Infiniti M35hybrid first drive

Infiniti M35hybridInfiniti is the premium brand from Nissan rather like Lexus is the premium brand from Toyota.

But unlike Lexus, Infiniti does not aim to be a volume brand and sells only in 34 markets around the World with the USA being its most successful.  Their current range of high performance but expensive models includes saloons, coupés, convertibles, SUVs and crossovers. 

They are sold and serviced through a dedicated network of Infiniti Centres or dealerships focusing on individual service to the customer.  In the UK there are more counties than dealers with most boutique Centres being positioned close to prosperous business and commercial communities.  These Centres are in Reading, London Piccadilly, Stockport, Leeds, Glasgow, Birmingham and Hull and each has their own business cars advisors. So Infiniti drivers in the UK are most likely to be business executives and probably, because of the rarity and high performance values, add in a few highly paid professional footballers and sports stars.

In the UK just 374 Infiniti cars were sold in the first nine months of this year but that was a 67 per cent increase over the same period last year.  In total 382 Infiniti cars were sold in the UK in the whole of last year and just 232 in the whole of 2010.  The brand is growing slowly and it remains very much a niche performer.

But there are signs things are changing. Recently they have upped their PR function to gain their brand a higher profile and of course they are sponsorship and technology partners with the Red Bull/Renault F1 team.

On the UK sales front they have recently introduced a business user specific version of their best selling M four door executive saloon. The new M35h Hybrid Business Edition, based on the M35h GT variant, is priced at £42.020 but most likely, given the type of customer the brand attracts, the £399 per month finance deal and 22 per cent Benefit-in-Kind company car tax will be most appealing. Others will find the 155mph top speed  and the zero to 62mph acceleration time of just 5.5-seconds has appeal especially as it is claimed to make the M35h the world’s fastest accelerating hybrid saloon – something for some owners to brag about in the ‘mine’s faster than yours’ conversation.

Infiniti M35hybridMy test Infiniti was the M35h GT Premium priced at £45,990 on-the-road.  The M four door executive saloon is a Japanese competitor to the likes of the BMW 5-Series, the Mercedes-Benz E-Class, Audi A6, Jaguar XF and Lexus GS/IS ranges. 

The Infiniti M range has the option of three engine choices; 3.7-litre V6, 315bhp petrol, 3.5-litre, V6, 359bhp petrol/hybrid and the best selling 3.0-litre V6, 235bhp diesel.  All versions have an automatic transmission as standard. Depending on the engine chosen there is the choice of GT, GT Premium, S and S Premium levels of specification plus the new Hybrid Business addition which is available until the end of this year.  Currently 55 per cent of buyers opt for the diesel engine, 25 per cent for the petrol hybrid and the remaining 20 per cent go for the petrol model. Prices range from £38,930 up to £46,810.

With the M35h petrol/hybrid being just £1,840 more expensive than its diesel powered GT Premium counterpart, it still makes quite a lot of tax and fuel cost sense to go the hybrid route.  Company car tax for an executive high performance hybrid saloon is a very reasonable 22 per cent because of the low CO2 emissions of 159g/km against 199g/km for the diesel which results in 33 per cent BIK. Road tax for the hybrid is £170 a year; the diesel is £460 in the First Year rate reducing to £250 for the second year onwards. The petrol/hybrid will officially return 40.9mpg in the Combined Cycle and the diesel 37.7mpg and both are much better in terms of running costs than the petrol only 27.7mpg and 235g/km version. All M saloons have a top speed limited to 155mph but the petrol/hybrid is much the fastest for zero to 65mph acceleration at just 5.5 seconds whilst the diesel takes 7.5 seconds and the petrol variant 6.2 seconds.

Infiniti M35hybridAll M four door roomy saloon models have a very high level of specification as standard no matter what level is chosen. All are beautifully built and they all have the same long bonnet, pronounced front wings, wide front track, coupe side profile and wide shoulder rear wheelarches with sculptured side sills linking the body shape together.  It is an imposing executive saloon and the styling projects a sports image rather than a dull business workhorse. On the down-side the hybrid’s lithium-ion battery pack, positioned behind the rear seat backs, eats into the boot space with 350-litre of space rather than the non-hybrid versions 500-litres. Under the load floor, thankfully, there is a space saver spare wheel and not an inflation kit.

