2011 Infiniti M37 Car Report

Barcelona’s famous architect Antoni Gaudi once said, or wrote or dreamt the phrase “the straight line belongs to man, the curve to God.” While the accuracy of the assertion is open to debate, one only need glance at his famous masterworks like the Casa Mila with its irregular rocky cliff-like façade, or the spindly sand castle towers of the Sagrada Familia temple to see that they were words the man lived by as he strove to connect his creations to the natural world around them.

While I have never visited the Infiniti design studios, I would not be surprised to hear that the walls are plastered with posters of Gaudi’s buildings. Not because the Japanese have famously funneled millions of dollars toward the preservation and completion of his work over the years, but because of cars like the new M37.

In essence, the M37 is a typical three-box, mid-size sedan. But look closely and you’ll see that there is nothing boxy about it, at all. Nearly every surface, cut line and seam bends or bows in some way. Even things that look like they’re straight from one perspective arc in another, like the horizontal bars of the front grille which when seen from above reveal their convex shape. Light and shadow are in love with this car.

When you first sit in its comforting leather chairs, the curvaceousness of the interior surroundings is nearly overwhelming. We’ve seen the dual-cockpit motif a thousand times before, but the M37’s take looks as if all of the leather, soft-touch materials and real Japanese White Ash were formed in place by a brush with oil paints. The surrounds of the door releases are reminiscent of a feather and the nearly anatomical hood over the instrument cluster speaks for itself. Its shape is almost offensive enough for photos of it to be removed from Wikipedia.

Why does the center console bulge in the middle? You should ask why the ones in other cars don’t.

But beneath its skin, the M37 hides a dark secret. It’s the automotive equivalent of a cyborg.

The M37 is powered by the more than adequate 330 horsepower 3.7-liter V6 which anoints the front end of many a Nissan product. Here its breathing is tuned to deliver a soothing burble, though it does get a bit wheezy at the highest RPMs, at least by the standards of a $47,115 car. The ride and handling balance is near perfect for a luxury sport sedan: buttery soft over rough roads, but able to handle the high speed sweepers with aplomb. When a company gets a suspension this right you wish they would share the formula with the rest of the automotive world as a philanthropic pursuit.

Power goes to the rear wheels or, for an extra $2150, all of them through a seven-speed automatic transmission that monitors how you are driving and adjusts its operation accordingly. With the turn of a dial you can tweak it to be sportier – more urgently executing rev-matched downshifts and holding gears longer - or select an Eco setting which, when equipped with an optional $3,000 Technology Package, turns the M37 into a militant environmentalist.

Not only does it try to stay in higher gears as much as possible in this mode, but if you push too hard on the accelerator, asking it to burn more fossil fuel than it deems fit, it pushes back. Literally.

The pedal physically nudges your foot and stiffens to resist further efforts to ask it to do the unthinkable. It’s not so firm that you can’t overpower it, but the sensation is noticeable enough that helps to keep you on Al Gore’s nice list without having to think about it. Even if you decide to floor the throttle, the transmission isn’t very eager to oblige either and takes its own sweet time before downshifting. In the M37 you can’t fight city hall, or the CPU.

With the tech package, you also get a button on the steering wheel that looks like a car surrounded by a force field. That’s because if you press it, it engages a force field.

Using radars positioned around the car, the M37 monitors its surroundings, warns you if you are about to do something to harm it…uh, yourself, and takes control of the situation if you ignore your own sense of self-preservation, because it doesn’t like to get its paint scratched.

Get to close to the car in front of you and that magic pedal does its thing to convince you to slow down. If you don’t, the M37 stands on the brakes and can bring itself to a complete stop, as needed.

Like many luxury cars available today, the M37 also has a blind-spot warning system in the form of a light next to the side view mirror that illuminates when another car is next to you. If you ignore it and hit the turn signal it will flash and beep to get your attention. Steer toward danger anyway and it jerks your hands back the other way. I kid you not. Technically, the M37 brakes the front wheel on the opposite side of the car, but the effect is the same as a passenger yanking on the steering wheel and quite a jolt.

Of course, sometimes you’re so dozy behind the wheel that you can practically sleep through all of this. The M37 has you covered there, too, with Infiniti’s Lane Departure Warning and Prevention system, which reads the lines on the road and sets off an alarm if you start to drift, then uses the braking system to guide the car left or right, keeping it between the lines as best it can. Sure, you can argue that someone shouldn’t be driving at all if they’re so distracted or tired that they actually need all of this stuff, but as someone other than Gaudi once said, nobody’s perfect. He probably agreed.

On a long highway slog home after midnight, twenty hours since I woke up, I kept the lane departure system on, just to be on the safe side. I’m still shocked at how often the alarm got set off. Granted, it’s very sensitive, but you really don’t know how much something like a little sleep deprivation affects your motor skills until someone – even a semi-sentient vehicle – throws cold water in your face.

Or a wafting breeze.

Opt for the $3,800 Deluxe Touring Package – which you have to if you want the Technology Package – and along with an upgraded stereo system with speakers in the shoulders of the front seats and extra luxe trim throughout the cabin, the climate control system gains a feature called Forest Air which filters the air and supposedly circulates it in ebbs and flows, rather than a constant stream. The effect is so subtle that you hardly notice it, but maybe that’s the point.

When Nissan launched its Infiniti luxury brand in the United States in 1989, the first commercials for the company featured no cars, just scenes from nature in what is still one of the most bizarre advertising campaigns ever mounted. The M37 may finally be the manifestation of those founding images. Gaudi would be proud.

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