If there was ever a time to truly test the M35h’s ability to sip fuel and run on electricity alone, this night certainly wasn’t it. Temperatures plummeted, gale-force winds (30-40 mph) rocked southern Michigan, and for reasons completely unrelated to weather, my wife and I were running late for a hockey game located 53 miles away by freeway.
Instead, this scenario allowed me to experience the other facet of the M35h’s personality: power. This car moves at a fairly good clip when the drive selector is placed on “normal,” but it’s surprisingly potent once moved to “sport.” That may not be too surprising when you view the net horsepower figure (360 hp), but you can’t help be a bit startled when the car quickly jumps off the line. In this mode, the M35h feels more like the muscular M56 than a fuel-stingy, tree-hugging hybrid. Trying to keep the car in EV mode, even in “Eco” mode, can grow a bit tiring – no matter how finessed your right foot may be, any attempt to slowly increase your speed usually results in the reawakening of the V-6.
I love this latest iteration of M; the curvaceous exterior, incredibly posh interior, and refined road manners are addicting, regardless of the powertrain selected. The hybrid certainly is an interesting choice: while more expensive than a six-cylinder M37 ($53,700 vs $47,700), it is considerably more powerful, and both less expensive and more fuel-efficient than the eight-cylinder M56. Apart from 60 horsepower and the availability of all-wheel-drive, you don’t lose much by choosing the M35h over the M56.
Evan McCausland, Associate Web Editor
If you love big, fast, luxurious, and beautiful sedans; are OK with spending more than $50K; but still hate the idea of combined-fuel-economy figures that are lower than the legal drinking age, then the Infiniti M Hybrid might be the perfect car for you.
Did I mention it’s fast? Every time I nailed the gas pedal, I had a hard time stifling my smile, brought on by the fact that a car this big and nice could be so quick with only a normally aspirated six-cylinder under the hood. Of course, the hybrid assistant enhances power much like a turbocharger would — and improve fuel economy at the same time. At 29 mpg, the M35h’s EPA combined rating is just 1-mpg less than that of my wife’s new, small, cheap Ford Focus.
The M Hybrid keeps track of how many miles it has traveled in electric-only mode, and I was fairly impressed to see that the figure was about ten percent of the car’s total odometer reading (1877 miles of EV driving in 11850 miles); my total was 10.7 miles of 118.
After using the V-6 engine to accelerate, I was able to maintain 40 mph in EV mode, and I got the engine to shut off a few times while going down hills on the highway at 70 mph or so. The trip computer reported 26.5 mpg for my time with the car.
The hybrid system is far from transparently perfect, though. Sometimes when the internal-combustion engine kicks back in, it does so harshly. And that’s whether in sport mode or normal. (I left the car in normal mode most of the time, because it felt smoother and was still plenty quick for my needs.) Also, the brakes feel very, very spongy; in fact, I haven’t felt a hybrid’s brakes feel this unnatural in quite a while. I also found the steering feel to be unnatural and rubbery.
Rusty Blackwell, Copy Editor
There’s something fishy going on here. The last Infiniti M35h I drove had far better integration of the hybrid and conventional drivetrain, and of the regenerative and friction brakes. It’s even possible this very car is the last M35h I drove, since it’s the same color. Could it have suffered abuse at the hands of the press members who have driven it since? Or is it that the cold temperatures wreaking havoc on the calibration? My limited time behind the wheel didn’t allow me to find the answer to the questions.
I certainly like the idea of the M35h. It gives most of the benefits of the V-8 car for less money and it burns a lot less fuel. Assuming the integration of the various electrical and mechanical systems is up to snuff, I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend this car to anyone looking for a hybrid in this segment. Unfortunately, I can’t say the powertrain is totally integrated after this drive. We need to do a more comprehensive test before I can render a final verdict.
Phil Floraday, Senior Web Editor
Infiniti recently took an M35h to a drag strip in the U.K., recorded a quarter-mile time of 13.9 seconds, and thus set a Guinness World Record for the “fastest accelerating full hybrid.” That’s the sort of hybrid car that I can get behind. Intriguingly, if you are driving the M35h in “Eco” mode and accelerate hard, the Eco light in the instrument cluster changes from green to amber, as if to scold you for wasting fossil fuels.
When driven sensibly, the M35h is very quiet and very efficient. As Rusty notes, you can drive with the engine off quite frequently, so long as you let the battery recharge under braking. My main concern, however, was that inconsistent brake pedal feel (due to the transition from regenerative to friction braking) made it hard to drive the M35h smoothly in the city.
