Infiniti’s M sedan has always been a bit overshadowed by its smaller/less expensive/better-selling stable mate, the G35. However, the M family offers the same stellar bargain and sporty dynamics as its sibling. When we had the chance to cruise around in the V-6 powered M35x we found that, like the rest of the automotive press, we loved it.
This time around, there’s a twist. As on the G35, the “x” denotes all-wheel-drive, available only on six-cylinder M models. The M35x’s drive train is essentially that of the G35x, with Nissan’s storied VQ-series V-6 under the hood, and the same “Intelligent All-Wheel Drive” that sends full power to the rear wheels unless there is a reason not to.
Although the M35x is not as fast as the 325-hp M45, it has a more tangible Nissan heritage. For example, the all-wheel-drive system (also known by the mercifully simple moniker of “ATTESA E-TS”) is an evolution of the AWD system used in the all-conquering Skyline GT-R, perhaps the best sports car to ever come out of Japan and the object of much lust among younger enthusiasts.
Then, of course, there’s the motor. It’s no stretch to say that Nissan’s VQ-series of six-cylinders is the best V-6 ever made. It is the only engine to have made Ward’s 10 Best Engines list every single year since the list was introduced. The VQ used here is the VQ35DE, which makes 275 horsepower at 6200rpm and 268 lb.-ft. of torque at 4800rpm. That’s slightly less than the new VQ35HR in the 306-hp G35, but the trademark smoothness and response are still there.
This outstanding combination of VQ power and sporty all-wheel-drive is polished off by the same wonderful transmission used in the M45. If you read our review of the M45, you’ll already know that this is one of the best conventional–i.e. non-SMG or DSG–automatic transmissions out there today. Despite lacking a sixth gear, this auto is simply good. Shifts are firm and fast, and the tranny is equipped with a rev-matching feature that really does work. Simply pull the lever towards the driver, and you hear a perfectly timed spike in the engine revs as the car executes the downshift.
Unlike most autos with manual shift functions, there’s no waiting, and no shift shock. Even the gear selector knob itself is so sublimely crafted, in terms of shape, size, weight, and placement, that the M35x feels as sporty as a car can that lacks a clutch pedal. After stepping out of the M, other automatic transmissions feel well, like crap, to put it kindly.
The sporting credentials alone are enough to distance the M35x from most of its competition. The Lexus GS350 AWD makes more power but offers a truly isolated driving experience, which isn’t Infiniti’s game. The Acura RL offers Honda’s trademark attention to detail, but can’t match the Infiniti’s brute strength or its styling supremacy. And the German sedans–BMW’s 528xi/535xi, Audi’s A6, and the Mercedes-Benz E350 4MATIC–can’t come close to matching the M35x’s combination of engine output, all-wheel-drive, and starting price of under 45 large.
So what’s the rest of the M35x like, for those of you with concerns other than performance? Well, the M35 is a luxury car, and it acts like one when you want it to. Settling into the M35x, or any M for that matter, is an easy process. It’s comfortable, and everything is in the right place. That may sound simplistic, but it’s easy to establish a high degree of familiarity with the M in a short amount of time. The controls for all vehicle functions are simple and intuitive, and although the M is equipped with an iDrive-style interface like high-dollar German cars, using it is totally optional, as all conventional knobs and buttons are present.
This contrasts the M35x favorably with its German competition most especially, since the end result of all the Bavarian technical wizardry is fleets of infuriating vehicles that require intense study of their owner’s manuals to do anything other than accelerate, brake, and turn. The interior trim and materials even exceed those of the once-mighty Lexus GS, which has been derided in the automotive press for sub par cabin aesthetics. Inside and out, the M is a luxury car without peer. It has LED tail lamps, 18-inch wheels, and an appropriately sexy dual exhaust with chrome tips.
The M45 we later tested was a sport model, and came with two small (approximately three grand each) options packages that complemented the car’s sporty nature. However, the M35x we tested was equipped with one whopper of a package: the $8,900 Premium Package. This had a transformative effect on the car, regarding both price and its fundamental mission.
This package made our tester into not just an engaging driver’s car with all-weather capability, but also a full-service luxury sled for a full compartment of passengers. There is a Bose stereo with fourteen speakers, Infiniti’s excellent bird’s-eye navigation system, XM Satellite Radio, and an entertainment system with an 8-inch display mounted on the car’s roof. That also includes a remote control, and two sets of wireless headphones. To get maximum enjoyment out of this system, the Premium Package provides a power rear sunshade, rear audio and climate controls, and amazingly, heated rear seats with a power reclining feature. This is not something we expected to find on a car that, all told, costs less than $55,000. It’s more a staple of long-wheelbase large German sedans like the BMW 750il, not mid-size Japanese luxury performance cars.
To help the driver keep the passengers happy and ensconced in a digital paradise, the Premium Package also includes Intelligent Cruise Control, and increasingly popular adaptive form of cruise control that uses sensors to vary the distance between the M and other vehicles on the road without requiring any input from the driver. There is also a Lane Departure Warning system, which beeps if it appears the M is drifting out of its intended lane. The icing on the cake is the RearView Monitor, which uses the navigation screen to display the surroundings of the M’s rear end when reverse is selected.
All in all, the M35x presents a unique bargain in a thrilling package. You get an absolute truckload of car for your money, which in this case totaled $54,900 including all options and destination charges. For an all-wheel drive sedan with peerless driving dynamics, mistake-free aesthetics and ergonomics, and a bevy of luxury features to rival any German sled, we are astounded at what a good option our Infiniti M35x is.