The interior of the M35 Sport is luxurious and practical. Standard appointments include 10-way power adjustable, leather-trimmed front seats complete with lumbar support and climate control, enabling driver and front passenger to heat or cool their derriÃ¨res as required. While the seats are perforated, they are too firm to be called sumptuous: an indication that this car does not sacrifice too much of its Sport identity on the altar of comfort. Our car also came furnished with rosewood trim, a stylish $600 option that replaces the M35's standard brushed-aluminum accents with a veritable forest of wood that covers the central column, the dash, and the front and rear door sills.
The cabin controls in the M35 Sport are a tale of two halves. The lower half is an elegant wood- and chrome-trimmed panel that contains the disc slot for the standard in-dash six-disc CD changer. A chrome badge next to the CD slot tells digital audiophiles that the car also plays MP3 discs, and we can attest that it is also able to handle CDs encoded in Microsoft's WMA format. Just above the CD slot, a chrome-trimmed clock rounds out the classy lower half of the head unit.
Atop the CD player is the main control center for the Infiniti M35's onboard technology; it's a busy arrangement of controls that includes a rotary dial surrounded by 34 individual buttons. These controls are used for everything from programming the navigation to setting cabin temperature to checking the tire-pressure monitor. We do like the direct access these buttons afford, but glancing across at the dash at the vast control panel can be something of a daunting prospect in the few precious seconds before the stoplight changes.
Programming the Infiniti navigation system is a unique experience. While the guts of the system are the same as those found in high-end Nissan models, the Infiniti interface is more sophisticated than the goofy joystick that we saw in the 2006 Nissan Pathfinder LE . While we prefer touch screens, the Infiniti's dial is the next best thing: letters are entered one at a time, but the predictive address entry accelerates the process considerably. Another impressive feature in the M35--and one that we think is unique to Infiniti--is the capability for rear-seat passengers to program the navigation using the foldout rear-seat entertainment display and the remote control. Even if you are not inclined to give the backseat drivers control over where the car is going, rear-seat passengers can view their own maps on the display.
Having entered a destination, drivers (or rear-seat navigators) are given the option of whether they would like to plot a route or see a map, a very useful feature as it enables users to search in the vicinity of the destination for points of interest.
As we saw in the Pathfinder, Nissan incorporates a number of unique elements into its maps, including specifically rendered points of interest. For example, when driving around San Francisco, we saw icons for City Hall, the Transamerica Pyramid, and the Bay Bridge. Maps are clear and well rendered, and the navigation system offers an impressive selection of views including a very useful bird's eye perspective, which we found particularly helpful when driving in urban situations.
Talking the talk
One of our favorite things about the Infiniti M35 is its phenomenal voice-recognition capabilities. Having pushed the Talk button on the M35's steering wheel, we were presented with a menu of possible voice inputs on the in-dash LCD screen. This might not sound all that revolutionary, but it is the first example of this straightforward approach that we have seen, and it sure beats trying to guess the correct format for voice entry. The command "Enter street address" brought about a list of quite reasonable requests from the car including details of the state, the city, the street, and the house number. We like that the system is ready to accept destinations for any state, unlike many others we have seen that require users to preselect a region of the country. As a measure of the system's aptitude for processing voice commands, it took us at least five full attempts at programming the system before it misunderstood one of our requests (Tehama Street is a tricky one, even for humans).
We had a harder time with the voice-activated hands-free calling, however. The Bluetooth interface in the M35 hasn't changed from the 2006 model, and navigating the control menus to activate hands-free calling is straightforward (settings>phone>Bluetooth setup). Pairing our Samsung SGH-t619 with the system required lots of patience, however, as we waited for the phone and the car to repeatedly find each other. In true tech-savvy style, we turned both devices off and on a few times, and finally managed to pair the two. But that wasn't the end of our tribulations.
After being so impressed with the voice recognition system when entering destinations, we have to admit to being disappointed with the M35's ability to understand our attempts to dial by voice. Whereas it took us a long time to get the nav system to misunderstand us, it required the remainder of our patience to get the phone interface to correctly process our 10-digit phone numbers. For those with less patience, the system can also be programmed via the dash-mounted buttons and the dial.
Once we finally got connected, audio quality for the hands-free system is speakerphone quality, although from the other end of the line the output is muddier than on other systems we've tried.