2009 Infiniti M35 AWD

Infiniti’s often-overlooked M gets a boost in performance.

2009 Infiniti M35 AWD

Quick, name four luxury automakers. If you’re like most folks, you’ll name – in no particular order – Lexus, Mercedes, BMW, and Jaguar. You might have also named Rolls-Royce or Bentley. But chances are, you probably didn’t think of Infiniti on your first try.

FAST FACTS

1. The 2009 M35 gets a more powerful 3.5-liter V6 engine with 303 hp and 268 ft-lbs of torque.

2. Prices for the V6-powered luxury sedan start at $45,800 and stretch to $55,000, while the top-line AWD M45 starts at just under $55,000.

3. The M35 is offered in rear-wheel or all-wheel drive.

Nissan introduced the Infiniti line in 1989 about the same time as Lexus. But right from the start, the Infiniti brand didn’t click with the public like Lexus did. Many folks trace that back to the first set of television ads that began showing a few months before the new cars came out. Lexus showed its cars in traditional ads, with the cars driving on the road, and highlighting the styling features, and luxury amenities. Nissan’s campaign was more bizarre, and didn’t show the cars at all, but lots of waterfalls over pebbles, and rainbows, and their badge was affixed to the front of every car. And that big badge looked like a cowboy’s belt buckle on steroids, and seemed totally out of place on the front hood of a luxury car.

The advertising campaign didn’t resonate positively, and Lexus got a big jump on Infiniti by the time both car lines appeared in the showrooms. And that left Infiniti playing catch-up with Lexus, despite the fact that their first offerings were excellent cars. Both the Infiniti and Lexus brands kept the corporate identities that they had with Toyota versus Nissan, which was similar to the identities that Mercedes Benz and BMW held compared to each other. That is, Infiniti (like BMW) biased its products more towards performance and handling, while Lexus (like Mercedes) is more biased towards luxury and a plush ride quality.

And those roles seem to still be in effect. Infiniti makes their cars more performance oriented, with a bit more styling flair, while comparable Lexus models seem to have a more luxurious ride quality and refinement. And while both manufacturers make cars I really enjoy, I have a tendency to gravitate to the Nissan/ Infinityi ethos.

The 2009 Infinit M35 is an excellent automobile, and the one I tested had the all-wheel drive option, which adds $2,150 to the $45,800 price of the base rear-wheel drive M35. My test car also came equipped with the Technology Package for $3,350 which included a Navigation System with rearview camera, Lane Guidance, XM Nav Traffic info, an 8-speaker Bose Sound System, a 9.3 GB Music Box hard drive, Voice Recognition and an interface for iPod or MP3 players.

The $2,800 Advanced Technology Package upgrades the sound system with a 14-speaker surround sound system, Lane Departure Warning, Lane Departure Prevention, Intelligent Cruise Control, and Preview Braking. Add in destination charges and the sticker comes to a hefty $54,915.

MORE POWERFUL 303 HP V6 FOR 2009

The M35 is powered by a 3.5-liter V6, that puts out 303 hp at 6400 rpm, and 268 ft-lbs of torque at 4800 rpm, (a significant power boost from last year’s model), which makes for sprightly acceleration, and plenty of passing power on two lane roads. The motor is a bit thirsty and mileage numbers only reach 16 mpg city and 22 mpg highway, both numbers proving to be accurate in my driving time. Mated to the engine is Infiniti’s CVTCS transmission, which seems to shift seamlessly in automatic mode, and when in Manual Shift Mode, the shifts are also quick and sharp, and downshifts are electronically controlled to blip the throttle to match the engine rpm to the vehicle speed for even smoother downshifts. Zero to 60 times should be in the mid 6 seconds range.

EXCELLENT ALL-WHEEL DRIVE GRIP WITH A ROCK-HARD RIDE

The M suspension is an independent double-wishbone design in front and multi-link independent system in the rear, along with front and rear stabilizer bars. Add in Infiniti’s advanced Vehicle Dynamic Control (VDC) with Traction Control System (TCS), and the all-wheel drive system and you’ve got the perfect prescription for a sedan that will corner well in all types of conditions, and handle any twisting road with confidence. The VDC adjusts brake pressure and engine torque automatically in understeer, oversteer, or slippery road surface situations, helping the driver keep to his intended path.

