Scottsdale, Ariz. - Back in school, teachers used to say that trying was better than doing nothing, even if your effort was wrong, incomplete, or flat-out off the mark. And for multiple choice exams, the common advice was to make sure to drop some of that Number 2 lead for every question, because good ol' luck was always a possibility. As a student, that latter mentality often resulted in a failing grade. As an adult, that latter mentality lead to the previous Infiniti M45.
Folks at Infiniti admit that they were in a rush to fill a gap in the market, so they basically rebadged a car sitting in Japanese stables, the Nissan Gloria/Cedric, bolted in a 4.5-liter V8 and called it the Infiniti M45. While the powertrain was praiseworthy, the home-market styling was uninspiring.
That has mostly changed with the redesigned 2006 Infiniti M. While the previous model languished on dealers' lots, the minds at Infiniti were at work on a new platform that accommodated more engines and drivetrains, a larger interior, and a distinguished exterior that certainly turns heads.
In the 2006 Infiniti M consumers will discover the culmination of a study in design and engineering, not the product of good luck and wishful thinking.
Powering the less expensive M35 models is a 280-horsepower V6, featuring a dual overhead cam (DOHC) design, 24 valves, and 3.5 liters of displacement. Max horsepower is reached at 6,200 rpm, and 270 lb.-ft. of torque jumps in at 4,800 rpm, with the motor revving on premium fuel. M45 models house a 4.5-liter, DOHC, 32-valve, eight-cylinder motor that generates 335 horsepower at 6,400 rpm, and 340 lb.-ft. of torque at 4,000 rpm, also operating on high-octane premium fuel.
Regardless of which engine is selected, power is managed by a five-speed, manually interactive automatic transmission. Engineers have added a rev-matching feature that blips the throttle when the manual shift mode is being used. When downshifting, for instance, that blip of the throttle will raise the engine speed, or rpm, to the appropriate level for the lower gear. The result is a smooth transition between gears while using the manual mode of the transmission.
Equally important as the 2006 Infiniti M's powerplants are the standard features that drivers can see and feel. Included are all of the usual luxury car appointments, as well as leather seats with power lumbar support for the driver, genuine Rosewood trim, and a six-speaker audio system with a six-disc CD changer and an MP3 player. Other standard items include a power glass moonroof; a power tilt and telescoping steering wheel; a two-setting memory function for the steering wheel, driver's seat, and mirrors; a trip computer; 18-inch alloy wheels with 245/45 tires; a tire pressure monitor; and electrofluorescent gauges. Finally, there's an ignition system that allows the M to be started with the push of a button when the key fob is located inside of the vehicle, and voice activated controls for the climate system, stereo, and telephones with Bluetooth technology.
Sport models add automatic suspension leveling, a metallic finish that replaces the Rosewood trim, heated and cooled front seats, smoked headlight housings, 19-inch alloy wheels with a titanium finish, Bridgestone Potenza 245/40 tires, a lowered ride height, and adaptive high intensity discharge headlights. This unique lighting system uses sensors that gauge both steering angle and speed, and then turns the headlights accordingly. When rounding a corner, for example, the headlights are turned in the direction of the corner.
Additionally, Infiniti offers four package groups ranging in price from under $2,000 to over $10,000. The most basic is the Journey Package which includes an eight-speaker Bose sound system, Homelink universal garage door opener, a rear parking aid with a camera that uses the dash screen to show what is behind the vehicle when backing up, and a compass. On non-Sport models, the Journey Package also includes xenon high intensity discharge headlights, and heated and cooled front seats. Available on all models for about $4,000 is the Technology Package, including a navigation system; intelligent cruise control; Lane Departure Warning; and a 14-speaker audio system with Bose Studio Surround sound, speakers mounted in the front seats, Audio Pilot Noise Cancellation, 5.1 digital decoding, speed sensitive volume, and satellite radio. Finally, there's the granddaddy of them all - the $10,500 Premium Package that is available only on non-Sport models. That major coin buys the Journey Package, the Technology Package, a rear DVD entertainment system, rear climate and audio controls, a rear power sunshade, run flat tires, and a heated power reclining rear seat.
Big pimpin', indeed.
Preview braking works with electronic brake assistance and the intelligent cruise control system, which utilizes a laser mounted below the front bumper to determine the Infiniti M's distance from an object ahead. Depending on that distance and the speed of travel, the preview braking system pressurizes the brakes a bit in preparation for a sudden stop.
The lane departure warning (LDW) system uses a camera mounted next to the interior rearview mirror that recognizes road markers. When the car starts to cross over those markers a beep sounds inside the cabin, yet if the driver continues with the lane change the system recognizes the move as intentional and the warning stops. LDW does not operate under 45 mph, and is canceled when a turn signal is used. Understanding that some drivers may wish to deactivate the LDW system, Infiniti engineers placed a button on the lower dash that allows drivers to either turn the system off until the car is turned off and then re-started, or until the driver presses the button again.
Another technology, Rear Active Steering, is standard and only available on Infiniti M Sport models. When heading into a turn, the rear wheels turn slightly (up to one degree) in the opposite direction of the front wheels to help the car take a proper set in the turn. When exiting a corner or making a lane change, the rear wheels turn slightly (again, up to one degree) in the same direction as the front wheels to help accelerate in the intended direction. Controlling the ride is the M's fully independent suspension; up front are MacPherson struts and a multi-link setup is bolted on in back. Ten hydraulic suspension mounts are used to absorb road impacts, and springs and shocks have been tuned to provide a smooth ride. Front and rear stabilizer bars are standard, and the rack and pinion steering is speed-sensitive to provide low effort at slow speeds and higher effort on the highway.
