If you’re faced with the task of shopping for an executive saloon you’ll know that the market is dominated by the usual European suspects. Lexus aside, the choice boils down to the German ‘big three’ and Jaguar.
Only it doesn’t anymore. With the recent arrival of Infiniti – Nissan’s premium division – anyone looking for, say, a BMW 5 Series alternative has a brand new model to consider.
Infiniti has adopted a conservative approach to launching itself and its cars in the UK. Having established its first retail centre in Reading, the company is expanding gradually so as not to dilute its carefully cultivated customer service and image.
But what about the car? Badged ‘M’ it borrows heavily from the smaller G series, with its sweeping curves and bold grille. Handsome and distinctive, the overall look is more transatlantic than European – hardly surprising considering Infiniti’s longstanding domestic and American market activities. It’s been around as long as Lexus, after all.
Unlike Lexus, Infiniti has hit the ground running with the M and the car boasts diesel power from its launch. If you’re serious about cracking the fiercely competitive premium saloon market, diesel is essential. As such, along with a 3.7-litre, 315bhp petrol V6, the rear-wheel drive M can be had with a 3.0-litre, 235bhp V6 diesel. With its standard fit seven-speed auto gearbox, the M is starting to shape up nicely.
Step inside the M and you’re faced with an exceptionally well built and roomy cabin. Rear legroom, in particular, is good and trumps the efforts of some rivals. At the front a colour infotainment screen dominates the car’s fascia, and below is a logically arranged cluster of buttons for the audio, navigation and ventilation functions.
Infiniti has worked hard to deliver a cabin with the right premium ambience. The driving position offers plenty of adjustment and the front seats are impressively supportive – the luxury and sports seats of the GT and S variants respectively are equally comfortable.
On the road the M feels somewhere between Mercedes’ E-Class and BMW’s 5 Series. The Infiniti delivers plenty of refinement in the form of low cabin noise and a plush cabin, but offers drivers a sporty and agile experience when on the move.
The BMW has the edge when you’re really pushing hard but the trade off is sometimes an over firm ride, something the M does without despite being available with 20-inch wheels, sports suspension and four-wheel steer in performance S guise. If you want a slightly softer ride and plusher cabin go for the GT model.
In diesel form the M30d demonstrates a good level of flexibility in town and away from urban limits. Happy to trickle along in traffic, it’s also capable of rapid acceleration, demonstrating plenty of flexibility on twisty country roads, plus cruising quietly at motorway speeds. And all the time the diesel motor’s activity never spoils the cabin ambience.
The petrol M37 is no different, as it too can play the refinement card around town yet also race towards the horizon when conditions allow. The key difference is the M37’s rorty exhaust note, and is a pleasant surprise in the otherwise buttoned down world of executive saloons.
Whichever you choose, the ability to toggle between an eco, regular and sport mode is more than a gimmick, as the clever electronics subtly alter the car’s engine and gearbox behaviour accordingly. The result is a car capable of adapting well to your mood and the road conditions. Opt for an S variant with four-wheel steer and you’ll be amazed at the car’s added agility.
Another pleasant side of infiniti’s M is that, in true Japanese tradition, it comes with more kit than your average posh German saloon. As a result, pricing is extremely competitive, and adds an interesting competitive dimension to the Japanese outsider.
Model dependent safety kit such as a blind spot detector that will help prevent your car from drifting into the path of parallel running traffic plus an active braking system that can bring the M to a complete stop are just two highlights along with a long list of creature comforts.
The badge snobs might wish to give Infiniti’s M a wide berth but they will be missing out. At the very least the firm’s premium saloon is a competitively priced alternative to the sometimes too clinical and formal European opposition.
With its soft curves the M is a handsome beast, plus it boasts plenty of kit and the all-important diesel engine. That it’s also engaging to drive is the icing on the cake, and proves that opting for an outsider doesn’t have to result in a compromise.
FACTS AT A GLANCE
Model: Infiniti M30d GT Premium, from £44,600 on the road. M range starts from £36,750.
Engine: 3.0-litre diesel unit developing 235bhp.
Transmission: 7-speed auto transmission as standard, driving the rear wheels.
Performance: Maximum speed 155mph, 0-62mph 6.9 seconds.
CO2 Rating: 199g/km.
By Iain Dooley