2011 Infiniti M56

The Good:
– Styling inside and out
– Superb handling prowess
– Very powerful engine
The Bad:
– Noticeable road noise
– No rear a/c controls
– A bit heavy on the fuel

Even Nissan can’t deny it. The previous-generation Infiniti M was a dud. It was, in theory, a better version of the Infiniti G, but it was saddled with an exterior that rivalled Audi’s perennial depression in terms of sedan styling flair. But a new model has debuted for 2011. Rumour has it that the new car has largely the same platform under the skin. But the beautiful new skin is where the action is now. No one is going to confuse the new M with a deadbeat Audi.

There isn’t much to say about the looks, other than it looks awesome. Whether the ‘wow’ effect will hold over time is another matter, but at least it is a unique interpretation of Infiniti’s swoopy new design language. Unfortunately it almost seems like no one else thinks of this as an expensive luxury car, as it didn’t seem to elicit the same amount of respect from the feeble masses as a Merc or a BMW on the road, although there were plenty of curious glances.

The interior is stunning in its shapes and textures, certainly better than anything Audi puts out. Infiniti makes good use of soft-touch surfaces, stitched leather and shiny wood all over the upper dash, the entire doors and most of the centre console, although hard plastic surfaces can still be found in the lower reaches of the dash and under the centre armrest, if that concerns anyone. Build quality is perfect. While we heard some complain of misaligned panels where the door and dashboard meet, we believe the misalignment is intentional so that the lines look seamless from a driver’s eye-level.

The power-adjustable front seats have only moderate bolstering, more luxury than sporty, even though ours was an M56 ‘S’ model. The thrones were nicely ventilated, with decent knee space as long as the seats aren’t moved too high up. Surprisingly, legroom and headroom in the back are pretty good, even with that rakish roofline. Storage spaces are limited to a couple of compartments, tiny front-door pockets and four cup-holders, although the luggage boot is quite sizeable. There is a small trunk pass-through in the rear seat-back, but it doesn’t split-fold down.

There is no shortage of tech features. Turning HID headlights, LED tail lamps, multimedia-navigation system with touchscreen as well as button-controller inputs, kick-ass CD/MP3 stereo with USB port and speakers even in the front seats, working Bluetooth phone, freezing dual-zone automatic a/c with rear vents and a ‘forest’ setting, sunroof, full keyless entry with starter button, full set of front and side-curtain airbags, tyre-pressure monitor and whole suite of electronic driving safety aids to avoid collisions, such as adaptive cruise control with full-stop capability, blind-spot monitoring and a lane-departure warning system that can supposedly force you back in lane. But even with all this, there is no panoramic glass roof or rear a/c controls available, even as options, though neither are that important. And we have no idea if the ‘forest’ button did anything for the strong a/c.

The GCC-spec M56 comes with a big 5.6-litre V8, good for 402 hp at 6000 rpm and 565 Nm of torque at 4400 rpm. It is definitely a fast car, as we fired off a 0-100 kph time of 6.1 seconds in our October test, with no wheelspin because of a 2000 rpm rev-limiter at idle, even with traction control off. The car can supposedly do quicker times, but indeed its real power can be seen on the move, as the rear tyres can give out a squeal on sudden throttle input while the car is already rolling, with traction control still on. A 7-speed automatic is standard fare, with paddle-shifters on the Sport model adding some entertainment, even if a bit delayed in response. But of course, too much entertainment will lead to chunky fuel consumption, as we burned a healthy 16.9 litres/100 km during our time.

Dynamically, the M56 is on a rock-solid foundation. The meaty 245/40 tyres on 20-inch alloys grip the road like glue, there is hardly any body roll even without the use of air-suspension gimmickry, and the brakes can haul the car down very quickly. This car likely handles as good as any BMW. The problem is that none of the controls offer any sort of feedback. Operating the wheel and pedals around corners at high speed feels as lively as moving a joystick to control a video game. It makes one a bit nervous about taking turns at high speeds, even though the car is capable of a lot more.

On the comfort front, it is in keeping with the class. With low-profile tyres and sporting suspension, the ride is expectedly firm, but only in the mildest possible way, like most German luxo-cars. The ride-handling balance is perfect, but road noise from the tyres is surprisingly noticeable at highway speeds. Also, our car had a wind noise issue, which we tracked down to a sunroof that does not close properly. Moving the sunroof a certain way reduced the wind rush considerably, so we know our test car had a defect.

The engine could do with a tiny bit more refinement, as it starts up with an audible vibration, like a muscle car. The Infiniti is also a bit jumpy to drive at low speeds, with all that power controlled by a relatively light pedal. We are sure an owner could get used to managing that, but we didn’t have the car long enough. Parking is easy enough even with the artificially firm steering, thanks to sensors and a rear camera with direction markings, even if the view out the rear window is limited. But the M does not get the “bird’s-eye view” camera, as found in Infiniti 4x4s. The intelligent cruise control works well maintaining a safe distance from the car in front, while the blind-spot monitor and lane-departure warning systems work as advertised. However, the separate lane-departure “prevention” system, which is supposed to force the car back in lane if it drifts over the road markings without indicating, did not work, but we don’t know if it was turned off or if our car even had it.

The Infiniti M is a superb effort on Nissan’s part, with reasonable pricing and value-packed features, while looking better than most of the competition. It is miles better than other “growing” luxury brands such as Audi and Lexus. We suspect the M56 is a proper BMW-killer if there ever was one, but being saddled with Lexus-like controls makes it a harder task to actually kill that BMW. Of course, for most owners, murdering Germans is the last thing on their minds, and this car is worthy of serious consideration for its looks alone.

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