Remember the days when a luxury sedan was just a luxury sedan, a sports car was just a sports car, and an SUV was just an SUV? Nowadays, manufacturers are trying to make a vehicle that does everything. We have sports cars that cradle you with luxury features, crossovers that straddle the line between SUV and wagon, and luxury cars that have sports car characteristics.
The Infiniti M35 fits right in the middle of the latter description, but so does the BMW 5-Series, Acura RL, and Audi A6, among others.
It’s hard to stand out in a class with blurred lines and so much competition, but that’s exactly what Infiniti intends to do with the M35 and M45 mid-size sedan.
We know Infiniti is no slouch when it comes to keeping their line-up fresh, and the M35 is no exception. For 2009, they upgraded last year’s 275 horsepower 3.5-liter V6 to produce 303 hp, and added two more gears to the old automatic transmission, for a total of seven. The M45 and AWD models (M35x and M45x) keep the same 5-speed automatic, however.
With a car that is both a luxury sedan and sports sedan, you usually get options to lean it one way or the other. Our review model was a M35 S, which means it’s equipped with the $1650 Sport package. This includes a tighter suspension, bigger wheels, stickier tires, sporty seats and trim, rear active steering for better stability, and “unique sport styling,” as they call it.
I had a lot of fun driving the M35; much more than I expected. The car is surprisingly responsive, and handled very tight for a big sedan. The 303 hp V6 under the hood produces plenty of power, which is usually right there when you need it.
With the stability control turned off, it’s easy to break the rear wheels loose and have some fun sliding around corners, or ease up on the throttle and let the rear active steering and performance tires do their job, propelling you around turns like you’re on rails.
Drive Shift (sport) mode keeps the RPMs high to ensure proper engine response when you need it, and the manual shift mode with rev-match blips the throttle on downshift to ensure you don’t lose revs in the lower gear. If I didn’t know any better, I’d think I was driving a sports car.
The interior doesn’t let you forget you’re in a luxury sedan, however. Big, comfortable, and infinitely adjustable front seats are heated and cooled, and rear-seat passengers have plenty of room. The trunk is as big as most competitors’ trunks, which will fit everything but a bathtub.
Standard features include auto on/off HID headlights that pivot when you turn around corners, a power moonroof, Bluetooth, dual climate, intelligent key, and driver-position memory. As with all new Infinitis, the M35 comes with magical self-healing clear coat paint, which repairs light scratches by itself.
Our M35 came with a 14-speaker 5.1 Bose surround sound system, which is available with the Advanced Tech package. The two speakers embedded in the front seatbacks right behind your ears make any music sound lifelike. The touchscreen hard-drive navigation system is fast and good, although the maps were outdated, as with most nav systems.
A standard RCA (red/white/yellow) connection and available iPod-integration jack (Tech package) give you choices to hook up media, but the lack of a standard 1/8″ auxiliary jack leaves anyone using an MP3 player other than an iPod music-less; unless you opt for the 9.3 GB hard drive, which allows you to store your music in the car.
Also included in the Tech package is voice recognition and a rearview camera, while the Advanced Tech package adds Adaptive cruise control, that excellent sound system, and an interesting Lane Departure warning and prevention system. This technology detects when you’re leaving your lane without using your blinker, then beeps at you and applies brakes accordingly to nudge you back into your lane. While this is a great idea, in theory, I have trouble seeing how it’s very useful.
When I tested the system, I let go of the steering wheel and began to drift out of my lane slowly as if I fell asleep at the wheel. The brakes lightly applied themselves on one side of the car, which pulled slightly back into my lane, then began to drift off again. If I really fell asleep and didn’t wake up to the slight nudge back into my lane, I would have still run off the side of the road and into the ditch.
I have a few other minor complaints about the M35 which should be fixed. While I normally love cooled seats, these didn’t work very well. They made the small of my back very cold and did almost nothing to the rest of the seat. The center stack controls, while mostly good, are a bit confusing and cluttered. The DVD slot in the center console takes up so much room that the storage space is almost useless.
Finally, the rear-view mirror is mounted too high, causing me to scrape my knuckles against the course plastic every time I need to adjust the mirror. It’s worth noting again that there should be a standard auxiliary jack for those brave souls who haven’t bowed to the iPod monopoly and own a different brand of MP3 player.
The 3.5-liter V6 is plenty powerful, but if you crave more, you can opt for the M45 with 325hp and 336 lb-ft of torque in its 4.5-liter V8. In the near future, I expect the M line to adopt Infiniti’s new 3.7-liter V6 already seen in the smaller G37. This engine produces 330hp, which is higher than the 4.5-liter V8 in the M45, so I suspect that’s why it’s not already available in the M.
Overall, I think the 2009 Infiniti M35 is an excellent car, and does a great job at combining the comfort and convenience of a luxury sedan and the fun-to-drive factor of a sports car. Plenty of space inside and more than enough cargo room make it a capable family-hauler that can be taken on long trips, as well as prove to be fun on curvy roads.
Starting at $46,000, the M35 is in the same range as most competitors, and provides loads of standard features and even more available packages for customization.
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