The specification for GT variants includes a seven speed automatic transmission as standard with normal, sport, ECO and snow modes. Hybrid versions also have an approaching vehicle sound warning system for pedestrians. There is premium leather upholstery, heated and ventilated climate controlled powered front seats, heated steering wheel, Bi-Xenon adaptive front lighting with cornering headlights, cruise control, 18-inch alloy wheels, air conditioning and electrically operated windows and door mirrors. The GT Premium model as tested additions include blind spot warning, forward collision warning, intelligent cruise control, lane departure warning, ‘Forest Air’ climate control, 30GB navigation system and a 16-speaker superb Bose surround sound system.

The M35h impressed me by its eerie interior quietness thanks to the silky smooth V6, 302bhp petrol engine and silent 67bhp electric motor which is embedded within the transmission. As well as powering the car when needed the electric motor acts as a generator and starter motor and it recovers energy normally lost during deceleration and braking. This system also does away with the need for a torque converter used in many conventional automatic transmissions.

Infiniti M35hybridGenerally the gearchanges were seamless and the move from petrol-only drive to petrol/electric to electric-only was not noticeable. Only the rev counter needle dropping to zero and the tiny EV light coming on indicated electric power only was in operation. Just as surprising and impressive was how often the M35h could automatically switch to using just electric motor power and at speeds up to 60mph.  When the car was under light cruising mode, even on a motorway, seeing the EV light on with no petrol being used was financially comforting. Most of the time I used the ECO mode setting which really was no hardship given our congested roads. With the usual A/B road traffic all moving at speeds around 50mph you just do not need dynamic performance. Cruising at high motorway speeds in the ECO setting, 2,000rpm maintains 80mph. Overall the fuel economy covering motorways, A/B country roads and the usual town stop/start traffic resulted in 33.4mpg, not the 40.4mpg official figure but impressive none-the-less for a petrol/hybrid performance executive saloon.

The ride comfort was generally pleasing, much better than BMW/Audi sports spec competitors, but the handling was less direct and the responses not as sharp. Switching from ECO to normal mode brought the car to life and then from normal to sport really lit the fuse. The acceleration is stunning and faster than a BMW 535i M-Sport saloon.  I’m not sure if any other executive saloon sheds its ECO mode to ‘sports’ performance so quickly and easily.

Infiniti M35hybridOverall I would term the Infiniti M35h as very interesting in terms of technology. The way the electric motor is positioned within the transmission is clever and it really works.   There is no bulky electric motor taking up more space in the engine compartment or in the boot.  If only battery manufacturers could reduce the size and weight of the battery packs then this form of hybrid electric boost power would be an even larger step forward.  However the Infiniti hybrid system is significant step towards hybrid technology becoming an intricate component in all drivetrains no matter what the car is, just like it has in F1 racing.

MILESTONES. Infiniti M35h GT Premium Executive 4-Door Saloon. Price: £45,990. Engine/transmission: 3.5-litre, V6 petrol engine, 302bhp and 258lb ft of torque at 5,000rpm plus 67bhp and 199lb ft of torque at 1,770rpm from the embedded electric motor, 7-speed auto, rear wheel drive. Performance: 155mph restricted top speed, 0-62mph 5.5 seconds, 40.9mpg (33.4mpg on test), CO2 159g/km, VED road tax £170, BIK company car tax 22%.Insurance group: 45. For: Very clever and efficient compact petrol/electric hybrid propulsion system, financially advantageous tax savings for a petrol engined executive car, high performance, smooth, quite, comfortable, high equipment levels. Against: Battery pack reduces boot space, foot operated parking brake, small number of UK sales and service Centres.     Miles Better News Agency

Worth Checking - Motoring news - Road Tests

Like it? Share it!

FacebookMySpaceTwitterDiggDeliciousStumbleuponGoogle BookmarksNewsvineLinkedinRSS Feed


GRIT Clothing