It's been seven days. Seven. And nobody has noticed this 2011 Infiniti M37S we've been driving. Nobody. Not our neighbors. Not our co-workers. Not our friends. Not even Infiniti G owners. After a few days we would have settled for a passing glance from a pedestrian in a crosswalk or a double take from a fellow motorist waiting out the same red light. But the M37S has drawn zero attention. No looks. No inquiries. No, "Hey, is that the new M?"
Weird. This is L.A. People notice cars. Especially pre-production cars they've never seen before. But not this one. Not this silver 2011 Infiniti M37S.
Surprising? We think so. Something Infiniti should be worried about? In the words of the great philosopher Sarah Palin, "You betcha."
Looks Like a G
Infiniti says the design of the M is "inspired." The company says the sedan debuts its new design language, but combines it with existing design cues that have made the Infiniti G such a success. The new part is the pronounced "flowing side styling" first seen on the Essence concept car and it does give the M a sort of modern swoosh to its flanks.
At the same time, the car has gotten larger. Wider, mostly. It's more than 1.5 inches wider, while its length has grown just over half an inch. It's also about a quarter-inch lower. Its 114.2-inch wheelbase is unchanged and the M has dropped 6 pounds during its redesign, which is no easy trick. The result is a car that has the right stance and the right proportions, but few people (in our experience anyway) care to give it a second look.
And if they don't notice it, will they climb over each other to trade in their Audis, Benzes and BMWs?
They will if they like a bargain.
Infiniti has priced the M37 for the value-conscious, not the hood-ornament-conscious. The $57,115 MSRP of our test car is thousands less than a comparably equipped BMW 535i or Mercedes E350, which dominate this premium sedan segment. We should also point out that our test car was extremely well equipped. In fact, it was loaded with nearly $10 grand in option packages that increased its luxury and performance, but might not be necessary for everyone.
Base price for a rear-wheel-drive 2011 Infiniti M37 is $46,250. The Sport package, which includes 20-inch wheels and summer performance tires, added $3,650. The Premium package, which is required with the Sport package, added $3,350 and the Technology package tacked on another $3,000.
Drives Like a G
Although the M does feel larger than the G and its interior and features are a step up, their driving experiences are as similar as their silhouettes. And that's both good and bad.
It's good if you love your G37S and you want exactly (EXACTLY!) the same thing but only larger. But it's bad if you desire higher levels of comfort and refinement than your G37S delivers. And it's bad if you appreciate the higher levels of comfort and refinement delivered by a BMW 535i, a Jaguar XF or a Mercedes E350.
Bottom line: The new M is no more refined, no more special in the way it goes about its business, than its little brother. And that, not anonymity, is the real problem with the 2011 Infiniti M37S. It feels too much like a larger G37. But at $20,000 more, it has to be so much more, especially if it's going to pull buyers out of their 5 Series and their E-Classes.
Ride Too Harsh
The M Sport's biggest flaws are its ride comfort and its steering isolation. None of which is a problem when you're pressing. Drive the M37S hard and it feels nearly perfect with just the right amount of feedback, quick response and the levels of performance you should expect in a $50,000 sport sedan.
And at our test track, with its suspension and transmission in Sport mode, the M performed well, turning in numbers nearly identical to the last Infiniti G37 we tested. It blasted through the slalom at 67.9 mph, circled the skid pad at 0.86g and stopped from 60 mph in just 114 feet. Good numbers. All of them.
This big sedan loves the test track and smooth, twisting canyon roads. And there's just no denying the benefits of its four-wheel active-steer system. It's just not as happy in the city or on the highway. You know, the real world. The place where there are potholes, rippled concrete and highway expansion joints.
In the real world, the 2011 Infiniti M37S rides too harshly. Unless the road is perfectly smooth, the M rides too much like a 370Z and not enough like a $50,000 luxury sport sedan. We don't blame the M Sport's spring rates or its new and unique double-piston shocks. Get into the M's suspension travel and it's obvious that the suspension tuning is firm but compliant, and not to blame for the M's ride issue.
Blame falls to the M's oversize, heavy 20-inch wheels and tires. They crash over even small road irregularities and force the M's ride over the line from sporty to just plain crude. Basically it feels like there's 90 psi in all four tires.
Steering Is Good and Bad
Steering intrusion is also an issue. Road feel we like; vibration we don't. Good steering chooses what it allows to reach the driver's hands. But the M's steering doesn't filter out much of anything. And the result is a car with a down-market feel in a lofty market segment. Not good.
Again we blame the M's 20-inch rubber. There's a reason you can't get 20-inch tires on a 5 Series or an E-Class. The Germans avoid them like they avoid the French. Even an M5 or an E63 wear smaller-diameter wheels. Why? Because it is very difficult to dial in the ride and isolation properly when your luxury sport sedan rides on dubs. Porsche has managed this marvel on the Panamera, but Infiniti has not on the M. Again. We say again because we've complained before about similar problems with the Infiniti FX50, which rides on 22-inch tires.
