The Infiniti M is a likeable and capable, if expensive, alternative to the obvious

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The Infiniti M represents the latest chapter of Infiniti's short history. It started sales in 1989, in the US only.

It then added a couple of markets in the late 1990s, but since 2005 Infiniti has gone global, with European sales starting in 2008.

Most Ms will probably be sold with a 3.0-litre diesel engine under the bonnet

Now Infiniti is extending its reach into Europe yet further. And while it’s still unusual to see an Infiniti on UK roads, let alone one that does not belong to a marketing or dealer fleet, there’s no denying the company’s commitment to the launch of its range.

The M is aimed squarely at its established rivals rather than being an alternative to them. Nothing less than the BMW 5 Series and Mercedes-Benz E-Class find themselves on this M’s radar cruise control, which is no small ambition for a new entrant in Europe, regardless of how long it has been playing the game in the United States.

Most Ms will be sold with a 3.0-litre diesel engine under the bonnet, although you can also choose a 3.7-litre V6 or a rather interesting hybrid model that mates a 3.5-litre petrol V6 to an electric motor.

With the exception of the one model hybrid, trim levels follow the rest of the Infiniti range with GT, GT Premium, S (which adds four-wheel active steering) and S Premium.



Infiniti M rear door

Infiniti claims the M’s design was inspired by the 2009 Essence concept. Now, it is not within our general remit to tell you how good looking a car is, but if you had placed an order for an M on the strength of the dynamism of the Essence’s styling alone, we can’t help but think that you might come away disappointed.

To our eyes, the M is a moderately attractively sculpted saloon that sits utterly conventionally within the class in which it means to compete. At 4945mm in length, it is a touch longer than its rear-wheel-drive German rivals, with a 2900mm wheelbase that is longer than an Mercedes-Benz E-Class’ (by 26mm) but shorter than a 5-Series’ (by 68mm).

The M is a moderately attractively sculpted saloon that sits utterly conventionally within the class

The body is certainly smooth, though; in S trim, which receives a sportier-looking front end than lesser models and 20in alloys, it merits a drag coefficient of 0.28 (and an even more impressive 0.27 in other variants).

The flowing, rising hip line has translated well from the Essence concept to the saloon, even if it looked a lot more impressive on the concept’s three-door coupé body. The narrowing window line that rises over the rear wheel arch comes closest to giving the M3 the coupé shape that Infiniti claims it has, while the distinctive upturned ‘ducktail’ boot lip was designed to improve airflow and create zero lift at high speeds to aid stability.

S-trim models get a different front-end look to distinguish them from regular versions, including black headlight surrounds and a tweaked bumper design. They also get 20-inch wheels, while other versions get 19-inch alloys. High-set door mirrors give good rear three-quarter visibility (aided by a standard blind spot warning system) but it’s a double-edged sword as they can impede forward vision.


Infiniti M dashboard

The first thing that draws your eye as you sit in an Infiniti M is its broad centre console, which bisects the dash and carries on between the seats to create two distinct zones for driver and passenger. This impression is further enhanced by trim that curves across the dash and down the doors, adding contrast and interest to what is already quite a busy interior.

That’s not to say that it is an unsuccessful interior. There are few elements of the Infiniti’s cabin that don’t exude quality, though whether they’re quite up to the standard of a car at this price is debatable.

For all its shortfalls in practicality and ergonomics, the Infiniti still makes a convincing case for itself

Ergonomically it’s relatively average. The driver’s seat offers good levels of support and (electric) adjustment, which may be needed here more than in many big execs because forward and rearward visibility is poor by class standards. In the rear there’s an acceptable amount of room for two adults, but it’s far from being the most spacious.

Luggage space is also a problem for the M-series, in that the boot has a capacity of just 450 litres in the conventionally engined cars, and less again in the hybrid. That’s noticeably less than the 520 and 540 litres of space that you get in the BMW 5 Series and Merc Mercedes-Benz E-Class.

For all its shortfalls in practicality and ergonomics, the Infiniti still makes a convincing case for itself. It’s clear that this is not a car you buy for its practicality so much as for the way it makes you feel when you’re in it, and it does a good job of appearing reassuringly premium while avoiding the understated nature of many in this class.

Every model comes with an impressive amount of equipment too, further bolstering the Infiniti's premium feel. Kit includes tyre pressure monitoring, automatic lights and wipers, cruise control, heated electric folding mirrors, adaptive Bi-Xenon lights, Bluetooth connectivity, keyless entry and start, dual-zone climate, an electric sunroof, a heated steering wheel and electric front seats.

Though tyre noise is a noticeable background hum, it is generally a hushed, cosseting and well-finished cabin that could well be a deal-maker for many buyers.


Infiniti M 3.0-litre V6 diesel engine

Excused the burden of objective comparison, the Infiniti M30d would score near full marks in this section, because its diesel engine delivers more than sufficient performance for almost all everyday situations, yet it is also suitably refined for an executive saloon.

This 235bhp, 405lb ft 3.0-litre V6 is a mighty first effort (with a little help from Renault), but that doesn’t change the fact that the M is stepping into a market packed full of talent.

If you’re tempted by the Infiniti as an alternative choice, the diesel’s relative lack of performance shouldn’t put you off

We simply cannot forget the existence of BMW’s 530d, Mercedes’ E350 CDI and Jaguar’s Jaguar XF 3.0D S. For the price of the diesel, it doesn’t compete hard enough in terms of outright performance – rivals are simply much quicker.

Similarly, those who have never experienced the competition would have little complaint with the M30d’s seven-speed automatic transmission; its changes, for the most part, are smooth and well timed. But when you have experienced those rivals, notably the BMW, the Infiniti feels just slightly second best.

