Introspective car enthusiasts occasionally sit pondering the significance of a new car model's name. Some auto manufacturers assign self-explanatory labels, such as Ford with its sport-utility lineup of Excursion, Expedition, Explorer and Escape. Other popular choices are contrived in numerical or alphabetical order; for instance BMW's 3 Series, 5 Series and 7 Series, or the Mercedes-Benz family of C230, E320 and S500.
Like BMW and Mercedes, Infiniti's 2002 lineup of G20, I35 and Q45 sedans seems to make some sort of alphabetical and numerical sense, even if you don't know exactly what the letter stands for. If you've been reciting the alphabet since you were just a little pup, you may recall that there are exactly seven letters between "I" and "Q," and in the automotive world, that may be just enough room for a new model to penetrate the market.
Enter the 2003 Infiniti M45. Pricewise the M45 falls between the midlevel Infiniti I35 and top-of-the-line Q45, but as a sport sedan, the M settles in nicely between the G35 and Q45.
Like the G and Q, the M45 is a rear-wheel-drive sedan. Under the hood lurks the same 4.5-liter V8 engine that powers the larger Q45, which produces 340 horsepower and 333 pound-feet of torque. M45 competitor, the Lexus GS 430, also provides a V8 engine, but the 4.3-liter makes a lesser 300 hp and 325 lb-ft of torque. As the Q is over 100 pounds heavier than the M, it's easier to feel the M's V8 pull, but we still found the M a little soft off the line. During performance testing, the M45 registered a 0-to-60-mph time of 6.4 seconds and a quarter-mile time of 14.8 seconds at 95.5 miles per hour. With 340 hp, we feel the opening takeoff should be a little quicker, but after the initial lag, the power band is especially steady without noticeable peak or lag. Real-world drivers should find the M plenty powerful during everyday driving.
The M45's engine is paired with a standard five-speed automatic transmission with automanual capability. We found the transmission reasonably agreeable, however, upshifts were a bit abrupt with a slight surge, and downshifts weren't always quick with the pedal.
Braking performance was satisfactory on Infiniti's latest offering, but we wouldn't call it class-leading. We thought the brakes exhibited good pedal feel and were easy to modulate, but our test-driver thought that the brake pedal felt a bit squishy near the bottom of its travel. Consecutive braking distances of 117.8 feet, 121.2 feet and 122.5 feet in 60-to-0-mph emergency stops demonstrated that brake fade was a minimal issue for the M45's four-wheel ventilated discs.
In terms of handling, the M's chassis is definitely tightened up compared to the big Q45 cruiser. During our testing, the M displayed fine body control, remaining very flat and stable on windy winding roads, and its 18-inch Bridgestone tires always stayed planted on the pavement. Still, with a curb weight of over 3,800 pounds, the car feels kind of heavy around turns, and not as lively and tossable as a BMW 5 Series. Further, the M45's speed-sensitive power rack-and-pinion steering offered respectable weighting for a luxury car, but probably not as much as you would want in a true sport sedan. Should you push a bit hard on back roads, the M45's standard stability control system (called VDC) will step in and get you back on track.
While cruising down the freeway, we were pleased to find ourselves in a very solidly constructed, peaceful cabin, free of any unwelcome wind or road noise. This pleasant realization reminded us that while Infiniti marketing is pushing a true sports car image for the M45, we still find it to be first and foremost a luxury vehicle, including most of the features typically found on high-dollar models. Our test car even had an easy-to-operate intelligent cruise control system, which uses lasers to detect vehicles ahead, and then automatically paces the M45 behind traffic at a selected distance.
Fine leather covered all seating surfaces in the M45, including the supportive sport-contoured front buckets. A 10-way power-adjustable driver seat and four-way power passenger seat come standard on the M. Ten-way adjustability should offer supreme driving comfort, but instead we found ourselves constantly fiddling with the seat controls in an attempt to find a desirable position. Our test car had the optional driver seat memory, so once we did manage to make all of the subtle adjustments to reach driver-seat nirvana, we were pleased to be brought back to our last position when we reentered the car.
Another option on our loaded-up M45 test car was climate-controlled front seats. These seats not only warm you, they're also engineered to cool you down when it's hot. Each front seat has its own heat/cool control switch with a four-setting dial, allowing fine-tuning during heating and cooling efforts. Heated seats are one of our favorite luxury items, and we found ourselves enjoying the M45's soothing warmth on long commutes to the office, and while buzzing around town on chilly evenings. The M's seat cooling function however was not as beneficial. The cool air wasn't nearly as noticeable as the warming function, and the buzz from the fan was obvious, prompting each new driver that climbed into the cabin to ask, "What's that noise?"
