Review: 2011 Infiniti M56 adds style, power to challenge peers

Understand that Infiniti has been bringing up the rear for some time in its sales race against competitors Mercedes, BMW and Lexus. But also know that Infiniti has plenty of fight left in it.

Understand that Infiniti has been bringing up the rear for some time in its sales race against competitors Mercedes, BMW and Lexus. But also know that Infiniti has plenty of fight left in it.

Witness the redesigned 2011 M56, a new midsize luxury sedan that replaces the more forgettable M45. Its maker, Nissan, has unashamedly boosted power to a point where it can take on all segment challengers. And then it turned its focus to exterior styling (better but still not without its critics) plus interior quality.

The result: A much-improved car that, at the very least, has made strides toward the big boys in a way that warrants attention.

Now, the bad news: The new M56 comes in around $5,000 more than the vehicle it replaces, though it does include a navigation system now as standard. And, try and find a sport sedan that can keep pace with it for a price that's in the mid-$50s.

The 420-hp powerplant puts out 95 more horses than before, and it'll get you to 60 mph in 4.7 seconds -- nearly a full second faster than the old one. It has a thrilling kick that will have you grinning.


The M56's 5.6-liter throws in 400 pound-feet of torque (81 more than the old guy).

The question you must ask yourself: "Do I need this much power in this type of sedan?"

If not, you'll find its kin, the M37, is just fine with its much-improved 3.7-liter V-6 that -- wait for it -- tops not only the previous V-6 but the M45's V-8, too, by 5 horses.

Regulating the speed for both engines is a seven-speed automatic tranny with rev matching on downshifts. What it does is act more aggressive off the line and hangs onto lower gears longer for more early thrust.

Stopping this two-ton-plus fellow -- at least the Sport version -- is accomplished with four-piston caliper, vented disc brakes. Some complain that the M56's sportiness is compromised by its heft, but I found it light on its feet, quite nimble.

The M56 is wider and longer and shorter in height than its dad, so it has a sleeker look. And it's that wider stance (1.4 inches in the front) that gives a lift to stability.

The Sport version, equipped with 20-inch wheels and double-piston shocks, takes corners with confidence and is every bit the sport drive. Response and feel are both positive with the four-wheel active steering.

All M cars, by the way, let you adjust driving modes with the spin of a dial. "Eco" saves on gas by cutting back on throttle response and shifting earlier; "Snow" does the same thing but more so; "Standard" offers a moderate ride, and "Sport" spikes the throttle response for jackrabbit starts.


Expect combined mileage on the M56 at around 20 or 21 mpg. EPA figures say 16 city, 23 highway.

Inside, Nissan ratcheted up the luxury meter a couple of notches. Materials are gentler to the touch. Real ash trim is an elegant accent to the dash and center console, which now is angled toward the driver for better visibility.

Headroom and legroom are ample in front and rear (it has a class-leading 103.6 cubic-foot interior).

If you can swing it, spring for the $3,800 Deluxe Touring package. It offers soft leather-trimmed seats and a headliner of fake suede -- but I won't tell if you don't. It looks and feels like the real thing.

And here's a breath of fresh air: M-classers can enjoy the available Forest Air HVAC system, which cuts back on humidity and has a breeze mode that sends subtle puffs of imitation forest drafts.

The M56 offers an amazing array of high-tech safety features, especially if you opt for the $3,000 technology package. Sensors warn of cars in your blind spots or if you begin to swerve toward them. And then, if you don't respond to the lights and beeps, it will brake one side to sway you away from the danger.

Lane departure warnings alert when you veer from your lane without signaling, and a cruise-control function taps the brakes if you get too close the car in front.

Yes, this car almost doesn't need you at the wheel. For safe drivers, these warnings could become an annoyance. Fortunately, they can be disabled.


All M56s get standard ABS, stability and traction control, front side air bags and side curtain air bags.

The M56 comes in just one trim level, though aforementioned M37 is another option. The 56 gets 18-inch wheels, fog lights, a sunroof, 8-way power seats, plus a 10-speaker Bose stereo and rear-view camera.

Is the M56 ready to rumble with Mercedes' E-Class and the other big boys? Its wider, more muscular look is complemented by 95 more horses. Its ride is crisp, and the interior is more refined.

Yes, I'd say the M56, on sale since March, has accepted the challenge.


2011 INFINITI M56:

--Infiniti M56 (base): $58,415

--As tested (all-wheel-drive): $60,915

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