- The Washington Times - Friday, May 18, 2007

Since its introduction in 2005 as a 2006 model, the Infiniti M45 Sport has received nearly unanimous praise and has been named the winner in several head-to-head competitions with such vaunted marques as BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Audi and Lexus.

If you’re in the market for an expensive sports/luxury sedan, then, this is obviously the midsize Infiniti to buy. Or is it?

Understand, the question is not about the car. The M45 Sport is, fast, exceptionally capable, lavishly appointed and, from all reports, very reliable. No, this question is one that must be answered by the buyer and the expected passengers.

As an enthusiast driver myself, I might not have given the matter much thought, but my wife brought the whole matter into focus with one simple question: “How come this car rides so rough?”

“It’s not rough, it’s taut,” I replied, explaining that the 19-inch wheels, low-profile performance tires and sport-tuned suspension combine to give the sedan the athletic reflexes that many drivers want. They are willing to sacrifice some ride quality, I continued, in order to drive a vehicle that responds quickly and precisely to their inputs.

She let the matter go, but managed to convey the message that she was unimpressed by my explanation. And, as I thought about it, I could see why.

She is not an aggressive driver. She almost never spends a lot of time on the twisty back roads where these qualities could be most appreciated.

The bulk of our time is spent in entirely different ways. We are on busy, pothole-pocked roads where other people’s driving habits pretty much determine our own. We are on the interstates, where a car’s worth is better measured by its ability to eat up the miles in quiet comfort. Or, we are pretty much stuck in the rush-hour clog, where a good sound system is a vehicle’s greatest asset.

So, the lesson to be learned from her question is: Make sure you know what will work best for you.

Considering the ways I use a car these days, I probably wouldn’t opt for the sport suspension and would end up saving myself nearly $1,500. But that doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate the extra dimension it brings to the car’s capabilities.

Suspension aside, there’s not much else about the handsome, fully-equipped sedan I drove that can be called into question. The as-tested price of $59,740 might draw a gasp or two, but only until a prospective buyer checks out the prices of the competition.

The sophisticated 4.5-liter V-8 engine, now rated by the Society of Automotive Engineers at 325 horsepower and 336 foot-pounds of torque, pulls smoothly and strongly right up to the red line and is capable of moving the 2-ton sedan from a stop to 60 mph in about six seconds.

Fuel mileage — I averaged between 14 and 20 miles per gallon of premium fuel — might make the greenies turn red, but that’s simply the price of performance

The five-speed automatic transmission is well mated to the engine’s capabilities and it even blips the throttle to the proper engine speed during downshifts when it is in its manual mode. The rack-and-pinion steering is responsive and communicative and the four-wheel antilock brakes are powerful. The M45 Sport’s excellent handling is enhanced by Infiniti’s Rear Active Steer system, which automatically adjusts the rear suspension depending on speed and steering input.

On the outside, the M45 looks like a big brother to the G35 sedan and actually is built on an enlarged version of its rear-wheel-drive platform. With room for up to five passengers, it is an ideal size for both comfortable long-distance cruising and around-town maneuvering.

On the inside, the fit, finish and attention to detail show that Infiniti understands what is required of a premium sedan. The leather is supple, the front bucket seats are supportive and comfortable, the sound system is excellent and the aluminum trim accents the sedan’s sporty character.

Safety features include a full complement of air bags, inflatable side curtains and front and rear active head restraints.

For 2007, Infiniti has upgraded the available option packages, which already were bristling with the latest in automotive technology.

Highlights among the available accessories are:

* Adaptive cruise control: Set the desired speed and the car automatically brakes and accelerates to conform to traffic conditions. It works well enough, but not as smoothly as if the driver were in charge of the controls. In traffic, it lowers fuel mileage, probably because the car is never coasting.

* Lane departure warning: An audible signal sounds in the cabin whenever the M45 crosses a lane marker. To an attentive driver, it is mostly an annoyance and, thankfully, can be turned off.

* Rear-view monitor: In cars equipped with a navigation system, the center-console-mounted screen shows what is behind the car when the transmission is shifted into reverse. It’s an excellent safety device because it eliminates the blind spot right behind the rear wheels.

The M45 is an impressive automobile that deserves consideration by the well-heeled. Careful spenders will find that trimming the option list can bring the price of a well-equipped model much closer to its $50,550 base price.

Rhe Infiniti M45 Sport is one serious hunk of sports/luxury sedan, but the traits that make it desirable to one are a drawback to another.

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