Review: 2011 Infiniti M37
By Chris Haak
Over its three generations, Infiniti’s M car has gone from a staid, upright, obsolete-when-it-debuted sedan with a big engine to a curve-heavy technology-packed luxury car with a big engine. The first generation of the M was basically a left hand drive, Infiniti-badged version of the JDM Nissan Gloria. That car was sold during the 2003 and 2004 model years only, and was what amounts to a Japanese muscle car; it had the then-flagship Q45’s 4.5 liter V8 installed on a smaller, lighter body. All-wheel drive was not available in the first M45s, nor was a lower-cost V6-engined version.
In 2005, Infiniti shed the M’s stodgy, conservative bodywork for something still clean and conservative, but also a look that was more aligned with the rest of the Infiniti family, including the about-to-be-introduced 2007 G35 sedan. The second-generation M stepped up the technology game over the original car, adding features like four wheel steering, all wheel drive, blind spot warning system, a sophisticated multimedia entertainment system, and a standard V6 engine. Over the term of the second-generation M’s lifespan, the V6 was upgraded and the M got Infiniti’s seven-speed automatic In my past experiences with the M (via a 2008 M35s and a 2009 M45x), I found it to be a comfortable, capable highway cruiser.
My wife and I have an understanding that I am not to exceed ten over the speed limit with our children in the car. By and large, I adhere to those terms, because if I slip, she lets me know fairly quickly. But, just as in the old M, the new M is deceptively quick, and does not raise a ruckus at highway speeds. Let’s just say that I was more than ten over, and she didn’t look up from her book. On the highway, the M37 is like driving an aerodynamic bank vault, except the interior has nice leather seats and a luxurious headliner instead of shelving. The view through the M’s windows is far superior to the bank vault’s windowless 16-inch solid steel walls as well.
The M’s cabin is a stylish, well-appointed place to spend time. It requires diligence to actually find cheap-feeling, hard plastics – all of the car’s touch points are either French stitched pleather, real metal, real wood veneer, or soft-touch plastic. For a car up one price class (and a half-size larger) from Infiniti’s G37 sedan, this is all par for the course. The cabin’s design is more luxurious-looking than those found in the Mercedes-Benz E350 or BMW 535i, with very nicely-shaped door panels featuring teardrop-shaped wood and metallic accents , a sweeping dashboard, and bright, colorful gauges. Perched atop the center stack is a large, high-resolution navigation screen that, like other Nissan nav systems, allows the user to input commands via voice, touchscreen, function-specific buttons, or a multifunction knob.
Thoughtful details abound inside the M37. For instance, one specific gripe about my own Cadillac CTS is that the center stack is very wide and impedes upon the driver’s lateral knee room – and also annoys with hard surfaces on the door panel and console where the driver’s knees touch them. The M37, though, has a French stitched padded surface to the left of the console, softening the blow should the driver’s knee bang into it. The Bose 18(!)-speaker premium audio system – part of the pricey $3,350 premium package – features tweeters embedded atop the front seatbacks, as did the previous-generation M, for total immersion in your music. It sounded fantastic to me.
For 2011, the M37 has Infiniti’s newest VQ-series V6, this one displacing 3.7 liters, and it pulls strongly at nearly every engine speed. As the VQ V6s have gotten larger over the years, they have lost a bit of their refinement in the upper register of the tachometer, and this one is no exception. It’s unfortunately just not the most pleasant soundtrack, as perhaps an Acura’s 3.7 liter V6 might deliver. But the big V6 does offer a significant advantage over Acura is one measure: it’s rated at a robust 330 horsepower and 270 lb-ft of torque, solidly trouncing the best of what Honda can muster by about 30 horsepower. What’s more, the Infiniti V6 delivers its power through a seven-speed automatic, while the Acura TL and RL have only five-speeds (or an optional six-speed manual in the TL; a transmission choice not available in the M).
While it might seem that having seven available gear ratios is overkill and would lead to an excessive amount of gear shifting, the transmission is quite intelligent, shifting smoothly under normal circumstances with no drama. When in Sport mode, the transmission holds lower gears to allow you blast out of corners to your heart’s content. Manual gear changes are possible with a separate shift gate on the console-mounted lever, but they’re frustratingly inconsistent in their speed of execution. To the positive, however, the car will automatically blip the throttle to effect rev-matching downshifts in either manual or Sport mode.
The M37’s steering feel is a little overboosted at lower speeds, at least more so than what I’d typically like to see in a car. The steering did, however, track accurately with the standard 18 inch all-season tires and featured a suitably fast ratio so I didn’t have to flail my arms in fast transitions. The suspension in this non-Sport Package-equipped tester was a bit too soft for my taste, but I’ll give Infiniti credit for continuing to offer that as a choice to those who want larger wheels (the Sport Package comes with 20 inch wheels versus this car’s 18s) and a firmer, more controlled ride. That being said, I suspect that the majority of M37 buyers will be quite satisfied with the more comfort-oriented tuning of the base suspension, which provides a comfortable ride.
The M37 features a confusing array of technological doo-dads, all labeled confusingly with three-letter abbreviations that don’t necessarily make their purpose obvious to the driver. Not having an owner’s manual in the glove box of this pre-production tester, I was left to experiment for myself in attempting to decipher what AFS, BSW, BSI, ICC, LDW, LDP, DCA, IBA and FCW abbreviations mean. Let’s take a look.
AFS is Adaptive Front Lighting system, which moves the focus of the headlamps in tandem with directional changes.
