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Yet another new infiniti

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When the Infiniti M45 debuted, it looked good on paper. A shorter version of the big Q45, it was lighter, yet powered by the same V8. As our subsequent testing proved, the M45 was indeed quicker, faster and more agile than the Q. And at $10,000 less, it should have sold like gangbusters, or at least like hot cakes.

But it didn't, unless you consider 4755 sales per year gangbusters. People couldn't get over the slab-sided appearance of the last M. And how much marketing push was there behind it, anyway? Name one single M45 ad, go ahead, just one. That's what we thought.

Now the new M45, due out in a year, is transferred from the mighty Q to the next evolution of the FM platform, the same underpinnings that, in slightly different configuration, ride under the mighty Z car. The new M45 shares an awful lot with another FM platform performer, the very successful, much-loved Infiniti G35, for which there are still long waiting lists and occasional dealer markups. Technically, the new M45 will ride on the Global Mid-Luxury platform, but you can call it the new FM.

So, can the 2005 M45 do what the present one didn't? It should-just imagine a G35 with a V8. You can even call this one the G45 if you want.

We drove a very, very early test mule of the upcoming M45 with the hood riveted together and black anti-spy-photographer paint sprayed on, and found a lot to be happy about.

First, that new platform. Who knew the last G35 was so loose? Driving an old G35 back-to-back against the new M45 at Nissan's desert proving grounds, the first thing you notice, before the big whoomph of that V8, is the improvement in torsional stiffness. Engineers added three new crossmembers and 250 spot- and arc-welds. Torsional rigidity goes up by 30 percent, which isn't remarkable, but front lateral stiffness increases by 1400 percent. That is not a typo. Infiniti showed us computer simulations of the front ends of the old G35 and the new M45, and the old looks like a fish flopping on a boat deck by comparison.

The stiffness is what you feel on the road. It comes across mostly as better steering-more in touch with the road-but you also feel less flex and twist in the front end. It uses a new variable-assist steering system, combined with optional passive steering, electronically controlled at the rear. It changes the rear suspension geometry up to one degree.

We also drove a current M45 and found it was perfect for the successful Japanese businessman touring through Tokyo in style. But on the wild undulations of Nissan's marketability course, it was ungainly-flopping, chirping, wallowing and squealing. The setup was well into the realm of luxury and far from sporty. The new car is tuned for sporty.

The new M is almost five inches shorter than the current model, an inch wider and an inch higher. It has four inches more wheelbase than the G35.

The 4.5-liter V8 makes the same 340 hp and 333 lb-ft of torque, but gets a new intake resonator and dual exhaust for that throaty roar that makes Japanese businessmen inhale sharply through clenched teeth. The V8 is attached to a five-speed automatic with wider gear ratios and a wider range. The final drive is also lower.

As with the G35, there is zero aerodynamic lift at the front and, with the rear wing in place, at the rear wheels, which is rare in a passenger car. So you can speed as much as you want and not worry about flying. Drag is 0.28 and 0.27, with and without the wing.

Those are the details. The big picture is the old muscle-car philosophy of putting a big engine in a small car, always a good idea. Our preliminary mule drive showed promise.

The 2006 M45 will be available with the 3.5-liter V6. Five models will be offered: V6, V6 awd, V6 sport, V8 and V8 sport, on sale in spring 2005.



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