Achtung! Redone Infiniti M targets the Germans

Automotive News reports on Infiniti's new M sedan.

Josh Miller/CNET
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2011 Infiniti M56
Infiniti showed off the new M sedan during the 2009 Los Angeles auto show. Josh Miller/CNET

SAN DIEGO--The question for Infiniti: How to get shoppers who assume real luxury performance comes from Germany to consider the Japanese brand. Infiniti's answer: the redesigned 2011 M sedan, with more power, advanced technology and comfort.

The redesigned M, now on sale, is aimed at BMW 5-series and Mercedes E-class shoppers. The M is not about quiet elegance. It is about acceleration, cornering and braking--without a lot of noise.

The basics: The big story is larger engines. Infiniti has replaced the 3.5-liter V-6 in last year's M35 with a 3.7-liter V-6 that makes the new M37 virtually as powerful as last year's V-8 version. Infiniti replaced the 4.5-liter V-8 of the previous M45 with a 5.6-liter V-8 that gives the new M56 an additional 81 pounds-feet of torque and 95 extra horsepower.

Despite the added power, engineers teased better fuel efficiency out of the M. So much so, in fact, that the V-8 version no longer triggers the EPA gas-guzzler tax, as the M45 V-8 did. The rear-wheel-drive models are rated at 18 city/26 highway mpg for the M37 and 16/25 for the 420-hp M56.

The credit for that goes partly to switching from steel to aluminum on some parts and partly to the M's Variable Valve Event & Lift technology, which reduces intake resistance. A more efficient seven-speed automatic transmission helped, too.

Notable features: Since putting on the back burner a plan to bring back its discontinued Q45 flagship, Infiniti has enlarged the M and enhanced its luxury. The new M has a wider track and more contoured door and side panels. The leather seats are more enveloping. The cockpit is accented with Japanese ash wood treated with silver powder to give it a light sheen and topped off with an 8-inch color touch-screen display monitor.

The M also has active noise control technology from Bose Corp. Vehicle engineers identified a library of engine sounds they deemed to be unappealing, and Bose digitized them and reversed their corresponding sound waves to negate them. When cabin microphones detect the unwanted sounds, the onboard audio speakers immediately emit the negative waves to effectively erase the sounds from the cabin.

The M also offers double-piston shock absorbers for a smoother ride; active trace control to adjust engine torque automatically for more precise cornering; and blind-spot intervention, which automatically applies the brakes if the M drifts into the path of a vehicle in its blind spot.

What Infiniti says: "This car is our flagship," says John Weiner, Infiniti product planning director. "It really represents the first phase of an all new-design direction for Infiniti. You're going to see elements of it in our other models going forward."

Compromises and shortcomings: As meets the eye, the new M design is a fresh improvement. But the body alterations have moved the car the wrong way on interior head and legroom. Rear passengers lose an inch of legroom and front passengers a fraction of an inch; front passengers lost half an inch of headroom.

The market: Infiniti says the M is in the new sweet spot for luxury sedans. Mercedes and BMW offer bigger sedans in the S-class/7-series segment, where Infiniti is still absent. But Infiniti says luxury consumers are drifting away from that segment into M-sized products with a bit more fuel economy, at least for now.

The skinny: Infiniti has succeeded in moving the M from its No. 2 sedan to the brand's flagship as it fights for more European-oriented luxury buyers.

(Source: Automotive News)

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