M35 fills a gap for Infiniti with quality and performance

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

The luxury division of Nissan began life in 1989 as a viable competitor to the burgeoning Lexus and Acura brands. The Infiniti flagship Q45 was a delightful performance-oriented luxury car pulled by 278 horses, a prodigious number for 1990. It was every bit as alluring and interesting as the Lexus LS and the Acura Legend. And it was more powerful.

The extraordinarily “jellybean” styled J30 entered the lineup in 1993 adding to the luster of the new brand.

But then Infiniti made a wrong turn in the late ’90s. By 1999 it was left with an uninspiring 140-horsepower G20; a clone of the Nissan Maxima called the I30; and an underwhelming Q45 that didn’t live up to its name having been downgraded to a 4.1-liter engine. The brand was sliding into mediocrity.

But finally and perhaps just in the nick of time, Infiniti made a U-turn back in the right direction. The Q45 was redesigned in 2002 returning to its luxury/muscle days, endowed with a 340-horsepower 4.5-liter V-8. Yes, the Q45 was again aptly named.

But what really turned the brand around was the rear-wheel drive compact G35 sedan and coupe in 2003. The G35 featured incredible styling, wonderful road manners and a potent V-6 engine. The sedan was endowed with 260 horses and the two-door, a kissing-cousin of the Nissan 350Z, got 280 ponies. The G-series won rave reviews from the press and the motoring public. And an all-new G35 sedan was introduced for 2007. The complete makeover includes a muscular 306-horsepower 3.5-liter V-6.

Then there was the M45. A relatively powerful but somewhat uninspired large sedan slotted between the flagship Q and the sport G.

Infiniti added an all-new up-level mid-sized M-series sedan which replaced the short-lived M45 for 2006, and has continued basically unchanged for ’07.

The M-series is perhaps the best Infiniti in its nearly two-decade history, combining outstanding performance, luxury, handling, spaciousness and good looks in a package that has few rivals. The M35, with a lusty V-6 engine, is a joy to drive. Its more powerful M45 stable-mate, which contains a 325-horsepower V-8 under hood, is just as attractive and adventurous.

Infiniti now has in its lineup a competitor to the BMW 3-Series, Audi A-4, Acura TL, Cadillac CTS and Jaguar X-Type in the G35. And the M35/45 has the credentials to take on the BMW 5-Series, Audi A6, Lexus GS350/430, Acura RL and Cadillac STS.

Although the M series shares a platform with the G35, it is nearly six inches longer at 192.6 inches and has a two-inch longer wheelbase at 114.2 inches. This spells more room inside, especially for rear-seat passengers who can enjoy two-and-one-half extra inches of legroom.

The M35 Sport Sedan that we tested displayed impeccable road manners with point-and-shoot steering. We were delighted to find that the sedan has the ability to carve up twisting back-road blacktops like the vaunted BMW.

One of the M’s unique optional features is a form of rear-wheel steering that turns the rear wheels up to one degree opposite of the fronts depending on cornering needs.

The 3.5-liter 275-horsepower V-6 gives the M an urgency that is pleasing at all speeds with the power directed through a slippery 5-speed automatic transmission. When we asked for a downshift by slamming the accelerator to the floor, it responded instantaneously. There was never the agonizing delay found in some other luxury products.

The V-6 will hustle the M35 from a standstill to 60 in 6.3 seconds and through a quarter mile run in 14.7 seconds at nearly 93 miles per hour as measured by a popular automotive magazine. For more money — about $6,000 — and a slight sacrifice in gas mileage — about two miles per gallon — the M can be purchased with the V-8 good for sub-6-second times.

The M35 is offered in base and Sport and with an all-wheel drive option. Base models are lavishly equipped with genuine, satin-finish Rosewood inlays on the dash, doors, and console, and leather upholstery. The Sport versions get real aluminum trim.

The gauges have a high-tech look with electro-fluorescent lighting.

The M’s controls are fairly intuitive. Included are real knobs for volume and tuning on the radio. You may not think that’s a big deal, but after a week with BMW’s iDrive, simple radio controls deserve a standing ovation.

Although the M does have a joystick control, most of the things you use every time you enter the car including the air conditioning and stereo can be used without wading through a list of options.

The standard-equipment list is long including dual-zone climate control, 10-way power adjustable driver’s seat with memory, color 7-inch LCD information display, keyless entry and push-button starting, a moonroof, a voice-recognition system that manages a half dozen functions, Bluetooth compatibility, and a complete array of power features.

The M also comes with a full compliment of safety features found in sedans over 40 grand including front and rear side curtain airbags. An optional feature is a lane departure warning system that sounds an alarm when the vehicle detects lane drifting. We found it annoying at times, but we can see its usefulness.

Great sound can be part of your M car. The top-line premium package includes a Bose digital Studio Surround audio system with 14 speakers. An in-dash 6-CD player, MP3 player, and satellite radio — both XM and Sirius are offered — are included. A DVD mobile entertainment system with a flip-down 8-inch screen is available for rear-seat passengers.

One of the key factors in a car purchase these days is gas mileage, and the M35 measures up quite well with 18-city and 25-highway for two-wheel drive and 17/24 for all-wheel drive. Infiniti recommends premium fuel, but says the engine will run fine — albeit with a slight decrease in performance — on regular gas.

The M35 starts at $42,100 in base guise, “base” being a misnomer because of its lavish list of standard equipment. Our test Sport model carried a base price of $44,900 and was optioned out for $53,440. Options included the Bose system, navigation with back-up camera and rear seat entertainment.

A dear friend of ours in Southern California has had over the years at least a half-dozen Infiniti’s – and he is currently driving a new M35 which he maintains is the best he’s had including the Q’s. He is already planning for his 2008 lease switch saying he is definitely sticking with the M, but maybe the 45, just for the speed of it.

The M35 is a delightful luxury sports sedan. But Infiniti may have created a dilemma for loyalists with its all-new G35, which is smaller but more powerful and at a nearly $10,000 savings. If you can get by with tighter rear-seat quarters and a slightly smaller trunk, the G may offer you more value than the M. But the M carries a more upscale image and that is always an important factor for many.

Either way, Infiniti has its act very much together.


Base price, $42,100; as driven, $53,440

Engine: 3.5-liter V-6

Horsepower: 275 @ 6,200 rpm

Torque: 268 pound-feet @ 4,800 rpm

Transmission: 5-speed automatic

Drive: rear wheel

Seating: 2/3

Wheelbase: 114.2 inches

Curb weight: 3,916 pounds

Turning circle: 36.7 feet

Luggage capacity: 14.9 cubic feet

Fuel capacity: 20 gallons (premium)

EPA rating: 25 highway, 18 city

0-60: 6.3 seconds (Car and Driver)

Also consider: Audi A6, BMW 5-Series, Lexus GS 350

The Good:

• Muscular engine combined with sports sedan handling
• Spacious interior

• Long list of standard features

The Bad:

• Heavy-handed ride may turn off some prospective buyers

The Ugly:

• Slightly smaller 2007 Infiniti G35 has 31 more horsepower and costs $10,000 less