Striving for perfection is an admirable endeavour. But in automotive terms, there’s more to perfection than a flawless coat of paint, an exquisitely tailored interior or a fastidiously engineered drivetrain. More abstract qualities such as heritage, tradition and character come into play, too. Infiniti may have the premium sector’s major players in its sights, but its arsenal is short of some of those key ingredients. By DEON SCHOEMAN.
It’s been almost a year since Nissan launched its luxury brand, Infiniti, in South Africa. The marque’s offerings include two luxury SUVs, a sedan, a coupé and a cabriolet, with the SUVs attracting the most buyers thus far.
However, with total monthly sales rarely exceeding 20 units, you don’t see too many Infinitis on our roads – which paradoxically makes this latest addition to the Infiniti stable, the M37, one of the most exclusive luxury sedans on the local market.
The M37 joins the M30d as the second member of Infiniti’s M sedan range, and adds V6 petrol power to the line-up in the process. The big four-door is aimed squarely at that segment of the premium market currently dominated by BMW’s 5-Series, the Mercedes-Benz E-class, and Audi’s A6 range.
Of course, it’s a tough sector, with volumes under pressure from a less than buoyant economy, as well as a buying down trend that has seen many would-be big car buyers in this category moving to the more compact (and more affordable) 3-Series, C-class and A4 models.
That aside, brand heritage plays a big part in the buying decision, too. It’s taken Lexus, the luxury division of Toyota and therefore arguably Infiniti’s most comparable rival, more than a decade to establish itself as a meaningful player in the premium car arena. In the current economic climate, Infiniti is likely to find the going even tougher.
Imposing is perhaps the best way to describe the M37. It’s big and muscular, with a long nose, pronounced fenders and heavy haunches. It certainly looks unlike anything else on our roads, and attracts a lot of attention for that very reason.
“Is it Chinese?” is a common question, suggesting that Infiniti has some way to go before the bold branding on the grille is recognised.
Despite its Nissan bloodline, there is nothing to suggest any aesthetic link with the mass-market brand. It certainly exudes an air of class and exclusivity, but the shape is perhaps too derivative to establish a convincing brand presence.
Fusing as it does both retro and futuristic design elements, the M37S wouldn’t look out of place in the plusher parts of Batman’s Gotham City. There is something predatory about its shape and presence that also suggests dynamic intent, underlined here by the large 20-inch wheels, the steeply raked windscreen, and the low-slung stance.
The model under scrutiny here is the M37S Premium, which combines a sportier execution with every conceivable luxury, and an equally exhaustive list of high-tech features.
No wonder that the interior feels more private jet flight deck than luxury car cabin. Arranged in successive tiers below the centrally mounted, full-colour touchscreen display, the array of controls and buttons is quite daunting at first, and there is certainly nothing intuitive about the layout.
That said, one soon becomes familiar with the way the controls are grouped, while the menu-driven colour display interface allows easy access to key functions, features and settings. However, doing the unthinkable and actually reading the owner’s manual is highly recommended!
Ensconced in a heavily bolstered leather seat, the driver’s view of the large analogue, slightly angled circular dials is framed by the leather-trimmed steering wheel, while large, solid magnesium alloy shift paddles on either side hint at the sporting spirit of the car.
The accommodation is spacious, with plenty of room for front and rear occupants, while a deep and generous boot will easily swallow an extended family’s luggage, a quartet of golf bags, or enough cases of fine wine to stock a smallish cellar.
One could write a book about all the M37’s features, which include the likes of a climate control system with a so-called “ForestAir mode” that creates the refreshing, relaxing illusion of being in a forest by cleaning and ionising the incoming air. The 16-speaker Bose sound system even includes small speakers integrated into the front seats for improved staging and imaging.
And on the safety front, the M37S not only offers the usual mix of stability control, ABS brakes and multiple airbags, but also a so-called dynamic safety shield that includes blind spot warning and intervention, intelligent cruise control with following distance assistance, lane departure warning, and forward collision warning.
