Executive Wheels: all-wheel and luxury, too

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2011 Infiniti M37X AWD

When the Infiniti M37X showed up on my car-review agenda, I was of two minds.

First and foremost, this is my favorite type of vehicle, perfect for Colorado: a luxury sedan with All-Wheel-Drive. We’re seeing these show up more and more in, for instance, Mercedes E and C types, BMW 3 and 5 Series, Ford Taurus, Suzuki Kizashi, Lexus 350, Buick LaCrosse, Chrysler 300, and, of course, every Audi. This is the type of safety feature that used to have very limited availability in what is the most popular car type in the country, the sedan. AWD is now so advanced and perfected that it should be something in every car, or at least every car that is meant to be driven in places which experience winter.

Second, my experience with Infiniti and Nissan (Infiniti is the Nissan luxury division, like Acura/Honda and Lexus/Toyota) has not be the greatest over the last several years. Vis a vis the competition at whatever level the Infiniti/Nissan vehicles have been quite noisy. In fact, unbelievably noisy. My wife, son and I were heading into the mountains a couple of years back in an Infiniti M, listening to the radio, and all of a sudden all three of us simultaneously remarked, loudly, “Gee, this car is noisy.” To be honest, over the years there has been a lot to like about Infinitis, but this noise thing was a deal breaker.

After having driven the new 2011 M37X, I am now of one mind: Great car. Love the AWD, although I didn’t drive it in any weather, and the noise factor has been addressed well above my expectations.

The M in the Infiniti line goes back to the early 1990s in another form (a GT coupe), but in the mid-sized luxury sedan format launched in 2003 as the M45. The 2011 model is the beginning of the third generation of the line, and it is clearly the most beautiful ever offered. I know this because during my test-drive week people kept asking me what it was and commenting on how much they liked the look. I find this fascinating because it never happened before; the first two generations looked very much, too much, like a Lexus or Toyota, in other words a derivative, and they were just another luxury sedan. Now it stands out. That’s a good thing.

There is even more distinctiveness inside. I used to think the Infiniti M was handsome enough; now I think it features one of the more beautiful interiors and dash displays in the business. The now ubiquitous LED screen is tucked into the dash, and while it is distracting like all of the screens, here it is less distracting. The analog clock, an Infiniti trademark, couldn’t possibly be more exquisite, and all of the rest – knobs, controllers, wood trim – are obviously designed by people with both an engineer’s sense of functionality and an artist’s eye for intelligent design. This is an intuitive vehicle, where even all the extra-high-tech standards and extras are relatively easy to operate without training and a pleasure to be around.

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Technology is the key here, though; the Infiniti M37X is filled with it:
• Around view monitor with four exterior cameras that afford the driver a view (rear-view) and all of the others systems a staging platform.
• Lane departure prevention – a nice little reminder beep alerts the driver that the car is leaving a lane.
• Intelligent brake assist with forward collision warning and automatic braking.
• Enhanced handling control that corrects (using the cameras) both under- and over-steering.
• Distance control technology that, in cruise, maintains distance with the other cars on the highway.
• Bluetooth for hands-free telephone.
• Welcome lighting that comes on, both inside and outside of the car, as you approach with the multi-function key fob.
• Interface for an iPod.

There is also a very smart Blind Spot Warning System that I loved. Inside, on the side of the pillar where the side mirrors meet the window, there is a light that comes on when a car, either left or right, enters the car’s blind spot. I can’t tell you how many times this came in handy. It didn’t bug me, but rather was a gentle reminder, an easy reminder, that I should check the lane more closely before making a move.

Handling and braking in this vehicle are both impressive – I felt in total control at all times, and Infiniti managed to leave in enough feel top make the driving experience exciting. The most impressive thing, perhaps, is the engine: in the 37 this is a 3.7liter V6, rated 17/24 mpg in AWD (18/26 in 2wd), generating a whopping 330 hp that felt like more. This M had some get-up-and-go and more, and it was as smooth as it could be, with even acceleration and great gearing. In fact the 7-speed automatic transmission appeared to be seamless, and both up-shifted and down-shifted where necessary at just the right time. How did we ever get along with 4 speeds?

Just in case you were wondering, this vehicle also comes as a M56 and M56X, both of which are essentially the same but with a 5.6-liter V8 with 420 hp (rated 16/23 mpg in AWD).

The M37X also had a great trunk – I took a couple of friends to the golf course with bags, no problem – and the back seat, or so my passenger proclaimed, was roomy, comfortable and a nice ride.

This is a great car, as I said, and anyone looking at the luxury sedan market has to take a look at it. But there is a drawback: the price. The base price is $48,400, and in my test-drive model they added on a bunch of stuff to bring the bottom line to $59,960 (including $865 in destination charges. The extras included the Technology Package for $3,000 (with many of the things I mentioned earlier), the Deluxe Touring Package for $3,800 (with a wonderful Bose audio system, a Forest6 Air System, quilted leather seating, Japanese white ash wood trim, a rear sunshade and other things), and the Premium Package for $3,350 (with the hard-drive Navigation, VGA color touch-screen display, XM NavTraffic and NavWeather, Infiniti voice recognition [which had a hard time with my voice] climate controlled front seats, and a heated steering wheel). They also charged $195 for trunk mats, net and first-aid kit, and $350 for illuminated kick plates with the Infiniti logo (kick plates are basically the bottom of the door openings).

That’s essentially $60k, which is a competitive price, but… The equivalent Mercedes E in 4Matic AWD, Audi A6 quattro, and the BMW 535i xDrive are all approximately the same price, but they are, well, Mercedes, Audi and BMW. The Infiniti is really just as nice a car – I in fact prefer it to the BMW for technology reasons – but, while I am sure I would enjoy driving it over the years, I have less confidence that that Infiniti will hold its value over time. That, it seems to me, is a drawback.

RATING: THREE WHEELS (OUT OF FOUR).
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