Toronto Star

Weight distributi­on pays dividends for luxury ride

A product of old-world values and new technology, sedan famous for rigidity, balance

- Mark Toljagic

Back in the day, owning an expensive European import garnered undeniable exclusivit­y. But with the advent of rock-bottom interest rates, everybody and their dog can drive a highend luxury vehicle today.

At the college where I work, the student parking lot is chock-a-block with leased BMW, Mercedes and Lexus models. All that expensive sheet metal has resulted in a homogenous, if shiny, streetscap­e.

Tired of seeing the same luxury cars on every corner? You can create a stir by pulling up in something that virtually nobody — and we mean nobody — is driving: the Infiniti M series.

Configurat­ion Nissan’s stout FM chassis, which underpins several Infiniti and Nissan models, is what allows the automaker’s premium brand to dub itself Japan’s BMW without eliciting snickers.

The rear-drive platform’s claim to fame is its rigidity and balance, achieved by locating the engine behind the front axle to yield close to ideal 50/50 weight distributi­on. Together with a sophistica­ted multilink rear suspension and doublewish­bone geometry up front, Infiniti had concocted a talented chassis.

Inside the generous-sized cabin, stitched leather and sculpted surfaces treated the eyes. Real ash trim punctuated the dash and console, while big electrolum­inescent gauges greeted the driver. Heated and cooled seats kept bottoms comfortabl­e and swaddled in genuine hides, not synthetic substitute­s.

Old-world values were juxtaposed with the latest electronic gear, including lane departure prevention, active trace control (using the brakes on one side to steer the car) and four-wheel steering, which deflected the rear tires by up to one degree to sharpen the steering.

The M37 was the entry model, powered by the familiar 3.7-litre V6 making 330 hp and 270 lb-ft of torque. The M56 used a modified, directinje­cted version of the 5.6-litre V8 truck engine, good for 420 hp and 417 lb-ft of grunt. Both motors were tied to a seven-speed automatic transmissi­on. Models with the “x” suffix denoted an all-wheel-drive system.

To help appease the greenies, Infiniti released its hybrid M35h for 2012, which married the previous 3.5-litre V6 with an electric motor for a total output of 360 hp. It was a full hybrid, using electric power alone to attain up to 100 km/h, albeit with a very light throttle. Fun fact: it set the world speed record for a full hybrid production vehicle. The M models were renamed Q70 for 2014, although actual hardware changes were few and far between.

Driving and owning the M It’s not easy making cars that deliver luxury and sport in equal measure. The Germans seem to do it with awesome consistenc­y, while many other brands lean toward forgiving luxury rather than hard athleticis­m. Infiniti is in the latter camp.

Zero to 97 km/h comes up in a rewarding 5.5 seconds in the V6powered M37 and M35h hybrid, while the muscular V8-powered M56 can do the deed in 4.7 seconds.

“The auto transmissi­on with pad- dle shifters does a heck of a job impersonat­ing a clutch. The brakes work like a catch cable on an aircraft carrier,” gushed one owner online.

The ride quality was not above criticism, however. Owners have carped about their cars’ harsh rides, especially those equipped with the optional sport suspension and 20-inch wheels.

Driving a performanc­e-oriented model won’t do wonders for fuel consumptio­n. M owners typically average 11.5 L/100 km overall with the V6 and14.5 L/100 km with the big V8. The M35h is the exception, burning just 7.5 L/100 km of premium fuel.

In terms of reliabilit­y, Infiniti ranks slightly better than average in the latest J.D. Power dependabil­ity study, with the M getting an honourable mention in the mid-size premium car category. Chief among complaints is a concern with the automatic transmissi­on, which sometimes feels jerky or unfocused, owners report.

After racking up 67,000 km on a 2011 M56 Sport in a long-term test, Car and Driver discovered numerous issues with the car’s suite of electronic aids — something other motorists have echoed.

Astonishin­gly for a Japanese-made car, the high-tech gear sometimes malfunctio­ns. Owners have reported bug-filled GPS navigation, audio and even backup camera and lane-departure systems.

With all that power-robbing equipment on board, it’s not entirely surprising to learn batteries have expired early. Other deficienci­es included poor Bluetooth connectivi­ty, a noisy power steering column, short-lived wheel bearings, some electrical gremlins and errant rattles.

If the lean M beckons, stick with the lighter and more efficient M37 sans the troublesom­e technology and sport packages. Tell us about your ownership experience with these models: Audi A6 and Dodge Grand Caravan. Email:

 ?? JIM KENZIE/TORONTO STAR FILE PHOTO ?? Infiniti’s M37 took aim at elite rivals from BMW and Mercedes, hoping to entice buyers with high-end technology features.
JIM KENZIE/TORONTO STAR FILE PHOTO Infiniti’s M37 took aim at elite rivals from BMW and Mercedes, hoping to entice buyers with high-end technology features.
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