Jason Kavanagh, Senior Vehicle Test Engineer
Remember Zevolution? It was a derogatory term in the car biz that described the gradual, inexorable inflation of a car's curb weight and silhouette, predicated on the Nissan Z-car's propensity to swell with each successive generation. Zevolution does to cars what foie gras does to your waistline.
That was years ago, when a looming coronary prompted the Z's caretakers to stem these deleterious effects of aging. Still, Zevolution left a bad taste in the mouths of sports car snobs and the term lives on.
Oddly enough, here we are with another Nissan cum Infiniti, the 2011 Infiniti M56, and the situation is eerily familiar. Increased weight. A bigger shadow. More to love, we hope, as we approach the taped-up test cars we will be driving during a sneak preview in Southern California.
Based on the second-generation FM platform that currently underpins the Nissan 370Z and Infiniti's FX50 and G37, the new 2011 Infiniti M56 introduces minor changes in overall length and height compared to its predecessor, while the front track increases 1.4 inches and the rear by 0.8 inch.
More significant, Nissan has widened the M by 2 inches and kept the same wheelbase as before. Thus the 2011 M56 suggests "premium" in the way that only a more spacious cabin can.
The soft, flowing lines of the redesigned M series are deadly effective at two things. One, they create visual ties to the Essence showcar (as well as the slightly smaller G37 sedan), and two, they instantly make the 2009 M appear dated, narrow and even a bit frumpy. That car's featureless flanks are replaced by a seductively curved midsection comprised of doors formed from aluminum. Gone are the awkwardly oversize taillights. The 2011 Infiniti M56 is elegant and easy on the eyes, though some might miss the brash chunkiness of the old M.
Sold as the Nissan Fuga in Japan, this 2011 model of Infiniti's competitor for the BMW 5 Series is the first M to be sold in Europe, where it will be available with a diesel. Don't get your hopes up that the oil-burner will be sold Stateside, though.
Infiniti's suggestive model naming convention remains intact with the new M series, and in the 2011 Infiniti M56 this spells a 5.6-liter V8 that produces 420 horsepower and 417 pound-feet of torque according to Nissan's preliminary numbers.
If you've been paying attention, this represents an increase of 1.1 liters and nearly 100 hp compared to the erstwhile M45's 4.5-liter V8. Lesser M37 models are equipped with the familiar VQ37 3.7-liter V6, churning out 330 hp (27 hp more than the current V6-powered M) and 270 lb-ft of torque.
The corporate VK engine architecture forms the basis of the M56's V8, which exists elsewhere in 5.0-liter and 5.6-liter form in the Infiniti FX50 and the company's trucky applications. The difference lies in the numerous details, starting with unique cylinder heads on the M56's power plant that feature direct injection and variable valve timing and lift. Nissan's eggheads report that these measures make the new V8 some 10 percent more efficient than the outgoing 4.5-liter lump despite the large increase in displacement.
Featuring a seven-speed automatic transmission, the M56's powertrain is unquestionably capable. Gearchanges are fluid and smooth and there's ample torque across the rev range. The way this hardware pairing goes about moving the big sedan is unobtrusive and effective, though more of the right kinds of sounds — an intake note or a bit of exhaust burble, perhaps — would be fine with us. We like a bit of sizzle to go with our steak.
Agility Belies Its Size
Nissan reckons the 2011 Infiniti M56 offers class-leading interior space, and we couldn't find any evidence to dispute this. And while greenhouses continue their miniaturization act elsewhere in the motoring world, the M's beltline throws this trend a French curve — outward visibility is refreshingly panoramic, at least from the front chairs. The open cabin layout, similar in philosophical concept to the current car, serves to emphasize the sense of volume inside.
The double wishbone front suspension is carried over from the previous car. In the rear, a mildly revised rear suspension geometry affords more lateral stiffness, and although four-wheel steering is available, it differs slightly from the system offered on the G37 in the interests of functional transparency. Indeed, when lobbing the M from apex to apex on some of Southern California's best driving roads, this big sedan shrinks around you. Its steering weights up less abruptly than in other Nissan and Infiniti sedans, and it exhibits a willingness to change direction that is downright feline for its size.
The lighter V6 in the nose of the M37 lends the chassis even more spryness, and the adaptive behavior of the seven-speed transmission as paired to the V6 is simply brilliant. We'd go so far as to say that in this stage of development, the M37x we drove — even in all-wheel-drive guise — gets the nod over the M56 as the more engaging drive.
We were driving development mules, however, and Nissan's engineers were still in the process of fine-tuning the M's character at the time of our drive. We've since been told that the personality of production versions of the 2011 Infiniti M56 will be enhanced through revisions to the throttle and transmission calibrations, and that they're taking another pass at its aural signature.
More Sport, Less Stink
M models equipped with the Sport package will receive sexy 20-inch wheels with 245/40R20 summer tires, firmer springs and dampers, bigger brakes (14-inch front and 13.8-inch rear rotors, up from 12.6 and 12.1-inches in non-Sport models) with four-piston front calipers and the aforementioned four wheel-steering. Unique interior trimmings for Sport models include seats and gear selector, plus a steering wheel equipped with shift paddles. Even so, the M56 doesn't forget it's a luxury car — the Sport package's underpinnings absorb the harsh thumps of crappy roads gracefully.
Likewise, the M56's technology credentials check all the right boxes for a modern luxury sedan. Available features include lane departure correction, various settings for the powertrain's snappiness, intelligent cruise control and a blind-spot intervention system. There's even an air-conditioning system called Forest A/C that actively neutralizes stinky odors, modulates humidity and creates an oscillating breeze. You know, like in a forest.
More of a Good Thing
The 2011 Infiniti M56 reaches dealerships next spring, and with it you'll be getting more car for roughly the same money (although official pricing hasn't yet been announced). We'll have to reserve final judgment for when we drive the finished product, but our early experience suggests that most of the right notes have been struck. And it's all in a wrapper that is sure to bring new blood to the Infiniti fold.
More space, speed, shape and cutting-edge technology. It turns out we don't mind a little Zevolution when it comes to luxury sedans. In fact, we embrace it.
Edmunds attended a manufacturer-sponsored event, to which selected members of the press were invited, to facilitate this report.
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