2006 Infiniti M45
Just when you thought the 2005 Acura RL ruled the high-tech road among sporty four-door sedans, along comes Infiniti's M45 to shake things up with its arsenal of tech toys and a lot more power under the hood than the Acura flagship. We tested a moderately equipped M45, powered by a 4.5-liter V-8 delivering 335 horsepower through a five-speed shiftable automatic transmission. We also had it outfitted with the Journey package (eight-speaker Bose stereo, backup camera, automatically leveled and steered headlights, and climate-controlled seats) and the optional mobile entertainment system, comprising a rear-seat DVD/audio system with a remote control, wireless headphones, and a DVD navigation option. It all comes to a package worth about $54,000.
Hop into the driver's seat, and your eyes will gravitate toward the dash-mounted, seven-inch LCD. The 2006 Infiniti M45's display quality is smooth and nicely saturated. The onscreen user interface struck us as fairly logical. We didn't have to work as hard to get the menu system as we did with say the Acura RL. And it doesn't hurt that bright-sun visibility of the M45's screen is better than the, for example. Still, like most cars that have a first-generation LCD screen interface driven by a multifunction knob, there's a learning curve. After three days with this car, we still had to poke around the menu system to find controls for navigation, climate settings, and audio.
Of course, one of the main uses for the LCD is the M45's navigation system. The 3D bird's-eye-view map it provides is a great contextual tool. This perspective lets you look down on the roads and see what lies ahead, making geographical relationships clear and alleviating some of the stress of travel. Less delightful are the voice prompts that accompany route guidance. Two slightly different voices speak, one for directional instructions ("turn right") and the other for street names ("Columbus Avenue"). The result is a sort of navigational Martin & Lewis routine, only not funny. The voice that handles street names is decidedly less intelligible than the one that gives directions. We would have preferred if street names were displayed on the dash as text only. If voice prompts are important to you as a guidance aid, then definitely give the M45's navigation system a listen during the test-drive. Also, Infiniti doesn't yet offer NavTraffic, as do Acura and Cadillac, so there's no real-time traffic data.
The M45's voice-recognition system can operate many of the car's cabin functions, including climate, audio, navigation, and communication systems. Perhaps most enjoyable was using it to enter new navigation addresses while on the road, a handy feature that will keep you from having to pull over and stop every time you want to enter or amend a destination--a complaint we had with the. The voice recognition was aided by the fact that this is a high-end car with a relatively low interior noise level.
When you put the car in reverse, the backup camera, which is located above the rear license plate, takes over the main LCD. Instead of simply showing you a standard rear view, the M45's system overlays color-keyed marks on the camera's wide-angle image that indicates where the curb is and helps you gauge your distance from the object. There's also a pair of yellow parallax lines that predict where the car will go as you steer backward. And as with just about all backup camera systems we've tested, the M45's adapts well to bright daylight and dim night conditions--chalk one up to the amazing development work done by the digital camera industry over the last few years!