A Luxury Sedan That's a Bona Fide Hell-Raiser
2009 Infiniti M35-S

By Warren Brown
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, December 21, 2008

There's nothing like a recession to make you appreciate a luxury automobile, especially one that comes fully equipped with apparent virtue.

Consider the 2009 Infiniti M35-S, tweaked slightly for the new model year.

The front end has been freshened. It now has the gravitas of a luxury sedan affordable by prosperously, responsibly employed adults. Interior materials are discernibly better in terms of quality and installation. To put it simply, the M35, now in production for four years, finally feels less Nissan and more Infiniti.

That is a good thing. Luxury should offer more than a prestige automotive badge and a higher price tag. At the very least, it should provide an opportunity to escape daily distemper, especially during this time of falling stock values, troubled banks and uncertain employment prospects.

Buying a luxury car in this environment is not a practical thing to do precisely because practicality is not what's needed by people who can afford more. If you can spend the money, you need something uplifting, something that will heighten your spirits and lower your misery index. You need the M35-S.

It is styled nicely enough to signify status. Yet, there is nothing gaudy, ostentatious or offensive about it. It has the persona of a wealthy, still sexy doyenne who has a penchant for cutting up when no one is looking. You've got to love someone like that; and if you do, you'll love this car.

It looks so wonderfully rich and respectable. But it's a bona fide hell-raiser, now equipped with a 303-horsepower V-6 instead of the acceptable but less rambunctious 275-horsepower V-6 installed in predecessor M35 cars. It is the source of guilty pleasure.

Nissan, Infiniti's corporate parent, worked some technical magic to boost the M35's power and improve its fuel economy, moving the latter up from 16 miles per gallon to 17 mpg in the city and from 23 mpg to 25 mpg on the highway.

Critics of such technical wizardy argue that it might be better used to simply yield more fuel economy, as opposed to substantially improving horsepower and only slightly upping fuel economy. Intellectually, I agree. But what's the fun in that?

The new M35 seeks to strike a compromise, or at least the appearance of one. That's good enough for people who care as much about fun per mile as they do about miles per gallon. What can I say? I'm conflicted. I know better. But I often count myself among their number.

And let's face it. The economy doesn't help. The drumbeat of bad financial news makes you yearn for something good, something that will make you laugh and smile and think that things will somehow get back to what we once thought normal.

What better way to enjoy that delusion than to climb behind the wheel of a visually respectable hot-rod and go for a long run, burning premium unleaded gasoline at a price that now hovers around $2 a gallon? It almost rekindles your faith in Wall Street, American big business and the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries. It makes you feel that somebody is listening. Varrrooommm! We're coming back. Yeah, daddy!

The feeling doesn't last long. The M35's optional Bose 5.1 Studio Surround Sound system, equipped with 14 speakers, is tuned to a public radio station -- my way of remaining connected to the real world while driving fantasy machines, such as this week's subject car. A newscaster is telling me that the cheap gasoline I just bought is priced to accommodate a global economy rapidly going to hell. But I resolve to remain unperturbed, to enjoy the moment. There will be time enough to fret over frozen credit, plummeting car sales, failing banks and global warming. Right now, I just want to drive and enjoy this car and believe in the possibility of a happier tomorrow.

ON WHEELS WITH WARREN BROWN Listen from noon to 1 p.m. Tuesdays on WMET World Radio (1160 AM) or http://www.wmet1160.com.

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