Revamped fullsize sedan floats through the real world
by: COURTESY OF INFINITI Good looks are just the beginning of the appeal of the 2011 Infiniti M37X AWD, a diver's car that lives up to the company's mystique.

Since it first opened for business in America in 1989, Infiniti has evoked ethereal images to sell its cars. The company's adverting has featured rocks, trees, snow and brushstrokes to create a sense of vehicles.

Not all of them live up to the Zen-like expectations. For example, the QX56 is an overweight traditional SUV that wallowed through the test track at the most recent Mudfest, the annual test of off-road vehicles sponsored by the Northwest Automotive Writers Association.

But Infiniti hit the elusive mark with the 2011 M series, its new fullsize sedan that can be ordered up in various luxury and performance versions. The M37 comes with a 3.7 V6 that produces 330 horsepower. The M56 features a 5.6-liter V8 that cranks out 420 horsepower. Both come in X versions that include the company's ATTESA E-TS All-Wheel Drive System with Snow Mode. And the hybrid M35h is just arriving in showrooms.

Driving our test M37X AWD was enlightening experience. The pearly white paint accented its flowing lines, making it look like a ghost slipping though traffic. The interior was so quiet it seemed to slip through the real world. The steering was light and the suspension floated over all but the worst roads. But the engine was powerful and the 7-speed automatic was responsive, meaning it could easily be driven aggressively when the mood struck.

To help sort out the balance between comfort and performance, the engine and transmission could be set in four modes from a dial on the console - Eco, Normal, Sport and Snow. As the name suggests, the Eco mode increases fuel economy by dampening down the throttle response, making the M37 drive more like a sluggish hybrid. Acceleration was adequate around town but too slow for freeway merging or passing. In our testing, it got a few miles per gallon better than the Normal mode, though.

The Normal mode was, of course, normal. Throttle response was good and acceleration was much better, although not exactly tire burning. That's a little surprising because the 3.7-liter V6 produces more horsepower - 330 - that practically any other V6 on the market. It only produces 270 foot-pounds of torque, however, which helps explain it.

As expected, switching to the Sport mode improves the throttle response and acceleration even more. This is definitely the most entertaining mode, even though mileage suffers compared to the Eco mode.

For even quicker acceleration, the transmission can be placed in a manual shift mode. Unlike many competing car, the M37 does not offer steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters, restricting the up and down shifts to the shift lever. Having grown up with four-speed manual transmission, we prefer this to paddle shifters, which take some getting used to. In fact, the manual shift mode in the M37 was among the best we've ever tested, especially the downshifts, due to the Downshift Rev Matching function that gave them a manual transmission feel.

We didn't try the Snow mode because the weather was too good, but we assume it increases grip on slippery roads - a good thing in the Pacific Northwest.

But the Infiniti line is also about luxury. Nissan created it to compete against Honda's Acura line and Toyota's Lexus line, after all. The M37X AWD did not disappoint in this regard. The interior was trimmed with fine leather, from the heated and cooled front seats to the multi-layered door panels. The center console and dash were accented with convincing expensive-looking wood and thin chrome bands. The plastics on the dash and doorsills are high-grade and soft to the touch.

In our mind, some of the Acura and Lexus products seem intended to compete directly against the BMW and Mercedes lines. Infiniti's M line seems to have picked a much more elusive target, the Jaguar sedans. Compared to their German rivals, the current Jaguars have always struck as being more civilized. We think our test M37X AWD comes close to capturing their essence, from its sensuous lines to the refined interior and smooth ride.

We call it truth in advertising.

Facts and figures

• Model: 2011 M37X AWD

• Manufacturer: Infiniti.

• Class: Midsize sedan.

• Layout: Front engine, all-wheel-drive (as tested).

• Style: Four-door car.

• Engines: 3.7-liter V6 (330 hp.)

• Transmissions: 7-speed automatic.

• EPA estimated city/highway mileage: 17/24 (as tested).

• Price: Beginning at approximately $49,000 ($59,960 as tested).

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