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2012 Infiniti M35h

February 8th, 2012

2012 Infiniti M35h

A Hybrid After Our Own Hearts

     We’ve been putting our share of hybrids to the test over the past year. We’ve sampled Toyota’s offerings in the form of the popular Prius and their luxury brand’s Lexus CT 200h. We’ve sampled the family wagon Prius v as well as Chevrolet’s extended range plug-in electric car, the Volt. While each of these vehicles delivers varying levels of reduced consumption of gasoline, not one of them truly puts the electric motor to use for the full benefit of the driving enthusiast. When hybrids first happened on the scene, the enthusiast community couldn’t help but notice that the electric motors that assist (or in the Volt’s case, exclusively provide) propulsion had mountains of instantly available torque. We enthusiasts have had to settle for varying degrees of improved fuel economy with barely any fun thrown in. Finally, an automaker has stepped up to the challenge to use hybrid technology to actually make a sport sedan more sporting. Enter the Infiniti M35h.
     Not quite the superbly styled sedan we would expect from the brand that gave us the G35 and G37 coupes, the M35 looks a bit overinflated. Don’t get us wrong, the long-hood/short deck proportions indicative of a proper rear-wheel-drive sport sedan are there along with the ever attractive six window side glass, but the athletic shapes of the G37 are lost in translation on this largish luxury hybrid.
     Infiniti claims that the M Hybrid has the best of both a worlds: V8 power with 4-cylinder fuel economy. While the highway rating of 32 mpg is hardly impressive for a 4-cylinder, the 27 mpg city and 29 mpg combined rating is hard to fault. Remember, this is a large sedan that seats five in proper comfort and luxury. That economy is due to a combination of a 3.5-liter V6 engine, a 50kW electric motor and a 7-speed automatic transmission. If the M35’s sole output was from the 302 hp V6 we would expect high levels of thrust. Combine the engine output with the electric motor and we receive a hybrid system net power of 360 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque. Not class leading number until you factor in that the electric motor alone wrenches out 199 lb-ft of torque from near-zero rpm. Acceleration doesn’t feel as neck-snapping as all those combined numbers imply, but it is a far cry from the anemic acceleration of the Prius and certainly is devoid of the raspy engine sounds that vehicle produces as its CVT annoys the ears of those expecting engine revs to match vehicle speed. Placing the Infiniti in sport mode certainly made throttle responses more direct while holding engine RPMs higher. This is definately not your average environmentalist’s hybrid.
     The overall hybrid experience in the M35h is subdued and relatively discrete. Gauges indicate to the driver when electric power switches on an off while the tach disconcertingly drops to zero in electric mode. No matter, we quickly got used to the vehicle’s silent operation at traffic lights. Amazingly, the M35h can accelerate to a maximum of 62 mph on electric propulsion alone which is a feat the Prius and CT200h can’t touch. On one occasion we were disturbed to find the car rolling forward briefly after putting the car in reverse while in electric mode. The car didn’t roll forward enough to be a problem but was an unexpected glitch in a hybrid that otherwise performed flawlessly.
     We enjoyed the right-sized steering wheel that was Goldilocks-perfect–not too big and not too small. The meaty grips imply its sporting nature. Arm rests were pleasantly soft and complimented a nicely designed interior. Unfortunately there were a few disappointments, albeit minor ones. The headliner had a mysterious rumple just aft of the overhead console that screamed of the need for better quality control during assembly. Seat heaters were slow to warm up and rear seat passengers complained of seatbelts that locked prematurely during the buckle-up routine before departure. The M35h joins a long list of vehicles that have no need for a back-up camera but are so equipped anyway. This car’s backup camera was a bit useless as it didn’t offer an adaptive guide path showing the car’s eventual position. Instead, there were two simple lines overlaid in the screen that simply project back towards infinity (pun intended).
     While the M35h manages to ride and drive like a premium sport sedan, it is priced like one as well. The starting price is a wallet-lightening $53,700. There are only four boxes that can be checked on the hybrid’s factory installed options list, including a $3,050 Technology Package, a $3,900 Deluxe Touring Package, a $3,450 Premium Package and $650 for 18-inch wheels. Our car was equipped with the Deluxe Touring package which includes a Bose Surround sound system, rear sunshade, leather seating with additional bolstering, genuine White Ash silver powdered wood trim (uniquely pretty), suede-like headliner and something called Forest Air. That Forest Air system is some sort of advanced auto recirculation mode with a Plasmacluster air purifier and Grape Polyphenol Filter. We’re not certain what the benefits of those contraptions are, but we’re guessing it makes one breathe easier.
     Though we weren’t blown away by any one aspect of Infiniti’s performance hybrid, it certainly had no glaring faults. In fact, this car offers everything that a luxury sport sedan should; balanced handling, ample power and acceleration and a comfortable and luxurious interior. Add to this a fuel economy rating that pushes this 360 hp sedan comfortably past the 30 mpg mark and we finally have a hybrid we can get behind for more reasons than just passing the gas station.

The Good:
Ample power, handling and comfort. Above average fuel economy. A hybrid that doesn’t look like a streamlined Aztek.
The Bad:
Overinflated sheetmetal surfaces. Options limited to expensive ‘all or nothing’ packages.
The Verdict:
A true luxury sport sedan that pumps adrenaline instead of fuel.

 Photos by Jason Muxlow


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