Big Car, Small Game - 2011 Infiniti M56 Long-Term Road Test

2011 Infiniti M56 Long-Term Road Test

2011 Infiniti M56: Big Car, Small Game

April 18, 2011

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Found myself in Sacramento watching Sac State play Air Force in a non-conference game, which is a long way to go to watch such a small game. Ah well, it's spring. Such things happen.

Did learn that as a spectator, it is sometimes smart to take note of the mascot adopted by the local team, as it usually involves the most ubiquitous form of indigenous wildlife. This is not a big deal when you are at the University of Michigan, since it's unlikely you'll meet any wolverines on the streets of Ann Arbor. But at Sacramento State, you're sure to meet the local variety of the hornet, and we spent a few innings watching the game from a student parking garage just beyond the left field fence, the equivalent of the row houses across from Wrigley Field in Chicago.

The Infiniti M56 is the biggest car I've driven north in a while and it's definitely big, 194.7 inches long on a 114.2 inch wheelbase and 4,028 pounds. As much as the standard comparison for this car is now BMW's latest 5 Series, I still think of the M56 as a 7 Series car. The M56 isn't exactly an Infiniti Q56 with all the SUV bodywork stripped away, but it definitely drives big, maybe because you can't see the corners very well.

Did my usual balloon-foot run on Interstate 5 on the way back just to see what kind of mileage I could squeeze out of this big car. Didn't hope for much, as the M56 gets about 23 mpg in everyday driving, and this 420-hp 5.6-liter V8 is very much a representative of the Nissan's straightforward way of getting power, which is to use plenty of gasoline.

The run back amounted to 441.8 miles (the trip computer says), a combination of about 20 miles of rural two-lane, about 300 miles of dead-straight Interstate and then a final 100 freeway miles over the mountains and through L.A. The M56 averaged 63.8 mph, about as much as you can hope for when you're running 75-80 mph among all the cars on the Interstate on a Sunday and then get tangled up with traffic in the L.A. basin (one 3-mile stretch of stop-and-go traffic).

The M56 did the distance at 25.8 mpg. Probably you'd have to hypermile it to do much better, since I've got the lightest right foot around here.

To get optimum fuel economy (did I mention a gallon of premium goes for $4.46 along Interstate 5?), I tried to use the M56's super-duper cruise control, which tries to maintain a steady following distance to traffic. It's a device that you really want in California, where there are so many cars on the road that conventional cruise control makes you disengage it pretty frequently to avoid slower cars and trucks, no matter how smart you try to be with matching the pace of traffic.

But I couldn't really get along with M56's system, as it whoa-ed up a little too soon no matter what distance I set the disengagement point and then returned to speed a little too slowly. To make it useful, you just have to camp out in the fast lane and spend your trip with your eyes in the rear mirror on the watch for closing traffic (and CHP cars) instead of looking ahead.

Actually the bane of travel on Interstate 5 is the left-lane campers doing the very same thing, only slower (naturally) than you. That's the trouble with freeway driving in this state – it's a psychology test, not a driving exercise.

Maybe I need more time to figure it out, but the whole experience with the M56's cruise control devolved into a contest of wills with the electronic brain as well as the traffic, and that's not the right frame of mind for hours of tedious travel. Of course, the cruise control didn't panic and shut things down because it thought a roadside billboard was the back end of a parked semi, which is what the first radar-controlled cruise control in the Mercedes S-Class used to do.

Big car, small game. Ah well, I didn't get stung by a yellow jacket at least.

Michael Jordan, Executive Editor, @ 8,278 miles

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