Technology Helps New Infiniti’s MPG

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2011 Infiniti M37S.

It’s fun to be a witness to all the technology surrounding us these days, especially when it comes to cars. Things to make them safer, more comfortable and easier to drive are certainly nice. But the new Infiniti M model also gets some technological help under the hood to not only increase power but improve fuel economy as well.

The first thing I noticed about the silver M37S that had been dropped off was the striking body design. I’d seen the M on the stand at the auto show, but it’s even more handsome when lit by natural sunlight. While the previous version was kind of slab-sided, this 2011 redesign gets beautifully sculpted sides, along with a nose and tail that mimic the styling of other Infiniti models.

Inside, the style makeover continues, with deeply sculpted bucket seats flanking a well-organized center console. Above the console at the center of the dash is an array of buttons and controls for the audio and climate systems, topped by a large LCD navigation screen. Even though those buttons are plentiful, they’re laid out in a nice logical fashion that makes it easy to become familiar with which one does what.

So the design of this large sedan is markedly improved, but Infiniti is really proud to boast that power and performance have increased, along with miles per gallon estimates. For the M37, horsepower is up to 330 from 303 thanks to a new 3.7 liter V6 engine. Increases in power usually mean a decrease in fuel economy, but the new car is rated at 18 miles per gallon in the city and 26 on the highway, an increase of 1 mpg over the 2010 car in each number.

The numbers are even more impressive for the M56 with its V8 engine. It makes a whopping 420 horsepower, whereas last year’s M45 with a smaller engine only managed 325. (Yes, the V6 now tops the previous V8.) The engineers over at Nissan / Infiniti managed to not only keep the city mileage estimate the same at 16 mpg, but there’s been an increase of four miles per gallon in the highway figure to 25 mpg.

Future technologies talked about when issues of fuel mileage come about usually included gas-electric hybrids and diesels, but many engineers like to point out that there’s still more efficiency to be eked out of conventional gasoline engines. The new Infiniti models are a great example of that.

In both the V6 and V8 engines, advanced variable valve timing is employed, which allows an engine to sort of re-tune itself at various points from idle all the way up to maximum speed. And in the M56 V8, direct fuel injection is also used in order to more precisely get the fuel into the combustion chamber. Finally, both models get a 7-speed automatic transmission in order to maximize efficiency relative to road speed.

Another neat thing I found in the M37 is the new Infiniti Drive Mode Selector, which includes settings called “sport” and “eco.” In eco mode, displays on the instrument cluster let you know how you’re driving with amber and green indicator lights which allow you to adjust your throttle input for maximum fuel efficiency. In addition, the car I drove had the optional Technology Package, which allows eco mode to go one step further. If you try to push the accelerator pedal too hard, it gently nudges it back toward your foot, almost as if to say, “Hey, that’s not the way to save fuel. Let me help you with that.” In essence, the car becomes less powerful for the sake of fuel mileage, but only if you select the eco mode.

The M models are part of a very competitive segment in the car world. Everything from the Cadillac CTS to the Mercedes-Benz E-Class would potentially be cross-shopped with Infiniti’s newest sedan. In between would be models like the Lexus GS, Acura TL, BMW 5-series and Audi A6. All offer similar amenities and performance, which buyers in this price range ($45,000+) expect.

Where the Infiniti M is likely to stand out is in its fuel efficiency, especially when combined with impressive horsepower and performance. Buyers of luxury cars are increasingly aware of consumption issues, even if they have the means to not worry about the financial cost of using excessive amounts of fuel. While Lexus offers a hybrid version of its GS sedan, and Mercedes-Benz is about to launch a clean diesel E-Class, Infiniti is looking pretty good with its high-tech gasoline engines.

I hope to get behind the wheel of the M56 pretty soon, but for now the M37S has really impressed me with its combination of power and efficiency. I didn’t even mind the gas pedal feeding back in eco mode, as I knew the car was trying to make me a more economical driver.

I’ll see you down the road.

Dave Kunz is the automotive reporter at KABC-TV Channel 7. He’s also a car enthusiast and owns several classics. Dave can be reached at TVCarz @ pacbell.net

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