Unfortunately, ride comfort is sacrificed, especially over broken pavement and highway expansion strips to the point of annoyance. Hit that bad pavement in mid corner, and the car tends to hop around a bit. I wish the suspension was electronically controlled to have a softer setting when comfort is more desirable than handling.

The M also utilizes standard 4-wheel power-assisted vented disc brakes with Anti-lock Braking System (ABS), Electronic Brake force Distribution (EBD) and Brake Assist (BA). The steering system is an electronically controlled vehicle-speed-sensing variable-assist power rack-and-pinion design. Both systems offer excellent feel and performance.

LOTS OF HIGH-TECH GOODIES

One of the technology features I was most impressed with is Infiniti’s advanced Lane Departure Prevention (LDP) system. The LDP works with the M’s Vehicle Dynamic Control system and uses a small camera installed behind the windshield to detect lane markers in front of the vehicle, calculate its position relative to those lane markers, and warn the driver of lane drift (when not using the turn signal) with a visual display and audible buzzer. If the driver does not return the vehicle in the direction of the center of the travel lane, the LDP system applies a slight amount of brake on the opposite side of the car to pull it back into position. This way, if you lose concentration by reaching for the radio controls or cell phone and begin to drift out of your lane, the system lets you know and even helps correct the situation.

Intelligent Cruise Control is another tech feature I liked. While you’re driving with the cruise control operating, should you get too close to the vehicle in front of you, the car will automatically slow to a proper following distance. If you then change lanes to avoid the slower traffic, the cruise control will accelerate to the speed that was previously set. If all cars had these features, a lot of accidents could be avoided.

One piece of technology that was curiously absent was a Park Assist System that beeps when nearing an object when backing up. The Nav system has a back-up camera, but I’ve always found them a bit confusing to use without the warning beeps that you’re getting close to a solid object behind you.

COMFORTABLE AND ELEGANT INTERIOR

The interior is both luxurious and well thought out. The 10-way power adjustable leather seats are club chair comfortable with enough support for spirited driving. Driver room is healthy, and the rear seating room is generous and comfortable as well. The combination of leather, aluminum, and wood trim give the interior a graceful elegant appearance, and what you’d expect in a car in this price range. And the center armrest is placed so that the driver’s elbow can rest comfortably on it, and still hold the wheel properly.

All dash and console controls are easy to see and operate. There is a large round function dial on the dash in a nod to copying BMW’s I-Drive as so many luxury cars have done. Fortunately, that dial is used mostly for the Navigation System, and is not required to control the heating and air conditioning, or most other functions. By the way, on a 1 to 5 scale for easy intuitive use of the Navigation System, without needing to spend a few hours with the Owners Manual, I’d give the Infiniti a 5. All but the most sophisticated capabilities are quite easy to handle. By contrast, my last test car (a Mazda) drew a 1 for “ease of use”.

INDIVIDUAL YET UNDERSTATED EXTERIOR

The M35 received fresh bodywork on last year’s model, and still holds its own in the styling department. Brightwork frames the windows and rear bumper, and there are two shiny strips that run along the top of the car from the edge of the windshield, to the edge of the rear window for a bit of flair. I only wish that those chrome strips were rain gutters, as the shape of the car won’t permit having the windows cracked even a little if it’s raining outside. If you wish to keep water from dripping onto the armrests of the doors, and your clothing, keep the windows shut. Fit and finish is excellent.

THE VERDICT

The M35 is an excellent automobile. It combines luxury with a fit and trim package that delivers both good performance and sharp handling. But my new benchmark for luxury sedans is the new Hyundai Genesis. That car has most of the same technologies, similar luxury refinements and amenities, but has a roomier cabin, comes with a larger, much more powerful V-8 engine, and even gets better gas mileage. And it’s a whopping $13,665 less expensive. I’m afraid that Genesis is going to cause a lot of headaches for every luxury car model, not just the four you can think of quickly.

PLUS

Excellent stable handling on smooth pavement
Lane Departure Prevention System and Intelligent Cruise Control
Easy to use Nav System and controls

MINUS

Gas mileage only fair
Suspension is harsh over rough roads
Pricey

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