By on August 16, 2010

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.

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37 Comments on “Review: 2011 Infiniti M56x...”


  • avatar
    philadlj

    I really liked the looks of the 1990 Q45. It had a nice understated elegance to it, like the BMW E38 and Mercedes W140, and just about perfect proportions. I even like the oval door handles. Looking at one (before it got the chrome grille), I’ve never once thought of a Crown Vic, let alone one in drag (Wheel skirts? Front bra?)

    I’m also impressed with ads that concentrate on the little things, where Infiniti did lots of research and went the extra mile on seemingly trivial things like the sheen of the wood or the way the HVAC blows air. Gimmicks and clever marketing perhaps, but that doesn’t mean effort and money wasn’t spent on those things, all with the aim of creating a luxury vehicle to be admired for its attention to detail and the rich intricacies of the processes that made it.

    • 0 avatar

      I also liked the 1990 Q45, especially before they refreshed it to add a grille and additional chrome.

      The new car needs the optional 20-inch alloys to look good. But these aren’t available with AWD. Which means that no Ms in the upper U.S. or Canada are going to look good.

      I hope to have initial reliability stats on the new M in November, but it’s going to be tight. If you know someone with one, please send them here:

      http://www.truedelta.com/reliability.php

  • avatar
    carguy

    It certainly looks much better than the last generation but, given the cliff face depreciation of the last model, I would only buy it used.

    PS: Am I the only one somewhat underwhelmed at 430HP from a 5.6L direct injection V8 and a 0-60 acceleration that is no better then a 535?

  • avatar
    ott

    “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.”

    Yikes. What happens if the driver, after having gotten used to this feature then rents a car or uses his wife’s car for a day which doesn’t have this? I smell a pedal-gate coming on…

    • 0 avatar
      segfault

      Exactly my thought after reading that Volvo plans to develop a crash-proof car. (Given all the crash prevention features the M56 and QX50 have already, I wonder whether Infiniti may be closer to this ideal than Volvo.)

    • 0 avatar
      Alex L. Dykes

      This worried me a bit, but fortunately the week after this car I had a Dodge Ram 3500 (expect that review in September) and fortunately I did not hit anything with it.

      segfault: The thing that driving purists (who are unlikely to buy a Volvo mind you) will like about Volvo’s systems is that they nag but do not intervene until it is to late for you to save the situation yourself. The Infiniti systems steps right in and intervenes ALL-THE-TIME. For instance: Driving on the freeway and you want to do a three-lane change to go around two slow moving cars, you start to pull left and floor it, knowing that your angle and acceleration will all keep you in the clear. The systems in the Infiniti think you are going to ram the cars in front, so in the middle of this otherwise smooth manoeuvre, the car slams the gas pedal back at you and digs into the brakes until you fight the accelerator pedal back down to the floor. The solution, but the nanny-off button on the steering wheel before doing this.

    • 0 avatar
      segfault

      I think the Infiniti would be correct to intervene in that situation. IMO, someone in so much of a hurry to be flooring it and attempting a three-lane change with no signal and no pause between the two lane changes is driving like a jackass and should be corrected, either by the car or by law enforcement. Just because you can witness it frequently doesn’t make it right.

  • avatar
    jmo

    given the cliff face depreciation of the last model, I would only buy it used.

    Is that really the case? They seem to have only been sold with massive rebates or huge lease subsidies. It’s not like anyone ever paid sticker… I mean, it might have had huge depreciation from sticker but what about from actual transaction price?

    • 0 avatar
      carguy

      Fair point – I don’t know what the average transaction price as for the M45 was but it had better been well below MSRP as ’08s are now selling in the mid to high 20s on eBay and Autotrader. Given the asking price of $60K+ for this model, maybe a lease would be safest if you really have to have it new.

  • avatar
    segfault

    Side profile looks like a cross between an Altima, Azera, and Impala.

  • avatar
    John R

    Very nice. Is it available with a “Turn-K.I.T.T.-off” button?

  • avatar
    jmo

    One good thing about lane departure warning is that it forces you to use your turn signals. I think increased signal usage would be very welcome on the roads.

    • 0 avatar
      JMII

      +1 for using turn signals, it is a lost art.

      The self parking cars was one thing… but ones that keep you in your lane, brake and accelerate automatically are just one small step away from self driving. Its kind of scary, but since most people can’t drive maybe this is a good thing.

    • 0 avatar
      mythicalprogrammer

      Yup, hated when people don’t signal. I signal + arm sign too.

