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This Infiniti Is A Big Step Up


For Infiniti, the M series has always been an afterthought, a forgettable, gussied-up Nissan () sedan designed to plug the price gap between its flagship Q and its entry-level luxury cars. No more. This time, Infiniti had the benchmark, BMW's 5 Series sedans, in its crosshairs. This Infiniti M is the car the BMW 5 should have been.

I drove the the rear-drive M45 V-8 equipped with the sport package and the V-6-powered M35 with all-wheel drive around Southern California for a couple of weeks. For most people the M35, with its 3.5-liter, 280-horsepower V-6, is plenty, with zero-to-60 times of less than seven seconds. It starts at $41,290, more than $6,000 less than the M45. Another reason to pick the M35, especially if you have to negotiate snowy or wet roads, is that all-wheel drive isn't an option on the V-8.

Both cars are a joy to drive. They're roomy and opulent, and the handling is firm without sacrificing a comfortable ride. The steering is so crisp and precise, it makes the steering on most other luxury cars feel sloppy.

Infiniti didn't stint on interior furnishings, either -- a complaint many drivers had about some Infinitis in the past. Versions with the optional sport package have a textured aluminum trim; the others, a gorgeous rosewood across the dash and on the center console. I prefer the wood, and you can substitute it for the aluminum on sport models for $600.

IT FOLLOWS YOUR VOICE

This is a high-tech car, but here, unlike in the BMW, the technology makes sense. Sure, there's the big rotary knob on the dash -- it seems almost mandatory on luxury cars -- that lets you work your way through a series of menus. But for the most common tasks, such as radio and climate controls, there are buttons as well.

Voice recognition is handy for entering addresses into the navigation system and placing calls on your Bluetooth cell phone. The rear-facing color camera displays a picture of what's behind the car and guidelines that show where the rear of the car is headed. A lane-departure warning, powered by a tiny camera that tracks reflective lane-marking stripes on the road, beeps if you stray -- but not if you first telegraph your intent to change lanes with a turn signal.

I've reviewed a lot of cars in the past 15 years, and while Bimmer and Lexus fans may disagree, this Infiniti M is one of the best I've ever driven.

By Larry Armstrong


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