The Japanese had already turned the US car market on its head in the 1970s, and by the mid-’80s they were ready to take things a step further by offering not just eco-boxes and the occasional sports car, but also world-class luxury vehicles. Honda was the first, launching Acura in 1986, but Toyota and Nissan weren’t too far behind. In 1989, Nissan launched Infiniti with two models, the Q45 and the M30, for the 1990 model year and ever since they’ve been building a wide range of cars, some good and some not so good, to compete with the Germans and the other premium Japanese brands. Today and now in the third year of its current design, Infiniti’s halo car is its M series (soon to be renamed the Q), and it comes in either M37 or M56 form with rear or all-wheel drive for each. An M35h hybrid is also available, but our test car was luckily the V-8 M56 equipped with rear-drive and the Sport Package.
Straight away, the M56 is definitely an attractive car. It’s not exactly noteworthy or unique, as so many luxury sedans these days conform to a fairly common shape, but it’s still a pleasing car from most any angle. The $5,000-plus Sport Package on our car improves the looks further with a more aggressive front fascia, dark finish on the grille, darker headlight housings and a 20-inch wheel and tire package. Functional bits of the exterior include aluminum hood and doors, and there are tire deflectors front and back for improved aerodynamics while the wave-like trunk supposedly even produces functional downforce. Loaded with options, this is an expensive car but it looks it. It will fit in with the Bimmer and Audi crowd no problem.
We’ve liked almost every interior that Infiniti has done recently, and the M56 is yet another good one. Fit and finish looks superb with leather in all the right places, a tinted glass moonroof, Japanese Ash wood trim, magnesium paddle shifters (another Sport Package perk) and even an Infiniti analog clock to give a nice classic touch. It feels bigger inside than expected at first, but all of that space is used to full effect, especially with the Technology Package fitted to our test car. That option gives just about everything one could want in a new luxury car, and probably a bit more depending on how active your imagination. High-tech bits include blind spot warning/intervention, rain-sensing wipers, an intelligent key that remembers all the interior settings previously used, and even a “Forest Air” system that, possibly for those drives through farm country, reduces the intrusion of unpleasant odors into the cabin. Unique to the 2013 M is also the Infiniti Drive Mode Selector, which adjusts throttle and transmission characteristics through four modes: Standard, Eco, Sport and Snow. In addition to those, the Technology Package also includes an “Eco Pedal” system that gives subtle feedback through the throttle pedal if it thinks you’re having too much fun. And if you like having a 400-plus horsepower V-8 at your disposal, that will be often.
More specifically, this V-8 is an aluminum, 32-valve, 5.6 liter unit with variable valve timing and 420 horsepower/417 lb/ft of torque. It makes the M56 one beast of a car, and though it’s pretty huge at over two tons, it really gets up and goes. As in, sixty miles per hour comes up in no more than 5.0 seconds and the quarter-mile is vanquished in just over 13 seconds. The M56 would have been right at home in the golden era of muscle cars, although open headers may be in order for optimum street cred.
This level of performance is in part thanks to the fact that you are always in the right gear with the seven-speed transmission, which is an automatic but of course equipped with manual mode and paddles. In manual mode, the gearbox will even rev match. In a proper manual this kind of feature (one that’s becoming a little more common) kind of ruins the experience, but in a luxury car like this we have to admit it was a pleasant surprise. With all the weight and power, meanwhile, the M56 will still manage a respectable 24 miles per gallon on the highway, but note that it will have to sip premium fuel along the way. Add all that to this direct-injected motor’s placement behind the front axle for better handling, and it’s clear that this drivetrain is one that’s both carefully planned and thoroughly modern.
What the aforementioned Sport Package gets you is primarily in the handling department, and it seems worth the money for anybody who takes driving seriously, even if just for the run to work. The suspension on our car was sport-tuned with double-piston shock absorbers and the Sport Package also includes four-wheel steering, more performance-oriented brakes, and grippier tires to go on those big 20-inch wheels. Even though it feels big, with rear-drive the M56 feels properly sporty and driving it was a pleasure, even if the ride was overall a tad bit harsh. With plenty of different modes (but not so many as to be confusing), you feel comfortable in the car no matter what you’re doing and it makes for a nice, versatile driver.
The M56 is an expensive prospect, and as a car person it’s always hard not to think of what other cool stuff you could have for 70-grand, but it’s a car that keeps up handily with the competition from Lexus, Mercedes-Benz and others. For people in the market for a big but entertaining luxury car, the M is a worthy choice. People who are very particular about driving might predictably opt for one of the German alternatives, but the Infiniti is no slouch in any department, including performance.
2013 Infiniti M56 RWD Sport
Base Price: $60,000
Options: Technology Package, $3,050; Sport Package $5,650