Infiniti M35h review - GT Premium edition

24 October 2012

Infiniti M35h front view

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
Good: Quiet, quick, refined and luxurious
Bad: Poor ergonomics, dismal eco mode, thirsty
Price: GT edition from £42,020
I can’t say I’d ever thought much about Infiniti before climbing aboard the M35h. There are fewer than 1,000 Infinitis of any variety currently plying British roads, so I haven’t seen enough of them to form a strong opinion.

What thoughts I did have ran no deeper than the notion that Infiniti is to Nissan what Lexus is to Toyota – a velvet-rope brand, designed to separate the hoity-toity from the hoi polloi.

But casting an eye across the curves of the car I can’t help but notice this is no Lexus clone, nor is it following that brand’s lead in aping the Germans. The M35h doesn’t seem to have been designed to echo anything else.

The shape doesn’t photograph well – it’s much more attractive to the eye than the shutter – but it is a brave, organic design. And by brave I mean only partly successful. To me it looks a little pinched and narrow from the back and a tad wide-eyed and gape-mouthed at the front, but it is imposing and it isn’t boring.

Infiniti M35h interior

A similar level of courage is exhibited inside, where I sit within a swirl of bold bulbous forms and swooping lines. The materials all feel silkily expensive and fit together like a hand-made glove, although sadly the ergonomics don’t strike me as first class.

There’s a reason why most other premium brands put their twirly digital controllers on the centre tunnel – it avoids a long stretch to the awkward console position that Infiniti has chosen, where there’s nowhere to rest my wrist as I scroll through the myriad options. Many functions can also be controlled via wheel-mounted buttons and toggles, but overall the setup feels a little half-baked.

I also assume, wrongly, that a wheel button or column stalk must surely control the little monochrome display nestling between the instrument clocks. But instead there are buttons lurking at the edges of the instrument shroud, hidden from view behind the wheel’s rim and thus a little hard to operate.

Infiniti M35h instruments

Fortunately, these few concerns are secondary to getting comfortable in the superb seats, or enjoying the M35h’s serene cabin. Noise suppression is librarian grade, and even the air wafting from the vents has been treated to the faint but noticeable scent of pine trees.

I fear the scent might actually be made from freshly mashed bits of forest, because the M35h is certainly not a car for committed tree-huggers. The “h” in the name may stand for hybrid, but the battery and motor are there to prop up a 3.5-litre petrol V6 with a worrying drinking problem. The official figures are 40.9mpg on the combined cycle and 159g/km of CO2, but the best I could manage was an indicated 35mpg.

I can’t, therefore, shower this car with a deluge of praise. By way of comparison the Lexus GS450h F-Sport delivered a figure of 43mpg when driven at similar pace and only fell to 37mpg after a sustained blast along the German autobahn. On rain-soaked British blacktop, the Infiniti M35h should surely have done better.

Pump visits aside, running costs ought to be reasonable for this class of car. With a group 45 rating I had expected insurance inquiries to result in a severe bout of choking, but fully-comp quotes for a middle-aged Londoner (me) proved surprisingly reasonable at under £700. I recommend plumping for an ethical car insurance provider – one offering a healthy dose of carbon offsetting to counter the M’s meagre mileage.

Infiniti M35h mode controller

Consumption might perhaps have proven more frugal were it not for the strangest economy mode I’ve ever encountered. You switch modes via a neat little rotary controller behind the gearlever, but choose “eco” and the resulting transformation is as welcome as a wasp. The throttle pedal literally starts to push back against the ball of your foot to try to stop you using fuel. And not in a smooth or linear manner, as if the accelerator might have gained a stiffer spring. You press down, there’s a moment of hesitant pause, and then the pedal shoves back as if in petulant retaliation.

The result is an eco mode that I couldn’t stick for more than five minutes. As an aid to efficient driving it ranks alongside the economy gauge I once saw in a Lada Samara, which would hammer into the red if a feather fell against the throttle.

The M35h’s remaining modes are, fortunately, less cantankerous. Normal is perfectly pleasant while sport does as you might expect, and delivers a brisk and liquid response to every tweak of your toe. And this is a fast, powerful car when roused. With a combined peak of 359bhp at its disposal the M35h can polish off the dash to 62mph in just 5.5 seconds, comfortably ahead of the 5.9 seconds needed by either the GS450h or BMW’s ActiveHybrid 5-Series.

Infiniti M35h rear view

The Infiniti’s V6 petrol engine peaks at 302bhp while 67bhp (50kW) is offered by the electric motor, drawing on a 1.4kWh lithium-ion battery pack mounted under the boot floor. A pair of clutches allows engine, motor or the combined pair to drive the rear wheels, through a seven-speed automatic transmission.

The Infiniti mixes its petrol and electric ingredients together in a noticeably different way to most other hybrids I’ve driven. Whereas a Prius or indeed a BMW hybrid will bring electric power to the fore at low speeds, the M35h takes the opposite tack. Held at a moderate cruising speed, the Infiniti’s tachometer will often die even as the green “EV” lamp blinks into life. I assume there must be good reason behind this unique electric cruise, even if the bald economy figures might suggest it’s not the best bet.

I returned the M35h to Infiniti rather later than I was meant to and with more than a little reluctance. Flawless it most certainly is not, but there’s a character to this car that I can’t help but admire. Then again, it’s always easy to like a thirsty model when you’re not paying for the fuel.

Infiniti M35h centre console

Step away from that seductive cabin and it suspect it would be hard to make the Infiniti equation add up. Prices for the hybrid start at £42,020 and the version I drove – the M35h GT Premium – costs £45,990 on the road. Given the very stiff opposition available in this particular ballpark, I suspect the M35h is destined to remain what it is today – a rather rarely spotted sight.

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