Infiniti was born out of international politics. When the Japanese government caved to US demands that exports from Japan be limited, Honda decided that it would be more profitable to sell high-profit (read: more expensive) variants of the Accord branded as an Acura Legend than an equal number of Civics. Soon Toyota was rumored to be plotting to do one better with their F1 project and Nissan knew they couldn’t be late to the party. Japan’s third brand’s solution was the 1990 Q45, which looked like a Ford Crown Victoria in drag. Sadly its replacement in 1997 wasn’t much better and the total re-design in 2002 was too little, too late. In the end Nissan canned the Q-ship deciding to make the Infiniti M battle the medium to large imports solo.
The 2011 M56x wears all-new sheet metal, but shares the same basic platform with essentially all Infiniti models except the QX, and that’s not a bad thing. The G37 is often praised for its handling and the FX50 is probably the fastest cross-trainer money can buy. Beating under the hood is the new 5.6L VK56VD Nissan V8. Equipped with direct injection and variable valve timing and variable valve lift, this big V8 puts out a respectable 420HP and 417ft-lbs of torque.
It has been said in the past at TTAC that auto reviewers are not graduates of design academies and I am no different. While I may not be qualified to comment on the aesthetics of the M56x, I have to say it doesn’t appeal to me. Every time I approached the car I felt as if an enormous boxfish was going to devour me. “Polarizing” is the best word to use to describe the styling; passengers either loved it or hated it with a passion. Styling aside, the exterior exudes quality: the panel gaps are all perfect, there are plenty of shiny chrome parts to make you feel special and thankfully there is no hint of Crown Victoria to be found.
On the inside the M56 provides much the same experience. All the components are premium in appearance and feel from the pleather dash to the illuminated door sills. Infiniti’s latest commercials boast about the pure silver dust that is rubbed into the wood trim before being epoxy coated. Seriously, silver dust? Aside from bragging rights, I’m not sure pixie dust will turn Infiniti into a mainstream luxury competitor overnight. Much like the outside, style is the in the eye of the beholder when it comes to the interior. One thing is for sure, the shape of the dashboard lends a somewhat claustrophobic feeling to the driving position. Besides being large and in-your-face, the bizzare waterfall of wood has another problem: poor ergonomics. The buttons and knobs are oddly sized, strangely located and since the console sits only a few inches away, I found myself just avoiding the entire stack.
Behind the wheel one has to constantly remember that the M56 is a luxury car, not a sports car. Perhaps it is the extreme styling that lends to this confusion. When I’m piloting an E550 I don’t feel the need to push the car, but not so in the M56. This is a problem, because when pushed in the corners, the M56x feels oddly lethargic compared to the regular M56. The AWD system certainly makes the steering a hair more numb and the whole experience feels “heavy” compared to the M56. When it comes time to merge, the AWD fortunately exacts only a small toll on performance. With my GTech accelerometer based performance meter, the M56 scoots from 0-60 in 5.4 seconds, which is not far off the 5.2 seconds I clocked in a similarly equipped two wheel drive M56 back-to-back (no rollout). Despite not being as sharp as the M56, I will have to break with auto-journalist tradition and say that I actually prefer the AWD M56x to its RWD brother. The ability to accelerate effortlessly on any road condition is my personal definition of luxury with sporting pretentions. Aside from the .2 seconds the M56x gives up to 60, highway fuel economy takes a 2MPG hit and your pocket book will be $2,500 lighter.
Electronic gadgets are really what take the M56 from a me-too luxury competitor to something for geeks to lust for. Starting on the inside drivers are treated to all the usual features you expect in a mid-size luxury barge along with “Forest Air” which varies fan speed and which vent the air comes out of to simulate a breeze, an air quality management system with a “plasmacluster” ion generator, Bose active noise cancellation, and surround sound speakers imbedded in the front seat backs. Most of these gadgets worked as advertised with the possible exception of the noise cancelling system. I had passengers press cover the microphones with their fingers and nobody could tell a difference in noise levels (the M is already very quiet), I wish Infiniti would have invested the money they spent on the noise cancellation system in their front seats. The lumbar support is positioned in an odd position and is not height adjustable making the seat somewhat uncomfortable for long car trips.
Nannies in luxury cars are nothing new. Most luxury brands offer reminders to stay in your lane, mind your blind spot, or tell you when to stop and have a cup of coffee. Infiniti takes the nanny state to the next level with prevention systems rather than just warning systems. Lane Departure Prevention not only monitors your position in your lane and tells you when you cross the line, but if will actually apply the brakes on one side of the car to keep you in your lane. Similarly the Blind Spot Avoidance system will act yet more drastically to keep you from sideswiping that motorcycle in your blind spot. While the Lane Departure system’s intervention is a gentle tug, the Blind Spot system is more of a shove back in your lane.
Infiniti offers the prerequisite radar cruise control, but with another socialist twist: a pedal that fights back. The radar cruise control with Intelligent Brake Assist system will essentially brake for you [to a complete stop] in many situations. The easiest way to describe it is like this: you are following a car on a surface street, the car begins to slow for a red light, if the M56 sees that you are closing on the car in front of you it will begin pushing the accelerator pedal up at you to indicate your need to act, if you lift off the accelerator and you are close enough to the car in front, the M56 will automatically apply the braked taking you all the way to a complete stop. Having your car stop completely for you in a normal traffic situation is a very strange feeling, but once you get used to it, it does become second nature.
Rounding out the nannie list is the ECO Pedal, if green motoring is your thing, you wouldn’t buy a sedan with a 5.6L V8, but if you ever feel guilty, just twist the transmission mode knob to ECO and the pedal will fight back if you drive in an uneconomical manner.
The M56 is quite possibly the closest you can get to a car that drives itself. “I” drove for about 20 miles on I-280 essentially hand-and-foot free; sure the car drove like a drunk, but never the less it stayed in its own lane and didn’t hit anything. Impressive. Here is another moment where I must break from the main-line auto review pack: I loved the electronic nannies. Maybe I have some unrequited control fetish waiting to be released, but I think a car that nags me to be a better driver is the best thing since fuzzy handcuffs. Infinti: when you have a car that will completely steer and park itself, sign me up.
Bottom line: The M56x Infiniti loaned us tipped the scales at $66,850 which sounds expensive, but when you option up the E550 or 550i to similar equipment levels, the M56 offers an almost $9,000 advantage and delivering an interior that is superior to the Mercedes and sporting pretensions similar to the new softer 5-series. Compared to the A6 4.2, the Infiniti brings more power and features to the table for a similar price tag, along with an interior that is just about as good. If Infiniti could market them a better brand image, then the M might just be a better buy than an LS460. At the end of the day while I applaud Infiniti for creating a car that gives the major players a run for their money, the styling is enough for me to say “no thanks.” On the other hand, at least half of the people I ran into love the style, if the looks work for you, you can’t go wrong by putting one in your garage.
Infiniti provided the vehicle, insurance, and one tank of gas for this review.