2007 Infiniti M45 – carpal tunnel city!

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If you think BMW’s iDrive mouse controller is child’s play and want to step up to something a bit more challenging, the set up in the Infiniti M45 should keep you busy for awhile.

This car out-Germans the Germans — confronting the first-time driver with an array of glowing LCD displays, buttons, switches and (yes, of course) a mouse-like thing on the center stack to direct the whole works. It can be intimidating, but while a lowbrow automotive writer might feel like Forrest Gump attempting to get a handle on trigonometry, a potential M45 owner might be digging it very much. Not only does such a prospect (40-ish executive/professional type) feel completely at home with both high technology and high stress, he revels in the multiplexed — and may even enjoy flaunting his mastery to lesser beings who ride in his machine. There’s an elitism involved, sort of life being a pilot. Not everyone can do it. Many are intimidated. Most who aren’t and can’t respect those who are and can.

It’s just that simple.

And now you know why all this high-tech equipment is becoming the signature defining feature of cars above a certain price point — just as things like air conditioning and fuel injected engines once were. It’s a means of parting the cattle; of separating oneself from the lowing masses.

The M45 will definitely do that for you. Additional technological quantum leaps include Intelligent Cruise Control (it automatically adjust your speed in relation to traffic, slowing and accelerating the car as necessary), closed-circuit back-up camera with Wheel Trajectory View (it shows you where you’re going) and a Lane Departure Warning system (it beeps at you if you inadvertently cross the yellow line).

The car literally does almost drive itself — and by the time the next generation comes out in a couple of years, probably will.

As with the input systems and controls for changing the radio stations, adjusting the climate control and so on, you may be completely at home and find these things both clever and helpful. Or you might want to “go Hulk” and smash the works in a fury of Luddite rage. There is no middle ground. You either is — or you isn’t.

The rest of the M is not as polarizing. Few arguments, for example, over the prowess of the standard 4.5 liter, 325-hp V-8. Once you’re over the 300 horsepower mark, passing/merging ability is no longer much of an issue. At this point, it’s merely a question of “fast” vs. “very fast.” And the M45 is very fast — capable of 5.3-5.4 second sprints to 60 mph.

It doesn’t feel ferocious, though.

It’s just that before you know it, you are doing serious speed — silently and quietly. Extended duration triple digit hauling is what the designers seem to have had in mind — not dumbed-down U.S. highways where 70-something is typically the lawful max and anything much over 80 is flirting with the felonious.

A BMW 550i feels quicker — maybe because it has a manual transmission, maybe because its exhaust/intake sounds are more aggressive. But its 0-60 times of 5.4-5.5 seconds are no better — notwithstanding its on-paper power advantage (360-hp 4.8 liter V-8 vs. the M’s 325 hp 4.5 liter engine) or its substantially higher starting price point of $58,500 (nearly $10k higher than the M45’s base price of $49,100) .

Still, you’ll easily leave the kid in his fart-canned Civic well behind you without even having to resort to full pedal. Just don’t like the quiet fool you into doubting what the speedo’s telling you — at least, not without a very good radar detector.

Like most cars these days, the M45’s standard automatic transmission has a performance calibrated “manual” mode and shifter gate that gives you some control over up and downshifts. But the fact is the M’s transmission is so well set up that just leaving it in Drive works just as well (or even better) than trying to out-shift the computer. The “manual” mode in modern cars is more than anything else a legacy of the past, when automatics were sloggy and decidedly inferior to manual transmissions insofar as responsiveness and control were concerned.

Not necessary here. If you want to show the kid to your left in that Civic Si how it’s done, just turn off the traction control, hold the brake with your left foot and bring the engine up to about 2,500 RPM — then simultaneously release the brake and floor it. The rear tires will dig into the asphalt for about five yards before hooking up hard and blasting you down the quarter mile in the mid-13 second range — a time slip that would do any ’60s-era muscle car proud. The M45’s also about 2-3 tenths quicker than the Lexus GS430 — which has less power (290-hp) and is more expensive ($52,375). The $51,160 Cadillac CTS-V offers more bang (400-hp) and better performance (0-60 in about 4.6 seconds) for about the same bucks ($51,160 vs. $50,550 for the M45 Sport) but isn’t even close when it comes to refinement or technology.

Part of the reason for the M45’s excellent performance is the power of the V-8 under the hood — but it doesn’t hurt that the car’s weight has been kept in check by the use of aluminum and composite body panels — including door skins, hood and trunk lid. Curb weight is just barely over 4,000 lbs. — a good BMI for a large sedan.

The M45 comes standard with 18-inch rims, but 19s are available as part of the optional Sport package that also includes an “active geometry” rear suspension — a form of rear-wheel steering that uses electric motors to slightly alter the position of the rear wheels during cornering, so that they “track” with the front wheels as the car turns. This, too, is pretty high-tech stuff — and though it’s been used on other cars before, it’s still a very rare feature, even at the $50k price point.

The rest is what you’d expect to find in a car with a starting price of $49,100 — handsomely trimmed cabin with leather and your choice of aluminum or wood trim, keyless ignition system, climate controlled (heated and cooled) driver and front passenger seats, Bluetooth connectivity for your cell phone and a 10-speaker MP3 -playing stereo for your ears. This can be upgraded to a 14-speaker Bose Studio Surround Sound system with the ability to play DVD audio discs. GPS and a back seat entertainment system with separate 8-inch flat-screen display are among the other big ticket options. You can also order power reclining rear seats with their own heaters (though not fanny coolers) too.

But it’s the M’s array of gadgets and interfaces that define it — setting it apart from other cars in its class/price range. It outdoes them on that score hands-down.

And for good measure, it out-powers/out-performs/out-prices most of them, too.

Throw it in the Woods?

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