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2005 Infiniti M45

    Ever since Infiniti introduced the G35 a few years ago, the luxury brand has been on the rebound.
     The midsize G35 has not only been a hot seller thanks to its stellar performance and stunning body, but it also served as a statement to the world that Infiniti wasn’t willing to play backup quarterback while Lexus got the starting job. In essence, it moved Infiniti from JV to varsity.
     Now the company is looking for some All-State votes with a scrappy new player, the 2006 M45.
     This high-priced, high-tech luxury car slots just below the flagship Q45 in Infinity’s lineup, and it’s not afraid to play the tough-guy role. While the Q is a velvety smooth highway cruiser designed entirely for comfort, the big M is more like an NFL lineman dressed in a tuxedo.
     Sure, it’s as refined as any luxury car, with incredible build quality and excellent materials in the cabin. It’s comfortable and stylish, with gorgeous sheetmetal that meshes perfectly with Infiniti’s new, sporty image.
     The difference is that the M is actually fun to drive.
     This car feels like a grown-up version of the outstanding G35, sending plenty of power to the rear wheels for people who want to drive the snot out of it, not cruise lethargically on the freeway. Just like its smaller sibling, its unibody chassis feels so solid and stiff that it could have been designed for an Abrams tank — and that’s rare in such a big car.
     The whole package is obviously designed with spirited driving in mind, especially its sporty suspension and ultra-responsive steering. It’s a comfortable car to drive on the highway, but it also has that very BMW-like ability to make driver, machine and road feel like one.

     Technology is something Infiniti has always taken pride in, and the M is a showcase of the company’s continuing progress in that field.
     The neatest gizmo is called the Lane Departure Warning system that uses sensors to watch stripes on the road, then warns the driver if he appears to be crossing the line into another lane. I love this gadget because, one, it’s a great safety feature for drivers who are falling asleep or not paying attention, and two, it beeps every time a driver changes lanes without signaling. Anything that teaches idiot drivers to use their turn signal more often is a good thing.
     Another innovation is Rear Active Steer, which uses computers and electric motors to constantly adjust the rear suspension geometry according to steering input and vehicle speed. It’s supposed to improve the car’s handling and stability. Basically, it makes the M drive like a sports car when you want it to and like a luxury car when you don’t.
     Infiniti offers the M in two varieties: six-cylinder and eight-cylinder. The six-cylinder model, called the M35 ($40,640), uses a 3.5-liter V6 that’s ranked as one of the best engines in the world. You can’t go wrong with this powerplant.
     But if you want even more muscle, choose the M45 ($46,950) with a frighteningly powerful, 4.5-liter V8. As much as I love Infiniti’s great V6, I love this brawny engine even more. It makes the M simply thrilling to drive.
     There were only two things I didn’t like about this car. One, the cabin was noisier than some other sport-luxury cars I’ve tested, most recently the wonderfully silent 2006 Lexus GS. And two, there are so many similar-shaped buttons and knobs on the center console that it’s easy to press the wrong one when you’re driving.
     Neither of those complaints are too serious, especially considering the strengths this car brings to the table. It combines the fun-to-drive nature of the G35 with the big size and supreme luxury of the Q.
     That’s what I call a winning combination.

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