2006 Infiniti MClick to enlarge picture

A larger sibling of the successful G35 sedan, the 2006 Infiniti M is offered either as the M35, powered by a 280-horsepower V6, or the M45, powered by a 335-horsepower V8.

Hoping to build on the popularity of the near-luxury G35 and the uniquely styled FX crossover SUV, Nissan's luxury brand introduces an all-new Infiniti M that should translate into additional market share for the company.

Infiniti positions the 2006 M35 and Infiniti M45 as bigger siblings of the successful G35 sedan, aimed at such worthy competitors as the Audi A6, BMW 5-Series, Cadillac CTS, Jaguar S-Type, and Lexus GS. On paper the M35 and M45 offer the performance and luxury to compete with their rivals, using what Infiniti describes as a combination of vibrant design styling, invigorating performance and enriching technology.

We had a chance to drive both the V8-powered M45 and V6-powered M35 to see how these newest entries stack up against the competition, and we came away suitably impressed with both versions.

Building On a Successful Platform
The new Infiniti M sits on the same FM (front mid-engine) rear-wheel-drive platform used for the G35 and the FX. Compared to the G35, the M is more than six inches longer, including a wheelbase stretched more than two inches. The track gets widened 1.1 inches at the front and 1.5 inches at the rear.

More than 60 percent of the FM platform components are new, including additional welds, body stiffening, 30 percent more torsional rigidity, V8 engine capacity and dual exhaust. In additional to the stiffer platform, the M benefits from lightweight body panels: aluminum alloy inner and outer door panels, hood, and decklid.

The Infiniti M exterior design has a long cabin with a short, high decklid, and short front and rear overhangs. The conservative front-end design provides a strong family resemblance to the G35, particularly the grille. The overall silhouette has an elegant yet sporty look, and the aggressive front fascia and quad-tip dual exhaust outlets bolster the promise of performance.

The headlights and rear combination lights are the first hints of new technology on the M. The crystal-look headlight clusters house high-intensity discharge headlights, while the rear combination light use LEDs for intensity and clarity. The available adaptive front lighting system ,which is standard on M35 Sport and M45 Sport versions, adjusts the light pattern based on steering angle and vehicle speed for better night visibility while turning.

Luxurious, Driver-Oriented Interior
Infiniti designers describe the interior of the M as inspired by a piano keyboard. The standard satin-finish rosewood trim accentuates the shape of the driver-oriented layout, giving occupants a rich, high-quality experience, supported by leather-trimmed seats and door panels. The instrument panel features solar eclipse lighting with an orange glow around the perimeter of each instrument bezel.

A series of small chrome rings and other chrome cabin elements are subtle yet effective touches that add to the interior's luxurious experience. Chrome accents highlight the door handles, instrument bezels, start button, steering wheel spokes and shift knob. One item that did detract from the overall sense of quality was the plastic cover on the signature Infiniti analog clock, which felt cheap.

The sport package adds climate-controlled front seats with aggressive side bolsters and doubled stitched seams with contrasting color inserts. Aluminum trim replaces the rosewood trim on the sport package, but the wood is still offered as an option.

A wide center console flows up into the center dash section, which houses what Infiniti calls the Human Machine Interface (HMI). The HMI controls the available DVD navigation system, available RearView monitor, bluetooth wireless connectivity, tire pressure monitor system, and other vehicle functions.

The climate control and audio systems can be controlled with the HMI, but there is also a separate set of traditional controls for each system, depending on driver preference. It's a refreshing step in the right direction to have the audio and climate functions available at the top level, without the need to drill down into a menu to make simple adjustments.

"The interior of the M is designed to provide a 'hand-in-glove fit.' It is the most indulgent, high-quality design that Infiniti has ever offered—one that indicates a new wave of Infiniti interior design," said Mark Igo, vice president and general manager, Infiniti Division. "It reflects a more passionate interior direction, which is already starting to appear in production Infiniti vehicles like the 2005 G35."

