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Infiniti M45: Europe Has a New Challenger
By Mike Cervantes
Aug 18, 2004, 23:20

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Infiniti M45 Concept. Courtesy: Nissan North America.
Nissan’s Infiniti luxury division has been on a roll lately. First came the G35 sedan, which took home Motor Trend’s Car of the Year award along with its sleek coupe companion. Both vehicles are making, arguably, the strongest run at the industry benchmark in their segment (the BMW 3-Series) of any competitor to date. The G35 has even taken home top honors in certain magazine comparison tests that pitted it against the vaulted Bimmer. Sales of the G35 continue to be strong despite the fact that it is in the middle of its product cycle, with July being the sedan’s best sales month ever.


Next up in the product parade was the FX crossover vehicle. It was a pure styling statement that grabbed the attention of many consumers who didn’t even have a clue that Infiniti existed. It also had the performance to back up the looks, and ended up stealing some of Porsche’s thunder by offering similar performance as lower-end Cayennes for thousands less. July was the best sales month ever for the FX, as well.


The full-size SUV called QX56 launched this year to mixed reactions from enthusiasts and the media, somewhat disappointed by a design that is very similar inside and out to the Nissan Armada. The QX56 has proven to have respectable handling dynamics for a behemoth SUV and the 5.6L V8 engine from the Nissan Titan provides plenty of grunt. Infiniti dealers moved over 1,200 QX56s off of dealer lots in July, proving that people are willing to pay over fifty grand for an Infiniti.


Two vehicles that have not seen similar success are the large M45 and Q45 sedans. The Q45 looks the part as Infiniti’s flagship vehicle, but the current M45 looks strikingly out of place with its slab sides and cramped interior. Considering that the current iteration of the M45 has been on sale for in Japan for years, often serving duty in taxi fleets, it’s not hard to see why the M45 has been a flop. The vehicle is just not that competitive. Some analysts believe part of blame for slow sales is due to consumers’ reluctance to pay $50,000 for an Infiniti sedan, as the Q45 and M45 combined to sell just 492 units in July.


Infiniti M45 Concept. Courtesy: Nissan North America.
Infiniti looks to change all of that with the next generation of the M, and the M45 Concept gives us a very good example of what to expect. The idea is to make the M a true challenger to the BMW 5-series and Mercedes E-Class. That means offering more than just the 4.5L V8 engine offered in the current M45. At the “affordable” end will be the new M35, powered by Nissan’s venerable 3.5L VQ V6 engine, with at least 270hp. The 4.5L V8 standard in the current M45, Q45, and FX45 will return for the second-generation M45 with at least 340hp.


The look of the concept that you see here will remain largely unchanged for the production version. If anything, expect changes to the headlight projectors because the current ones just seem a little too “cool concept” looking to make it to production. Other than that, it’s doubtful any changes on the interior or exterior would be very noticeable. That’s not a bad thing, as the M45 concept has to be one of the sleekest and most well thought out designs from Nissan in years.


Underpinning the new M will be the “next generation” of Nissan’s respected FM platform. FM stands for the “front-midship” placement of the engine, which places the majority of the engine behind the front axle and allows for an almost 50/50 weight distribution in other FM-based models. The first generation of the FM platform currently includes the Nissan 350Z, Infiniti G35 sedan and coupe, and the FX crossover. Infiniti claims the new generation of the FM will have 60% of its components either completely new or substantially improved over the old version. From early media reports, the improvements are very promising. AutoWeek tested a rough mule of the platform and came away hopeful for the production version. They noted that, compared to a G35, the M45 had less flex in the chassis and better steering. We’ll have to wait for production versions to decide, but the outlook is a good one. One thing that won’t change is the fact that the platform will feature an independent double-wishbone suspension setup in front and an independent multi-link design out back. Considering the FX comes with 20-inch wheels, we expect the concept’s 19-inch wheels will stay – at least as an option.


Speaking of options, the M will come with all of the latest technology, as a competitive luxury car must in the current market. One of the most important features is one Infiniti calls “Active Rear Control.” According to Infiniti the system’s “electronic control unit calculates the desired vehicle dynamics from a series of sensors, including vehicle speed and steering angle, and directs the system actuator to change rear geometry by moving both rear suspension lower links.” Overall, ARC is intended to make the M45 more nimble in the corners and more stable during emergency lane changes on the freeway. Nissan’s advanced ATESSA E-TS all wheel drive system will also be offered on the M35, though it seems to be absent on the M45 as of this reporting. The system can distribute torque from a range of 0:100 front to rear all the way up to 50:50 front to rear.


Infiniti M45 Concept. Courtesy: Nissan North America.
The interior of the concept looks to be one of the highest quality efforts to date from Infiniti, which hasn’t exactly been known for top-notch interior treatments of late. The design shown is just a concept, but Infiniti’s commercial website is showing a variety of colors for this design, leading one to believe that things won’t change all that much come the production version. It seems the current trend in automotive interior design is towards more eye-catching use of instrument lighting and the M45 concept’s “Solar Eclipse” gauges certainly get the job done, perhaps better than any of the company’s previous efforts. Like the new Cadillac STS, the M45 will feature a surround sound stereo system with 5.1 channel decoding, branded with the BOSE logo. The 14-speaker system includes two speakers in each front seat and the ability to play the relatively new DVD-audio format. XM and/or Sirius satellite radio would be a likely option, as previous Infinitis offer both.


Other interior features include climate-controlled seats (heating and cooling), power reclining rear seats, an intelligent key system that allows you to lock/unlock the doors and start the car (via an illuminated start button) without ever having to take the keyfob out of your pocket, a new version of Infiniti’s Navigation System with a redesigned interface (notice the large knob on the dash) and voice-recognition, Bluetooth wireless capability, “RearView” camera in the trunklid, laser-guided intelligent cruise control, and Infiniti’s new Lane Departure Warning system. LDW is able to recognize lane markings and sound a warning to the driver if it predicts the vehicle will wander from its current lane. The system is disengaged when the turn signals are used, encouraging M45 drivers to notify others around them of their intentions rather than face a shrieking warning every time they change lanes without signaling. A kill switch will also allow owners to shut the system down completely.


Besides LDW, other safety features include Infiniti’s Advanced Air Bag System, brake-operated pre-crash front seat belts, a slide-away brake pedal, and Vehicle Dynamic Control, among other details that have yet to be finalized.


Infiniti M45 Concept. Courtesy: Nissan North America.
If there is one weak point of the M45 on paper, it’s that the only confirmed transmission is a 5-speed automatic. While the 3.5L V6 does come with a 6-speed manual, the 4.5L V8 has never come with a manual. If no manual transmission is offered at all, one can definitely expect the automotive press to throw a fit. It must also be noted that most of Infiniti’s competitors are switching to 6-speed autos, even 7-speeds, or F1-inspired clutchless manumatics (BMW’s SMG transmission is one example), leaving Infiniti seemingly stuck in the past with a measly old 5-speed. Note to Nissan: Either keep up with competition, or be prepared to be steamrolled.


Other than that, it appears that the new M will keep up with the competition, if not better. It’s got the look, it’s got the power, and it’ll likely cost thousands less than a BMW 5-series or Mercedes E-class. The question is, will people pay upwards of $50,000 for an Infiniti sedan?

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