Car manufacturers across the world are undertaking a slow but steady march towards alternate fuel solutions. The Infiniti M35h and the technology it deploys is a step in the right direction.
The 10 minute test drive
The Infiniti M35h is a high-end luxury sedan with its target tightly trained on its obvious competitor Lexus and the pricier German marquees. In an already crowded market, brand recognition among Aussies will be low, but to be simplistic Infiniti is to Nissan what Lexus is to Toyota.
Handing over $100K for a car is nothing to be scoffed at, so our expectations were justifiably very high. The Infiniti M35h didn’t disappoint.
On the inside there’s an immediate wow factor. Sumptuous double-stitched leather covers the seats, the dash, steering wheel and door trim. Beautifully authentic wood works its way around the cabin, framing the infotainment system and centre console. Every surface is treated with a high degree of prestige and sophistication befitting a car of this nature.
So yes: many cows and a small forest has helped to set the appropriate theme. But the life of the party really arrives once that keyless start button is pressed. From a standing start the M35h is exceptionally quick. Put aside any Prius inspired ignorance, this sedan will bolt to 100 kph in 5.5 seconds. If I can channel my inner bogan for a second, “disabling traction control will see the rear-wheel drive hybrid sedan ‘drop a set'”. Don’t try that in a Prius, by the way.
Lead foot aside, things are decidedly cruisy once you get moving. Life is serenely quite thanks to double glazed glass and a Bose noise cancelling system. It works just like the company’s headphones do, emitting a counter noise to drown out unwanted frequencies.
As a drive, the M35h floats along with little fuss. It’s hardly exhilarating through corners but it suitably cossets occupants without driving like a boat. It’s an impressive ‘limousine-like’ experience.
Ins and outs
The Infiniti’s willingness to hustle from a standing start is thanks to a decent 265kW produced by its combined 3.5-litre V6 and hybrid electric motor. A seven-speed automatic transmission ensures there’s always a cog available to harness the impressive power and typical instant hybrid torque.
But technology is at the very heart and soul of this car.
The most outstanding feature is an array of computer driving aids that all but drive the car for you. Intelligent cruise control uses radar to regulate speed and distance in relation to other traffic. Lane departure wizardry detects and corrects drifting over detectable lane line markings by braking the opposing side wheels. Blind spot monitoring will also intrude if necessary. Distance Control Assistance goes even further by uncannily applying the brakes when approaching a slowing or stopped vehicle in front. It’s possible to travel for long periods without even touching the brake pedal.
There are some issues with this kind of nanny state way of driving. Very few real world drivers adhere to the three second distance gap mantra, very few brake as slowly and safely as the silicon brains determine it’s safe to. With all systems activated driving can be like taking your provisional license test everyday.
There’s an almost comical ‘Eco drive’ mode that coaches exactly how to extract the absolute best fuel economy. The world’s slowest takes offs and uphill acceleration ultimately ensue. Dare to instinctively push harder and you can expect the system to fight back. Having the accelerator pedal prod you back is a little unnerving – it feels like a tennis ball lodged itself behind the pedal.
In other words, we’re not exactly fans of ‘Eco drive’.
Not satisfied with a simple old school automatic dual-climate control system, the Japanese have gone even further with its unique ‘Forest Air” system. Two pleasant forest inspired fragrances are rotated as required to neutralise odours. A sophisticated purification system cleans air and controls humidity. The fan even has the ability to moderate air flow to simulate a natural breeze.
There’s a long list of standard equipment with some of the highlights including satellite navigation with a 7.0 touch screen, Bluetooth, a simply amazing Bose surround sound system with seat-mounted tweet speakers, cooled and heated front seats, sunroof and a nifty rear sunshade.
Having a fair amount of experience when it comes to hybrids (my regular drive is a Toyota Camry Hybrid), I was a fraction disappointed with the Infiniti’s attempt. It works just as well at preserving fuel in crawling traffic and actually comes into play at reasonably higher speeds unlike the Toyota. However the on/off transition from petrol to EV mode can be a little harsh. There’s a notable flutter and vibration as the petrol engine springs back to life. The Toyota system is more refined.
I returned a figure of 8.9L/100km during testing. Infiniti alleges 6.9/100km as an attainable figure. Still, it’s not bad considering it has to shift 1830kg and does so swiftly.
Space for four adults is adequate for medium to long trips, but five would be a stretch. As with most hybrids, the battery robs you of prized boot space, and in the M35h’s case it’s an excessive amount of lost storage space.
Until recently the Infiniti M35h held the title of world’s fasted production hybrid, though it’s since been eclipsed only by BMW’s ActiveHybrid 3. The difference is marginal but the BMW is also slightly cheaper.
But there’s plenty of petrol guzzling relics with performance reputations that precede them that this little beauty will pass like they were nailed to a post.
I also firmly believe in its flowing lines and long, almost Jaguar-nosed looks. It’s far from offensive on the eye. Plus given there are only 3 dealers at the time of publication (Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane) there’s a fare chance you wont see another version on the road for some time.
The lasting impression
Expect to get plenty of ongoing enjoyment and smug satisfaction from the Infiniti M35h. Its abilities are admirable and will be appreciated even more as time goes on. It’s highly original and one of the best cars I’ve driven. Period.
The hip pocket
Take a deep breath because $99,990 is hefty. It’s even more staggering when you consider you can pick one up for around $60,000 in the USA. But we live in Australia and that’s the card we’ve been dealt. In relative terms, it’s actually keenly priced, undercutting rivals such as the Lexus GS 450h ($111,900) and the aforementioned BWM ActiveHybrid ($122,900)\
The EFTM Rubber Stamp
Have no doubts: This is a superb car with remarkable technology inside. It earns the EFTM Credit rating comfortably.