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The 'M' Stands for Mmmm

2006 Infiniti M35 X sedan

By Warren Brown
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, April 3, 2005; Page G01

Luxury is not an inherent enemy of common sense. The two need not be at odds with each other. In fact, something wonderful happens when they both just get along.

Witness the all-wheel-drive 2006 Infiniti M35 X sedan, a motorized treaty between excess and practicality. It is one of five models in the reorganized lineup of M-class cars offered by Infiniti, the luxury vehicle division of Nissan Motor Co.

2006 Infiniti M35 X Sedan
2006 Infiniti M35 X Sedan
2006 Infiniti M35 X Sedan

Nuts & Bolts

Downside: We often forget that the car is only one part of the traffic safety system. The other parts include the driver and the road. Defects in one can compromise or cancel the effectiveness of the other, as I discovered in my experience with the M35 X's optional lane- departure warning system. It reads the lane lines accurately only if they are drawn accurately, which, in all too many cases, they aren't.

Ride, acceleration and handling: The M35 X equals and in some cases exceeds the ride and handling of competitive models from Audi, BMW, Cadillac and Mercedes-Benz. I did not do a zero-to-60 time check on acceleration. Some things are best enjoyed without watching the clock. Not to worry, though. The car moves fast enough to get you into lots of trouble, if that's where you want to go.

Head-turning quotient: Oh, Bess! Honey, you snapped necks everywhere with your bad self. Everybody was drawn to this one, cooing over things such as the attractive hip-hop-, bling-bling-inspired finish of its front grille. Totally hip!

Body style/layout: The M35 X is a front-engine sedan available with all-wheel drive, regular rear-wheel drive or rear-wheel drive with active rear steering for better handling around curves and greater ease in parking.

Engines/transmission: The M35 X, as "35" indicates, is equipped with a 3.5-liter, 24-valve V-6 that develops 280 horsepower at 6,200 revolutions per minute and 270 foot-pounds of torque at 4,800 rpm. M45 models come with a 4.5-liter, 32-valve V-8 that develops 335 horsepower at 6,400 rpm and 240 foot-pounds of torque at 4,000 rpm. Each engine is mated to a five-speed automatic transmission that can be shifted manually.

Cargo and fuel capacities: The tested M35 X has seating for five people. Maximum cargo capacity is 15 cubic feet. The fuel tank holds 20 gallons of required premium unleaded gasoline.

Mileage: I averaged 23 miles per gallon in highway driving.

Safety: Loaded. Optional lane-departure warning system; side and head air bags; traction and stability control; four-wheel anti-lock brakes; turn-signal-equipped mirrors; tire pressure monitoring system.

Price: The base price on the 2006 M35 X is $42,400. Dealer's invoice base price is $38,968. Price as tested is $53,510, including $10,500 in options (navigation system, Bose Surround Sound, 18-inch chrome wheels, etc.) and a $610 destination charge. Dealer's price as tested is $48,625. Prices sourced from Nissan and Edmunds.com. No immediate bargains on this one.

Purse-strings note: This is one very nice car. Compare with Audi A6, BMW 5-Series, Cadillac CTS, Lexus ES 330, Lincoln LS, Mercedes-Benz E-Class.

Other models include the M35 V-6 rear-wheel-drive sedan, the M35 Sport with active rear-wheel steering, the M45 V-8 rear-wheel-drive and the M45 Sport with an active rear-wheel-steering system.

The M35 X and its siblings are all remarkably plush, featuring supple leather interiors trimmed with brushed aluminum, supposedly for more youthful, technologically oriented buyers; or finished with elegant rosewood for older, more traditional customers who know that life's bits and bytes are relatively meaningless without its poetry.

Sitting in the car is akin to fitting one's body into a rich, comfortable glove. It is a rare instance in which status plays second fiddle to seduction. Once inside, the admiring or envious stares of others quickly lose meaning, impact. Opinion -- yours, theirs -- yields to tactile reality; and the feeling is good -- very, very good.

There is a danger of becoming lost in the M35 X's cocoon, of slipping into an alone zone in which you become so absorbed in the sensuous movement of the car, you forget where you are going or why you chose to go there. It is a form of distracted driving in which the car itself becomes the main distraction. There is a remedy for this delightful madness.

The new M-class Infiniti cars, which go on sale this spring, can be equipped with an optional lane-departure warning (LDW) system, which is the first application of this technology in passenger cars sold in North America. Infiniti also offers the LDW device on its 2005 FX45 sport-utility vehicle.

In brief, lane-departure warning systems use tiny cameras, discreetly mounted below rearview mirrors, to read lane markings on the road. The cameras send information to sensors, which do the algorithmic math of calculating the lateral distance between the vehicle and the lane marking, along with the vehicle's speed in proximity to the marking. If the vehicle inadvertently crosses the line -- inadvertency in this case defined by crossing a marker without driver activation of the vehicle's electronic turn signals -- an audible alert sounds.

Engaging the turn signal cancels the alert, which also can be canceled altogether by a driver switch.

I initially found the LDW system interesting, and I played with it in the manner of a video game, trying to see how many miles I could drive without setting off the annoying chirping of the alarm. But, alas, not all state highway maintenance departments are equally adept at marking lanes accurately, especially in road construction zones where old pavement markings compete for attention with new ones.

The result was that on some highways and back roads in Virginia's Shenandoah Valley, the LDW system chirped incessantly, destroying the peace of the M35 X's sumptuous interior, obliterating the driving mood with all the rudeness of a cell phone going off in the middle of a Mass or some other intimate moment. I turned the thing off.

Errant lane crossings play a role in an estimated 58 percent of the 43,000 annual fatalities on U.S. roads, according to Department of Transportation statistics. So, equipping cars with LDW systems certainly seems to make sense. But the trouble with repetitive warnings is that they eventually are ignored, especially in an environment where everything seems safe and wonderful.

I instead preferred listening to the concert of the M35 X's 3.5-liter, 280-horsepower V-6, its high and low notes all perfectly pitched. This was beauty. I loved the car's rhythm, the gently undulating movement of its body atop a double-wishbone front suspension and a multi-link independent suspension in the rear.

And when I wanted other music, I switched on the M35 X's Bose Studio Surround audio system, which has 14 speakers, including two mounted at ear level on each of the two front seats. I listened to blues, jazz and George Gershwin.

The M35 X became my "Bess" and I became its "Porgy"; and I smiled and laughed at the thoughts flowing through my mind behind its wheel. Yeah, "Bess, You Is My Woman Now."

© 2005 The Washington Post Company