A 5.6 litre, 420 hp V-8 controlled by an ECO throttle pedal - what is that all about?
It could be an effort to pander to a political correctness platform that castigates car companies for building vehicles people might actually lust after. That is an ever-shortening list on which you'd have to include the latest M machine from Infiniti, the luxurious and potent 2011 M56x sedan.
The best feature of the ECO pedal - part of an electronic fuel-saving program that actually pushes your foot back when it decides you're stepping into planet-damaging levels of performance - is that it is driver selectable. You never, ever, have to switch it on again after trying it and discovering it dulls the car's performance-cutting edge to the level of a pair of blunt kindergarten scissors.
The next things the electronic nanny-averse will be seeking the off-switches for are the intelligent cruise control - which is disconcerting and arguably dangerous - the lane departure warning and prevention and blind spot warning and intervention systems. Sound and light alarm signals and a nudge back into your own lane (provided by the braking system acting on a pair of wheels) result if you stray, or attempt to without checking your (properly adjusted) mirrors.
On the other hand, I liked things such as the intelligent key system, the auto on/off headlights, the automatic climate control (with "Forest" air-conditioning that wafts gentle zephyrs of air at you) and the navi, information and Bose audio systems, heated seats, power-adjustable steering wheel and seats, and power sunroof. And I accept that ABS brakes are a good idea and that the stability control system can be an asset saver.
In fact, I'm all for things that improve my comfort and make things convenient, with which the M56x is lavishly equipped. I'm just not so keen on things that, while the intentions of their creators may be noble, actually prove intrusive and annoying in practice. Don't call me a Luddite, just perhaps a bit old-fashioned.
So ECO pedal be damned, dial up the Sport mode from the four electronic performance-mapping choices (there's also normal and winter) and enjoy the drive - which you will. Or wait for the on-its-way hybrid version. Or, hey, just click the delete button on your automotive enthusiasm file and go out to buy a Nissan Leaf electric instead.
The redesigned 2011 represents the third modern generation of Infiniti's M model and those who like the combination of luxury and performance should definitely add it to their take-a-look list. There was an M30 way back when Infiniti was created in the early '90s, then an M-less gap until the arrival of the M45 for 2003, and the second-gen M35 and M45 for 2006.
Ms are now available in rear-drive V-6 M37 form ($52,400) and V-8 M56 style ($66,200) or with all-wheel-drive as the M37x ($54,900) and the M56x ($68,700). There are also pricier Sport versions of each.
The test M56x came with a $5,100 touring and tech package that added Bose Studio Surround, power rear sunshade, semi-aniline leather seats and different wood trim and the systems described above. Tallied up, this brought the sticker price to $75,690.
The latest M56x rides on a revised platform draped in stand-out styling that's both sleek and muscular. The inside is a visual and tactile treat - the designer who came up with the swoopy form that sweeps across the right side of the dash and into the door panel should have been allowed to add his or her signature to it.
The instruments are sparkly, front seats support and coddle (the roomy rear is best used for two), the climate and audio systems are excellent and their controls easy enough to operate. And there's a big trunk concealed under the stylish deck lid.
All that hyperbole about electronics above was generated in part by the fact the M56x is a great car to drive unaided, with monster power on tap and all the handling and braking needed to help you keep it on its leash.
The 5.6-litre V-8's 420 hp and 417 lb-ft of torque arrive at all four wheels - very promptly if you're in Sport mode - through a seven-speed automatic and generate sub-five-second rushes up to 100 km/h. It's thirsty around town even by the government's rating system at 13.5 litres/100 km and you won't see its 8.5 litres/100 km highway rating either if you're keeping up with four-lane traffic flow.
The new M56x makes picking a mid-size sporting luxury sedan even tougher.
2011 Infiniti M56x
Type: Luxury sports sedan
Base Price: $68,700; as tested, $75,690
Engine: 5.6-litre, DOHC, V-8
Horsepower/torque: 420 hp/ 417 lb-ft
Transmission: Seven-speed automatic
Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 13.4 city/ 8.5 highway; premium gas
Alternatives: Audi A6 4.2, BMW 535i xDrive, Acura RL, Lexus GS 350 AWD/460, Mercedes-Benz E550 4Matic, Volvo S80 V8 AWD
Globe rating for the 2011 Infiniti M56xOur ratings guide
It's not a lightweight, but the quick-ish steering has distinct but not unnatural weight and the suspension is more than up to delivering rapid and direct responses to driver input - and it manages this while delivering a compliantly firm ride.
The strong curves of the bodywork look like they've been shrink-wrapped over a virtual under-the-skin musculature that is more than capable of delivering on the V-8 engine's performance promise.
From the electroluminescent instruments to the neat little analog clock and the choice of materials, the obvious attention to detail makes the interior a delight. As well as a functional "workplace" for the driver.
With all the electronic systems operating it would require a serious effort (or lack of it) on a driver's part to get into trouble. And if they did, the passive safety systems would likely save them.
Heavy and powerful. There's no way the M56x can be seen as even remotely green, despite having an active ECO pedal that attempts to trip up any bad intentions on the driver's part.
(out of 10 / Not an average)
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