2009 Infiniti M35s Review
Having sampled most of Infiniti’s current lineup at one time or another, the M was never one of my favorite models (incidentally, the one model I haven’t driven before). The original M45 was wrapped in extremely conservative styling, but featured the fire-breathing 340-horsepower V8 of the larger and more expensive Q45 flagship; it was basically a Japanese muscle car.
The second-generation Infiniti M added a less-expensive V6 model, as well as the availability of all wheel drive, all in a body that was far more curvaceous than the previous model. The interior also enjoyed a new design, with one of Nissan/Infiniti’s first implementations of its new touchscreen/control wheel navigation interfaces at the top of a large center stack. The M is a fairly expensive car, but it also contains a lot of slick technology.
When I learned that I’d be getting an M35 to review, I was initially disappointed that I was getting the “slow one,” rather than the 4.5 liter V8-powered M45. As it turned out, I honestly never once for a second felt a need for the extra 22 horsepower that the V8 would bring to the table. The VQ 3.5 liter V6 is rated at 303 horsepower in the M35s (versus 325 horsepower for the now down-rated 4.5 liter V8 in the M45), and makes that power without the use of direct injection or forced induction. When my parents visited last weekend, my father assumed that the “s” in the model designation indicated a supercharger; from a power standpoint, it might as well have (it means “Sport,” by the way). Even with traction control engaged, the M could spin its rear tires (note that my test vehicle was an M35s, not an all-wheel drive M35x) in both first and second gears without careful throttle application, and the car really accelerated from nearly any speed with a huge sense of urgency, with one exception: in D(rive) mode or in DS (Drive Sport) mode, the transmission sometimes didn’t kick down far enough for maximum performance, in spite of having plenty of available ratios. Shifts were smooth and quickly actuated, with my belief that the only limitation that the M35’s transmission suffers is a lack of shift paddles behind the steering wheel for manual gear changes.
My observed economy was below 20 mpg, but since the average miles per gallon figure is reported on the info screen as a bar graph, I can’t be sure of the precise number. I know I was having too much fun with the car to get more than the car’s EPA-rated city mileage; the EPA rates the M35 at 17 city/25 highway.
The M35s has large, meaty 19 inch aluminum wheels with a five-spoke, split spoke design that fill the wheel openings nicely. The Sport package brings nice performance-oriented gear such as rear active steering, sport bolstered front seats, aluminum pedal accents, sport suspension, and “unique body enhancements.” While I haven’t driven an M45 before, many published reviews note that the M35’s lighter engine, and similar horsepower figures, provide for a more balanced car with better steering feel. I was very pleased with the M’s steering, which was just a bit lighter than I’d generally prefer at speed, but felt very accurate and had a sufficiently quick ratio. Panic stops (in testing, of course – I was fortunately not in a true panic situation) brought the fun to a brisk and immediate halt, while simultaneously yanking me into my seat via the motorized seatbelt pre-tensioners. The FX50 also does the same thing, and I’m all for the security of pre-tensioners in a vehicle’s seatbelts, but I really think it’d be OK to let go after a few seconds of normal driving. Unfortunately, the only way to de-compress my chest cavity was to unbuckle the belt, partially retract it, and re-buckle it.
Speaking of the seatbelts, they held me fast to a pretty great driver’s seat. Among “sport” seats I’ve experienced, the M’s front seat struck nearly the perfect compromise between comfort and lateral support. In fact, it was so comfortable that it didn’t feel like it was compromising anything. Lateral support held me in place, though in the driving I did with the car, I frankly didn’t need a ton of lateral support. The one option that my tester didn’t have that I would have sprung for is the African-Rosewood trim (a $600 option) that replaces the real textured aluminum trim throughout the interior. While I give Infiniti kudos for using real aluminum in the interior instead of aluminum-looking plastic, the proliferation of aluminum-looking plastic in lesser vehicles cheapens the real thing when it shows up in a luxury car. Maybe I’m getting old, but I now tend to prefer real wood over real aluminum (though I still prefer good fake aluminum over good fake wood).
Infiniti’s navigation system is very easy to use, and it was simple to pair my iPhone with the car using Bluetooth. Aside from its clear screen and birds’ eye view display option, the best part about the system is that it has multiple input methods; there is a controller knob that falls within easy reach of the driver’s hand a few inches in front of the screen, there is an up/down/enter button on the steering wheel spoke, and the screen itself has touchscreen capability. My only annoyance about the controls – and this is consistent among all Nissan/Infiniti vehicles that use the similar system – is that the up/down/enter button on the steering wheel is completely the reverse of logic. To move UP to the next preset station (from preset 2 to preset 3, for example), the button has to pressed DOWN. It generally takes me a few days to get used to that nonsense each time I drive a Nisssan or Infiniti, but eventually I am able to decouple logical thought from that part of my brain and get the preset that I want. The same thing applies to CD and iPod tracks, as well; you have to press down to go to the next track.
In my final drive with the M35s, I had an audio system epiphany. I mostly listen to talk radio while driving, but enjoy music as well, so I was playing with some settings on the stereo, and noticed that the surround sound feature was turned off. Upon activating it, I literally for the first time in any car had the sensation of sitting in a concert hall listening to a live performance. That description might sound cliched, but I don’t recall ever driving a vehicle before with a 14-speaker stereo that even had tweeters directly behind my ears withinthe seatback. I played a few Timbaland tracks that a previous journalist had loaded into the car from the 9.3 GB hard drive, and the audio system could not be upset, even when I played it as loudly as I dared subject my already-diminishing hearing to, or as quietly as I could still hear anything at all.
Infiniti positions the M-class as a Mercedes-Benz E-class and BMW 5-series competitor. In terms of luxury equipment, it meets or exceeds those class benchmarks while undercutting the 535i by over $8,000 according to TrueDelta’s price comparison tool when accounting for equipment differences. Heck, even without accounting for equipment differences, the M’s price in the low $50,000s and the 5’s price in the low $50,000s provide a stark example of the price disparity. (My test vehicle had a base MSRP of $46,616 and an as-tested price of $54,415, with both prices including destination charge). While the 5’s styling has been somewhat controversial, the M’s styling hasn’t really been. And that’s probably my biggest problem with the car; the design is handsome enough, but was still done too conservatively. The 2007 and later G35/G37 adapted the M’s shape to a smaller car and added some great curves to a similar basic shape, to outstanding results. Unfortunately, the G’s good looks made the M look stodgy and overly conservative. It’s still a good-looking car, but it’s certainly not breaking any new styling ground. The car that Infiniti really should be concerned about is the $35,000 Hyundai Genesis, a car that has the M35/M45 squarely in its crosshairs. The Genesis undercuts the M by even more than the M undercuts the BMW 5’er. While the M may be a better car than the Genesis, you’re definitely paying some money for the Infiniti badge over the Hyundai badge, just as you’re paying money for the BMW badge over the Infiniti badge if you choose a 535i. The question each buyer needs to ask is if the reputation and prestige is worth those tens of thousands of dollars. Frankly, as much as I love BMWs, I’d have a hard time spending the extra money for the 535i over the M35.
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