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The Daily Drivers | By Peter Couture and Lyra Solochek, Times staff writers

The Daily Drivers: Infiniti discovers its zen with its 2011 M56 S

When Nissan launched its luxury Infiniti brand in 1989, the ads were derided as "rocks and trees." Ever since that cryptic campaign, it seems, Infiniti has been trying to fashion an image. Its new ads show a brush rendering a car's silhouette in Japanese calligraphy. Let's hope the ink is permanent because the new M56 is artfully done.

Appearance: The first thing we noticed about our tester was its Malbec Black paint, which had a deep cherry tone that glistened in the sun. And this sedan does seem to have been designed using a paint brush, as there are no hard angles or lines. The curvy fenders and bulging wheel wells fit snugly over the 20-inch aluminum-alloy wheels and give it an aggressive, sports-car look. All these lines seem to converge near the hood, which slopes downward into the double-arch grille. And the wide-set headlights accentuate the fenders. The roof arches gently down to the trunk. There's not much of an overhang — front or rear — given the placement of the wheels. Chrome accents the grille, door handles and window trim.

Performance: These days it seems that every performance sedan exceeds 500 horsepower. Why? The direct-injection, 5.6-liter V-8 cranks out 420 horses, more than enough for drivers who want to test all of the M56's electronic safety features. The seven-speed automatic shifts smoothly. We especially liked the large magnesium shifters for manual mode as well as Nissan's excellent rev-matching transmission. Then there's the drive selector, a dial that lets you pick Standard, Eco, Sport or Snow modes. Some have complained that all these electronics spoil the car's performance as they adjust the throttle control and gearing. Peter noticed an occasional clumsy downshift, but aside from that, we didn't experience any issues. Maybe that's because we kept it mainly in sport mode.

Interior: Peter loved its snug cockpit and comfortable seats. There is definitely some of the Nissan's sports-car DNA running through the interior, which has been given an upgrade of Infiniti materials: plenty of leather, wood-trim and soft-touch surfaces. (Even Inifinti's blue-faced analog clock has been changed to a more sophisticated white.) The Active Noise Control keeps cabin noise to a minimum and our tester had plenty of other goodies, such as a rearview monitor (standard) and Blind Spot Warning with Blind Spot Intervention that brakes to change your driving line if it detects a car. The Forest Air system filters odors and allergens, and replicates a natural breeze. We didn't notice much of a difference, but it was cool and quiet.

Our 3 favorites

Peter Couture

Sound off: Bose speakers are subtly housed in the shoulder of the front seats.

Classy color: Loved the dark Malbec Black hue.

Cockpit: I like how the dash arches over the gauges .

Lyra Solochek

Handling: Very responsive and precise, making driving a lot of fun.

Power: Exhiliarating, but not excessive. Smooth, consistent pull.

Design: A sedan that's stylish, sporty and sexy.

The bottom line: When we drove an Infiniti M35 sedan last year, we were disappointed with its performance and handling. No such qualms with this M56, which should immediately competitive in the luxury-performance class.

2011 Infiniti M56 S

Price: $57,550 start, $64,065 as tested

Powertrain: 5.6-liter V-8 VVEL Direct Injection Gasoline, 7-speed automatic transmission with manual mode, sport-tuned suspension, RWD

Horsepower: 420 at 6,000 rpm

Torque: 417 pound-

feet at 4,400 rpm

Seats: 5

Curb weight: 4,028 pounds

Dimensions

in inches:

Wheelbase, 114.2

Length, 194.7

Width, 72.6

Fuel economy:

16 miles per gallon city, 25 mpg highway

Safety features: Rearview monitor, blind spot warning and intervention, active trace control, lane departure warning and prevention, distance control assist, brake assist, front collision warning, front precrash seat belts.

Website: www.infinitiusa.com/m/

The Daily Drivers: Infiniti discovers its zen with its 2011 M56 S 08/06/10 [Last modified: Thursday, August 5, 2010 1:38pm]
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