2007 Infiniti M35 Sport
The 2007 Infiniti M35 Sport is the third M35 that we have reviewed in the last year and a half--but we're not complaining. Infiniti has a hit on its hands with this teched-out luxury sports sedan, which combines an arsenal of cabin gadgetry with svelte styling and peppy performance. For the 2007 model year, the M35 gets a few minor tweaks from its 2006 introduction, mainly in the areas of tech and options packaging. An Advanced Technology Package now bundles a 14-speaker Bose surround-sound audio system with intelligent cruise control, lane-departure warning, XM satellite radio, and A/V input jacks, while standard equipment now includes auto-leveling xenon headlights.
The interior of the M35 Sport is luxurious and practical. Standard appointments include 10-way power adjustable, leather-trimmed front seats complete with lumbar support and climate control, enabling driver and front passenger to heat or cool their derriÃ¨res as required. While the seats are perforated, they are too firm to be called sumptuous: an indication that this car does not sacrifice too much of its Sport identity on the altar of comfort. Our car also came furnished with rosewood trim, a stylish $600 option that replaces the M35's standard brushed-aluminum accents with a veritable forest of wood that covers the central column, the dash, and the front and rear door sills.
The cabin controls in the M35 Sport are a tale of two halves. The lower half is an elegant wood- and chrome-trimmed panel that contains the disc slot for the standard in-dash six-disc CD changer. A chrome badge next to the CD slot tells digital audiophiles that the car also plays MP3 discs, and we can attest that it is also able to handle CDs encoded in Microsoft's WMA format. Just above the CD slot, a chrome-trimmed clock rounds out the classy lower half of the head unit.
Atop the CD player is the main control center for the Infiniti M35's onboard technology; it's a busy arrangement of controls that includes a rotary dial surrounded by 34 individual buttons. These controls are used for everything from programming the navigation to setting cabin temperature to checking the tire-pressure monitor. We do like the direct access these buttons afford, but glancing across at the dash at the vast control panel can be something of a daunting prospect in the few precious seconds before the stoplight changes.
Programming the Infiniti navigation system is a unique experience. While the guts of the system are the same as those found in high-end Nissan models, the Infiniti interface is more sophisticated than the goofy joystick that we saw in the 2006 Nissan Pathfinder LE . While we prefer touch screens, the Infiniti's dial is the next best thing: letters are entered one at a time, but the predictive address entry accelerates the process considerably. Another impressive feature in the M35--and one that we think is unique to Infiniti--is the capability for rear-seat passengers to program the navigation using the foldout rear-seat entertainment display and the remote control. Even if you are not inclined to give the backseat drivers control over where the car is going, rear-seat passengers can view their own maps on the display.
Having entered a destination, drivers (or rear-seat navigators) are given the option of whether they would like to plot a route or see a map, a very useful feature as it enables users to search in the vicinity of the destination for points of interest.
The Infiniti M35's navigation system can be programmed via the in-dash LCD or by rear-seat passengers via the optional ceiling-mounted display.
As we saw in the Pathfinder, Nissan incorporates a number of unique elements into its maps, including specifically rendered points of interest. For example, when driving around San Francisco, we saw icons for City Hall, the Transamerica Pyramid, and the Bay Bridge. Maps are clear and well rendered, and the navigation system offers an impressive selection of views including a very useful bird's eye perspective, which we found particularly helpful when driving in urban situations.
Talking the talk
One of our favorite things about the Infiniti M35 is its phenomenal voice-recognition capabilities. Having pushed the Talk button on the M35's steering wheel, we were presented with a menu of possible voice inputs on the in-dash LCD screen. This might not sound all that revolutionary, but it is the first example of this straightforward approach that we have seen, and it sure beats trying to guess the correct format for voice entry. The command "Enter street address" brought about a list of quite reasonable requests from the car including details of the state, the city, the street, and the house number. We like that the system is ready to accept destinations for any state, unlike many others we have seen that require users to preselect a region of the country. As a measure of the system's aptitude for processing voice commands, it took us at least five full attempts at programming the system before it misunderstood one of our requests (Tehama Street is a tricky one, even for humans).
We had a harder time with the voice-activated hands-free calling, however. The Bluetooth interface in the M35 hasn't changed from the 2006 model, and navigating the control menus to activate hands-free calling is straightforward (settings>phone>Bluetooth setup). Pairing our Samsung SGH-t619 with the system required lots of patience, however, as we waited for the phone and the car to repeatedly find each other. In true tech-savvy style, we turned both devices off and on a few times, and finally managed to pair the two. But that wasn't the end of our tribulations.
After being so impressed with the voice recognition system when entering destinations, we have to admit to being disappointed with the M35's ability to understand our attempts to dial by voice. Whereas it took us a long time to get the nav system to misunderstand us, it required the remainder of our patience to get the phone interface to correctly process our 10-digit phone numbers. For those with less patience, the system can also be programmed via the dash-mounted buttons and the dial.
Programming the Bluetooth hands-free system by voice requires patience.
