Infiniti is deservedly proud of the performance delivered by the M35 Hybrid, and this pride is evident in the marketing tagline, “The world’s fastest hybrid”. Indeed, the M35h sprints to 100km/h from rest in just 5.5 seconds – nearly half a second faster than another fast hybrid that is also its closest competitor, the new Lexus GS450h.
Being seriously quick is not the Infiniti’s only virtue. It is also a handsome machine, with flowing sheet metal and bulging fenders that exude design dynamism. At the front end, an upright double-arch grille and “angry” headlight clusters form the Infiniti corporate face.
The car’s coefficient of drag is a slippery 0.26, thanks to aerodynamic enhancements such as front and rear tyre deflectors, an undercover for both the engine and cabin base, an exhaust wrap, floor side facings and a rear diffuser. On the whole, the wind-cheating big saloon looks athletic yet elegant.
The cockpit is a mix of modernity and tradition. “Fine Vision” electro-luminescent gauges with gear-like rings, a multi-info 8-inch touchscreen and a 16-speaker Bose hi-fi showcase the modern, while the traditional touch is provided by an analogue clock, plush full-grain leather and unique wood trim.
Used for the first time in an automotive application, the white ash wood has a powdered silver coating with five layers of lacquer, laboriously hand-buffed to give it the lustrous finish of fine designer furniture.
Surrounding the classy armchair with 5.1-channel, 16-speaker sound is the Bose hi-fi, which has a 10GB “Music Box” (HDD, in other words) plus the usual CD/DVD, USB and Bluetooth functions.
Literally bringing the audio output closer to the driver and co-driver are two little speakers in each of the front headrests. Sound staging, spatial orientation and overall clarity are decent, but I expected better expression of treble – the high notes seem to be stifled.
The sophisticated “stereo effect” doesn’t end there. Active Noise Cancellation, determined by two microphones located in the cabin ceiling, generates opposite-phase sounds from the subwoofer and door speakers to counteract the unpleasant low-frequency harmonics produced by the V6 engine. The result is an even quieter ride. And it is air-conditioned to perfection, courtesy of a so-called Forest Air System – imagine a gentle breeze of fresh air (ionised by an air purifier) with a tropical tree scent (actually a built-in aroma diffuser). A standard glass sunroof lets you look at real treetops while “smelling” their leaves.
In the corporate jungle, Infiniti has set its sights on BMW and developed its cars accordingly. They are all based on Nissan’s FM (Front-Midship) rear-drive platform.
Infiniti’s M range offers a 2.5-litre V6, two 3.7-litre V6 variants and a 3.5-litre V6 hybrid, which to me is the most intriguing of the bunch. With its one-motor/two-clutch configuration called Infiniti Direct Response Hybrid, the M35h drivetrain is very different from the Lexus hybrid formula of dual electric motors.
The first (dry) clutch is installed between the naturally aspirated 3.5-litre V6 and the 50kW electric motor. This allows full decoupling of the engine when the car is in its electric drive and energy regeneration modes, thus reducing mechanical losses and boosting the efficiency of the electricity.
The second (wet) clutch on the other side of the electro-motor is integrated with the automatic transmission, replacing the usual torque converter. This turns the 7-speeder into a semi-auto with the efficiency of an automated manual.
The electronically controlled gearbox responds instantaneously. Gearchanges are very quick and mostly seamless, except for an occasional “stumble” when the system cannot decide which gear to select!
In the voltage department, Infiniti has chosen lithium-ion instead of Lexus’ proven nickel-metal hydride. Infiniti claims tighter packaging and a 30kg weight saving for its batteries/single-motor setup compared to an equivalent system with Ni-MH and two motors. Keeping the temperature stable in the battery pack are manganese positive electrodes and laminated cells.
On the road, my initial impression of the M35h is that it is more about outright performance than a green conscience. Unlike the hushed silence of a Lexus hybrid, this Infiniti lets out a purposeful but subdued growl to accentuate its sporty character. Step on the power pedal and the car lunges forward with much gusto.
The steering is immediate, with impressive turn-in, although a bit more feel through the wheel would be welcome. The ride is comfy and well controlled over bumps and surface irregularities. Cornering stability and lane-change agility are both top-notch, with the M35h behaving neutrally until the limit of adhesion when terminal understeer sets in.
In the executive saloon segment, the Infiniti M35h rivals the Lexus GS450h and the BMW ActiveHybrid 5. The Lexus is likely to sell on luxury and refinement, while the turbocharged 535-derived Bimmer will score with its sportiness and rock-solid image. Alternative “rock” is what the M35h offers, along with bragging rights as “The world’s fastest hybrid”.
Infiniti M35h 3.5 (A)
Type V6, 24-valves, hybrid
Bore x stroke 95.5mm x 81.4mm
Compression ratio 10.6:1
Max power 302bhp at 6800rpm (total system output 360bhp)
Max torque 350Nm at 5000rpm
Power to weight 196.7bhp per tonne
Gearbox 7-speed automatic with manual select
Driven wheels Rear
0-100km/h 5.5 seconds
Top speed 250km/h (governed)
Consumption 14.3km/L (combined)
Front Double wishbones, coil springs, anti-roll bar
Rear Multi-link, coil springs, anti-roll bar
Front / Rear Ventilated discs
Type Dunlop SP Sport Maxx
Size 245/50 R18
Traction Control ABS with VDC
Kerb Weight 1830kg
Turning Circle 11.2m
Price $279,000 incl. COE
Warranty 3 years/100,000km
+ Great performance with green credentials, wondrous wood trim, nice cabin with chilled front seats
– No paddle-shifters, manual closing of boot lid, battery pack reduces boot space by 30 percent
The Infiniti M35h is currently unavailable in Singapore, but its non-hybrid sibling, the Q70 saloon, still is.
Group Test: Infiniti M35h vs BMW ActiveHybrid 5 vs Lexus GS450h