  • avatar
    educatordan

    I’ve liked all the big Infinitis. If my budget were bigger I would seriously consider one.

  • avatar
    ash78

    Wow, I didn’t even realize the Q was gone…I liked that car a lot (especially in the early 90s).

    Too bad they canned the sweet Yakuza-mobile version of the M back in 2004-05, I liked that car, as well. It’s replacement M was totally different, but also attractive–even though it resembled a bloated G.

    This redesign sort of resembles a Kia.

  • avatar

    I think the M37X was a better value. I enjoyed it more than the Mercedes E350.
    http://www.epinions.com/content_510359473796

    Of course, even with the V6, its price is still way up there with the MKS Ecoboost, the 5 series and the E350. You’re basically paying for the interior material quality- and paying large.

  • avatar
    dingram01

    Why all the no-crash nannies? Surely the owner of this rig would need have no worries. Other drivers will simply move out of the way so that they don’t get any of the ugly from this car on theirs!

    • 0 avatar
      mythicalprogrammer

      “Why all the no crash nanny”

      I believe people in this segment want to buy luxury safety tank. They got money, they like to enjoy life without endangering it with crappy crash rating of a sport car, while having a bit of sport in it, and status, “I’m well off.”

  • avatar

    I really wish luxury cars could get a feature better than my S550 where in slow moving stop-&-go traffic, the car would accelerate, stop and decelerate without your foot on either pedal. I’d spend good money to have that feature.

    • 0 avatar
      Alex L. Dykes

      The M’s radar cruise control will essentially do this. It will accelerate, stop and accelerate again without feet on any pedals. However, if you are stopped for more than 5 seconds it will bing at you and release the radar cruise option. The reason for this is courtesy of Volvo who tell me that the radar systems don’t properly detect pedestrians and the Mercedes system has run over jay-walking pedestrians crossing between cars because the system saw the car in front take off but didn’t know there was a pedestrian in the way. Oops.

  • avatar
    SomeDude

    The M series has been a flop and will always be. The value proposition is not much of a magnet for those who buy cars of this stature. Everyone knows what Merc, BMW and Cadillac are. Many have heard about Audi and Lexus. Acura and Infiniti have never really had brand cachet.

    • 0 avatar
      jmo

      You assume that the only reason people buy a nice care is because of the badge. Some people just like a nice car. How do you think Lexus got started?

    • 0 avatar
      SomeDude

      @jmo
      Not all, but many. It just depends on the level, I guess. There are plenty folks in the market for an entry-level premium car who will look at Infiniti’s G series. The badge is not critical at this level. For example, one guy I know initially wanted a 3er, also looked at the G37, and ended up buying a CTS. But if we talk about the near top of the line, I am sure very few people will even think about Infiniti. Unless, of course, those people are Japanese (Koreans will probably go for the Equus).

    • 0 avatar
      mythicalprogrammer

      I don’t believe that is true. There are rich people that are frugal and spend their money wisely and then there are spoil bastard that was born rich and what not.

      Warren Buffet, I believe, drive a Town Car. Acura works with the techno geek crowds. Infiniti is doing fine, gotta start somewhere to build up the brand.

  • avatar
    wsn

    I see way more Infiniti Ms than Cadillac STS on the road.

  • avatar
    werewolf34

    Can’t wait for the m37 to depreciate like a rock. I am guessing I can pick up one at 20k in a couple of years

  • avatar
    red60r

    +1 on the Elantra reference for the side windows. If Nanny is driving, what do you tell the arresting officer when interrogated about your ricocheting off the lane boundaries? That’s classic drunken weaving! “Gee, Officer, it’s drinking only 20-proof fuel…”

  • avatar
    jkross22

    The relationship between the G and the M is an odd one. The G looks pulled tight, and the M looks like a bottle of soda with lots of curves. They are both clearly Nissan products, but it’s interesting that they’ve chosen this approach when the rest of their competitors appear to offer S-M-L of a similarly designed car.

  • avatar

    Ugh. Looks like an Equus that’s gone limp.

  • avatar
    rocketrodeo

    Edward, FYI: the Acura Legend had nothing to do with the Accord at any point in its life cycle, though the Integra indeed had a lot to do with the Civic. They shared door handles and switch gear and very little else. Both it and the Integra were originally Japanese domestic market vehicles. I bought one each of the first-gen Acuras, an Integra in 1987 and a Legend in 1989. The Legend still strikes me as the best all-around car Honda ever built.

    For all the crap Acura gets here, of the three Japanese upmarket brands Infiniti has had the least successful branding experience.


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