Infiniti M35h Driven

Capacious, imposing, and a bit different, Infiniti’s first production hybrid is also the most powerful car the company has ever assembled. But can Nissan’s luxury division reposition themselves at the forefront of environmental performance?

A hybrid design

It’s not particularly easy for Infiniti to infiltrate the Western saloon market, especially when aesthetic weighs heavily on the conscience of potential buyers. Potential buyers, that is, who have grown up knowing BMW, Audi and Mercedes cars – manufacturers who more-or-less formulated the concept of the modern executive saloon. Infiniti, therefore, need something different, and in between breathtaking design concepts evidenced in the Essence and Emerg-e, they have created the M35h.

Infiniti’s illustrious Vice President of Design, Shiro Nakamura, has said that the design for all Infiniti cars comes from a single brush stroke, something that is patent in the M35 from the car’s incredibly smooth silhouette.  It’s the car’s Essence-inspired beltline, however, that is indicative of Infiniti’s design language.

Arching over the front wheels before leveling out underneath the wing mirrors, the beltline then rises over the rear haunches, much in the style of a coupe.  Take the roof off the M35, in fact, and you’re left with a rather convincing (if slightly elongated) drophead form. This shoulder falls away at the rear, although the boot lip features a faint ducktail that is intended to aid stability. Bear in mind that the M35h is limited to 155mph.

The supporting role to this unusual contour is played by a softer, but no less important, crease line that runs below it. Originating from the foremost corner of the headlights, it runs the entire length of the car, all five metres of it no less, and into the rear light. It’s an ambitious feature that, when viewed from certain angles, changes the entire personality of the M35h.

The front graphic appears to be an exercise in controlled aggression. It leers down the road in a way that entirely suits the car’s imperious driving style. Whilst it is understandable to experience public curiosity in low-volume electric cars, it was surprising to find that the relatively conservative M35h attracted a considerable amount of attention, too. The rear graphic, however, is as pinched and awkward as the front is purposeful.

Inside, the M35h is luxuriously appointed with a dynamism that sets it apart from its illustrious German rivals.

With Bose speakers set into the shoulders of wingback-esque leather seats, an armrest wider than most city-cars, and swathes of varnished wood, the wraparound interior feels every inch the M35h’s £42,000 asking price.  Many will prefer a more austere interior, but for those who enjoy a little variety, features such as the cascading centre-stack that plateaus under a 7” LCD screen and purple-rimmed instrument binnacles are likely to hit the spot.

Naturally, the M35h comes equipped with adaptive cruise-control and a lane departure warning system as well as plenty of readouts (digital and analogue) pertaining to the hybrid aspect of its drivetrain.

The M35h won’t be to everybody’s artistic tastes, particularly in regard to the unresolved rear three-quarter and slightly cumbersome dimensions. It’s certainly a resolute looking machine, however, with a wonderfully atypical interior that cossets and unwinds its occupants.

A hybrid drivetrain  

The M35h marks the debut for Infiniti’s Direct Response Hybrid Technology, and consists of a powerful 3.5-litre V6 mated to a 50kW electric motor. Total combined power is 359bhp.

It’s an efficient drivetrain, partly due to its use of two clutches; one each side of the single electric motor/7-speed gearbox unit in the middle. The first clutch can completely decouple when the car is sending pure electric drive to the rear wheels, or when the driver ‘coasts’ – even at very high speeds. For example, if you are approaching traffic on the motorway and release the throttle to slow the car down, the V6 in the front is rendered redundant as the clutch decouples and, consequentially, revs drops to zero. This may sound a little gimmicky, but if you drive 10,000 miles a year it will tell. The system also contributes to the M35h’s impressive 160g/km CO2 emissions rating, and allowed us to manage 33.0mpg at motorway speeds.

What happens when you put your foot down is equally impressive.  The 302bhp V6 swells progressively and, without much drama, you’re suddenly flying down the road. If you ask everything of the M35h in acceleration, the 68bhp electric motor actually works in tandem with the engine. When electrical power is not required, however, energy sent through the motor, from the V6 (to the rear wheels), is used to recharge the battery for use in urban environments. Regenerative brakes also help recoup energy that is otherwise lost.

It’s certainly an odd sensation gliding along silently is something as colossal as the M35h, and feels much the same as the Porsche Panamera Hybrid. The motor alone can sustain speeds of up to 60mph, although this is unlikely to occur in the real world – any more than 20% throttle and the engine kicks in (it takes more than a little patience to reach 60mph using just 20% throttle). A fully charged battery provides a few miles of electric-only drive, but the idea is to use the engine and electric motor sequentially – pulling away silently for a couple of hundred yards before letting the engine creep in. It’s a system that works well in the stop-start traffic of London.

The driver can also select ‘Eco’ modes (amongst ‘normal’, ‘sport’, and ‘snow’), which blunts the throttle response and uses the gearbox too keep revs relatively low. There is, however, another trick called ‘Eco Pedal’, where pressure on the throttle is met with resistance to encourage the driver to think about whether they really need more power. Clever, but we’ll be fine without it.

Superficially, it’s easy to see the Infiniti M35h as a contradiction, but surprisingly low emissions and an innovative single electric-motor drivetrain mean its crushing performance is tempered with commendable eco-technology. And whilst it's difficult to recommend the petrol and diesel M variants Infiniti make against strong German rivals, the hybrid option makes a strong case for itself.      

Engine: 3498 V6 petrol, 50kW electric motor Power: 359bhp combined 0-60mph: 5.5 seconds Top speed: 155mph CO2 emissions: 169g/km Economy: 40.9mph Price: £42,020          

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