Plant your foot on the accelerator of the 2011 Infiniti M56 and a lot happens in the next five seconds.
The car leaps forward with supernatural urgency, swatting you back like an angry horse trying to throw its rider. The 5.6-liter V8 engine hits its stride a moment later and lets loose an angry bellow as you sink deeper and deeper into the thick padding.
Behind you, rear tires strain against 420 unrelenting horsepower as the traction control system meters out maximum thrust. Tick tock. The seven-speed transmission shifts into second gear and mild panic sets in as you realize that you, too, are having trouble keeping pace with the blurring scenery.
This two-ton executive express is on a collision course with the horizon but panic turns to exhilaration as you finally embrace the power and take inventory of all that’s happening. The M56 is brutal, composed, and still accelerating very hard at this point.
The speedometer needle sprints past sixty and it’s time to ease off the throttle. You linger a moment longer to savor the polished roar of the engine and then all is quiet.
Infiniti calls this ‘Inspired Performance.’ Whatever it is, I wanted more of it after my test drive of the M56 in the rolling hills of Napa, California.
Resist the urge to mash the throttle at every traffic light and the M56 is lavishly serene. This is a luxury sports sedan, after all, and there is no shortage of refinement or comfort. The M56 is happy to whisk you and your passengers from penthouse to art house, gracefully accommodating potholes and bumps in the road with a supple ride and silky-smooth shifts.
The cabin in this new Infiniti is just as elegant as the engine is ballistic. Warm and contemporary, the interior features beautiful materials and a soft-touch dash that swoops elegantly from driver to passenger.
Step up to the Deluxe Touring package and you’ll be treated to white ash wood trim that has been dusted with actual silver powder. The effect is stunning in person and you’d be hard pressed to find nicer veneer this side of a Bentley.
Infiniti offers the M in four models, beginning with the V6-engined, 330-horsepower M37 at $46,500. The M56 with aforementioned 420-horsepower V8 engine starts at $57,900. All-wheel drive is available with either engine and comes on the M37x and M56x. A fully-loaded M56x with every option box checked will top out just north of $68,000.
And if you can wait just a few more months, a new M35 Hybrid is set to debut featuring an all-new hybrid powertrain of Infiniti’s own design. The company promises the fuel economy of a 4-cylinder compact car and the power of a V8 engine. Pricing for the M35 Hybrid should fall somewhere in the middle of the M range.
No, it isn’t cheap. But so far as big luxury sedans go, the Infiniti M is well priced and loaded with features.
Looking beyond price, I found the Infiniti M nearest to the BMW 5-Series in feel. But where the 5-er can sometimes feel cool and detached as it goes about its business, the Infiniti is very warm-blooded. Both cars are extremely capable, but the M feels more playful and eager to flex its muscles.
The Infiniti’s design may not have the charm of the immense charm of the Jaguar XF but it is nonetheless very striking in person. The front view is my favorite, with swept back headlights and a pursed mouth that gives the car a coy serpentine grin.
There are hints of Infiniti’s seductive Essence concept car, too, in the sinewy character lines that grace the profile. Handsome 18-inch wheels come as standard equipment. The optional Sport package adds a tighter suspension and dramatic 20-inch wheels that bulge inside the fenders like the biceps of a heavyweight fighter.
As you’d expect from a luxury car of this caliber, there are gadgets galore. Like the Six Million Dollar Man, the 2011 Infiniti M56 uses technology in a way that makes it better, stronger, faster. And like Colonel Steve Austin, the end result is organic and natural in operation.
Case in point: the M’s new Forest Air system alternates fan speed and temperature from the air conditioning system to simulate the gentle breeze of a forest. It sounds fluffy and cute on the surface but is based on extensive research that shows that driver fatigue is reduced when the system is active.
Call it better living through science.
Infiniti has been at the forefront of high-tech “active” safety features for several years now, being the first brand in the US to debut a Lane Departure Warning system that watched the road ahead and alerted drivers if the vehicle drifted out of its lane.
The company’s engineers have no doubt been hard at work since then, as the M sedan now features LDW, LDP, DCA, IBW, IBA, FCW, BSW, and BSI. Don’t let the alphabet soup of acronyms scare you away, though, because these new features are largely m’mm m’mm good.
Lane Departure Warning has become Lane Departure Prevention. Drift out of your lane unintentionally and the system alerts you with a chime and then gently applies the brakes on the opposite side of the car to tug you back. I expected LDP to feel spooky out on the road but Infiniti has tuned the system so well that the intervention was subtle and comforting, like an electronic guardian angel.
Blind Spot Warning and Blind Spot Intervention act similarly, using radar sensors to watch out for approaching cars in your blind spot. Veer toward another car inadvertently and the system can tug at the brakes just like Lane Departure Prevention to keep you from side-swiping the other motorist. Very cool.
The other systems use a front-facing laser rangefinder to operate everything from the Intelligent Cruise Control – which can now bring the car to a full stop in heavy traffic – to a Forward Collision Warning and Intelligent Brake Assist that can alert a driver to an impending collision and even apply the brakes on their own to mitigate damage.
This new M sedan is undoubtedly the best Infiniti yet. It’s appointments, performance, and technology are first class. But it’s the artful way the M56 ties everything together that makes this car feel truly special.
Just make sure you’ve got plenty of open road in front of you before you let the car stretch its legs.