First Drive: 2012 Infiniti M35h

Nissan's first in-house-developed hybrid will be on sale in the spring of next year in the form of the 2012 Infiniti M35h. The Nissan Altima Hybrid, which is available only in a handful of states, borrows Toyota's Hybrid Synergy Drive technology. Being a brand focused on premium, sporty cars, you can be sure that the mooing we've become accustomed to from four-cylinder CVT hybrids will not be part of the M35h's package.

That package consists mainly of a 1.3-kWh lithium-ion battery pack, along with a powerful electric motor. At a technology seminar in Japan, Infiniti's engineers told us that the M35h's 360-volt motor is rated at 50kW (67 hp) at 2000 rpm and 199 lb-ft of torque. The system eschews a complicated CVT for a much simpler design where the AC motor is mounted in-line with the engine and 7-speed automatic transmission. A dry clutch takes the place of a torque converter and allows the gasoline engine to be completely decoupled from the driveline. A wet clutchpack at the back of the transmission performs two functions: firstly, it helps smooth out the powertrain by allowing some slippage during shifts and when the gas engine is being switched on and off. Secondly, by opening, it allows the engine to turn the motor/generator to charge the batteries with the vehicle stationary.

The gas engine itself is a VQ35DE running Atkinson cycle. (For those of you not geeky enough to memorize Nissan's engine codes, VQ stands for the familiar series of 60-degree V-6s; 35 denotes its 3.5-liter displacement. D = DOHC, and E = electronic control.) Note this engine isn't a 3.7-liter, nor is there a "HR" (high-revving) or "VHR" (very high revving) in the code. It also does not use VVEL infinitely variable valve lift. While the VQ35DE does have variable valve timing on all four camshafts, it's tuned for efficiency rather than maximum revs.

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