Infiniti's M luxury sedan drives like a four-door sports car, and it's available in all-wheel drive for folks who live in northern climes where snow is frequent.
Key to its personality is a gutsy duo of engines: a 303-horsepower V-6 or a 325-horsepower V-8. The V-6 has received such a significant bump in power for 2009 that it becomes the logical choice for most owners.
Last year the M's exterior was freshened with a new front grille and bumpers, lower air intake, fog lamps and side sills, revised rear fenders, taillights, a deck lid and a new optional rear spoiler design.
Enhancements for 2009, aside from the more powerful V-6, include a seven-speed automatic transmission for rear-wheel-drive models.
Prices for the M35 begin at $45,800 for rear-wheel drive and $47,950 for the M35x all-wheel drive. The V-8-powered M45 begins at $52,150 and $54,650 for all-wheel drive. The test car was an M35x from Infiniti's press fleet.
The M sedan uses a modified version of the same FM chassis platform that is under the G35 sedan and FX crossover SUV. FM stands for Front Midship, and that means the engine is located aft of the front wheel's centerline for more balanced weight distribution.
The M35 has a squat stance, big tires and a low roof. Short front and rear overhangs emphasize its performance character. A long wheelbase and short overhangs also contribute to a roomy interior, and the wide track adds stability.
The M35 strikes a good balance between ride comfort and handling. The ride never feels harsh, but the car remains uncommonly composed when you hustle it through turns. The all-wheel-drive system is capable of sending 100 percent of the torque to the front or rear wheels, or a combination therein, as conditions require.
The M35's cabin has bucket seats that are firm and supportive. When they're equipped with the climate-control function, warm or cool air is circulated through the tiny perforations in the leather.
Accessing and controlling the audio and climate systems is done via a large multipurpose knob on the dash. Many controls can be operated with buttons, but changing radio bands, for example, requires reach clear across to the right side of the center panel.
The M showcases Infiniti's advanced safety technology, including intelligent cruise control and the lane departure warning system. The lane departure warning has a small camera installed behind the windshield to detect lane markers. If the vehicle drifts out of its lane, the system responds with an audible warning and a blinking light in the speedometer.
If the driver doesn't make a correction, the vehicle's stability control system applies slight brake pressure to the wheels on one side to subtly steer the vehicle.
The optional technology package includes an advanced hard-drive navigation system and a 9.3-gigabyte hard drive for digital music storage and playback. Standard features include a Bluetooth hands-free phone system, a rearview monitor and a 7-inch LCD screen.
Safety features include dual-stage front airbags and roof-mounted side-impact curtain airbags. The pre-crash option tightens front seat belts in anticipation of an evasive maneuver or a crash.
The base price of the test car was $47,950. The optional technology package brought the sticker price to $52,115.
Four years or 50,000 miles with a six-year, 70,000-mile powertrain warranty.
2009 Infiniti M35x
Engine: 3.5-liter, 303-hp V-6
Wheelbase: 114.2 inches
Curb weight: 4,125 lbs.
Base price: $47,950
As driven: $52,115
Mpg rating: 16 city, 22 hwy.
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