EXPERT REVIEW

AZCentral.com's view

Nissan and its Infiniti luxury division continue to amaze. The latest in a string of successes are the Infiniti M35/M45 midsize sedans, completely revamped for 2006.

Few people remember or care about the last-generation M cars, even though they were pretty fast and technically advanced. The big flaw: They were as dull as house paint.

But after a year’s hiatus, the Ms are back, and it was a year well spent. The new M45 tested here proved a brilliant and potent machine, boasting sharp performance while wrapping passengers in a cocoon of luxury and technological wizardry.

M45 is the V-8 version of the pair, the M35 having many of the same attributes but with a V-6 engine and a price tag about $7,000 less. M35 is no slouch, with 270 horsepower, so the decision is whether the strong and ultrasmooth performance of the 335-horse V-8 is worth the extra cash.

Part of the M cars’ edge is their new chassis, based on Nissan 350Z and Infiniti G35 coupe. Infiniti engineers beefed up the M’s platform for greater rigidity, and the result is a sharp-handling car that is well up to the performance demands of the engine. Of course, the electronic stability-control components don’t hurt.

Infiniti pushed its midsize sedan upscale with a lavish application of luxury features and an electronics-convention’s worth of gadgetry. The interior is as amusing as it is sumptuous, with lots of buttons to push and tricks to sample.

Some of the electronics are over the top, and the dashboard can get confusing, but all in all, Infiniti got this one right.

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THE LOWDOWN

PERFORMANCE: M45 jumps and howls under throttle yet with a refinement that makes you think more of a corporate jet than a muscle car. The silky V-8 makes it all too easy to eclipse the speed limit.

The five-speed automatic is a nice piece of work, upshifting quickly and downshifting with an automatic blip of the throttle to smoothly match the engine speed to the gear change. Gas mileage is mediocre.

DRIVABILITY: Although the old M45 was a boulevard cruiser, the new version is a bona fide sports sedan that should fit in nicely with the BMW/Audi crowd. The stiff new chassis, responsive steering and powerful brakes allow M to react quickly to driver input and match with the engine in a well-integrated package. The electronic stability gear and traction control work unobtrusively, improving drivability without getting in the way. In the Sports version, the rear wheels steer electronically in tune with the car’s speed, attitude and steering pressure. I drove the base M45 with a standard rear setup, which cornered admirably.

STYLING: Far better than the old-school look of the former M but not as striking as most new Nissans and Infinitis. A nice shape, clean and aerodynamic, but it could be more distinctive.

INTERIOR: Luxury cues and features are liberally applied, with handsome rosewood trim, leather, a plethora of convenience features and, of course, an analog Infiniti clock.

Among the toys, Bluetooth technology for cellphone integration, voice recognition, a rotary dial to control navigation, audio and climate, and a reverse camera to warn of what lies behind. The console is cluttered with buttons and dials, which took some concerted effort to master. There must be a simpler way.

BOTTOM LINE: A top-drawer midsize luxury car that drives like a sports sedan while undercutting the competition on price.

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RELATED

Vehicle type: Five-passenger, four-door sedan, rear-wheel drive.

Engine: 4.5-liter V-8, 335 horsepower at 6,400 rpm, 340 pound-feet of torque at 4,000 rpm.

Transmission: Five-speed automatic.

Wheelbase: 114.2 inches.

Overall length: 192.6 inches.

Curb weight: 3,948 pounds.

EPA rating: 17 city, 23 highway.

Highs: Sharp acceleration, brilliant handling, luxury interior.

Lows: Modest styling, high-tech overload, complex controls.

Pricing

Base price: $46,750.

Price as tested: $52,110.

OPTIONS

* Journey package, with Bose stereo, auto-leveling Xenon headlights, front seat heating/cooling, pre-crash seatbelts, $2,750.

* Navigation system, $2,000.

* Shipping, $610.

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For more on the Infiniti M45, go to autos.azcentral.com.

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