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2011 Infiniti M56x Review
The Infiniti M56 proves a luxury saloon and a sports sedan can in fact be one vehicle
By Colum Wood, Photography by Infiniti, Aug. 13, 2010

Luxury isn’t just about amenities, high-grade materials, workmanship and bountiful amounts of power. It’s also about style.

FAST FACTS

1. The top tier M56 model gets an additional 95-hp and 81 ft-lbs of torque over its predecessor, to combine for 420-hp and 417 ft-lbs.

2. Even with all that power, fuel economy has been increased from 14/20-mpg to 16/23-mpg for AWD V8 models and 16/21-mpg to 16/25-mpg for the rear drive V8.

3. A $3,650 Sport Package adds 20-inch wheels, a sport tuned suspension, larger brakes, 4-wheel active steering, sport seats and a unique front fascia.

4. Standard on V8 models is the Premium Package with Navigation and an 8-inch screen, a heated steering wheel and heated and cooled seats.

5. Pricing ranges from $46,250 to $60,050, plus options.

Straddling the line between traditional mid-size and full-size luxury sedans, Infiniti’s new M is designed to offer the sporting nature of one, with the luxury and size of the other. And in keeping with Infiniti’s luxury mandate, the M was designed to do all this with style.

Perhaps a little too close to the profile of the eye-catching G sedan, once you approach the new Infiniti M there’s no denying its size. The flowing lines may remind you of the M’s little brother, but the slab-fronted chrome grille eschews power and confidence, seeking to make its mark, rather than just become an alternative to traditional German luxury sedans or Infiniti’s Japanese rival, Lexus. The rear does leave something to be desired, however, with a tail that slopes off like a design school afterthought in a world full on high-backed luxo-barges.

AFTER THE G, IS THE M INFINITI’S NEXT SUCCESS STORY?

After a history of coming second to Lexus (if not third after Acura), Infiniti turned a corner with the excellently executed G sedan. The Infiniti M is the second car from Nissan’s luxury arm to exhibit that same level of planning.

A looker on the outside, those wanting to option-out their M can add even more style (and performance) with the Sport Package that includes, among other things, 20-inch wheels – but more on that later. In standard trim our M56x test car looks suitably proportioned on its 18-inch rollers.

Inside it’s pure luxury thanks in part to the Premium Package (standard on V8 models) and our test car’s optional Deluxe Touring Package. Notable in the Premium Package is the 8-inch display for the Nav system, heated steering wheel and climate controlled (heated and vented) seats. As for the $3,800 Deluxe Package, it includes a 16-speaker Bose audio system, higher-grade semi-aniline leather with a unique wavy pattern on the seats and doors, added seat bolstering and a microfiber headliner. Plus, there’s Infiniti’s Forest Air system, which not only purifies the air but is also designed to move air around the cabin with a natural breeze – not that we noticed though.

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The two biggest upgrades are the special leather and the “white ash silver powdered wood trim.” It’s like nothing we’ve ever seen before with a metallic finish to the wood that coats the entire center stack, making it an artistic showpiece in the cabin. But those aren’t the only design cues worth noting. As mentioned, Infiniti prides itself on luxury with style, and we absolutely love the brushed metal on the doors and solid metal door pulls, both of which fit together with the wood trim with a Yin-yang design.

ERGONOMICS NEED WORK

The M’s cockpit is not without its flaws, however. Our biggest issue is with ergonomics and the placement of buttons. Several buttons, including those for the heated steering wheel, blind spot warning and VDC, are located low and to the left of the steering wheel – so low in fact that you have to struggle to find them. This is particularly annoying if you prefer to drive with the lane departure warning system off, having to reach down and find the button every time you get into the car. The trip and fuel economy info is also hard to access (and find), with buttons located on the dash-front hidden directly behind the steering wheel.

Another criticism, which would have seemed absurd only a year ago, is that Infiniti’s operating system isn’t like BMWs. Now it’s not the operation, but rather the placement of the control dial that’s confusing, located mid-way up the center stack rather than on the center console. Perhaps it’s a sign that we’ve become too comfortable with iDrive, but we’d also suggest it’s because that location is ideal – especially in a car with an automatic transmission where your right hand is free to scroll through the many menus.