BSW is Blind Spot Warning, which alerts the driver to a vehicle in his or her blind spot.
BSI is Blind Spot Intervention, which pulls the car away from an imminent collision with a car in your blind spot.
ICC is Intelligent Cruise Control, which maintains a set distance from the car in front regardless of that vehicle’s speed.
LDW is Lane Departure Warning, which is perhaps Infiniti’s most annoying electronic feature; it beeps three times every time you cross a line on the road without using your turn signal.
LDP is Lane Departure Prevention, which actually applies the brakes on the opposite side of the car to correct drifting into another lane.
DCA is Distance Control Assist, which allows the driver to – in some situations – skip repeated application of brake and throttle in stop-and-go traffic.
IBA is Intelligent Brake Assist, which applies full brake pressure during panic stops to shorten stopping distances.
FCW is Forward Collision Warning, which warns the driver with alarms and lights when the car detects that a collision is imminent.
It’s hard not to have the feeling that some of the technologies listed above are just technology for the sake of technology, yet Infiniti’s heart is in the right place. The company wishes to make its vehicles safer for occupants – as well as for other motorists who might otherwise be crashed into by a car not equipped with these technologies.
One oddball feature that comes with the Deluxe Touring Package is the Forest Air system. The system’s stated intent is to make the car’s interior environment more comfortable, and more natural-feeling. Most cars blow dried air at at constant high velocity through the air vents. This dry air, while it keeps the windows clear, tends to dry nasal passages and make occupants thirsty. The rapid airflow is often noisy and uncomfortable as well. Forest Air blocks outside odors via a special filter, alters fan speed and direction to make airflow feel more natural, carefully regulates humidity, drying air only as much as necessary, and even apparently adds scent to the air. Try as I may to fiddle with the Forest Air settings, I could not notice all of these things, but I suppose after having spent months or years with the car in varying conditions, it might be something an owner would have more appreciation for.
Infiniti also applied somewhat-intrusive technology to the objective of improving the fuel economy of its cars. The M37 has a dial behind the gearshift to change the driving mode among Snow, Sport, Normal, and Eco. Snow dulls throttle response and starts the car in second gear to allow for smoother winter-weather driving. Normal is what you think it is, and Sport delays upshifts and holds lower gears during aggressive driving. Eco, however, is another world entirely.
Once Eco mode is activated, the M37 seemingly loses half of its 330 horsepower. Throttle response is decidedly duller, and any throttle application that the car deems to be not eco-friendly is met with force feedback pushing upward from the accelerator pedal to encourage smoother, more tame motoring. Full-throttle gear changes occur at around 4500 RPMs, in spite of throttle application or the V6’s 7500 RPM redline, and basically, the car becomes completely miserable to drive. Why anyone would buy a $60,000 car with a powerful V6, only to torture themselves with Eco mode is beyond me. I’m sure it saves a considerable amount of fuel, but at what cost? The seat of my pants said a Prius could win a drag race against an M37 in Eco mode.
You heard me right – this car costs all but $60,000, or more precisely, $59,460. It bases at $46,250, and to that, my test car added the $3,000 Technology Package (Eco Pedal, Intelligent Cruise, BSW, BSI, LDW, LDP, DCA, IBA, FCW, and AFS), the $3,800 Deluxe Touring Package (Bose 18 speaker 5.1 channel premium audio system, Semi-aniline quilted leather seats, Japanese white ash wood trim with genuine silver powder accents, soft double-stitched meter hood, suede-like headliner, and power rear sunshade), the $195 trunk mat, $350 illuminated kick plates, $3,350 Premium Package (navigation, XM NavTraffic and NavWeather, Bluetooth streaming audio, climate controlled front seats, heated steering wheel, and music hard drive), and $16,50 18 inch accessory wheels. Add in the $865 destination charge, and there’s your MSRP.
While that’s a lot of money, a comparably-equipped 535i with eight-speed automatic and rear wheel drive would cost more than $10,000 more when accounting for equipment difference, according to TrueDelta.com. An E350 is about $2,600 more, but is also down a significant 62 horsepower.
The EPA rates the rear wheel drive 2011 M37 at 18 miles per gallon in the city and 26 miles per gallon on the highway. Considering the car’s 3,858-pound curb weight and fairly sizable horsepower figures, that’s not too bad. During a week of mixed driving (with a fairly heavy right foot, as usual), I observed about 19 miles per gallon. My observed fuel economy was about the same as what I saw in a 2009 M35s, but the M35s was rated at 17 city/25 highway, in spite of having the new seven-speed automatic already.
Infiniti finds itself in a similar predicament to Cadillac’s current situation, but with better products and a less-premium name. Nobody calls an appliance the “Infiniti of refrigerators,” and the “Cadillac of refrigerators” is gradually becoming the “Lexus of refrigerators” in the common lexicon. Infiniti is walking a fine line between selling premium, aspirational cars, yet conveying some sort of value message vis a vis its competitors such as BMW, Audi, and Mercedes-Benz. If someone has $60,000 to spend on a car, they often will decide to just step up to a BMW; the 16 percent premium may be worth it to them for the brand name.
But for those more interested in a car with as many technical goodies as they can find, with comfortable seats, a great stereo, rapid straight line performance, a well-built and beautifully designed interior, and Nissan reliability instead of German reliability, the M37 may push just the right buttons. And that’s an ironic statement considering how many times I pushed the wrong button in my alphabet soup acclimation to the M’s controls.