CHULA VISTA, CA – Nissan’s luxury Infiniti division has not been as successful as its from rivals Toyota and Honda. Sales are about half those of Lexus and Acura and lag even further behind BMW and segment-leader Mercedes-Benz.
As it enters its third decade in the Canadian market, Infiniti is setting out to address this issue.
The heavily-revised 2011 M sedan boasts more style, power, fuel efficiency and technology. Other weapons in the arsenal include the G coupe, sedan and convertible which have all received new interiors and features in addition to updated exteriors for 2011. A new eight-passenger QX is also on the way.
The M has been all but invisible on the streets and sales charts but the new third generation should change that.
Visually the changes are dramatic. The M has been transformed from dull and nondescript to dramatic. This latest M is also the first iteration of a new look that will spread throughout the Infiniti line.
Based on the sleek Essence concept car, the M's new shape includes heavily sculpted fenders, a low slung grille and sharply cut hood lines. The rear-drive layout is emphasized by the proportions of its long hood and short rear deck.
Although it rides on the same FM (Front Midship) platform as the outgoing model, the new M bears no visual resemblance to it. In addition to the new design that draws the eyes to and below the beltline, the new M is 76 mm lower and 38 mm wider, the front track has been increased by 38 mm and the rear by 25 mm. All this results in a much more aggressive and planted look.
The inside is equally dramatic. The combination of wood, leather, metal and plastic has rarely been pulled off as well as this. The driver faces a pair of large analog instruments flanking a digital readout. Lighting is exceptional in terms of both vision and effect. There are more than 60 switches and buttons on the instrument panel and steering wheel, yet there is no impression of overkill.
You'll also find a full complement of the assists and features expected of a flagship luxury car and the M continues to offer class-leading interior and trunk space.
That tough new look and sleek, high-tech interior is backed up by drivelines that can deliver. The M37 has a 3.7-litre V-6 producing 330 horsepower, while the M56 boasts a potent 5.7-litre V-8 belting out a stout 420 hp.
The 3.7 is a revised version of the V-6 used in the G model line. Those revisions resulting in 27 additional horsepower. The new V-8 benefits from high-pressure, direct injection that puts 95 more horsepower in the corral.
Both engines use a new variable valve-timing system (VVEL) and are paired with a seven-speed automatic transmission.The M is a rear-drive car, but both models are available with an all-wheel-drive system.
Infiniti Drive is standard. This new system features four unique drive modes: standard; Eco, which maximizes fuel economy; Sport, for best performance and Snow, which modulates engine output to limit wheel spin.
If fuel economy is high on your list of luxury car attributes, an "Eco Pedal" is available that uses electronics to "push back" when you press on the accelerator to a degree that would result in less than thrifty driving.
Personally, I rather enjoyed pushing through that feature and enjoying the benefits of those great engines, both of which reward a heavy right foot with a delightful bellow and power delivery.
The V8 is especially rewarding in this respect. However, if you can avoid that temptation, the new M is capable of some truly impressive fuel economy numbers. The V-6 is rated for 7.6 L/ 100 km on the highway with RWD and 8.3 L/100 km with AWD. The M-56 carries similarly impressive ratings of 8.0 L/100 km in highway driving and 8.5 L/100 km in AWD form.
Staying with the performance theme, the Sport model of the M is available with four-wheel active steering which adjusts the steering gear ratio and turns the rear wheels up to one degree in phase with the fronts for quicker response and better on-centre feel.
The new M also brings to market a dizzying array of technologies, including many firsts. Standard equipment includes Active Noise Control – a system that uses microphones and the door speakers and sub-woofer to detect and cancel undesirable low-frequency engine sounds.
Optional or standard equipment on upper trim levels include: Bose 5.1 Studio Surround System with 16 speakers and a 14-channel digital amplifier; Intelligent Brake Assist with forward collision warning; Lane Departure Warning and Lane Departure Prevention; Intelligent Cruise Control; Distance Control Assist; Blind Spot Intervention, which alerts the driver of a vehicle in the adjacent lane and uses selective braking to pull the vehicle back into the centre of your lane should you try to switch lanes with someone beside you; Active Trace Control – a sort of gentle stability control system to smooth out the transition from braking into and accelerating out of a corner; and Forest Air – a gentle breeze circulated through the cabin using humidity control and Plasmacluster and grape polyphenol filters to remove bacteria, odors, viruses, allergens and dust.
The new M comes in a confusing variety of models starting with the rear-drive M37 at $52,400 and topping out at $63,800 for the AWD M37x Premium with the Deluxe Touring and Technology packages. The M56 begins at $66,200 and reaches $73,800 with AWD and all the packages.
Compared to the outgoing model, in addition to considerably more style, the 2011 M boasts more power, a seven-speed automatic transmission, Infiniti Drive, Rear View Monitor, Active Noise Control, Bi-Xenon headlights and power folding mirrors.
While it may not have been on many shipping lists to this point, the new version of the Infiniti M deserves to be.