The M35h hybrid is much more interesting (especially to company buyers) with a potential combined power of 359bhp and 457lb ft of torque give it a 155mph top speed and a 0-62mph sprint of 5.5 sec, while returning an impressive 40.9mpg combined with official CO2 emissions of just 159g/km.

The diesel can manage only 37.7mpg and 199g/km, and its performance isn’t in the same league as the hybrid because it has just 235bhp to work with.

The 3.7-litre petrol M37 is extremely quick-witted, agile and thrusting, making good use of the motor’s sweet-spinning and pacey nature. The M37 also feels firmly planted and stable at high speeds.

However, if you’re tempted by the Infiniti as an alternative choice (as we are), the diesel’s relative lack of performance shouldn’t put you off. Especially as in other respects – such as refinement (engine and wind) and braking performance – the M30d has nothing to fear from the competition.


Infiniti M front quarter

The Infiniti M faces its European competition on a level playing field, sharing its basic front-engined, rear-drive layout with all key rivals other than the Audi A6. From that starting point, Infiniti is offering two versions: the GT and the S.

The difference is that the S is fitted with sports suspension, four-wheel steering and 20in wheels in place of the GT’s 18s. Regardless of which version you opt for, the M feels very European in its responses, treading a line between the softness of the Mercedes-Benz E-Class and the precision of the Jaguar XF.

Infiniti is offering two versions of the M30d: the GT and the S, and they're quite different dynamically

There are noticeable differences between the two versions, though. First, the steering. Unsurprisingly, it is the GT’s that has the more natural responses, but the gearing is relatively slow; combined with the GT’s softer suspension, this means the M can feel slightly reluctant to turn in.

In comparison, the S is noticeably more alert, and not simply because its four-wheel steering requires smaller inputs, but also because the sports suspension reduces the roll angle. As with all four-wheel steer systems, the M’s takes a little getting used to, but in comparison with others we’ve tried it is more consistent in its responses as the lock is increased and, as a consequence, more intuitive.

Which is better? Cross-country, we prefer the superior poise of the S. That poise comes at a price, though: the S’s ride is more unsettled at low speeds. The issue isn’t so much the ability to soak up larger bumps, but vertical agitation at sub-20mph speeds over small, high-frequency ridges.

As with our comments in the performance section, the extent of our criticism here is not so great as to detract from the M’s appeal, but the fact remains that there are others, namely the Jaguar XF, that present a better ride on equal-sized wheels.


Infiniti M

As much as Infiniti Ms are a rare sight, so are Infiniti dealers. The number is increasing, but for the time being there are no more than a handful of dealers who’ve invested in the sumptuous surroundings that goes with what Infiniti calls its “total ownership experience”.

Customers are promised an experience to rival or even beat that of Lexus. Showrooms are more like luxury boutiques with plenty of attention to detail when it comes to the showroom itself and the level of service.

The Infiniti’s residuals are as good as those of a high-spec 5-series or E-class

Your proximity to a dealer shouldn’t be a problem when it comes to aftersales, either – Infiniti will take care of collecting and returning the car when it needs servicing.

So you’ll be treated like a VIP by your dealer, but you’ll also be expected to pay VIP money. Even with its lavish equipment list, the M is pricey next to rivals – there’s certainly no financial advantage in choosing an Infiniti. The M30d is comprehensively beaten in terms of fuel economy and company car tax, too. Road tax isn’t cheap for private buyers.

The hybrid makes a good case for itself, though – it’s priced just below a top spec M30d yet has far better performance and better economy, too. A claimed average of 40.9mpg is about 3mpg up on the diesel, while a combination of low emissions (159g/km of CO2) and petrol power (no diesel company car tax surcharge) makes it a considerably more affordable company car.

As you’d expect, the 3.7-litre V6 isn’t especially frugal – mid 20s is the best sort of mpg returns you could hope for. On the plus side, equipment levels are superb and go some way to compensate for the high prices.

Surprisingly, the Infiniti’s residuals are as good as those of a high-spec BMW 5 Series or Mercedes Mercedes-Benz E-Class but fall noticeably short of its more numerous mid-spec rivals.


3.5 star Infiniti M

What summarises the Infiniti M’s performance could be used to sum up the car as a whole.

Taken in isolation, it’s relatively pleasing. It’s fast enough. It drives well enough. It’s refined enough. The hybrid is the most interesting car of the range, and you’d do well to consider one over the more usual diesel option.

It is possible to justify the purchase of an Infiniti M, but you've got to really want one to opt for it over more established rivals

And if your sole desire is to tread a different path to your colleagues, the Infiniti has much to recommend it. The dealer experience is a refreshing difference, while the quality and style of the interior offers a similarly-pleasing change from the norm.

Yes, you’ll pay for the privilege of owning an Infiniti, but it will also reward you – especially in terms of equipment as all models are spectacularly equipped without having to resort to expensive options.

Then, however, one has to subject it to objective comparison with its rivals, and that’s where the Infiniti’s problems begin. It’s no longer quite fast enough. It’s doesn’t offer anything like sufficient value.

Its interior lacks the ergonomic finesse and Teutonic efficiency of the finer alternatives too. If you often travel with rear passengers, or need to carry substantial amounts of luggage, you’ll find the Infiniti coming up short there, too.

Nevertheless, from a purely subjective point of view there’s a case of sorts that can be made, like most Infinitis, for the M. Lower down the range, it is still well equipped yet offers rather better value for money, while the hybrid is a genuinely interesting choice.

We wouldn’t blame you at all if you chose an Infiniti M, but you'll be bucking a trend - and a fair degree of common sense - by choosing it.

Infiniti M Series 2010-2013 First drives