Jake Holmes, Associate Web Editor
If raw power is what you want, the M35h certainly puts down plenty to the rear wheels, thus obliterating any notions you might have that hybrid cars are slow and engineered solely for fuel economy. On the contrary; I drove to work this morning in the rain and enjoyed spinning the rear wheels as I accelerated away from every intersection and around every corner. My appreciation for the M35h’s copious power notwithstanding, I find the overall driving experience to be wooden, and I was intrigued to see Phil Floraday’s comments because I, too, had better memories of how the M35h drove in the past. From what I’ve heard about the new BMW 5-Series hybrid, it apparently drives much like a regular 5-series, without the artificiality in braking and steering responses that I experienced in this Infiniti. Sounds like we’ll need to conduct a head-to-head comparison of the two sedans soon.
Joe DeMatio, Deputy Editor
Phil, Joe, and I have all driven the same two Infiniti M Hybrids and we’ve each come to the same conclusions without consulting each other: the first one was a smooth, fluid performer and the second one was a jerky, unpolished mess. Maybe it was a matter of car-to-car variation or hard-driving journalists, but I’m convinced that it was simply a matter of where and how we drove the cars. We experienced our first M Hybrid in rural Michigan, where traffic and traffic enforcement are nonexistent, so beyond puttering out of the parking lot and a few four-way stops, driving is a high-speed, steady-state affair. Here in Ann Arbor, the reality of the city creates a much more thorough test of the M’s 3.5-liter V-6, seven-speed transmission, 67-hp electric motor, and the software that ties them all together.
In the ebb and flow of traffic, the M Hybrid struggled to provide smooth transitions between coasting, acceleration, and deceleration. Switching between electric and hybrid operation comes with noticeable surges to the powertrain and the gearbox frequently hunts — up, down, up — for a different cog while the vehicle wafts along between 25 and 40 mph. And regardless of if you’re braking or accelerating, vehicle responses are always one beat behind pedal inputs. This clumsiness wouldn’t be forgivable in a Toyota, so it’s definitely not acceptable in an Infiniti.
Eric Tingwall, Associate Editor
I’m a huge fan of the Infiniti M, but not this one. The hybrid’s rough edges, well documented by my colleagues, rob the car of its sharpness and fluidity. Sure, it has a lot of power, but if you can’t trust the brakes, what’s the point. I also thought the car felt heavier, and in fact, it does weigh some 100 pounds more than an M56 and 200 pounds more than an M37. For these tradeoffs, the hybrid does deliver good fuel economy – a whopping 11 mpg better than the M56 in the city. Will this mean much to a person with $55,000 to spend on a car? Infiniti and other luxury brands seem to think so. I’m still inclined to believe otherwise.
On the brighter side, the parts of the M Hybrid that are shared with other M sedans remain excellent. The steering is sharp and accurate. The interior is one of my favorites, with organic shapes and unusually grained wood trim that seem sculpted rather than mass-produced. Infiniti’s infotainment system, once the best on the market, has lost a step to the newest iterations of BMW iDrive and Audi MMI, but is still easy enough to use. Overall, the M remains near the top of my list in a segment full of really good cars.
David Zenlea, Assistant Editor
2012 Infiniti M35h
MSRP (with destination): $54,595
PRICE AS TESTED: $61,745
3.5-liter DOHC V-6
Horsepower: 302 hp @ 6800rpm
Torque : 258 lb-ft @ 5000rpm
Horsepower: 67 hp @ 1770 rpm
Torque: 199 lb-ft @ 1770 rpm
Net horsepower: 360 hp
WHEELS AND TIRES:
18-inch aluminum wheels
245/50VR-18 Michelin Primacy MXM4 tires
FUEL ECONOMY (city/highway/combined):
Cargo: 11.3 cu ft
Legroom (front/rear): 44.0/36.2 in
Headroom (front/rear): 39.1/37.7 in
10-way power heated front seats
Sequential welcome lighting
Power tilt-and-telescopic steering column
Keyless entry and ignition
Automatic dual-zone climate control
Hybrid power/charge meter
Active noise control
Rear seat climate control vents
Entry and exit assist system for driver
Pedestrian vehicle sound
SiriusXM satellite radio w/3-month subscription
Rain-sensing windshield wipers
HID xenon headlights
Stability and traction control
Tire pressure monitoring system
OPTIONS ON THIS VEHICLE:
Deluxe Touring package- $3800
White ash wood trim
Semi-aniline leather seats
Bose premium audio system
Forest Air system
Soft double-stitched meter hood
Power rear sunshade
Premium package- $3350
Hard-drive navigation w/SiriusXM traffic and weather
8-inch touchscreen display
9.3GB music hard drive
Climate-controlled front seats
Heated steering wheel
KEY OPTIONS NOT ON THIS VEHICLE:
Technology package- $3050
This is Infiniti’s first hybrid vehicle, which can drive on electric power alone at speeds up to 62 mph.