Once we finally got connected, audio quality for the hands-free system is speakerphone quality, although from the other end of the line the output is muddier than on other systems we've tried.
Our car was equipped with the Advanced Technology package, which upgrades the M35's standard six-speaker system to a far more mellifluous Bose surround-sound system with 14 speakers--including two built into the shoulder sections of the front seats. The upgraded system features digital 5.1 decoding, which makes for a bright audio output, and while a setting enables users to turn off the surround sound, we can't think of any good reason for doing so, as this only results in substituting the immersive audio for a flatter sound. From the rear seats, the sound is terrific, and for those who splash out an extra $1,500 on the rear-seat entertainment system with the 8-inch ceiling-mounted display, the theater experience is impressive.
The standard M35 Sport comes with Nissan's tried-and-trusted 3.5-liter V-6, which drives the rear wheels via a five-speed automatic transmission with manual shift mode and downshift rev matching. The M35 Sport's 275-horspeower V-6 endows it with brisk pick-up from standing, and more than adequate power for hauling tail on the open road. For those who want more than more than adequate, a 4.5-liter V-8 serves up 325 horsepower, putting the M35 in the ring with the 2007 Lexus GS 450h and the 2007 BMW 550i.
On the freeway, the M35's automatic transmission occasionally hunts for gears, meaning that a depression of the gas pedal results in a half-second delay, followed by a spike in rpm and gusty acceleration.
For more sober freeway driving, we enjoyed experimenting with the M35's intelligent cruise control (ICC) system, which is activated by pushing a button the steering wheel-mounted cruise control button followed by the Set function on the toggle switch located above. Another button enables drivers to select one of three proximity settings, depending on how closely they wish to follow the car ahead of them on the freeway. In practice, we found the intelligent cruise control in the M35 to be more responsive than that in the Lexus GS 450h, although, for those used to having direct control over gas and brake inputs, the acceleration can seem painfully slow. Also, the ICC felt spasmodic at times--sometimes braking for no apparent reason. Another quirk of the Infiniti system is that the ICC does not deactivate when the driver applies acceleration. This can lead to a situation in which you can drive the car closer to the car in front than the ICC radar permits, but when you let off the gas pedal, the system realizes that it is too close and applies abrupt engine braking (and presumably lights up the M35's LED brake lights).
The M35 Sport comes with LED taillights and high-intensity discharge Xenon headlights.
Thanks to the M35's real-time fuel-economy gauge, we were able to compare fuel consumption for driving with and without the ICC activated. The results were instructive: at 75mph with the ICC activated, fuel economy rarely dipped below 20mpg; when we were in direct control of the gas pedal, we found that the mileage fluctuated a lot more and that, on average, the fuel economy was far worse. Overall, our observed mileage over 200 miles of highway-skewed driving came out at 18.3mpg, far nearer to the EPA's city rating (18mpg) than to its freeway estimate (25mpg).
Independent front- and multilink rear sport-tuned suspension provides a firm ride with plenty of road-surface feedback, while the M35's 19-inch alloy wheels wrapped in W-rated rubber keep the car hanging on in sharp cornering. Speed-sensitive power assist comes as standard on the M35 Sport, as does Infiniti's vehicle dynamic control and traction control systems.
Building on the 2006 Infiniti M35's Good safety rating by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety for side and front offset collision tests, the 2007 model has a battalion of airbags and crash-mitigation features, including: frontal and supplemental side-impact airbags for the driver and the front passenger; curtain side-impact supplemental airbags; and front- and rear-seat active head restraints. Digital safety systems include a backup camera with virtual steering guidance lines, and a lane-departure warning that relies on a small camera mounted above the rearview mirror to monitor lane markings and sound a chime if the car drifts too close to one.
Infiniti's rear-view camera overlays useful guiding lines to help drivers judge distance to obstacles.
We managed to make the system chime by drifting out of our lane, but as we noticed last year, the warning signal is not very loud, and would struggle to wake us up if we had drifted off to sleep at the wheel. The vast majority of drivers who will be awake when in control of the M35 can rest assured, however, that the car has plenty of active and passive safety protecting them.
Our 2007 M35 Sport came armed to the teeth with options. In addition to the $2,950 Technology Package (navigation system, eight-speaker Bose stereo system, and rear-view monitor), we got the $2,500 Advanced Technology Package (six more speakers and a 5.1 channel surround-sound upgrade to the stereo, intelligent cruise control with lane-departure warning, and XM satellite radio), and the $1,500 Mobile Entertainment System with its 8-inch display, a remote control, and wireless headphones. Our tester was also decked out with a $1,590 Aerodynamic Body Kit, which gave it front and rear lower fascias, side sills and a rear deck-lid spoiler; and the rosewood trim interior for another $600. Added to the car's base price of $44,250 and including a $650 destination charge, our tester came in at $54,040.
At that price, the M35 needs to be able to run with the likes of the Audi S4, the BMW 530, and the Mercedes-Benz E350. Someone tell the Germans that they no longer have the sport-sedan autobahn to themselves.