
The optional Lane Departure Warning 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. It also accounts for the amount of steering wheel movement in order to avoid warnings when purposely changing lanes. The system is valuable, especially when driving late at night on empty freeways or toll roads, although it was tricked once by stripes of tar on the road and thought we were straying from our appointed lane. This is a relatively new technology, however, and at this point there's no empirical evidence that such a system reduces accidents, as there is with other systems like electronic stability control.
The RearView monitor is impressive. It has a camera located in the back bumper that projects a view toward the rear onto the in-dash LCD whenever the driver shifts into Reverse. 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 and displays a line on the screen that indicates the course of travel as the steering wheel is turned. It's a neat idea that works. Drivers still need to pay attention to ensure nothing is behind the car using traditional driving techniques, but rearview cameras provide the driver with useful information when
The 2007 Infiniti M35 and M45 offer luxury, sports sedan performance, and user-friendly technologies that make for compelling packages. They're good looking, interesting, and comfortable. We consider the Infiniti M lineup among the best cars in a class full of good cars.
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent John Rettie is based in Santa Barbara, California.