2011 Infiniti M56S Review
Automakers these days are clamoring around about lower emissions, better fuel economy, reduced weight, and smaller displacement engines. And then, when no one’s looking, they drop a monster V8 into an otherwise pedestrian sedan, bringing the horsepower wars down from only super and luxury GT cars, into commuter car territory. Such is the case with the Infiniti M56S. We’ve already reviewed the base-level M37 on our site, but hit the jump to see what happens when the lovable 3.7L V6 is yanked out and in its place sits a monster of a 5.6L V8 cranking out 420 horsepower.
The good news is that along with that gem of a (truck) engine and the “S” package comes beautiful anthracite wheels, a more aggressive body kit, new grille, and cold-metal paddle shifters. It all just works, especially the wheels, which fill out the arches much better than the base 18” rollers on our M37 tester. Either you like the M56’s styling, or you don’t (we do), but the undeniable fact is that it’s decidedly un-German, and a welcome alternative.
The really good news is, everything we loved about the M37 is still here in the M56S. The build quality, amazing attention to detail on the dashboard and doors, great seats, and class-leading equipment all remain as good as we remember from the base car. Infiniti also claims best-in-class interior space, and having driven both the BMW 5-series and Mercedes E-Class, we have no reason to dispute that claim. The M56 is no Bentley Flying Spur, but the interior is a much more interesting place to be than the primary contenders from Germany with its well-sculpted leather and soft rubber dash. Someone who buys a car like this is probably going to be spending a lot of time in it, so it’s important that the interior is a warm, inviting place to be. That is, when it isn’t utterly confusing.
When it comes to in-car multimedia systems, everyone has their preference. Some prefer fewer buttons with a “mouse” like controller, a-la BMW’s i-Drive. Some people, Lexus owners in particular, like every function to have a physical button that can change settings without the driver needing to menu-surf. Still others want all the vehicle’s functions available via touch-screen controls. And if Ray LaHood is to be believed, most functions should be accessible from the steering wheel as well.
Instead of simply choosing a method and evolving it over time, listening to customer feedback and improving the system, Infiniti has simply decided to play Switzerland and included them all. Which, unfortunately leads to a problem. Several, in fact. The touch screen display is too far away from the driver’s hands, requiring a full reach to operate. The buttons are plentiful and similar, and HVAC controls are placed oddly around the radio, requiring quite a bit of hunting and pecking to achieve desired settings. Then there’s the master control knob, cluttering up the entire center of the dashboard. There are simply too many different ways to perform simple functions, that even thinking about changing a setting while driving takes at least 3-4 times as long as it does using the SYNC system in my truck.
We tested a fairly loaded-up M37 back in August, but without the sport package. It cost $59,000, and we loved it. Our M56S tester, also loaded up with the same luxury options, cost $68,000. Considering the base M56 is $11.000 more than the base M37, the extra money for the “S” model is well worth it. However, If you opt for the $3,600 Sport Package in either car, you’re also forced to get the $3,000 Technology package. In our opinions, it’s worth the money, but as they say, you’ve been warned.
But what about the engine? The direct-injected, 420 horsepower V8 is a wonderful luxury engine. It makes 417 lb/ft of torque at 4,000 RPM, and the M56’s touchy go-pedal ensures it gets there quick. It produces its power nearly silently, reminiscent more of a Lexus’s than an Audi’s V8, in such that, it will hit sixty in about five seconds flat, yet never feels “eventful.”The throttle response, though, is, as I said, sensitive. It’s so sensitive, in fact, that during around-town driving, I found myself using the car’s “Eco” mode, which not only reduces throttle response, but also provides force-feedback on the accelerator pedal, encouraging responsible driving habits.
Then I hit the canyons.
I met up with two of my friends at the base of the Malibu Canyons. One of them, John, has a Mazdaspeed MX-5 with a factory turbocharger. The other, also named Matt, had a showroom new Nissan 370Z. Let’s just say that the Miata couldn’t lose me and the Z couldn’t keep up. The M56S is very fast, but not really in the way I expected it to be. There’s tons of power all over, yes, but it doesn’t build as the engine approaches redline. Instead, most of the power is between 3,500 and 5,000 RPM, tapering off the closer you get to redline. No, it was actually the handling that was the most surprising. Chalk that one up to Infinit’s 4-wheel Active Steering System, which, when combined with Active Trace Control completely eliminates understeer and makes the 4,000 lb sedan feel downright athletic, even on the tightest canyon roads. Unlike the average-at-best 4-wheel steering systems from the 90’s, 4WAS only allows the rear wheels to turn a maximum of one degree. It doesn’t seem like much, to the point where you would never notice it unless driving hard, but dive into a corner hot, point the nose, get back on the gas early, and watch the car hug the apex like, well, a Turbocharged Miata.
For all the Infiniti’s acronyms, BSI, VDC, IBS, and LDP (yes, those are all technologies on this car) our favorite is ACT, which stands for Active Trace Control. For the leyman, it’s a computer system that selectively brakes different wheels based on steering angle. For the racers among us, it’s an automatic left-foot braking system, which reduces understeer significantly by braking the right-inside wheel while accelerating out of a corner, ensuring the nose goes where pointed. Amazingly, it’s completely un-intrusive.
Now, the bad news. All those acronyms mentioned before? Those are all technologies meant to keep stupid drivers on the road and clueless. They are as follows:
BSI – Blind Spot Intervention – If you veer into the next lane of traffic, and there is a car there, a yellow light will come up on the A-pillar. If you continue your course, the opposite brakes will automatically return the car into its own lane.
VDC – Vehicle Dynamic Control, or, more simply, traction/stability control in one.
IBS – Intelligent Brake Assist – If you’re approaching another car in traffic, the M56 will use its force-feedback accelerator pedal to tell your foot to pay attention, essentially nudging it towards the brake.
LDP – Lane Departure Warning, or as I like to call it: Anti-apex technology. If your wheels get to close to the painted guide lines on the road, the car will beep at you, annoyingly.
Fortunately, there is a single button on the left side of the dash, which disables all these annoying acronyms at once. Well, at least the ones that beep/flash at you for clipping an apex properly. Unfortunately, you have to press it every single time you start the car, there’s no default “off” setting.
So the question is this: is the M56 worth the extra money over the M37? It depends on what kind of driving you do. If long highway road trips are your thing, the quieter, torquier M56 will eat up miles faster than than Carl Paladino can eat his own words. On the other hand, the M37’s V6, though not as quick in a straight line, saves 200 pounds over the V8, which really helps in the corners. It loves to rev, and sounds more like a sports car than a Lexus. As much as we love horsepower here at The Smoking Tire, we’d have to go with the M37S, as it fits our sporting character the best, and offers everything you’d want out of an everyday car for quite a bit less money than the competition.
Which would you choose?