In an e-mail to Inside Line, Infiniti said it uses the 20-inch wheels and tires for three reasons.
1. Maximum design impact
20-inch wheels enhance the dramatic changes we made to the new M's exterior design.
They are not commonly found on cars in the M segment (as you stated in our phone conversation).
2. Further separation between the Sport and non-Sport
On the new M we wanted to provide a higher level of visual and hardware differentiation on the new M vs. what we had on the MY05-'10 (model years 2005-'10) M Sport vs. base.
The biggest visual differentiation we could easily provide was to increase the wheel size on Sport from 19 inches to 20 (base remaining at 18 inches).
3. Suspension changes aided change
On all MY11 Ms we have made a number of changes to the rear suspension geometry and bushing stiffness vs. the MY10 M.
In addition, for the new M Sport we added double-piston shocks, which we never had on the previous M Sport.
These changes provided us with greater latitude in suspension tuning to capitalize on the handling/steering benefits provided by the 20-inch wheels, but not suffer noticeable ride degradation vs. the MY10 M Sport.
We, of course, disagree with that final point.
Bottom line: Infiniti goes with the big rubber to make a styling statement, but the wheels and tires write checks Infiniti's engineering department can't cash. When an M3 and a Ford Mustang GT ride better than your luxury sport sedan, it's time to reevaluate.
We also question the sound of the 2011 Infiniti M37's engine. Again, what is refined and sporty at $37,000 just feels crude and unspecial at $57,000. And at $57,000, the voice of the 3.7-liter VQ-Series V6 just ain't cuttin' it. Too Fast and Furious. Too Z. Too drive-thru, not enough valet.
The engine itself, however, is getting the job done. The VQ will go down in history as one of the best and most versatile power plants of all time. And it works well in the new M. Sure it could be a little smoother at the top of the tach, but there's plenty of power up there and more than enough bottom end to get this 4,000-pound sedan up and moving.
At our test track 0-60 mph took just 5.9 seconds (5.6 seconds with 1 foot of rollout like on a drag strip), while the M37S covered the quarter-mile in 14.1 seconds at 99 mph. That's quick.
Much of the credit has to go to the M's seven-speed automatic transmission, which really gets the most from the V6. Its full-throttle upshifts could be a bit smoother, but they come right on the motor's 7,500 rpm redline, just as they should. And the transmission, which still packs a torque converter, matches revs on the downshifts like the best dual-clutch transmissions in the business.
Pounding on the M's leather-covered magnesium paddle shifters, which it shares with the Nissan GT-R, is good fun, but stay off them if fuel mileage is important to you. We averaged 21.5 mpg during our week with the M37. The EPA rates it at 18 mpg city and 26 mpg on the highway.
That 21.5 mpg was recorded with little use of the M's Eco pedal feature, which Infiniti says results in a 5-10 percent increase in fuel economy. Click the console knob to "Eco" and the throttle pedal essentially loses the majority of its travel, forcing you to drive like a Golden Girl. You can push through this false throttle stop if you really want to, and we really wanted to.
We drove the M37S in Sport mode the majority of the time. It basically makes the seven-speed automatic more aggressive.
Inside is where the M37 really puts one on the competition. The new interior is fantastic. It's warmer than the accommodations in a 5 Series, feels more upscale than the office of an E-Class, is far more interesting than the inside of a Lexus GS and it does what the interior of a $57,000 car should — it feels expensive.
It's also very comfortable, well-appointed and assembled to a very high standard. And we can't help but appreciate the tech found in this car. The Bose 16-speaker 5.1 surround-sound system is sweet, as is the large in-dash 8-inch display, the 9.3GB Music-Box-equipped hard drive, the easy-to-use navigation system and Bluetooth.
Our only complaint is the amount of road noise allowed in on the highway. At 70 mph our sound meter read 68.7 dBA. That's more noise than we've recorded in a G37 and it's enough to give rear-seat passengers a hard time hearing those in the front.
Needs More Specialness
There's a lot to like about the 2011 Infiniti M37S. And we like a lot about it. We just can't help but wonder if there's $20,000 more car here than you get in a G37S.
By the time most guys move up from a G to an M they're a little older, a little wiser, a little richer and their taste has gotten to be a bit more demanding. They're spending more and they demand more. Not necessarily more power. Or more speed. But they do want more refinement. More luxury. More specialness.
BMW and Mercedes know this, which is why the 5 Series and the E-Class own this segment. But the M doesn't really offer much more specialness. It just offers more space.
So the Infiniti fanboys with growing families will love it. Everyone else might want to think twice about ordering the Sport package.
The manufacturer provided Edmunds this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.
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