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2011 Infiniti M: As Infiniti launches its new flagship, the mid-size luxury car market in Canada has never been more competitive (Nissan)
2011 Infiniti M: As Infiniti launches its new flagship, the mid-size luxury car market in Canada has never been more competitive (Nissan)

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Within days, a completely renovated 2011 BMW 5-Series will officially launch, though we've been teased for months. The design has gone from radical to elegant and the technology within has been made vastly more user-friendly (yes, I'm talking about iDrive).

Within the last year, Mercedes-Benz introduced the reinvented E-Class, this one with aggressive styling, more sensible pricing and every gadget you could possibly imagine. It seems Mercedes is selling this E more on gizmo-quotient than gear-head appeal.

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And now we have the new 2011 Infiniti M-Series with its smooth, liquid-metal look, direct-injection horsepower and innovations such as a gas pedal that pushes back (Eco Pedal) when you're (apparently) not driving in a green-friendly way. Did I mention that this M has a feature that adjusts the torque and braking at each wheel (to improve cornering)? The M also can clean bad-smelling air and uses sound waves to cancel out ugly, intrusive noises.

Click here for the latest Driving It Home blog post from Jeremy Cato.

Yes, the mid-size luxury car market in Canada has never been more competitive. Heck, even though the Audi A6 isn't due for a complete makeover until 2012, the powertrain in the front-drive version has been updated this year and Audi is also offering an all-wheel-drive special edition.

Lexus, of course, has the GS series, which includes the segment's first full hybrid. Acura's RL was updated for 2009 and, while the cabin is festooned with buttons and dials, it's available with a superb AWD system - and the pricing is very attractive.

Another contender not to be overlooked is Hyundai's Genesis. The Hyundai brand may not have quite the heft of top luxury brands, but there is value to be found here - especially so if you want a premium car with a V-8 and a fairly modest price tag.

Jaguar? The XF is a gem inside and out, and it drives like a dream. Excellent resale value, too. The XFR high-performance version will blow your mind.

The Lincoln MKS is technologically sound and not expensive for the class (especially with discounts in play). Buyers should not overlook Volvo's S80, either. Volvo doesn't spend much to market the S80, but this is a very nice sedan, brimming with technology.

Into this mix comes the M, which is the Infiniti flagship. Infiniti, if you had not noticed, has been rather quietly enjoying an excellent year. Sales are up 21.9 per cent so far this year. Yes, Audi is up 52.9 per cent, BMW up 33 per cent, and Mercedes up 28.3. And Infiniti market share is a third of BMW's and a quarter of Mercedes'. Yes, Infiniti is a small player but with big ambitions.

You can see them in this 2011 M. It's sleek (the design wonderfully takes its cues straight from the Essence concept car) and powerful (the 330-horsepower V-6 is more powerful than last year's V-8, and this year's V-8 delivers a whopping 420 hp). Both engines are tied to a seven-speed automatic transmission that is available with magnesium paddle shifters. Aside from occasionally hunting for the ride gear, it seems a solid tranny.

The remaking of the M, says Canadian strategy director Ian Forsyth, is all about fully establishing Infiniti as a high-tech, high-quality, high-value maker of premium car maker. All well and good, but Infiniti still needs to get noticed by more potential buyers.

For that, design is the key. Here, the M is a standout. Take in the car from any angle - front, side, three-quarters, even lying on the ground - and it's a knockout. We're hard-pressed to know if this look will age well, because it is so bold and so daring. But for right now, it's a killer design.

Aside from the forms and flow of the sheet metal, the fat 20-inch wheels on the Sport model and even the door handle courtesy lamps, the M has width and length and height on its side. Infiniti retained the 2,900-mm wheelbase, but lowered the height by 76 mm. Width is up 38.1 mm and the car is longer overall by 15.1 mm. The combined effect is to create a lower, more planted, bolder presence.

No, Batman wouldn't drive this; someone far more sophisticated and more subtle. Bruce Wayne, perhaps.

He'd surely go for the AWD M56X with its top-of-the-line 5.6-litre direct injection V-8 ($68,700). And why not throw in the $5,100 Touring and Technology package with its obscenely long list of extras - from the Forest Air air-scrubbing system to Eco Pedal, Blind Sport Warning System, Auto-levelling Control and much more.

Smash the gas pedal here and off flies the Infiniti. The direct injection V-8 lets out a deep rumble and whoosh - you're gone. True, fuel economy is not a bragging point (13.4 litres/100 km city, 8.5 highway), but it's better by fractions than the V-8 in last year's version. And this new one boasts 95 more hp than the V-8 sold in the 2010 version.

The Infiniti flagship with AWD and the V-8 does weigh 1,916 kg, so there's where fuel economy went out the window. The heft of the M also has an impact on handling, too.

In a straight line, this baby feels solid, almost bolted to the pavement. But when cornering, even with the sports-tuned suspension, the car can feel a bit less than agile. Biting into a fast turn is not this car's strongest point. The Touring and Technology package does include Infiniti's Active Trace Control and it helps cornering by adjusting torque and braking at each wheel. But there is no getting completely around the physics of the thing. This is a big, heavy car and, as we all know, a body in motion tends to stay in motion.

I should also mention that the M comes with four-wheel active steering. This system turns the rear wheels slightly in the same direction as the front wheels through a turn. The idea is to allow the M to move more laterally, making the steering shaper.

Other available gizmos include the blind spot detection system that warns you if you start to change lanes and someone is off your rear quarter panel. Blind spot intervention, meanwhile, beeps every time you move out of your lane and will actually push you back into your lane if you drift too far. All very irritating; I turned it off because the computer brain here is just not smart enough to understand my driving and correctly interpret the road conditions.

High-tech toys aside, the cabin is gorgeous. Rich leather, wood trim and metallic finishings all look stunning. The 10-way electric seats in my tester were very comfy and the etching around the Fine Vision electroluminescent gauges were lovely.

There is plenty of space in the cabin, too. Room for five, in fact. And the moon roof opens up to interior, giving it an airy feeling, though like all roofs of this sort, you lose a bit of headroom.

Like virtually all the cars in this segment, the M comes with the looks, the power and the technological trappings you'd expect at this price, from this brand. But it's in a tough slog here, fighting for attention in a segment loaded with superb automobiles.

If nothing else, it's worth a very long test drive, though.

Click here for the latest Driving It Home blog post from Jeremy Cato.



2011 Infiniti M

Type: Mid-size premium sports sedan

Price range: $52,400-$73,800

Engines: 3.7-litre V-6 and 5.6-litre V-8

Horsepower/torque:

  • 330 hp/270 lb-ft for V-6;
  • 420 hp/417 lb-ft for V-8

Transmission: Seven-speed automatic

Drive: Rear-wheel-drive and available all-wheel-drive

Fuel economy (litres/100 km):

  • 11.4 city/7.6 highway for V-6;
  • 12.9 city/8.0 highway for V-8;
  • both use premium gas

Alternatives: Audi A6, Acura RL, Hyundai Genesis, BMW 5-Series, Mercedes-Benz E-Class, Lexus GS-Class, Jaguar XF, Lincoln MKS

Like

  • Sleek, liquid-metal design
  • Direct-injection V-8
  • Great Bose stereo
  • Rich-looking cabin with lots of room

Don't like

  • Seven-speed automatic not always sure of the right gear and shifts can be harsh under certain driving conditions
  • Lane-departure warning is downright irritating
  • Heaviest AWD versions feel their weight and it shows up in cornering prowess

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