First Drive: 2003 Infiniti M45 infiniti first drives
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by Jim Kenzie
photos by Laurance Yap

It’s as if a bunch of crazed Nissan engineers got together and decided to build the world’s most perfect 1976 Chevrolet Chevelle. OK, so the Infiniti M45 doesn’t really look all that much like a mid-’70s domestic muscle car. But everybody I showed the car to got a wistful look in their eyes, trying to figure out what it did remind them of.

When I mentioned the Chevelle, they all said, “Yeah! That’s it!” Well, those of a certain age anyway. But wouldn’t they be the target market for a car costing this much?

Now, I’m sure the Nissan designers who penned this car never even SAW a 1976 Chevelle. Still, there you have it – a wee bit of free market research.

Not that any of this makes the M45 a bad looking car – that model of Chevelle was actually pretty handsome for its day. And the SUV-like toothy chrome grille on the Infiniti is, if anything, more garish than anything GM came up with in the fifties, let alone the seventies.
Does this suggest that the M45 may not know exactly what it is trying to be? Read on.

The M45 is based on the Japanese home-market car with perhaps the most charming name in all autodom – “Nissan Cedric”. “Cedric” – isn’t that just the coolest name for a Japanese car?
Actually, the M45 is closer to the up-scale Gloria version of Nissan’s mid-size home-market sedan, which also offers full-time four-wheel drive. Not here though – pity.

Inside, the M45′s narrow cabin makes it feel like a smaller car than it really is. You bump your left elbow against the arm rest during almost any driving manoeuvre.

This may be a function of the car’s Japanese roots – they like ‘em skinny over there, for the narrow roads and crowded cities. Width aside, the 10-way power driver’s seat including lumbar adjustment and both heating and ventilation, combined with the power tilt-and-telescope
steering wheel, means if you can’t get comfortable here, you aren’t trying hard enough.

First Drive: 2003 Infiniti M45 infiniti first drives

First Drive: 2003 Infiniti M45 infiniti first drives

First Drive: 2003 Infiniti M45 infiniti first drives

First Drive: 2003 Infiniti M45 infiniti first drives
Click image to enlarge

There actually seems to be more room in the back seat than in the front; part of that may be due to a somewhat low seat cushion.

The analogue gauge pack has amber illumination. Looks cool; works well. The unusual re-programmable control system for various functions is borrowed largely from the up-scale Q45. The same buttons do different things – audio, air conditioning, satellite navigation system – depending on which menu you’ve got on the central display. You can even learn how to talk to this system, if you’ve got the patience. The voice recognition system is a great party trick, but I found that once I showed it to a friend one time, that was all I needed to do. From the “damning with faint praise” department, this system works better than BMW’s iDrive. But I don’t really believe any car manufacturer has really got a re-programmable control system figured out yet.

Nissan’s exclusive “bird view” in the SatNav system – where you see what a bird flying over the road would see – helps give you a better perspective on what the road layout really is like.

The fit, finish and trim materials, including lovely bird’s-eye maple woodwork, are terrific, and there’s that classy Infiniti-trademark analogue clock right in the middle of the centre stack.

The power train of the M45 is also lifted from the Q45, and that’s just fine, thanks. The 4.5 litre multi-cam multi-valve V8 is surely one of the world’s best. Sure, nobody really believes this engine develops 340 horsepower – for sure, nobody has been able to match the factory’s acceleration times for any car with this motor. But numbers aside, it has great punch, it’s smooth as whipped cream, and it sounds great too.

The five-speed automatic transmission glides from ratio to ratio, slick but quick – not an easy parlay. It offers a manual override system for those arrogant enough to think they can do a better job.

The all-independent (front strut; rear multi-link) suspension is intended to make the M45 a sports sedan. It’s got the firm ride part of that down cold, maybe too well – it gets pretty jiggly on anything but billiard-table roads. The car gets around corners pretty well, a result of big 235/45WR18 tires. But it doesn’t really seem at home in the fast, twisty stuff. To me the M45 feels like it would prefer to be a luxury car – a Mercedes E-Class, say – rather than a sports sedan – a BMW 5-Series.

It does offer most of the modern chassis electronics systems – dynamic stability control, traction control, emergency brake assist (automatic full application in a perceived panic stop) and electronic brake force distribution (diversion of maximum braking power to the rear wheels prior to ABS activation) for the big four-wheel discs. So if you screw it up too badly, the car will try its best to bail you out.

If that doesn’t work, you’ve got front air bags, front-side air bags, inflatable side curtains, and active headrests for the front seats which help reduce whiplash injuries.

You can even get some electronic help when you’re just cruising too – the optional Intelligent Cruise Control lets you set the car’s speed, as usual. But should the car get too close to traffic ahead of you, the car automatically brakes itself. I don’t even like normal “snooze ‘n’ cruise”; this sort of thing scares the whee out of me.

The M45 lists at $62,000; the so-called “Sport” model adds the SatNav and Intelligent Cruise Control for $67,000. This puts the 340-horse V8-powered M45 on a par with the 220-horsepower six-cylinder BMW 5-Series, and ‘way less than the 221-horsepower Mercedes-Benz E320. The Infiniti may not have quite the finesse of the Bimmer or the panache of the Merc, but that’s a
pretty impressive set of comparative numbers. The Infiniti will likely be reliable too.

So if you’re considering a mid-size Bimmer or Mercedes, and are prepared to risk your friends at the country club thinking you’ve gone all retro on them, the M45 is worth a look.

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