With the 2006-2010 Infiniti M, a highly competent luxury performance sedan was hidden beneath utterly forgettable sheetmetal. Before my father bought his 2008 Cadillac CTS I suggested that he also check out the M. One glance at the car’s exterior was all he needed to summarily reject it. Well, for 2011 Infiniti has totally redesigned the M to address this shortcoming. The question now: does the rest of the car measure up to the new come-hither exterior?
Ads feature the new Infiniti M with the optional sport package and its 20-inch alloys, and the car so equipped is striking. Maserati-influenced curves are a stark contrast to the relatively conventional three-box shape of both the previous M and the current competition. Curves always lend a feminine aspect to a car, but the forms in this case are massive enough that no one will think the M strictly a “woman’s car” (not that there’s anything wrong with that). In comparison, even Jaguar’s current styling direction seems overly stiff and straight of line.
Why bring up the ads? Because I’ve yet to see a car with the 20s in the metal. Here in Michigan the dealers only order all-wheel-drive cars, and for some reason Infiniti does not offer the sport package with all-wheel-drive. Yes, this package does include summer tires, but surely all-season tires in the same size are feasible.
The non-sport wheels are 18s. Not so long ago 18s seemed HUGE. Well, they’re lost within the new M’s massive fenders and supersized wheel openings. Bereft of the 20s it was clearly designed for, the exterior that looks so graceful in the ads appears stubby and stout in person, if still a refreshing break from the usual. Infiniti needs to find a way to offer the 20s more widely.
Inside you’ll find Infiniti’s best interior to date. Nearly all of the various surfaces and switchgear bits look and feel worthy of the $55,000+ price. And the interior styling is warm, classically inviting, and gorgeous. Most notable: the sporty double bump of the instrument cover and the teardrop shape of the door panel trim. The British and Italians, clearly sources of inspiration, have rarely done it better. The interiors of competing sedans are unimaginative and boring in comparison. And, unlike in many highly styled interiors, the controls on the new M’s center stack are all logically arranged within easy reach.
Yet some people will not be happy with the new Infiniti M’s interior. Though not to the same extent as that in the EX35 compact crossover, the new M’s interior fits closely around you. It was clearly designed to feel sporty and intimate, not spacious. I generally like this ambiance, but the A-pillars are too intrusive even for my taste, as they extend unusually far inward. From the driver’s seat the M doesn’t feel quite midsize despite its generous exterior dimensions.
The driver’s seat itself is larger and broader than that in the half-size-smaller G37 sedan. Adults who frequent neither the gym nor the buffet line might find them, unlike the interior as a whole, a little loose-fitting and short on lateral support. I recall cushier, more comfortable seats in the previous M, though perhaps my memory is misleading me here? To its credit, Infiniti has avoided the rush to install rock hard headrests that jam forward into the back of your skull.
The rear seat also doesn’t feel spacious, but it is comfortably high off the floor and includes a couple inches more knee room than you’ll find in the G37. The front seatbacks are low enough that they don’t block rear seat passengers’ view forward. The trunk continues the “not spacious” theme and, as in other Asian luxury sedans, the rear seat does not fold to expand it.
The new Infiniti M is offered with a 330-horsepower 3.7-liter V6 and a 420-horsepower 5.6-liter V8. The latter is the clear choice for torque junkies who can never get enough. For nearly everyone else, including most driving enthusiasts, the sampled V6’s noise output will be more of an issue than its power output. This V6 is perhaps the loudest in the segment despite the thoroughly sealed engine compartment. What might be fitting for a sports cars on the open road—and even then a sweeter song would be welcome—can come across as unseemly in a luxury sedan on suburban streets. Your ears will tell you to take it easy lest you attract unwanted attention.
With this six at least the seven-speed automatic is not the best of partners. Downshift to second for a thirty-something MPH turn and the resulting engine noise suggests that you’ve gone a gear too far. But third is too tall. Responses to the manual shifter are sometimes quick, sometimes not, and are not always smooth. To be fair, I didn’t have a lot of seat time in the car. After a few days a better working relationship might well develop as driver and transmission adapt to one another. A head-up display that included the selected gear would help. The attractive instruments are located too low for a quick glance during aggressive driving—good for seeing the road, not good for instantaneously seeing which gear you’re in (which is never nearly as intuitive with an automatic as it is with a manual) or how fast you’re going.
Despite these shortcomings, perhaps even a little because of them, I did enjoy driving the new Infiniti M37 more than nearly any other car in this class, with the BMW 5-Series the only likely exception. The intimate cockpit combines with a balanced chassis and the relatively visceral nature of the car to inspire a close connection and confidence I never felt in the previous M. The all-wheel-drive system includes enough rearward bias that the attitude of the chassis can be adjusted with the throttle. The steering could feel more razor sharp, but it compares well to the numbness of today’s typical system. Pushed, the new M feels smaller and lighter than its 195 inches and two tons, and hustling it through curves quickly becomes second nature.
Ride quality is similarly more polished than that of the previous M, and is generally acceptable for a luxury sedan with sporty pretensions. There’s some jostling about on uneven road surfaces, but no harshness, at least not with the 18s. (The lower profile 20s could be a different story.) Wind noise is low, but road noise on concrete is a bit above the luxury sedan norm. Infiniti continues to have different priorities than Lexus.
No car is perfect. Overall, my criticisms stem from how close the new Infiniti M comes to perfection rather than how far it falls from it. Beautiful exterior—unless you get the standard wheels. Lovely cockpit—except the A-pillars are overly intrusive while the seat bolsters aren’t intrusive enough. Fun to drive—but the V6’s engine note could be of higher quality and lesser quantity. Compare the new M to existing competitors rather than an evasive ideal, and it stacks up very well for anyone who prioritizes the driving experience over silence and spaciousness.
Michael Karesh owns and operates TrueDelta, an online source of automotive pricing and reliability data.