These are all traits also introduced by its premium car rivals, but in the M37S Premium, the whole caboodle is included as standard, and combined in a single, unified and extremely comprehensive safety package. You may need a degree in rocket science to understand it all, and to tailor its operation to your requirements, but it’s an impressive show of technological strength, to the ultimate benefit of the Infiniti’s occupants.
While the M-sedan has been offered in M30d turbodiesel form since mid-2012, the M37S adds a petrol option for the first time. It’s a 3.7-litre V6 with twin overhead camshafts per bank, 24 valves, and variable valve timing and lift.
Maximum power is 235kW at a surprising 7,000rpm, with torque of 360Nm only reached at 5,200rpm. The result is an engine that loves – and needs to – be revved.
The V6 is linked to a seven-speed automatic gearbox that can be operated in full auto mode, or switched to sequential manual mode. In that mode, shifting gears is via those big shift paddles, which are fixed to the steering column.
The shifts are slick and swift, but slower than expected. In many ways, the M37S feels better when left in full auto mode – even when driven with some intent, and with the driving mode selector set to sport.
There are also normal, eco and snow driving modes to choose from, but most drivers will opt for either normal or sport. In eco mode, a pedal feedback system disconcertingly pushes the loud pedal back towards the driver if you treat the accelerator too aggressively!
In classic sports sedan tradition, the M37S is rear-wheel driven, but unusual in this segment is the use of a four-wheel steering system, which adapts the steering action, and adjusts rear wheel geometry to allow a tighter turning circle at low speeds, and greater stability at high speeds.
Talking of speed, the M37S is no slouch when it comes to performance. The claimed zero to 100km/h dash is despatched in the low six-second bracket, while top speed is electronically governed to 250km/h.
But subjectively, and at Reef altitudes, it doesn’t feel as athletic as those stats suggest. In sport mode, acceleration is strong, but you have to rev the V6 to the max, and the car always feels like the big and heavy sedan that it is.
To its credit, though, the M37S rides with a smooth and confident assurance that makes it feel impervious to its surroundings. The double wishbone front and multi-link rear suspensions are perfectly tuned for their application here, finding a good balance of firmness and compliance, and doing well to counter body roll.
The Infiniti feels at its best when piloted through long sweeps and constant-radius corners at speed. It hunkers down onto to the tar, and once settled, sticks to the chosen line as if on rails.
The steering gains more weight when pressing on, but still remains a little aloof, which tends to blur communication between car and driver. If anything, the Infiniti underplays its own swiftness, so that it always feels slower than the speedometer needle suggests. That’s a compliment as far as cosseting the occupants in cocooned luxury is concerned, but adds to the sense of remoteness when piloting the sedan.
Fortunately the brakes are up to the challenge of slowing the 1,715kg machine when the need arises. An all-disc arrangement, with beefy four-piston callipers in front, provides almost too much initial bite, but certainly allows speed to be bled off with impressive alacrity.
All of this suggests high degrees of confidence and composure. But disappointingly, the M37S leaves the driver strangely unaffected and uninvolved. The car does all the right things, makes all the right noises, and even ticks most of the expected boxes. But the driving experience remains unsatisfyingly anodyne.
Perhaps the steering is too remote. Or maybe the chassis does too good a job of isolating the Infiniti’s occupants from the real world outside. Either way, the M37S loses some of its eagerly expected soul in the process, leaving one feeling slightly cheated.
The M37S is arresting to look out, equipped to the hilt, and both fast and powerful enough to compete with the established players in the premium sedan sector. It’s also much more exclusive than any E-class, 5-Series or A6.
However, it needs to bring more character, more chutzpah, to the luxury car party if it wants to succeed. DM
Infiniti M37S Premium
"The world doesn't make sense so why should I paint pictures that do?" ~ Pablo Picasso