by Ted Laturnus
Talk about a turnaround. It wasn’t that long ago when Nissan was in serious danger of slipping into oblivion. A lacklustre model range, stagnant sales, and an apparently out-of-touch management had put this once secure carmaker on the endangered list.
But thanks to some savvy decisions – and a much-needed cash infusion from French manufacturer, Renault – Nissan is back in fighting form and bursting with confidence. The company recorded an overall operating profit of $3.92 billion (Cdn.) in 2001, and fully expects to sell at least one million more vehicles worldwide in the coming year.
And one of the ways they’re going to do it is by putting models like the Infiniti M45 onto the market. Positioned between the G35 and Q45 sedans, the M45 is being tagged by company officials as “the premium muscle car with brains” and that’s as good a description as anything.
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In terms of dimensions, the M45 is about ten inches (25.4 cm) longer than the G35, but has a slightly shorter wheelbase, which makes it a fairly manoeuvrable car for its size. It’s smaller overall than the Q45, but, since it shares the same engine, outperforms both of its stablemates. Developing 340 horsepower at 6400 rpm, this award-winning powerplant has molybdenum-coated pistons, titanium valves, and Nissan’s continuously variable valve timing system, it’s a paragon of smoothness, with tremendous reserve revving power. It’s mated to a five-speed automatic transmission only, but for those who like to get more involved with their driving, there is a manual shift model. I’ve said it before: you’ll look long and hard to find a better-coordinated drivetrain.
A word about the styling. To my eyes, the M45 is a somewhat bland looking four-door….at least compared to the innovative G35. It’s not ugly, per se, but it just doesn’t move me the way some cars do. According to Nissan’s manager for product information, Bruce Crick, however, that’s what buyers in this market want. “People in the market for this type of automobile are less interested in making a statement visually, and more interested in the quality of the car itself,” he claims.
Nissan and Infiniti are both very keen on what they call the “man-machine interface.” In other words, building cars that are more responsive to the needs of the driver. Thus, the voice-activated control centre and the centre-dash mounted vehicle information system, which controls everything through a monitor.
Personally, I think this system is the M45’s Achilles Heel; far too many steps are needed to accomplish relatively simple tasks. To change the fan speed, for example, involves calling up the appropriate display, and then hitting the radio button(s). Whatever happened to just turning a dial or flipping a switch? It’s no secret that Japanese manufacturers love gadgetry, but this system is apparently the subject of considerable discussion within the company. I say: let’s get back to just driving the car.
That aside, the M45 is a pleasure to spend time in. With heated and cooled front bucket seats, it’s as comfortable as anything else out there, and most of the other controls fall readily to hand, as they say. During the launch of the M45, in San Francisco, I had the chance to drive it extensively through the crowded streets of downtown, and up and down those impossibly steep hills. For a full-size automobile, it’s very agile and relaxing to drive.
And, with a starting price of $62,000, it’ll come very well equipped. Standard equipment includes the aforementioned climate controlled seats, full leather interior with wood trim, a Bose 220-watt sound system with CD player, all the power modcons, a tire pressure monitoring system, an “intelligent” cruise control system that measures the distance between you and the car ahead of you to maintain a safe distance, 18-inch wheels and tires, ABS four-wheel-disc brakes, front and side airbags, and a traction control system. The only option is a DVD-based navigation system, which runs an additional $5000. This system, with its “bird view” graphics, is one of the better ones in the industry….if you like that sort of thing.
The M45 will be in tough against the likes of the Audi A6, BMW 5-series, Jaguar S-type, and Cadillac Seville, among others. Its chief selling point will be that it comes with a very powerful V8 engine, while most of its rivals are V6-propelled. Those that do have a V8 tend to be more expensive. The Lexus GS430, for example, is $6000 pricier, and has less power.
Only time will tell if all of those new customers Nissan has its eye on will agree with this strategy.