Infiniti Reveals 2011 M37, M56 Sedans
By Chris Haak
As mentioned in my recent review of the 2009 Infiniti M45x sedan, the next-generation car was going to boast a new 400-horsepower V8 engine in its top-of-the-line model, easily surpassing the 325-horsepower output of the current M45’s 4.5 liter V8 engine. Soon after writing that article, Infiniti pulled the virtual sheet off of its 2011 M sedan, and released a few technical details for the new car as well. There’s a lot more to like about the 2011 M than another 75 horsepower, though that certainly increases the car’s appeal significantly.
The new M’s shape throws away the conservative shape of the previous model and replaces it with a far more flowing, organic shape that takes many of the G sedan’s attributes, while enhancing them further with a more pronounced swage line that cuts into the body on the front fenders right behind the swept-back headlamps, and goes on an up-and-down wave to the back of the car, a beltline that curves downward in the middle of the car and upward at the tail end of the rear door, and another far more pronounced character line at the base of the doors, above the rocker panels. The result is a car that is instantly recognizable as an Infiniti (thanks to its family resemblance with the G) and instantly recognizable as an M (thanks to the squared-off shape of the grille, and the shape of the small windows aft of the rear doors). The juxtaposition between the squared-off grille and the otherwise curved shapes throughout the car’s design reminds one of the Nissan Maxima, though I don’t think the M’s design will stir as much controversy as the M(axima)’s design did.
Infiniti claims that interior materials have been upgraded, and it’s clear from the photos that the design has been improved. The old M has very good seats and soft-touch materials throughout, but like the inoffensive exterior, the interior wasn’t likely causing buyers to daydream about it. From the interior photo rendering provided by Infiniti, it appears that the satin-finish wood of the M45 has been dispensed in favor of more traditional glossy wood, and the center stack appears to protrude less into the cabin, giving it less of an ATM feel.
The 400-horsepower 5.6-liter V8 obviously produces more torque than the smaller, less-powerful 4.5 liter V8 as well, and that torque likely allows a taller final drive ratio, which in turn – coupled with the expected seven-speed automatic – gives the far more powerful M56 a 10 to 15 percent fuel economy bump. This means that the gas guzzler-taxed M45x (rated at 14 city/20 highway) would jump to 15 city/22 highway with a 10% improvement and 16 city/23 highway with a 15% improvement. Not Prius (or Volt) numbers, but likely good enough to dodge the tax. Speaking of numbers, the M56’s new V8 tops all comers in the segment in which Infiniti intends to compete: the BMW 550i produces 360; the Lexus GS460 produces 380, and the Mercedes-Benz E550 produces 382.
Infiniti is also cementing the M’s status in the lineup as the brand’s flagship. Around the time of the FX50’s launch, I questioned whether the FX50 was the brand’s flagship after the departure of the Q45 after the 2006 model year when Nissan ceased exports of the car. After all, the FX50 had the brand’s most powerful engine, most transmission ratios, and most safety and comfort technology; it just so happened to all be bolted to a crossover body instead of a traditional sedan body. The FX was the first vehicle that I’d ever driven that was smart enough to keep the cruise control engaged down to a full stop, then start over again – something very handy in stop-and-go traffic.
The 2011 M takes the FX’s safety technology and goes at least one step further. It will be the first Infiniti to feature “blind spot intervention,” which will actively assist the M in steering back into its lane in the event that the car’s driver inadvertently steers the car toward a collision in the car’s blind spot. I’m optimistic that BSI (which I’m pretty confident is what the button to activate/deactivate it will say, given Infiniti’s inclination toward alphabet soup acronyms on its secondary controls) will be a less-annoying driver aid in practice than LDW (lane departure warning) and LDP (lane departure prevention). The latter applies brakes on the side of the car away from the direction the it is drifting toward when leaving its lane, but lateral brake application seems to be a completely different technology than actively assisting with the car’s steering out of harm’s way.
With the 2011 M, Infiniti appears to have done all of the right things to make the car a credible competitor to its tier-one German and Japanese rivals. It has luxury, performance, and technology to meet or exceed what is on offer from those rivals. With the M, Infiniti has moved itself closer to that elusive tier one status; the brand is clearly a step or two ahead of the likes of Acura, Cadillac, Saab, and Volvo, but lacking the Lexus LS/Mercedes S-Class/BMW 7-series competitor perhaps throws the brand’s ultra-luxury credentials into question. But Acura, Cadillac, Saab, and Volvo don’t even really make 5-series competitors – at least not ones as strong as the M56 appears to be.
Pricing was not revealed, but based on the additional content, I would expect to see them rise across the board. The problem that Infiniti will have, however, is that the current rear wheel drive M45 is actually more expensive than a comparably-equipped Lexus GS460 already. With Infiniti’s underdog status (at least relative to the German brands), the brand will have a tough sell convincing buyers to pay BMW money when, frankly, they could just buy a real BMW, but BMWs seem to lose all seblance of pricing reasonableness once the buyer starts ticking off option boxes. In contrast, Infiniti has taken a package approach to optional equipment, which some don’t like, but to those who like to buy well-equipped cars, often proves to be a good deal, relatively speaking.
The new 2011 M will be officially revealed in December (though little will be left to the imagination) and goes on sale starting in spring 2010 as a 2011 model.
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