James Riswick, New and Used Car Editor
If the 2011 Infiniti M37 hopes to make a name for itself alongside world-class luxury cars, it has to get you excited to walk into the garage. It has to impress and cosset your passengers. And most importantly, it has to be as good as, if not better than, competitors like the BMW 5 Series or Jaguar XF or Mercedes-Benz E-Class. But does the M37 do all that?
It starts with more distinct styling that has muscular bulges and organic curves in place of the old M35's rather slab-sided anonymity. Although it is certainly a unique look in the class, some have commented it looks too similar to lesser vehicles in the Infiniti line. Can't that be said for the BMW and Mercedes as well?
So it has the visual potential to excite you, but can its performance and handling do the same? With a 3.7-liter V6 sending 330 horsepower to the rear wheels, the answer is a definite "yes," as it brings more power to the party than its competitors do. The previous M was actually one of the best-handling cars in the class, so this new 2011 M simply needs to not mess things up.
Trying to impress and pamper your passengers? Well, the Infiniti badge may not do much for snobbier acquaintances, but the new cabin is certainly capable of cosseting them. Like the exterior, there is a more organic look to the M than its German competitors, and its materials are splendid. You have to work hard to find a surface that isn't squishy or covered in leather. An epically long list of available high-tech features puts this new M at the forefront of in-car electronics.
So the 2011 Infiniti M37 seems to have the potential to be as good as, if not better than, the competition. But potential is a lot different from reality. While the M37 may look good on paper and in the steel, as well as present a good price on the window sticker, it just doesn't live up to its potential. In final analysis, we wouldn't pass up a 5 Series, E-Class or XF in favor of this new Infiniti.
The 2011 Infiniti M37's 330-hp V6 boasts more horsepower than every similarly priced competitor -- even the V8-powered Jaguar XF 4.2. It has less torque -- 270 pound-feet -- than the BMW 535i, however, which could explain why the M isn't as quick as its Bavarian rival. Yet, going from zero to 60 mph in 5.9 seconds is nothing to be ashamed of and is certainly quicker than the Benz E350 and Jag XF 4.2.
Out in the real world, the 2011 Infiniti M37 has the type of robust power expected for on-ramps, freeway passing and green-light acceleration with none of the coarse, trucklike noises exhibited by other Infiniti-Nissan vehicles that share this engine. Unfortunately, how that power is delivered is an area of contention. The M37 comes standard with the Infiniti Drive Mode Selector, which includes four modes -- Snow, Eco, Normal and Sport -- that vary in throttle tip-in and transmission shift programming.
The result is a transmission that always feels slightly confused, sometimes surprised, and rarely goes about its job subtly or unnoticed. Shifts can be jerky; downshifts are usually delayed; the wrong gear at the wrong time can be selected. Sport is better in this regard, but its throttle programming is too aggressive for everyday driving.
We tried the Eco mode which, with our test car's Technology package, comes tied to something called Eco Pedal. This further encourages efficient driving by pushing back on your foot when the car decides you're applying too much throttle. When we kept the transmission selector out of Eco mode, we still managed to achieve 22 mpg in a mix of city and highway driving. The EPA estimates are 18 city/26 highway mpg, and 21 mpg combined. That's impressive, given the M's power.
Around corners, the M37 is a bit of a letdown. The car initially exhibits a lighter feeling than its German competitors, which would lead you to believe it's more nimble. Yet hit some tight turns, and it starts to feel its size. The steering is too light on center and despite being reasonably direct, it just doesn't have enough feel. Meanwhile, the suspension has a tendency to get flummoxed and float about in midcorner bumps and undulations.
As such, the M37 doesn't offer the sort of dynamic enthusiasm we expected, and our track testing backed that up. Its 63.1-mph slalom run and 0.84g trip around the skid pad are midpack at best. The M37 Sport is more impressive on the handling front, but it suffers from an overly harsh ride quality due to its large 20-inch wheels.
The 2011 Infiniti M37's ride quality is luxurious enough, but the suspension just doesn't feel as substantial and impenetrable over bumps as its German competitors. The 5 Series in particular does a much better job of providing a supple ride while also letting you feel connected to the road. "Refinement" would be the optimal word here, and the M doesn't have enough of it.
The front seats don't suffer from the same butt-pinching bolsters of Infiniti's G37 and are indeed more comfortable during an extended drive. However, the seat doesn't offer the same amount of adjustability as those available in the BMW and Jag, and its controls are also difficult to reach. Rear passengers will sink deep into well-shaped, bucketlike outboard seats and will find just enough headroom and more than enough legroom.
Few cars have as many gizmos as a loaded 2011 Infiniti M37 and as such, it can be daunting to keep track of all the buttons and beeps. In total, it's a mixed bag. The iPod integration is one of the best on the market, as the main rotary controller and steering-wheel-mounted toggle combine well with a logical menu facsimile of your iPod. Other controls for the impressive 16-speaker Bose stereo's many media functions are also well sorted.
The myriad navigation and climate controls that are curiously angled upward on the center stack are actually quite ergonomic, although the lights within some of those buttons disappear when the sun hits them. Another minor annoyance is the location of the buttons for the heated steering wheel, rear sunshade and lane-departure warning system. They're all inconveniently located in front of the driver's knee.
In terms of practicality, the M37 has a smaller trunk (14.7 cubic feet) than its competitors'. It features a wide opening and enough space for a pair of golf bags, but it's not especially deep and it narrows considerably the farther you go back. A lengthy road trip with four adults could be a problem.
Should you have children, the M37 will easily fit front- or rear-facing child safety seats. Installing the latter still allows plenty of space for the front passenger, and anchor points are easily accessible. However, there are no lower center LATCH anchors and the middle seat is significantly elevated from the outboard seats.
Design/Fit and Finish
The 2011 Infiniti M37 boasts some of the finest and most consistently excellent materials in its class, while looking more interesting than its German rivals. Infiniti has really gone out of its way in this regard. Unfortunately, our test car's optional Japanese White Ash wood trim was so light in color that it combined with the shifter's alloy trim to produce blinding reflections in certain sun positions.
Who should consider this vehicle
If it seems like we're being harsh here, it's just because the 2011 Infiniti M37 competes against extremely good cars. When loaded to the gills as our test car was, the M37 is cheaper than the similarly equipped and powered competition. However, it's not that much cheaper. A similarly stocked E350 or XF 5.0 is within $2,000, and we think their refinement and panache are well worth it. Heck, if you can live without active cruise control and a few other features, an XF 4.2 is cheaper than the M. Of course, if you're really interested in a low price, there's always the Hyundai Genesis.
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