- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 16, 2006

Thanks to ever-advancing technology, it’s now possible for a well-heeled buyer to tailor his car in much the same way that he would be fitted for an expensive suit.

A good example is the acclaimed new Infiniti M class, a stable of midsize V-6 and V-8 sports/luxury sedans developed by the premium brand of Japanese manufacturer Nissan to compete with the likes of the Mercedes-Benz E Class, BMW 5 series, Lexus GS, Audi A6 and Cadillac STS.

You say you love luxury, taut reflexes, techno-sophistication and the rush of a 340-horsepower V-8 that can take you to 60 mph in about six seconds? Then, you can choose the hard-edged M45 Sport or the less severe M45. If your need for speed is a tad more conservative, you can go with the stiffly sprung M35 Sport or a standard M35, both powered by brawny but not quite as mighty 280-horsepower V-6 engine (0 to 60 mph in about 7 seconds).

But what if you’ve got the cash and the urge to drive a satisfyingly competent sports sedan, but simply can’t get by with a one-size-fits-all car in a four-season world?

Infiniti’s got you covered there, too, with the M35X. It’s got all the verve of the M35 sedan plus one important addition — an all-wheel-drive system that allows you to go when the snow starts to blow without curtailing the car’s capabilities when the road is dry and snaky.

And, a recent test has shown, the M35X might not just be a great compromise. It could be the best M of the bunch.

Infiniti calls its AWD system ATTESA E-TS, which stands for Advanced Total Traction Engineering System for All Electronic Torque Split. Those of us with less than a doctorate in automotive engineering will know it simply as the Infiniti Intelligent All-Wheel Drive.

I’ll leave it to the experts to explain how it works. I’ll simply pass along what it does.

From a stop to 10 mph, power is apportioned 75 percent to the rear wheels and 25 percent up front for maximum traction. At this point, the power flow is directed 100 percent to the rear wheels unless or until rear-wheel slippage is detected. Then, depending on conditions, up to 50 percent of the power will be transferred to the front wheels.

The M35X all-wheel-drive system was previously introduced on Infiniti’s G35x entry-level sports/luxury sedan and FX sport utility vehicles.

In a recent test, the hot-shoes at Road and Track magazine pitted a rear-wheel-drive G35 against the G35X and found, to their surprise, that the all-wheel-drive car posted the best times on a closed course in both dry and wet conditions. There is no reason to believe that results with the M35X would differ.

Take away the all-wheel drive and the M35X is the twin of its rear-wheel-drive counterpart.

It is a handsome sedan with plenty of room for four or five adults, technologically advanced suspension, steering and braking, and a long line of standard and optional luxury, safety and convenience features.

The V-6 power is directed from the engine to the wheels through a five-speed transmission with manual override. In manual move, a blip of the throttle during downshifts automatically matches the engine’s speed to that of the transmission for smooth gear changes. The EPA says the M35X will return 17 to 24 miles per gallon of unleaded regular gasoline. My calculations dropped those figures to 15 and 23.

The base price of $42,400 includes stability control, traction control, climate control, Bluetooth wireless technology and a keyless entry system than allows a driver to lock, unlock, start and stop the car without taking the key fob out of purse or pocket.

The price escalates from there with packages that contained these major options:

Journey Package ($2,750): Bose eight-speaker sound system; rear-view monitor that displays what is behind the car on a dashboard screen; xenon headlights that automatically adapt to road conditions; climate-controlled front seats; seat belts that automatically tighten before an impending crash.

Technology Package ($4,200): Surround sound added to the Bose system, navigation system, cruise control that automatically brakes and accelerates in accordance with traffic flow, lane departure system that beeps a warning whenever the M35 moves into another lane, satellite radio setup.

Mobile Entertainment System ($1,500): DVD player with 8-inch monitor, remote control and two headsets for rear-seat passengers.When all the calculations were complete, the bottom line came to $51,660.

Not surprisingly, that puts this Infiniti right in line with the competition. Buyers who value comfort and cushiness over control should shop elsewhere. Those who want a cold-climate car designed primarily to reward the enthusiast driver should park their trade-in vehicle under the Infiniti sign.

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