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Infiniti M45 Sport: Middleweight Thriller

In any category of car there's always those obvious top-name picks that everybody seems to gravitate toward. Maybe it's me-too-ism, or maybe it's just people's faith in certain apparently "sure-thing" brands. Whatever the underlying reasons for this phenomenon, in the world of luxury cars, the big names are evergreens BMW and Mercedes, along with more recent fave Lexus.

And then there's Infiniti. Introduced at approximately the same time as Lexus, the nameplate hasn't made nearly the impression that its biggest rival Japanese luxury brand has. And that's a shame. This upscale Nissan division has offered its share of sophisticated machinery to rival Lexus and other luxury marques. And, in many cases, Infinitis have a livelier, sportier feel than those more-popular competitors.

But while the brand's relative obscurity might be a bad thing for Infiniti, it's certainly not a bad thing for Infiniti owners. Not those willing to forgo image projection in favor of real, satisfying automotive substance anyway. For such folks looking to get a top-notch midsize luxury car that won't get lost in a sea of BMW 5-Series, Mercedes E-Classes, and Lexus GSs, the all-new Infiniti M45 fits the bill beautifully.

And even if you don't care about being a nonconformist, the new Infiniti M is a terrific car. It's worth considering strictly on its merits alone.

This all-new M was introduced in Spring 2005 as a 2006 model. It's offered as the M35 with a 280-hp 3.5-liter V6 and as the M45 with a 335-hp 4.5-liter V8. The M45 can also be had in a Sport version, which has 19- instead of 18-inch wheels, upgraded suspension, and a unique automatic rear-wheel steering system. It's this hottest version of the M that we were lucky enough to get for our test session.

Easing into the M45's roomy interior, you're surrounded by high-grade furnishings that speak of expensive quality. Sport versions of the M45 eschew luxury-car-cliche wood trim in favor of attractive stainless steel panels dressed with a fine crosshatch pattern. The cabin's overall look is a confidently understated luxury, with a clean, modern flavor. Very nice.

The instruments are traditional dials, neatly arranged in front of the driver. Somewhat less "neat," however, is the integrated navigation/climate/audio control system, which sprawls across a somewhat odd, almost horizontal panel jutting out of the middle of the dashboard. Although not as frustrating to use as some similar systems found in the M's rivals, the layout is nonetheless more distracting than it should be.

That said, the busy array of buttons is really the only major negative to be found in the M45's cabin. The seats are long-haul comfortable and supportive, with good leg- and head-room even for tall occupants. Trunk space, while not massively copious, is more than adequate for a foursome's weekend luggage.

Getting ready to embark in the M45 requires just the push of the starter button -- no key required as long as someone in the car has it in their pocket. Holding the button down, first the seats and steering wheel motor to their memory position, then the engine fires with a low, muted V8 rumble.

Now get ready to really wow your friends: Grab the leather-wrapped shift knob and slide the lever into Reverse. You'll see not just the standard gee-whiz deal of the outside mirrors motoring down, but a reverse-view camera appearing on the dashboard LCD screen as well.

Wow -- real James Bond stuff!

Pause a minute while the oohs and ahhs die down, shift into Drive, and punch the gas. Your right-foot prompting is rewarded with a satisfying, refined growl and the muscular pull of the M45's impressive 340 lb- ft. of torque. Although the car weighs a substantial 3995 pounds, it nonetheless moves with an effortless, rather addicting urgency when asked to.

And believe me, we asked it to a lot. No matter what speed you're traveling, the M45 has speed-hungry drivers covered. Nail it off the line and you're hauling along readily. Plunge into the throttle at highway speeds and the 5-speed automatic transmission promptly and appropriately drops a gear or two as needed, pushing the speedometer needle vigorously upward. Leave the pedal down to the floor and the magic 100-mph mark approaches and passes by with pleasing effortlessness.

Indeed, if you're not watching closely, you can find yourself thinking you're cruising a cop-friendly 65 mph, and actually be doing more like 85 or 90. Aside from a little too much wind noise around the A-pillars, the M45's speedometer is the only substantial indication that you're approaching triple-digit velocities.

Part of that sensation of effortless speed is a result of the M45s ride. It's a fine mix of competent body control and impressive bump absorption, despite stiff 40-profile performance tires. The car is admittedly a tad on the firm side for a luxury sedan. But it's nevertheless comfortable and, more importantly, composed. Our test M45 remained surefooted and stable even when traversing wavy country roads at close to 100 mph.

In fact, it seemed no matter how fast we were going the M45 felt planted and ready for more. At 130 mph on smooth roads, the car's confidence-inspiring composure remained intact and the engine was still pulling strong. Satisfied with this as proof of the M45's high-speed prowess, we eased off the gas to more sane velocities.

Using the car's powerful brakes to haul us quickly back down into the double-digit realm, we were able to sample the M45's fine road manners. Although this is a sizeable machine and it's obviously aimed at luxury and comfort more than athleticism, it's nonetheless quite satisfying to put through its paces. Grip is very good, helped by performance rubber, along with electronic handling aids that are effective and generally unobtrusive. Body lean is minimal, and the car treats drivers to a nimbleness that's impressive for a large sedan.

No doubt some of that agility is due to the Sport version's rear-wheel steering. The system's operation is entirely transparent to the user, except when you consider that this big two-ton sedan is whipping through corners as if it were a size or two smaller.

Complementing the rear-wheel steering is the sensation drivers get from the front wheels. The M45's steering feel is perhaps one of the car's most satisfying elements. It's a pleasing blend of good feedback, reasonably quick ratio, and light but appropriate weighting. It isn't likely to disappoint luxury buyers who seek a more rewarding driving feel than many of the M's rivals can offer.

And in a broader sense, that notion is the real core of the M45's appeal. This is a car that's rich, luxurious, and comfortable, yet sporty, modern, and a little unique. It's an excellent blend. Perhaps the best evidence of that is how much we hated to give this car back when our week-long test session was over.

Anyone who experiences the M45 will most likely feel that strongly about it too.

For more drive-test articles on today’s hottest luxury cars, sports cars, sport compacts, and muscle cars, go to http://www.autiv.com/

Submitted by:

David Bellm

David Bellm is a seasoned test driver and automotive writer. His work has been featured in a wide variety of online and print publications.





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