The Infiniti M35h sedan is officially the world’s fastest mass produced hybrid, even faster than the significantly more expensive Porsche Panamera Hybrid.
The words hybrid and fast have historically never been mixable, partially due to our preconceived notion that hybrid technology is all about saving the King Penguins and growing virtual trees. Over time though, that attitude has begun to change and now you can buy a totally practical and luxurious hybrid family sedan that can sprint from 0-100km/h in just 5.5 seconds.
To put that into perspective, a current-generation V12 Aston Martin DB9 supercar does the same dash in 4.5 seconds, a mere second faster. So you can see why we are a tad excited about a hybrid that is more concerned about performance than saving the planet.
Ignoring all its environment credentials (and there are a fair few), this hybrid is an Infiniti, meaning it’s all about being something the others are not. Its direct rival, the Lexus GS450h ($99,900 to $121,900), is arguably incomparable. Not because it’s better or worse, but because these two cars are likely to appeal to a slightly different buying group. Sure, both are hybrids and both are luxury sedans, but the Infiniti M35h has an X-factor that's hard to replicate.
Power comes from a 3.5-litre V6 producing 225 kW (at 6,800 rpm) and 350 Nm of torque (at 5,000 rpm). Combine that with an electric motor (powered by a Lithium-ion battery pack – as oppose to older-generation Nickel-Metal Hydride batteries used in most hybrids) that produces 50 kW (at 1,700 rpm) and 270 Nm (at 1,770 rpm) and you get a total combined power of 268kW, about the same as a small V8 or a turbocharged V6 engine but with significantly more torque than both.
Our approximate testing showed the M35h going from 0-100km/h in 6.1 seconds, which was hard to believe given how smooth it accelerated and how little noise in made in the process. When it’s time to drive efficiently, the M35h can do about two kilometres on just electric power (at up to 120km/h) before the petrol engine kicks in for support.
Of course the main reason a hybrid exists is to bring about better fuel efficiency and reduce carbon emissions. This not only helps the manufacturer in meeting ever tightening government CO2 requirements but also the customer in saving fuel. The Infiniti M35h manages a respectable 6.9L/100km fuel economy figure (no official Australian figures) and emits 159g of CO2 per kilometer. Which makes it a very close competitor of the newly launched Lexus GS450h (6.3L/100km and 147 grams of CO2 per kilometer).
Looking at it from the outside the Infiniti M sedan is certainly not as outlandish as the Infiniti FX range but it isn’t conservative in its styling either. Infiniti’s entire purpose for existing is to offer something the other’s do not and we certainly have enough BMW 5 Series, Mercedes-Benz E-Class, Lexus GS and Audi A6s running around.
Although looks are subjective, we felt the front end styling to be bold and the curvature of the bonnet giving a very distinct look when sitting behind the wheel. Side on it’s a little more subdued and can be mistaken for many other cars already on sale. The rear-end design is also a little underwhelming and it’s hard to see the family look when compared to the FX.
Behind the wheel the Infiniti M35h is a pleasant place to be, quiet and spacious. Although it looks smaller than it really is (thanks to its long length and relatively narrow body), the M35h can equal its German and Japanese rivals for interior space, but lacks simple things like rear door pockets. Unlike the Infiniti FX range, the M35h has an updated interior that is more distinctive from its Nissan counterparts. There are easily recognizable Nissan features found inside but overall it’s far more upmarket than its SUV cousin.
The bulging centre instrument cluster hosts a seven-inch satellite navigation touchscreen (upgradable to eight-inch) that controls everything from audio to destination entry. It’s not as high resolution as the iDrive system found in the BMW 5 Series and not as big as the gigantic 12.3-inch screen found in the new Lexus GS (standard models have an eight inch screen), but it’s comparable to the COMAND system found in the Mercedes-Benz E-Class.
The overall cabin quality is pretty good, but it all depends on the price (which we are not yet privy to) to put everything into perspective. If it’s going to cost the same as the Lexus GS450h, than it’s going to find it hard to convince buyers that it’s offering more for the same coin. Whilst the Lexus may appear conservative from the outside, it’s got a seriously upmarket interior that even puts the Germans on watch.
Nonetheless, there are some interesting and unique features as well. For a start there’s a Bose noise cancelling system (part of the 16-speaker sound system) that emits a corresponding sound to cancel out a certain frequency of sound generated by the engine (similar to how your noise cancelling headphones work). This means a far quieter cabin than the FX, but it’s hard to say if it’s any better than its main rivals as we haven’t had a chance to test them back-to-back.
Our favourite feature is the intelligent key system which can distinguish between the two separate keys to remember the last used audio, navigation, climate control settings, seat and steering wheel positions for each key. A great feature if you intend to share the car with your significant other.
From a practicality point of view, the main downside is the boot space, which is smaller than all its rivals (even less than a Ford Focus hatch). The M35h’s 350L boot is compromised by its Lithium-ion battery pack but it’s still more than enough for the weekly shopping or a few suitcases.
Ride and handling is reasonable for a car its size but the tyres wrapped around its standard 18-inch wheels felt as though they were more concerned about rolling resistance than grip. A rather ironic compromise, given the M35h’s fast accelerating nature. Around Queenstown’s many corners we felt the Infiniti sedan to be well balanced and easy to drive, it presented the occasional kick back but nothing out of the ordinary. It’s much closer in feel to the 5 Series and Lexus GS than the E-Class.
When it comes down to it, it’s hard to find many real faults with the Infiniti M35h. It’s a pure and honest hybrid that also happens to be faster and more fuel efficient than its M37 (3.7-litre V6) and M30d (3.0L turbodiesel) siblings. The best feature of the car is the use of a standard seven-speed automatic transmission, as oppose to the usual CVTs we are used to seeing in hybrids, including the GS450h. This requires the use of two clutches (given there are two power units going through the same gearbox) to make it happen and it results in an excellent power delivery system that is emphasised by its world’s fastest hybrid crown.
The Infiniti M35h presents a good overall package that will give buyers yet another choice in the ever-complicated large luxury sedan segment. It may pose a serious threat to its German and Japanese rivals if it’s priced accordingly, but that still remains to be seen.
Driveline features for the Infiniti M sedan range:
- Infiniti M35h features a standard 3.5-litre, 24-valve DOHC aluminium-alloy V6 producing 225 kW at 6,800 rpm and 350 Nm of torque at 5,000 rpm. This is partnered with an electric motor (and lithium-ion battery pack) that produces 50 kW at 1,700 rpm and 270 Nm at 1,770 rpm. Total combined IC/electric engine power is 268kW.
- Infiniti M37 features a standard 3.7-litre VVEL, 24-valve DOHC aluminium-alloy V6 producing 235 kW @ 7,000 rpm and 362 Nm of torque @ 5,200 rpm
- Infiniti M30d features a standard 3.0-litre, 24-valve, DOHC, turbo-diesel V6 with a single variable nozzle turbocharger and piezo injection technology, producing 175 kW @ 3,750 rpm and 550 Nm of torque @ 1,750 rpm