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2006 Infiniti M35x Review

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PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)

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A Remarkable Machine
By Steve Purdy

TheAutoChannel Detroit Bureau

SEE ALSO: New Car Buyer's Guide for Infiniti

We were just back from a substantial road trip in the Nissan Maxima (see our Tennessee road trip report) - a car we liked very much. I was just finishing my notes on the Maxima when the good folks from Nissan brought us a new Infiniti M35x to replace it and to provide fodder for this week’s review.

Sitting side by side in the driveway during the swap I’m struck by how different these cousins look. Infiniti, of course, is Nissan’s luxury division and these two full-size automobiles share some of the same platform elements, but they are about $12,000 apart in price. The Infiniti appears to be a tad taller, perhaps a smidge larger and considerably more conservatively styled. Our California-built Infiniti M35x is the all-wheel-drive, performance version of this rear-wheel-drive luxury sedan.

Sliding smoothly into the beautiful leather driver’s seat, with the Infiniti name and logo stitched into it, I’m first struck by the rosewood trim on the dash, center stack and doors. While the wood trim in most automobiles appears glazed and over-polished, this rich, fine-grained rosewood appears to have been finished only with a bit of oil, like a fine new piece of furniture. Unlike the Maxima’s incongruous variety of interior materials the M35x has no extraneous elements whatsoever making for more aesthetic appeal. Perhaps because of the darker or thicker materials the Infinity seems a bit less roomy or open inside. It feels more cozy and pampering. The lovely analog clock gives it just the right touch of elegance.

We have a bit of a delay in starting it at first. The M35x comes with an Intelligent Key system, which we do not have to remove from our pocket. It communicates with the car to let it know we’re OK and authorized to unlock the doors and trunk and start the car with the button on the dash. Well, I push the button again and again but the Infinity is not starting. The Start/Stop button is flashing through its “accessory” and “on” cycles but it’s not starting the car. Fortunately the little instruction card in the glove box gives me a clue. Just put my foot on the brake – then it will start. Duh! A redundant, superfluous system, I guess. The car is not going anywhere in “Park” anyway.

The next feature that jumps out at me is the view across the hood and front fenders. So many cars today have just a smooth hood sloping away in all directions it’s refreshing to see a visual distinction between hood and fenders stylistically suggesting they are two separate pieces of the car. Bravo. I’m beginning to rethink my initial impression of the exterior styling as too conservative. For one thing the maroon color on our test car does nothing to contribute to an aura of style. This color is particularly bland. Close inspection reveals a good paint job with just a hint of orange peel.

Out on the back roads to the workout club on a sunny afternoon I let her loose. Our test car is the 3.5-liter, 24-valve V6 with aluminum block and heads. Dual overhead cams and continuously variable valve timing along with “microfinished” camshafts and molybdenum-coated pistons make this an extremely efficient and sophisticated engine. Generating 280 horsepower and 270 lb-ft of torque it has plenty of thrust and a smooth delivery. Just remember, you can also get a 4.5-liter V8 with 335 horsepower, if you wish. Can’t wait to test that one.

The engine compartment is nicely finished with no guts showing. Little doors in the engine cover allow access to the battery and brake fluid reservoir. We can check the oil and fill the windshield washer tank without taking anything off but we can do nothing else.

All that power gets where it needs to go through a very competent electronically controlled 5-speed automatic transmission with manual mode and a driver-adaptive learning algorithm that senses the driving style of the nut at the wheel and adjusts shift points accordingly. You see, kids, there really is relevance to your advanced math class. Someone had to calculate those algorithms after all.

The “x” in our test car’s moniker means all-wheel-drive. It’s an intelligent system that senses the needs of the moment and distributes the torque exactly where and when needed. When conditions are not challenging all the power goes to the rear wheels for the coveted rear-wheel-drive experience. With the most demanding conditions the torque split is 50/50. When the ABS system senses slippage at one wheel the power goes to the others. Does that require more algorithms? Ask your favorite math major.

On our way to town and back we have a couple of opportunities to assess the rigidity of the chassis and the compliance of the suspension. I’m speaking of my favorite ill-maintained railroad crossings. Two words come to mind for the Infiniti - rigid and stiff. We felt no flex in the body at all and the suspension felt a bit overly stiff. Ours was not the “Sport” version of the M35 so that one might be even stiffer.

The ride and handling under normal conditions are excellent – firm, smooth, tight and confidant. No tawdry McPerson struts adorn these wheel wells. In front we find an independent, double-wishbone design with coil springs over shocks and stabilizer bar. In the rear it’s independent multi-link rigging also with coil springs over shocks and a stabilizer bar. We have big, meaty P245/45R18 Goodyear Eagle RS-A performance tires on good looking 8-spoke alloy wheels that look like they were machined out of a big round block of metal.

Getting into and out of the rear is much easier than the Maxima. The doors are much better designed and the rear seats are fantastic - nicely sculpted and comfortable. I would love to be chauffeured on a long trip in these rear seats. For the convenience of everyone there are grab handles above all four doors.

EPA estimates tell us we can expect 17 mpg city and 24 highway. The data in the cars ‘Info” system shows both current and historical mileage. We did not drive it long enough to do an independent calculation but having reset the instant mileage when the car arrived it read 19.2 when we gave it up a week, and about 500 miles, later. Looking into the cars self-recorded history we find nearly a dozen records from 18 mpg to 25 mpg. Now, I’m not an engineer and I find it hard to imagine that this system can measure so accurately. One of my colleagues who is an engineer says they are very accurate and measure the fuel as it’s used, not as we fill the tank. You’ll have to make your own judgment.

There are lots of other functions accessible through the “Infiniti Controller”, like trip computer, fuel mileage, navigation system, audio functions and lots more. It seemed to be reasonably intuitive but there would certainly be a learning curve involved to get to know the whole system. Voice recognition and Bluetooth technology are included. A tech-savvy driver (unlike me) would have a ball exploring all its functions,

Our test car, the 2006 Infiniti M35x AWD 4-door sedan has a base price of $42,400 which includes all the features we have described above as well as Vehicle Speed Sensitive Power Steering, Vehicle Dynamic Control (VDC), Traction Control, halogen headlights, integrated fog lights, LED taillights, power sliding glass sunroof, Infiniti Controller with 7-inch LCD display, 6-speaker audio system with AM/FM, in-dash 6-disc with MP3 and WMA playback, 10-way power driver’s seat, 6-way front passenger seat, dual automatic temperature control with micro filtration, lots of state-of-the-art airbags, tire pressure monitoring system and lots of other stuff. Our test car has options of XM Satellite Radio costing $350 and a $2,700 “Journey Package” which includes Bose speakers, rear view monitor, low-beam xenon headlights with automatic leveling, adaptive front lighting system, climate controlled seats, pre-crash seat belts and Compass and Homelink Universal Transceiver. With the $610 destination charge our sticker shows $46,110.

Infiniti’s warranty is 4 years/60,000 miles. The powertrain is covered for 6 years/70,000 miles. Corrosion coverage is 7 years/ unlimited mileage. Twenty-four-hour roadside assistance is included as is a complimentary service loan car when you must leave the car for service or repair.

If you’re in the market for a sporty premium luxury sedan with plenty of technology you’ll want to include the M35x and its siblings in your search. Put them up against the Lexus GS models, BMW 5-Series, Cadillac CTS and Mercedes E-Class. You can see this would be a particularly exciting shopping experience.

Shop ‘till you drop.

Compare 2006 Infiniti M35 to 2006 Nissan Maxima

Steve Purdy, Shunpiker Productions All Rights Reserved