April 2, 2007

Photo Gallery: 2007 Infiniti M35x

Specifications: 2007 Infiniti M35x

The Guide: 2007 Infiniti M35x

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While it’s a little difficult to find sympathy for a guy who test-drives luxury vehicles for a living, you should know there’s a definite downside to this gig.

Apart from a gas credit card often approaching a small country’s GNP, and snide, sideways glances from envious Taurus drivers, the real peril in driving a new luxury ride every week is becoming jaded.

As in, “Ho hum, another high-tech, state-of-the-universe engineering marvel with creature comforts that would make Barbara Amiel blush. Yawn.”

An assured job hazard of automotive journalism is getting used to, and eventually tired of, such decadent cars. The Baroness Black of Crossharbour and I are kindred spirits in our shared experience of Bimmers blending into Benzes, Audis aping Acuras; and Lincolns linking with Lexuses.

Every now and then though, and as Babs could attest to these days, one’s world gets turned upside down. One minute you’re living it up like royalty on Bora Bora, the next you’re planning conjugal visits at the Illinois pen.

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And so it was when I jumped into a rather pedestrian-looking 2007 Infiniti M35x this past week, a model with a scant few changes from 2006. I wasn’t too thrilled with the exterior styling update in that 2006 model, which represented the first-ever complete redesign of the M sedan line-up. I’d always preferred the G35 anyway, its shorter wheelbase and seemingly wider stance more pleasing to my notion of a luxury sport sedan. One of my most memorable motoring memories of the last few years in fact was piloting a 2004 G35 sedan around Shannonville RaceWay near Belleville, Ontario during AJAC’s annual TestFest. With the full potential of that G35’s engineering realized on the closed track, I walked away extremely impressed by Infiniti’s chassis designers and made a mental note not to underestimate the Japanese automaker.

Five minutes after picking up the 2007 model in a Vancouver suburb earlier this week, I realized that mental sticky had delaminated off the old cerebral cortex. I’d also forgotten the first golden rule of automotive writing, which also happens to apply to just about all aspects of life. That is, don’t judge a book by its cover.

Recalling that the 2006 M35x left me with a somewhat uninspired perception, I also remembered I’d never actually driven one. (I’ve since put up another mental sticky, this one with tape).

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The Infiniti M stable for 2007 features four luxury sedans: the rear-wheel drive M35, the all-wheel drive M35x, and the rear-wheel drive M45 and M45 Sport. Both M35 models share a 275-horsepower 3.5-litre V6, while the big daddy M45 boasts a 325-horsepower 4.5-litre V8. The sole transmission available is a five-speed automatic with short-throw shifter and a manual shift-mode.

My tester was a nicely equipped M35x complete with the $2,200 Entertainment Package and the $4,300 AWD Technology Package. The former features a mobile DVD entertainment system and a 308-watt, 14-speaker Bose 5.1 surround sound system, while the latter comes with a GPS Nav system, an eight-inch colour monitor, intelligent cruise control, brake assist and a new lane departure warning system, which recognizes lane markings and generates an audible signal to warn of lane drift.

And while none of these features are unique in the ever-advancing luxury vehicle world, the way the user interface is packaged on the centre console is certainly a welcome change to inelegant and unwieldy cabin controls. Laid out like a laptop, with the eight-inch colour screen vertical and the controls on a slightly angled platform, the G35x’s centre console is as functional as it is beautiful. Big buttons (and not many of them) surround a mouse-like fixed dial (think BMW’s I-Drive), with a choice of aluminum or wood trim providing nice texture and contrast to the controls.

The navigation system offers a unique and interesting perspective and iconography of maps, and the mapping user interface is logical and intuitive. And full marks for the big and dedicated buttons that read ‘Zoom In’ and ‘Zoom Out.’ Possibly one of the most used functions on any navigation system. Too often, these functions are achieved only by scrolling through countless menus or dialling up an intricate pattern.

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I also love how small Bose speakers are fitted into the seats just below ear-level.

The attention to detail and design in the centre console is in fact typical of the G35x, both in terms of cabin refinement and driving characteristics.

I’ve always admired Jaguar for its never-ebbing commitment to interior style and design (despite what might have been transpiring in the machine shop across the hallway), and I’m beginning to put Infiniti designers in that class the more I drive their creations.

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The cabin is spacious, comfortable and uncluttered. The curved and flowing dashboard creates cavernous footwells while the rear seats feature lots of legroom and a wide fold-down divider that gives the impression of rear buckets when in use. Likewise, the trunk is massive, easily able to swallow four sets of clubs or luggage for a long road trip.

And what a car for a road trip.

I’d describe its driving character as lively, particularly when you really stand on it entering a highway on-ramp. The 275-horsepower rated V6 is extremely responsive and as much as I am loathe admitting it, the five-speed automatic gearbox is a capable replacement for a preferred manual transmission. As you might expect in a mid-size luxury sedan with AWD, fuel consumption isn’t great. Official Energuide figures are City: 13.5 L/100km (21 mpg); Hwy: 9.1 L/100km (31 mpg).

Key to all 2007 Infiniti M models’ nimble handling and sure-footed cornering is the so-called Front Mid-ship platform, or FM. The FM platform positions the engine behind the front axle with the large wheels and tires out near the corners of the sedan, creating an optimal front-to-rear weight balance. Suspension is an independent double wishbone up front and a multi-link independent system in the rear.

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As to computer-aided driving features, standard equipment on all M vehicles includes Vehicle Dynamic Control, ABS, Electronic Brake Force Distribution and Brake Assist.

Again, comparable equipment is found on most if not all the luxury sedans the M35x competes against, but the way in which it all comes together in the Infiniti to create a somewhat familiar yet new and exciting all-around driving experience is a breath of fresh air.

Thanks, Infiniti, I needed that.

Pricing: 2007 Infiniti M35x

Base price $60,200

Options $ 6,500

(Entertainment Package: $2,200, AWD Technology Package: $4,300)

Freight $ 1,695

Price as tested $68,395


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