That spot on the center console isn’t wasted, however, playing host to the Infiniti Drive Select knob. Using it, the driver can easily switch between four different driving modes. Along with a standard setting, there’s one for snow, as well as a performance setting with a more sensitive throttle and an ECO setting that retards the throttle sensitivity, like you might find on a Toyota Prius.

INDUSTRY FIRST LANE DEPARTURE AND BLIND SPOT INTERVENTION

Along with a focus on style, Infiniti also likes to boast that it uses plenty of technology – and not just for technology’s sake. We though they had perhaps failed in this attempt after not being able to activate the lane departure and blind spot intervention systems. It didn’t take long, however, before we realized that neither can be activated when the traction control is switched off. Innovative features, Infiniti brings this technology to market first, not only offering a warning if you’re drifting from your lane or about to hit a car in your blind spot, but actually engaging the brakes on the opposite side of the car to pull you back into your lane.

The same VDC-off override applies to the intelligent cruise control.

BIGGER V8 GETS HUGE POWER INCREASE

Under the large swoopy hood there’s an impressive upgrade from the previous M model. While the base engine is a 330-hp 3.7-liter V6 borrowed from the G, our M56x test car gets its gusto from a large direct-injection 5.6-liter V8 with 420-hp and 417 ft-lbs of torque. That’s an increase of 95-hp and 81 ft-lbs respectively.

With a 0-60 mph time in the mid to low five second range it’s certainly not lacking, but the power delivery feels a bit peaky compared to some of the turbo V8s offered by competitors. Infiniti’s excellent 7-speed automatic helps the big V8 deliver reasonably good fuel economy for its class with a 16/23-mpg rating for AWD models like out test car. Rear-drive V8 models improve on that slightly with a 16/25-mpg rating while rear-drive V6 versions will register as high as 18/26-mpg. All models boast a significant improvement over the previous generation.

As one of the best auto-boxes in the industry, Infiniti’s 7-speed grabs gears quickly and when paired with such a large V8 makes for an impressive package. As far as V8’s go, this one likes to rev and delivers a solid whoosh of acceleration gear after gear.

Along with items like the ECO drive, Infiniti did take other measures to optimize fuel economy. Most importantly, lighter materials were used to keep the car’s curb weight to a minimum. While a large luxury sedan, the M weighs as little as 3,858 lbs in RWD M37 trim, while our V8-powered AWD M56x machine tops out the range at 4,228 lbs.

ON THE ROAD, LUXURY MEETS SPORT

Turn in for a corner and you might at first think Infiniti has left its dynamic drive qualities behind. Steering is rather loose and the chassis feels a bit wobbly on the suspension – like a comfort-oriented highway cruiser. Get on the power, however, and the car seems to stabilize allowing you to power out with confidence. When pushed, our all-wheel drive M displayed its natural tendency to understeer, but with the VDC off it was possible to drive the car with the rear wheels.

The experience left us eager to try out a Sport Package-equipped model with more thickly bolstered seats, a stiffer suspension, larger 20-inch wheels with lower profile tires and upgraded brakes – although the stock binders do work well on the street.

THE VERDICT

Infiniti’s confidence in this new model is reflected in its sticker price. Unlike the G, it’s not a low cost alterative to its German counterparts – unless of course you consider luxury flagships as direct competitors. Sure it may start at $46,250 but with the larger V8 engine and the added standard features included on V8 powered models the M56 starts at $57,550 and jumps to $60,050 for the all-wheel drive model.

While one could argue that its either a too-small luxury car or a too-large mid-size luxury sports sedan, allow us to suggest that perhaps it’s the perfect mix, with all the rear seat room, luxury features and road presence you could want - plus a level of driving enjoyment that’s hard to find in a flagship luxury sedan.

LOVE IT
  • Exterior style
  • Interior design and materials
  • Innovative high-tech features
  • Excellent blend of luxury and sport
LEAVE IT
  • Cockpit ergonomics
  • Rear end design
  • Lane departure/blind sport intervention and intelligent cruise control don’t work with VDC off

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