Maybe it’s because my father’s Canadian, but I always pull for the underdog. Right from the start, I wanted Nissan’s upstart Infiniti brand to kick Lexus’s polished derriere. And so it did. The Z—make that G—35 made the original IS250 look like an over-stressed poodle. Where Lexus offered an overwrought interior (ahoy there diving-watch gauge cluster!) and under-cooked mechanicals, Infiniti served-up a four-door Camaro. The G35 dispatched the IS, yawned and started hunting Germans. When Japan’s ‘other’ luxury brand (not counting Acura) re-launched its 5-Series fighter, I thought, right, here we go. Round two . . . .
At first sight, all bets were off. Why would Infiniti produce such a fat, unsightly beast? Up front, the sedan’s massive chrome grill clashes with the body’s not-so-svelte proportions, and the brash headlights are just plain wrong. The M’s obese hind quarters are more offensive than a cartoon of the Prophet lounging by the pool. I’m not saying the M45’s taillights are garish, but they’d look huge on a school bus. From the side, the M45’s not a tragedy, but that’s only because you might mistake it for the more comely G35 at twenty paces. In all, the M45 is only vaguely alluring, like a post-partum Britney.
The M’s interior is slightly more cohesive, if only because of Infiniti’s relentless pursuit of luxury. Several severely pampered heifers gave their lives for the M45’s opulent leather, while a walk-in humidor deconstructed itself to further Infiniti’s pursuit of gentleman’s club chic. The M45’s 10-way adjustable climate controlled seats are seriously firm yet deliciously comfy, and the cabin provides four adults with ein Überflusse of lebensraum. Even so, drivers who aren’t coddled into a coma may still notice the M45’s humble roots: the vents are pure Altima and the switchgear’s about as classy as the buttons on your first cell phone.
In some ways, the M45 is simply trying too hard. Not only does the Japanese luxury sedan have every luxobarge bell and whistle and flute and flugelhorn, but it provides many of its pleasures in triplicate. For example, you can Bluetooth phone a friend by punching the nav buttons, fingering the steering wheel’s tiny doodads or shouting at the voice recognition system—which works about as well as Cambodian Communism. When equipped with a DVD-based sat nav, the M ships with three players—one for watching movies whilst parked and yet another in the stereo to accommodate Bose’s 5.1 surround sound.
And a killer stereo it is, too. The 308 watt, 14-speaker system—complete with speakers in the front headrests—is loud, accurate, rich and bright. Although the 5.1 audio format is proving to be about as popular as ye olde eight track, the Bose blaster delivers the best sound you’ve ever heard in a motor vehicle. Plant the M45 on a secluded bluff, crank-up something suitably lyrical and . . . bliss. Alternatively, slip in something raucous; fire-up the M’s 4.5 liter V8 mill and rock and roll.
Although the four-door’s 335hp powerplant stumps up 340 foot-pounds of torque, the grunt only fully manifests itself above 4000rpm. So the M45 isn’t smacked-in-the-ass-by-a-polo-mallet explosive; it’s more like being shoved forward by a giant unseen hand. Even so, it’s crack cocaine quality thrust. Four-thousand twenty pounds of mass is no match for that angry beast of an engine. Stomp on the go-pedal around 50 mph, blink twice, and you’re going 100. Keep stomping and hyperspace awaits. Good thing Infiniti equipped the M45 with woofer-sized brakes that can haul you down to sensible speeds, swiftly.
At speed, even a blindfolded pistonhead would know that the M45 is derived from Nissan’s unflappable FM platform (the endorphin-enhancing chassis underpinning all the company’s relevant rides, from FX to Z). With its magnesium cross-bar beam and multi-link rear suspension, the M45’s body roll is so perfectly contained, the limits of adhesion so accessibly benign, the ride so elegantly inspiring, you’ll swear she’s German. The tighter the turn, the more the M45 digs in, snarling, daring you to kick your right foot through the floorboard. The slush box is positively telepathic; only the most Luddite of enthusiasts will miss a manual cog-swapper. You can switch off the Nanny, kick the M45 in the ribs and drift the light fantastic.
The M45 Sport features a crueler suspension set up, 19″ wheels and active steering at the rear, but the plain-Jane M45 offers as much control as average hooligans will need without threatening their bridgework. Either way, the aesthetically bankrupt Infiniti M45 is dynamically pure; and more athletic than a comparable Lexus, which sacrifices adrenaline, grit and ‘get some’ for wafting in yawny silence. That said, the Germans had better watch out. One day, one of these Japanese luxury cars is going to get every single thing right. Judging by the M45, that day is near.