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Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Road Test. Infiniti M37

By Miguel Caparros with Bob Sarda, Doreen Caparros, and Mike Thies
For all the stills from this shoot Click Here   Subscribe to my blog and get notified of new postings.

Our family is not like most because of how I have made my living for most of my life. With the exception of a couple of short departures, I have been very involved in the Auto Industry. That said, like most we have needed family cars to take the kids to school, Scouting events, food shopping all the normal things everyone else does. Our first family car was a 1968 Peugeot 404, it that was a hand me down from my father, we loved that car. As our fortunes rose and fell it affected what we had for a family car. We eventually settled with what can be best described as sports sedans.  From a modified (turbo) 1979 Bentley to Jetta GLI We have had them all. Mostly we had Audi Turbos, 5 series BMW’s, big 450 Mercedes and currently a Chrysler 300M. So you would figure that we would be perfect candidates for the Infiniti M37.

At first glance.
I had a looked at this car before and had not considered it my kind of car.  I like low and wide and the M37 struck me as tall and narrow. The fit and finish are on par with other cars in its price range and the list of equipment and options is impressive.  More impressive are some innovative safety related features that we will look at later in detail. The pewter exterior color is complimented by some very nicely finished off white leather, flowing lines throughout with sculptured metal and wood accents top off the look of the interior.

Driving it.
This is a push button start car with a proximity sensor built into the remote control. I constantly lived with the fear of leaving the remote control sensor on the roof and having to try and find where it fell after I drove off.  As a test of my paranoia, Bob stayed in the car with the engine running while I walked away with the sensor. At about 100 feet I was thinking this could be a problem, I went back when Bob honked at me. Apparently there is

a flashing warning light in the panel that came on when I was 30 feet away. My key fob fear has not been satisfied. With the key fob safely on your person, step on the brake pedal,  press the start button once. On the center console is a knob marked snow, Eco, dot (standard mode) and sport, trust me just leave it on sport, unless you have snow. After a short delay the engine will start and you are ready to go. Not quite, we have all learned to adjust our seats and mirrors before we go and then make minor adjustments as needed. If you have above average size hands for a man, there is no way you can adjust the seat once the door is closed.  Two possibilities here are, first that the manufacturer put in wider seat for the larger Americans. My English friend told me he has the same problem with the right hand drive car there. The other is as I first suspected the car is narrower than most on the inside.  Doreen who has long slender hands found it uncomfortable to reach the switches, at least she could, but the contortions while driving could distract her from the task at hand (pun intended).

The engine has the Nissan 370 Z howl and with good reason it shares most of the drive train with the Z so it has a pedigree of sporty character. The ride is firm but not jarring, as a matter of fact we all love the ride and handling of this car. Unless you want one of these as your track toy, do not get the sport package. It is much too harsh and stiff for every day driving and your passengers will not like you. The standard suspension and Michelin tires are the perfect combination for spirited driving and comfort. The 7 speed auto/manual shift transmission has the perfect combination of refinement and bad boy, as it blips the throttle on down shifts.  There is a very noticeable lag in action when using the transmission in manual mode The car is certainly a Jekyll and Hyde and the driver’s controls which one comes out to play, sometimes.

The dash is dominated by a very large screen that is the center for all of the controls and adjustments for most of the electronics. The premium sound system is fantastic, but the controls are not intuitive.  You can resort to the two traditional knobs on the radio fascia. Directly in front of the driver is the gauge and information pod that is easy to read and understand. The steering wheel pad bristles with switches to control the sound system, intelligent cruise controls (more on this later), Bluethooth hands free phone system and the menu control for the navigation system. Staying within reach of the heated steering wheel, on the right stalk are the wiper washer controls with rain sensing, on the left the headlight, turn signal and fog lamp stalk. Jutting out just below that is the joy stick to control the steering wheel position. The seats are heated and cooled. 
We do not mean to overwhelm you, but this and other cars in its class do bristle with technology and one of the choices as the driver you need to make is what to turn on and turn off.  The driveway is the place to become familiar with all of this equipment, not while you are driving.  Infiniti has included 6 books in a very nice leather pouch and it is strapped in the right side of the trunk. Do read quick reference guide, for more details the owners manual and the navigation systems manual. 

