With interest in sport utility vehicles diminishing with every gasoline price increase, many upscale buyers are looking at luxury sedans as their next purchase. It’s a crowded field with many qualified cars that combine high performance with a stylish look and plenty of extras. Infiniti produces a sedan that fits the qualifications.

The 2008 M45 has impressive power, sharp exterior features, comfortable seating and a long list of standard features.

It’s pricy at $51,850 for the all-wheel drive X model that gets unimpressive gas mileage (14-20 mpg). Yet, the M45 is still priced lower than an upscale SUV and trips to the pumps are less frequent.

If you haven’t checked out the M45 in a couple of years, it’s worth a look. Infiniti unveiled the M series in 2003 with the M35 (3.5-liter, V6) and the M45 (4.5-liter, V8). There was nothing wrong with the performance of either one, but both sedans lacked interior space and had conservative styling.

That changed three years ago when Infiniti made some much needed alterations and the M series immediately grew in stature.

Improvements were not as dramatic for the 2008 models, but there are nice changes that make the M45 and its younger brother more appealing and keeps them competitive with two of their biggest rivals — the Mercedes-Benz E-Class and the BMW 5-Series.

In this struggling economy, Infiniti may actually be competing against itself, because picking the M35 over the M45 isn’t a bad idea. The M35 is solid V6-powered sedan that will save money (about $6,500) while providing similar features and more than enough power for most buyers despite 55 less horsepower.

Still, the M45X is the better choice. It looks cool without the engine even running. And the M45X is fun to drive, offering excellent acceleration (it was tested at 0-60 mph in six seconds) responsive handling and a quick-reacting braking system that allows a little bit more daring driving than usual

This test model offered the new Lane Departure Warning system that proved annoying. While the safety factor is enviable, the alert warning system comes on too frequently, triggered by the slightest hint of wandering out of lane. Utilizing a camera to recognize lane markings and calculating the vehicle’s speed and its distance from them, the system applies individual antilock brakes to steer the car as necessary to keep it in its lane. Thankfully, the system can be turned off.

The spacious interior is a turn-on, with the M45X now seating five comfortably. Leather upholstery,  attractive wood accents, a cool audio system with six speakers, six-CD/MP3 changer and satellite radio are also all improvements.

The exterior that was once dullsville now has a stylish grille, new taillights, headlights, a more appealing rear bumper and some attractive chrome accents.

FAST FACTS: 2008 Infinity M45

Performance — 4.5-liter, V8, 325 horsepower; Mileage estimates — 14 mpg (city), 20 mpg (highway); Standard Features — Adaptive xenon headlights, 10-way power and climate-controlled front seats, dual-zone automatic climate control, sunroof, Bluetooth, brake assist, stability control, traction control, and Intelligent Key with push-button start; Warranty — Powertrain, 6 years/70,000 miles; Bumper-to-bumper 4 years/60,000 miles; Corrosion, 7 years/unlimited miles; Free roadside assistance, 4 years/unlimited miles; Price — $51,850.

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