Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Infiniti M56 - Performance. Luxury. Technology.

Infiniti, the upscale division of Nissan, has presented various interpretations of upscale transportation throughout its two decades of existence. The M sedan is today's halo car, with a pleasing blend of performance, luxury and technology. Style and craftsmanship are the mortar between those three bricks.

Just listing the amazing array of features on this midsize BMW/Mercedes/Audi/Lexus competitor would take up more room than I have, so we'll have to look at some representative examples.

Performance is a great place to start. There are two available engines--the 3.7-liter, a 330-horsepower V6 found in the M37 and the mighty 5.6-liter V8, with 420 horsepower and 417 lb.-ft. of torque, that sits beneath the curvaceous hood of the M56. Both engines come mated to a seven-speed automatic. The car comes standard with traditional rear-wheel-drive but you can request the Intelligent All-Wheel-Drive system if you are concerned about traction.

My 2013 M56 was rated at 16 City, 24 Highway, with an average of 19 mpg by the EPA. I accumulated 17.1 mpg--not bad, but premium fuel was running nearly $5.00 a gallon during my test. The 2012 model earned a 6 for Air Pollution and 3 for Greenhouse Gas from the EPA. Big engines have trouble getting a good Greenhouse Gas score, but you can carefully control an engine of any size for low emissions.

Luxury is both a look and a feel. What other motorists see is a bold, curvilinear design that has borrowed something from classic British Jaguars and Bentleys but is comfortably informal too. It's almost prettier than you expect, and it's comforting to look out the windshield at the sensuously proportioned hood. My tester was a Platinum Graphite M56--a formal gray that fits for a car of this caliber.

Luxury is best represented inside, with sublime leather seating, Japanese Ash trim and the long list of amenities that are expected at this price point and market segment. Yes, there's dual-zone climate control, but this car has something even better--Forest Air. As part of the Sport Package (more on this later), it removes odors and then distributes the breeze in an irregular, outdoorsy way. Oddly, when it's  varied like this you are actually more aware of it.

Technology may be the most important ingredient in this super car. A rear-view monitor is nothing that special today, but how about a rear sonar system that detects objects? You have access to the Zagat restaurant guide through the Hard Drive Navigation System, along with traffic and weather information. Rain sensing windshield wipers are no longer a new idea but they fit right in here, along with automatic on-off High Intensity Discharge headlamps.

If you really want technology, though, you have to order the $3,050 Technology package. Here you get a blind spot warning system that tells you, with lights, when someone's next to you where you can't see them in your mirrors. The next step is Blind Spot Intervention, where the rear brakes automatically kick in to guide you away if you try to turn into an occupied lane.

If no-one's there but you need to stay in your lane, the Lane Departure Warning and Lane Departure Prevention systems are there to protect you. Active Trace Control fine tunes engine torque and four wheel braking to keep you poised on curving roads. Forward Collision Warning is part of the braking package that lets you know with flashing lights if you're coming up too quickly on someone in moving traffic. My least favorite part of the Technology Package was the Eco Pedal, which pushes back at you if you drive too vigorously. I'm glad to save gas and the environment, but that's too much nannying.

Further enhancing my tester was the Sport Package ($5,650) that introduced stunning 20-inch wheels to go with lots of "sport" features, such as the Sport front fascia (dark instead of chrome), Sport brakes with four pistons in the front disc and two in the rear. How about Sport seats in front? A Sport-tuned suspension? Four wheel active steering sounds pretty exotic--and Nissan/Infiniti has experimented with it for a while. It just enhances the feeling of agility of this two-ton ride.

Craftsmanship? The pieces fit together perfectly, the materials are top-level and there is such a wealth of things to look at and touch. It's hard to think of anything that could be missing here. The side panels are made of aluminum to save weight, but are hand-inspected to be perfect. You won't get that on a Nissan Sentra.

You'll pay for the privilege of driving an M56. It starts at $61,100, and when you add in the $895 shipping charge you're touching $62K. With the Technology and Sport packages, the bottom line for my car was $70,195.

However, driving a car like this puts you in a different frame of mind. Everything is so lovely, so comfortable and so silent (they even have Active Noise Control, which counteracts engine, road and wind noise). You feel more relaxed in stop-and-go commuting. It feels good to move your eyes and hands over the swirling, exuberant trim and pieces inside. I often found myself feeling the armrest, the steering wheel, the dash, the console.

It's been a long haul for Infiniti--they haven't been the sales star that Lexus has been--but they definitely have found their way today and offer a beautiful alternative to the other upscale four-wheeled choices.


Ashely Redden said...

The blog has tackled great points here, particularly about the car’s performance, luxurious style, technology and craftsmanship. These things should be discussed especially to people, like me, who read blogs to make a list of selection of cars. It’s good that I came across your post and it helped me a lot!

Ashely Redden

Infiniti Manchester said...

The M56 is definitely one of my favorite models from the Infiniti lineup; it's sporty and offers so much hp compared to other cars in the same segment.