Front-seat legroom was on par with competitor Audi A6, but the Audi bested the M45 in rear legroom by nearly five additional inches. Surprisingly, the smaller Infiniti G35 is over 10 inches shorter than the M45, yet it has almost four more inches in rear legroom. Some might think that a couple mere inches couldn't possibly make much of a difference in passenger comfort, but if you're looking to put more than a petite-to-average person in the M45's rear seat, don't expect them to go quietly. A bit more toe room can make all of the difference when it comes to the passenger's appreciation during a long drive.
Standard trim inside the M45 includes bird's eye maple in a smoke graphite color, but our test car had been upgraded to a traditional maple-colored wood for an additional $300. We think the natural wood color provides more of a classy, luxury look that we prefer to the sportier appeal of the standard smoke-colored trim.
The M45's interior is well-appointed, but it suffers somewhat from the placement of the controls on the center stack. The center stack provides dials for automatic driver and passenger climate control and stereo volume, but the spacing and ultimate position of the dials are somewhat irritating. The volume control is on the far right of the stack, near the passenger-side climate knob, which makes for an uncomfortable reach from the driver seat. At least Infiniti offers steering wheel audio controls to help alleviate this issue.
Another cause for consternation is the standard, yet complicated, multifunctional vehicle information system that uses the same Infiniti voice recognition system found in the Q45. While using the voice recognition saves some of the hassle of toiling with the vehicle information system, using the system without voice can be frustrating. In order to reduce the fan speed manually, or change the radio station, you must go through at least a layer or two of options on the large color LCD screen, which is not easy to do while you're driving down the road.
The overall look of the wide center stack isn't as elegant as it could be, and seems out of place positioned above the trademark Infiniti analog clock. While the M45 is blessed with a standard 225-watt Bose audio system with AM/FM/cassette, we have a hard time understanding why Infiniti chose to keep the cassette player in the stack instead of installing at least a single in-dash CD player. As it is, the six-disc CD changer is mounted inconveniently in the glovebox.
In spite of its minor list of shortcomings, there is no denying that the M45 gives you serious bang for your buck. With other standard luxury items such as one-touch up-down power windows, xenon headlights, electrochromic mirrors and heated outside mirrors with reverse tilt-down on the driver side, this car is loaded to the gills. With a base price of only $42,300, it's possible to bring the M45 up yet another level by adding three different option packages Comfort and Convenience, Technology and Premium and still not hit the base price of the BMW 540i.
There are some who might say that the thrill of the BMW driving experience is worth the $9,500 premium you'll pay for the 540i, or that the E500's additional $12,550 is worth it for a Mercedes-Benz nameplate. But if you're willing to go Japanese over German and money is of some consequence, we strongly recommend spending some time with your right foot firmly planted on the M45's accelerator pedal, because it offers plenty of power, shrouded in a luxury persona, at a more affordable price.
System Score: 9.0
Components: The M45 comes with a six-disc CD changer in the glovebox, a cassette player in the dash, seven speakers and voice-activated controls. If you don't like talking to your car, there are plenty of buttons on the steering wheel to help you avoid the complex controls on the dash that include buttons which correspond to on-screen controls and a joystick for audio adjustments. The Bose speaker array consists of full-range drivers in each door panel, large midtweets on each side of the dash and a big subwoofer in the rear deck.
Performance: This is a very strong factory sound system that is refined at moderate volumes. The high-range speakers on the dash provide good separation of the left and right channels with powerful reproduction of sounds such as vocals and guitars (acoustic performances sound especially nice). The speakers in the doors help spread bass throughout the cabin along with most other sounds, so they get a bit messy when pushing out complicated recordings. You'll never notice that, though. The subwoofer is not what you expect as standard equipment it's actually good. Although the bass is projected from the back of the car, it can't be escaped and it's pretty clean when the volume knob is twisted. All of the mirrors get double vision from the tight low tones that resist the sloppiness found in some sound systems.
Best Feature: Bass for days.
Worst Feature: Complicated controls on the dash.
Conclusion: Impressive sound, voice-activated controls and bonus bass are the standard for the M45. Trevor Reed
Senior Road Test Editor Ed Hellwig says: Although the ad guys at Infiniti are pushing the M45 as a "muscle car with brains," I found it to be more of a "luxury sedan with the world's worst climate and radio controls." This wasn't much of a surprise as I found the multibutton setup equally confounding in the Q. This may seem like beating a dead horse, but even during my somewhat limited seat time, the setup managed to aggravate me to no end as I fumbled for the right dial to adjust the stereo and get the A/C going.
Other than this notable annoyance, the M proved to be a much more satisfying drive than the Q. Instead of wallowing through turns like the big flagship, the M45 stays hunkered down and flat, giving you the feeling that it could be pushed hard if you felt so inclined. The much heralded engine provides ample thrust in most situations, but with its lack of low-end punch Infiniti should drop the "muscle car" charade and just admit that it merely competes favorably with the numerous other V8s in its class. If you're looking for nothing more than a midsize luxury sedan that's quick on its feet and somewhat affordable, the M45 is certainly worthy of consideration. But if money is less important than pure driving enjoyment, the M45 is still a far cry from the class-leading BMW 540i.
