2006 Infiniti M
By Dan Jedlicka of MSN Autos
Infiniti had an instant hit with its G35 sports coupe and sedan and successfully strikes again with its early 2006 Infiniti M sports-luxury sedan, which is compelling enough to seriously take on more prestigious rivals.
The new M blends sleek styling with high performance, good handling and a lush-life interior. It's sold as the M45 with a strong V8 and as the M35 with a potent V6. It comes in a variety of trim levels, including an all-wheel-drive version of the M35. Prices range from $39,900 to $49,550.
Replacing Bland Sedan
The old M was a stop-gap car to fill the slot between the G35 and Infiniti's flagship model, the Q45 sedan. The new M has the same role in life, but is no stop-gap model and promises to be a success.
The new M is a serious threat to such intoxicating sports sedans as the Acura RL, Audi A6, BMW 5-Series, Cadillac STS, Jaguar S-Type, Lexus GS and Mercedes-Benz E-Class.
Tops Popular G35
The new M even has a longer wheelbase than the full-size Q45, at 114.2 inches compared to 113 inches for the "Q." But the M is 8.2 inches shorter than the Q45, with short front-rear body overhangs for a sporty, purposeful look. Wide front and rear tracks help provide an athletic appearance.
The M shares the rigid FM platform used by the G35, although 60 percent of the platform design and components are enhanced for use with the M.
The smooth, sophisticated engines work with a responsive 5-speed automatic transmission with a manual shift mode that works especially well.
The M is available with rear-wheel drive or an advanced all-wheel-drive system with a balanced front-rear driving feel and, depending on the trim level, 18- or 19-inch wheels. There's also a Rear Active Steer system that steers the rear wheels slightly for better handling. It works virtually imperceptibly but can be noticed by a driver who's aware of it during such maneuvers as fast lane changes.
Five Trim Levels
Premium fuel is required to get advertised horsepower ratings. The V6 delivers an estimated 18 mpg in the city and 25 on highways with rear-wheel drive and 17 and 24 with all-wheel drive. The V8 provides 17 and 23.
The all-independent suspension provides a comfortable ride that is firm but supple. Powerful brakes have an easily modulated pedal, brake assist and electronic brake force distribution for panic stops.
The posh interior is the best one Infiniti has ever offered. It's very roomy for four occupants. Alas, the middle of the rear seat makes it uncomfortable for a fifth person, and that area is best occupied by the large flip-down armrest, which contains sturdy cupholders.
The large inside rearview mirror partially blocks vision under some driving conditions, as do thick lower windshield posts. It's impossible to see objects directly behind the car when backing up, but there's an optional rearview television camera that uses a dashboard screen to warn a driver that he's about to accidentally back into an object.
Some may also feel that the power window controls on the driver's armrest are set a little too far forward and thus can result in opening a rear window instead of a front one.
Voice control is standard for some audio and climate functions and a hands-free wireless cell phone link is available.
While the interior is generally quiet, the 19-inch tires become a bit noisy on some roads and there is mild wind noise at highway speeds if the elaborate sound system is turned off.
Keyless Entry and Start
While large, the trunk has a rather high, short opening that is inconvenient during quick cargo loading or unloading. However, its lid pops up well out of the way on struts to prevent accidental head-banging.
Standard safety items for all Ms include anti-lock brakes, anti-skid/traction control, front-seat side airbags and head-protecting side-curtain airbags.
The Infiniti division arrived abut the same time as Toyota's upscale Lexus division about 15 years ago, but it never has become as prestigious a brand as Lexus or such automakers as BMW or Mercedes. The M should give Infiniti more prestige and overdue respect, especially if it comes up with more models like it.