Special Coverage

Auto Interiors Conference

It’s not easy standing out in a crowd bumper-to-bumper with 6-figure luxury cars.

But the new eye-catching Infiniti M56, winner this year in the Premium-Priced Car category in Ward’s Interior of the Year competition, does just that.

In the Rorschach-test component of the judging process, the first word that comes to mind as you open the door and slip behind the wheel is “wow.” It’s clear right from the get-go that even in this pricey segment the M is going to be tough to beat.

The interior seems to achieve the impossible, melding together elements of a sport sedan with an elegance and artistry befitting a very high-end luxury car.

Gently sweeping lines and ovals play a big part in the M’s cockpit, and the attention to detail is carried through on the tiniest and most mundane of components, from the small steering-wheel mounted switches that regulate the cruise control and radio to the cluster of navigation system knobs and buttons.

The instrument panel ebbs and flows to embrace front-seat occupants, then blends perfectly into the highly stylized door panel.

The inner door, itself, more than one Ward’s judge notes, is a “work of art” that looks as though it were sculpted from a single piece of clay. The metallic door handle and trim? “Simply gorgeous,” says one tester.

Then there’s the silver-laced ash wood Infiniti brags about in television commercials for the M. Yes, it is every bit as spectacular as its billing suggests and may be the next game-changer in the world of interior trim.

The tachometer and speedometer are formed from neatly beveled layers of concentric circles, and the textured materials and graphics lend the M its sport-sedan accent. There’s a wealth of operating information to be gleaned from the IP and 8-in. (20-cm) liquid-crystal display mounted in the center stack.

“Soft materials abound,” observes one judge. And with lane-departure warning, blind-spot warning and intervention, intelligent braking, forward-collision warning and more, the only active safety devices missing in our fully loaded M56 Deluxe Touring AWD model ($67,715 as tested) “haven’t been invented yet,” says another.

Audio speakers housed within the front seats are yet another nice touch singled out by the Ward’s panel.

There are a few nits to pick, of course. Some had difficulty squeezing their hands down along the base of the door to access the seat controls, and others complained of clenching seatbelts. All the active safety alerts, though helpful, were a little annoying at times for some evaluators. Fortunately, they can be turned off.

But overall, the M is nothing less than stellar; a shining star in a crowded galaxy.

dzoia@wardsauto.com