Enthusiast Drivers Need Apply
The Infiniti M is offered in five different versions: M35, M35 Sport, M35x AWD, M45, and M45 Sport. The M35 trims are powered by Infiniti's award-winning 280-horsepower 3.5-liter V6, and the M45 trims are powered by a 335-horsepower 4.5-liter V8. All Infiniti M versions are equipped with an advanced 5-speed automatic transmission with manual shift mode and downshift rev matching.

The M35 is an engaging car to drive, with excellent power from the 3.5-liter V6 and smooth, quick shifts from the 5-speed automatic. The M35 feels very stable at speed, yet very nimble for a car of its size. The M35 never feels as if it lacks power, but the lusty exhaust note of the M45 heralds the extra boost of ultra-smooth torque from the V8, which is immediately appreciated for passing maneuvers at highway cruising speeds.

New High-Tech Features Abound
The Infiniti M offers a number of new features with innovative technology, making it the most technically advanced vehicle ever offered by Nissan's luxury brand.

"The Infiniti M represents the very best Infiniti has to offer. It's a result of years of automotive engineering," said Igo. "The many innovations found on the new M are purpose-driven technologies, designed to enhance safety and drivability."

New technology available on the Infiniti M includes a lane departure warning system, intelligent key with push-button starting, adaptive front lighting system, rear view monitor, bluetooth wireless connectivity, intelligent all-wheel drive, Bose Studio Surround Sound System, and rear active steering.

And Infiniti promises the new technology is "designed to allow the driver to drive," which is a thinly veiled volley aimed at competitors that have been criticized by the press and public alike for technology that makes simple tasks more difficult for the driver.

First used on the Infiniti FX, Infiniti's Lane Departure Warning (LDW) system alerts drivers to unintended vehicle movement out of a traffic lane. The system recognizes lane markings through the use of a small camera mounted behind the rearview mirror, and based on the vehicle's speed it calculates both the distance between the vehicle and the lane marking and the lateral velocity to the lane marking. These calculations help determine when the vehicle is moving out of a lane, sounding an alarm to warn the driver. The Infiniti LDW system is momentarily deactivated during turn signal use, and it can also be turned off by the driver. The system automatically resets when the vehicle gets restarted.

Standard equipment includes an Intelligent Key with push-button ignition; Infiniti Voice Recognition; Bluetooth wireless technology; an in-dash 6-disc changer with MP3 playback capability; improved Infiniti Vehicle Information System with 7-inch LCD screen and easy-to-use controls mounted on both the instrument panel and the steering wheel; Vehicle Dynamic Control; a 10-way power driver's seat; a powered sliding sunroof; and Advanced Air Bag System.

The M35 Sport and M45 Sport versions add standard 19-inch wheels and tires, sport-tuned suspension with Rear Active Steer, xenon headlights with the Adaptive Front lighting System, climate-controlled front sport seats, and aluminum interior trim accents.

Available Options
The M35x AWD utilizes the the ATTESA E-TS (Advanced Total Traction Engineering System for All Electronic Torque Split) all-wheel drive system also used on the G35x and Infiniti FX, which traces its design from a system originally developed for the exotic Skyline GT-R sports coupe.

The ATTESA E-TS full-time all-wheel-drive system incorporates an advanced torque split control strategy that automatically transfers torque to the wheels according to road and driving conditions. The system provides outstanding cornering and driving dynamics similar to a sports car due to the ability to vary the torque distribution to the front and rear axles from a 50/50 split up to 100 percent going to either front or rear.

Other Infiniti M options include: an Infiniti DVD-based Navigation System with a new user interface with voice-activated destination entry; a RearView Monitor with a wide lens view and new wheel trajectory view feature with directional guidelines that adjust based on steering input; a rear-seat DVD Mobile Entertainment System with a roof-mounted 8-inch screen, remote control and two sets of wireless headphones; and power reclining rear seats.

The Infiniti M is scheduled to go on sale in February 2005 as a 2006 model.

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