Road Test Editor Brian Moody says: I knew as soon as I saw the M45 that many would complain about the styling. Well I, for one, love the M45's blocky bold and squarish look especially in black. A few people complained that the M45 looks like a Mercury Marauder; well, that car looks cool, too. The main difference is that the M45 has the muscle to back up its broad-shouldered, brawny look.
While the M45 is no 350Z in the handling department, it is much more agile than I was expecting. If anything, I would have preferred a slightly softer ride (man, am I getting old?). The engine is sweet and winds up with plenty of smoothness overall, a really terrific car at a substantial savings over its European competitors. I know this might sound like heresy to some, but I'd rather have the M45 than a BMW 5 Series or Mercedes-Benz E-Class. Plus, I'd never purchase half the options our test car came with in my world, this car would be about $6,000 cheaper making it that much more of a bargain.
My only complaint with this car is that the driver info center/audio system/climate control/navigation screen is rather clunky to operate. I'd prefer each function to be separate.
"Well, the ergonomics could be better. The shifter, cupholder and armrest need to be reconfigured. So does the CD player (single in-dash is preferred) . I have 3,500 miles on the car now and I had a problem with the transmission getting stuck in second gear at 1,200 miles. Tried everything, finally shut the engine off and restarted, and appears OK. The dealer tested it repeatedly with nothing found. Oh, the gas mileage does stink, and I don't drive it wildly, OK, very seldom getting about 18 mpg. Structurally very sound (no rattles or squeaks yet). It does have great power and road feel and of course everyone knows about the bargain pricing as compared to the competitors. Yes, it's a deal but needs a little refinement. Improve shifting, turning radius and interior ergonomics. (400 horsepower to compete with the M5???) A little more rear legroom and trunk room is needed. " Roadglide99, March 3, 2003
"Have had the car just one week. Traded a 1999 Q45T. This car is delightful. Love the voice commands and air-conditioned seats. Great value for the money. Wife has a 2002 Mercedes C320, which cost about the same but this car is much more comfortable. Needs better gas mileage." bocaharv, Feb. 27, 2003
"Safety, power, surefooted responsiveness, cost, technology, with a dash of analog make the M45 a world-class vehicle. A must-test-drive for those who are in the market for a quality vehicle. Toyota, Lexus, Mercedes, Volvo take a backseat for similar vehicles in the same price range. Favorite attributes: V8 340-horsepower engine, voice recognition, traction control, intelligent cruise control, human-engineered features. Could use a single CD player option instead of the cassette deck. " hofame, Feb. 23, 2003
"My wife and I were about to buy another BMW 745i when we saw this car at the car show. I bought one the next morning after driving it. And I saved about $40K. I cannot believe the power, handling, technology, comfort and refinement of this car. Let's not forget the price mine is loaded and it is still under $50K. I get more comments on my M than my wife gets on her brand-new $82K BMW, and I can beat her car anytime, anyplace. Needless to say, she cannot wait to get one. GPS NAV, Voice Commands, POWER POWER POWER And the great aesthetics. Well, I would say gas mileage isn't good, but let's be honest, that means they may have to cut power, so no thanks. Everything is perfect." gray_M45, Feb. 23, 2003
"This is a great automobile! The body style is unique and sharp. Although similar lines to the new Cadillac, I find the M45 lines much more refined compared to the boxy look of the Cadillac. The interior is very handsome-looking. The automatic retracting seat and lifting steering wheel for ease of entrance and exit is a nice touch. The automanual five-speed transmission lets me enjoy additional acceleration and control when I want to have extra fun. The audio controls on the steering wheel make audio operation safe and easy while in motion. The voice-controlled audio and climate control system also make for ease and safety of control while driving. I enjoy the smooth yet potent acceleration of the V8." LoveCars, Oct. 15, 2002
"I bought the first M45 in Austin and smoked a Porsche Boxster the first week. I looked at the new E500 and there was no comparison, especially for the price. I've had three Corvettes and this one will definitely keep pace with my '93 Vette and seems to handle better, which is surprising for a large four-door sedan. Looks best in black with chrome wheels. Very '70s in style, which I like, but with far more technology. Though I've had mine now for two months, I've seen only one other one here. It appears this car will be another sleeper. I'll have fun smoking other so-called competitors: 540i, GS 430 and E500. Like the heated/cooled seats. Need to add six-way power passenger seat and offer 300-plus watt stereo system and replace cassette in-dash with CD and put cassette in glovebox. Also should offer backseat pass-through, plus more rear-seat legroom, too." TWD in Austin, TX, Dec. 13, 2002
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