Photo Credit: Infiniti USA

Photo Credit: USA

Hard to believe, but ’s upscale Infiniti division is closing on being one quarter of a century old. And from the time it first started selling in the United States in late 1989, Infiniti’s products typically have been a little edgier and sportier than many of its competitors.

That’s still true today.

Infiniti’s flagship sedan for 2013 is the , now in its third year of production. The Infiniti M comes in several distinct flavors: The M37 is a six-cylinder sedan powered by a 330-horsepower, 3.7-liter sedan, while this week’s test car, the , gets the much more powerful 5.6-liter V-8 that produces a full 420 horsepower. There is also am M Hybrid variant based on the M37, and both the M37 and are available with your choice of rear- or all-wheel drive.

Naturally, the various choices span a fair number of price points: The basic M37 starts at $48,700 and the hybrid is $54,750 and the all-wheel-drive M56x has a base price of $63,700. Our tester, an M56 with rear-wheel drive, had enough nearly $10,000 worth of options, which pushed the MSRP to a fairly dramatic $70,195. More on that later.

The M56 comes loaded with features, including ventilated leather seats, a navigation system, voice recognition for audio and navigation, rear sonar, Bluetooth connectivity, rain-sensing windshield wipers and an 8-inch WVGA color-touch display screen. As you would in a car in this price class, the seats are trimmed in very rich and luxurious leather, and there is a fair amount of real Japanese ash wood trim as well.

Build quality is superb. Again, no real surprises here, because at this price, it better damn well be a fabulous cockpit, because every car that competes in this class is at least very good.

The center section of the M56’s dash is a bit different than most luxury cars in that it sort of falls away from the driver.

That said, Infiniti earns big points for having a highly intuitive system of navigation/hvac/audio controls that even a relative Luddite like me could use easily and efficiently. Too often, it seems like luxury designers try to justify the prices of their cars with fiendishly complex controls that take a PhD recipient to operate.

Not so with the Infiniti. It’s easy to learn and efficient to operate without drama.

But what I really liked most about the Infiniti was how it performed. The big V-8 gave it the M56 a little bit of much-needed attitude. Lurking under the curvaceous sheetmetal beats the heart of muscle car: Zero to 60 miles per hour takes a mere 4.8 seconds to achieve, and the generous torque curve means that anytime you mash the throttle, response will be immediate and definite. Pushing the go pedal made me grin the same way it used to in some vintage Detroit V-8s.

By the same token, the brakes on the M56 were sensational, too. It stopped straight and sure even from fairly high speeds. The ride/handling balance definitely leans more towards the handling side, as the M56 lets you feel the road, imperfections at all. That’s not to say it’s rough riding; it isn’t. But neither is it numb and isolated, as some luxury sedans are.

From a styling perspective, the M56 is attractive, although hardly remarkable. It has some interesting curves to it that other cars in this class don’t have — particularly in the sort of waterfall front end — but overall the design is fairly typical for this class.

Our test car had two high-dollar option groups, the $3,050 Technology Package and the $5,650 Sport Package. Frankly, I could have done without the tech package, which included features like blind-spot warning, lane-departure warning, intelligent cruise control and other well-intentioned features. Maybe some drivers feel like they need such doodads to keep them safe on the road, but to me they seemed intrusive. I don’t need an alarm to go off if I go half a foot across a lane, or the cruise control to throttle way back every time someone pulls in front of me. End of rant.

The sport package, on the other hand, while pricey had lots of items than enhanced the driving experience: beefed up brakes, sport-tuned suspension, 4-wheel Active Steer, meaty 20-inch summer performance tires and aluminum wheels.

Overall, the Infiniti M56 scored high marks as a fun-to-drive sports sedan, a gentleman’s — or lady’s — muscle car, if you will. Its biggest problem frankly is the category in which it competes. For $70,000 there are a staggering number of great cars out there: the Audi A7, BMW 5-Series, Cadillac XTS Platinum Edition, Jaguar XF, Lexus LS460, Mercedes-Benz CLS-Class … well, you get the idea.

If you like sedans that combine performance and luxury, the Infiniti M56 is a great choice. Just be advised, though, it’s not the only choice.

VEHICLE TYPE: Four passenger, four-door sedan, rear-wheel drive.
ENGINE: 5.6-liter V-8, 420 horsepower, 417 pound-feet of torque.
TRANSMISSION: Seven-speed automatic.
WHEELBASE: 114.2 inches.
OVERALL LENGTH: 194.7 inches.
CURB WEIGHT: 4,224 pounds.
EPA MILEAGE RATING: 16 city, 24 highway.

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