Many want to compare this car to a BMW, Lexus and even the Mercedes, it is not a direct competitor to those cars in my opinion. This car is more attractive to an insurance company executive in his late 50's than a 35 year old dot "commer" that cashed in his first stock split and wanted something flashy and fast. Fast it is we got a 0-60 of 5.3 seconds, as my wife Karyn phrased it, " its quick but not Holy Crap quick".  We just broke into 13.9 in the 1/4 mile just hit 100 mph. In normal fast street driving the car has good balance but the tall height and tall driving position makes it feel very "tippy".  We did not do the performance testing on this car, about 3 months ago we had a rental and took it out to our secret airport runway where we pushed the limits. The limits is where this car really falls down. All the electronics that are there to help you in daily life just get in the way of going fast and having fun. It pushes going into the turn, the stability management tries to pull you, by applying the brakes on the opposite side and it is just overwhelmed. Even with the traction control in the off position I could feel the intrusions of the electronics while trying to hold a drift. If you want a track car, this is not it.

When it comes to styling this car is a success or a failure depending on your point of view.  Mike Thies, our Senior tester (also our tallest at 6'7") found the soft flowing lines pleasing and the interior both calming and a little busy. Mike likes white cars, Vanilla ice cream with Chocolate chips can sometimes be too exciting for him.  Doreen Caparros, our Technical Editor and by far the youngest member of the team, felt "there is nothing to set this car apart from so many mainly Asian mid size sedans. Her first impression, "is it a cross over?".  I personally have never found the Humps and Curves school of styling very attractive or pleasing to my eyes.  Bob Sarda our resident comic likes his wife's Honda Accord better, ouch !

The interior was a mixed bag, "Mikey likes it!" The truth be told, he fits better in this car than any other he has driven, The seat rearward movement and the tall roof affords him comfort that he never thought he would ever have. His position negates the use of the left rear seat.  The fact that Mike had to push the seat all the way back away from the door panel. did allow him to reach the seat controls. Doreen initially liked the contrast of the chrome wood and leather, that, slowly eroded during the week we had the car.  As soon as she got in she could not find enough lumbar support from the seat back. Little things can pick away at you, in this instance it was the hinge from the floor accelerator pedal. It interferes with her heals forcing her to either remove the shoe or or twist her leg, that gets tiring fast.  She liked the size of the central video screen but was not convinced that having three different ways to access the functions is the way to go. She also feels in this price range it should have the connectivity of the Ford Microsoft system and this interface is very limiting. ( I think she has a Microsoft tattoo somewhere on her person.) Another thing that bothered her was the lack of the estimate arrival time of arrival on the navigation screen. The only place we could find it was in map view and no where else.  I was able to find a comfortable position thanks to all the adjustments in the seat and the electrically controlled tilt and telescopic steering column. But my mental comfort zone found me driving very slowly. I can not explain it.

The Special Features
As I mentioned this car has the usual list of safety equipment that you would expect in this price class. These systems are there for the average driver to keep them safer.  Adaptive Cruise Control. In layman's terms It has forward facing sonar and vision to help Inform you if you stray out of lane, If you catch up to another car while on cruise control it will automatically adjust the speed and keep behind the leading car at a safe distance.  The ability to see ahead and the computer figuring trajectories super fast, allows the system to automatically stop the car in the event the driver is distracted or incapacitated. The front sensor array can see when you cross over the lines on the left  or right of the car and provides an audible warning. If the lane intrusion happens when another car is in imminent position of hitting you It will apply the brakes on the opposite side to guide your car out of harms way. Mike thought the line sensors were to sensitive, as there is  no way he could have crossed the lines that often. Bob was the only one brave enough to test the automatic braking. If you approach eminent contact with a car stopped in front of you, after giving you warning it will stop the car for you.

In Conclusion
I kept the MSRP away from the staff on this car, they all had a vague idea of the price ranging from the mid 40's to mid 50's. After a week of living with the car and disclosing its near $60,000 price tag the results were not that surprising. Not one of us would buy this car. Although price was an issue it was not the only one. Exterior styling was one of the major complains. It does not have the presence or the identity of a car in this price range. That is the Cross Inifiniti has to carry. I thought the 2004 M Infiniti had better presence for a luxury car although the grill is not to my liking. The 2005 infiniti was beginning to appeal to the younger set with its BMW like performance. I am sorry to say the latest incarnation of the M car has lost  the momentum in attracting a wide cross section of buyers.  We are all in agreement that if we were after a performance luxury sedan we would consider a BMW 5 series or even the new 3 series. The Lexus would also be at the top of our list along with the Audi and Mercedes. Add on to that list the SRT brothers from Dodge and Chrysler, Cadillac would also have to be considered as well, and dare I say it Hyundai! There are many flavors to choose from in this ice cream store, The fun is in the tasting.

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