Available only on the M35X is the ATTESA ET-S (Advanced Total Traction Engineering System for All Electronic Torque Split) all-wheel-drive system, which distributes torque using an electro-magnetic clutch. ATTESA ET-S has been designed to provide smooth power delivery and improved fuel economy, as well as confident handling in poor weather conditions. Depending on conditions, the system can shift all of the power to the rear wheels or distribute an even 50/50 split to the front and rear.
Despite the shorter body, almost all interior dimensions have increased when compared to the 2004 M45. Front head room decreased by about two-tenths of an inch, but rear head room and front and rear hip room increased. The greatest gains came in leg room and shoulder room, with 2.1 inches of additional front leg room, 4.8 inches of rear leg room, 3.5 inches of front shoulder room, and 2.8 inches of rear shoulder room. In total, the 2006 Infiniti M gained 14 cubic feet of passenger room. Trunk space increased by more than two cubic feet to 14.9, though that figure falls to 11.9 cubic feet with the optional full-size spare tire.
With the updated platform come new aluminum front subframes that strengthen the body structure, and aluminum door, hood and trunk panels. The liberal use of aluminum helps to keep the curb weight between 3,800 and 4,000 lbs. Thanks to the rearward mounting of the engine in the FM platform, distribution of that weight for most models is 54 percent in the front and 46 percent in the rear for optimal handling. Infiniti foregoes fold-down rear seats for the sake of structural integrity, though there is a lockable rear seat pass-through for longer cargo. The trunk lid is lined and includes an integrated handle, making it easier to close.
On the inside is where the 2006 Infiniti M sets itself apart, most notably with the dashboard and center instrument panel. All of the heating and air conditioning controls sit atop the center of the dash, similar to the layout in the previous M45, though now more spread out. Included amongst the buttons is a central knob that can be used as a single control for the audio and climate systems. Infiniti calls it the Human Machine Interface…gets ya all warm and tingly inside, doesn't it? Consider the Interface a simpler, more intuitive take on BMW's iDrive system. Below the heating and air conditioning controls resides the audio system, which incorporates the traditional analog clock and uses a more conventional control setup.
The dash is narrow on the ends and deep in the area of the center controls, displaying the designers' attempt to mimic the letter "M." Whatever. Let's just say it's a nicely contoured dash. Liberally placed throughout the cabin are alloy and chrome accents, and a quality mesh material is used on the headliner and the pillars. As should be expected in a luxury vehicle, soft-touch plastics have been used instead of the hard variety, and they are supplemented by the generous use of leather inserts. Even the doorframe seals are covered in fabric.
On the open highway, each model easily reaches speeds that would upset law enforcement officers, but given the quiet cabin and smooth ride, the speedometer and those flashing blue lights are the only indicators of the vehicle's actual velocity. Thankfully, the well-modulated brakes do a great job of slowing things down. For the twisty section of our 200-mile route, we were seated in an M45 Sport, a car that offered a reassuring mix of adhesion and speed in the corners, though the firm suspension and larger tires resulted is a louder, harsher ride. Body roll was minimal, the Bridgestones offered excellent grip, and the steering provided the proper amount of feedback. Inside, the thick seat bolsters kept all passengers secure, regardless of how the car was being driven.
Those 200 miles also allowed us time to develop some first impressions of the M's interior. The information screen in the center of the dash and some of the controls were occasionally washed out by sun glare, and shorter drivers might have some difficulty reaching the rightmost instrument panel controls. Between the front seats is an armrest with lots of storage, though the optional DVD player takes up a lot of space. The firm, comfortable rear seats are easy to get into thanks to doors that open nearly 90 degrees; however, with significant bolstering, beefy headrests and a large fold-down center armrest, the larger rear seat area still feels tight.
Test Vehicle: 2006 Infiniti M35 and M45
Engine Size and Type: 3.5-liter V6/4.5-liter V8
Engine Horsepower: 280 at 6,200 rpm (M35)/335 at 6,400 rpm (M45)
Engine Torque: 270 at 4800 rpm (M35)/340 at 4000 rpm (M45)
EPA Fuel Economy: 18 city and 25 highway (M35)/17 city and 23 highway (M45)
Curb Weight: 3,832 lbs. (M35)/3,948 lbs. (M45)
Max. Cargo Capacity: 14.9 cubic feet
Max. Seating Capacity: 5
Competitors: Acura TL, Acura RL, Audi A6, BMW 5 Series, Cadillac CTS-V, Cadillac STS, Chrysler 300C and 300C SRT-8, Jaguar S-Type, Lexus GS, Lincoln LS, Mercedes-Benz C55 AMG, Mercedes-Benz E-Class, Saab 9-5 Aero, Volvo S80
Yes. The horsepower dropped from 340 in the 2004 model to 335 in the 2006 Infiniti M; torque has increased from 335 lb.-ft. at 4,000 rpm to 340 lb.-ft. at 4,000 rpm. Infiniti product planners explained that the engineers' goal was to "put much more power and torque in the driving range." However, we're still trying to figure out how a loss of five horsepower and a gain of a measly five lb.-ft. of torque amount to "much more power and torque."
Out of the five 2006 Infiniti M models, which is the best value?
Most people will be more than satisfied with either the M35 or M35 Sport - both offer a bounty of standard features, a comfortable ride, and plenty of power. Unless you live in an area with a lot of bad weather, the M35X's all-wheel drive isn't necessary, and the M35 Sport can be had for nearly the same money. And the M45? As fun as it is, most people won't ever need the extra power, making the premium price a hard sell.
Is Infiniti planning on adding any models to the M's lineup?
All-wheel-drive versions of the M35 Sport and the M45/M45 Sport are possibilities, but there are no production plans at this time.
Photos courtesy of Infiniti North America