First Drive: 2012 Infiniti M Hybrid Road Test & Review
As the eco-revolution continues, automakers are embracing the trend in various ways, each trying to find the perfect balance of form and function. Early on, new models were offered up as exultations of singularity, delivering either a hybrid or pure electric powertrain in a funky package designed to elicit a strong emotion relative to the uniqueness factor. Now that the technology is beginning to mature, these alternative methods of locomotion are starting to make their way into existing model lineups as separate trims. The 2012 Infiniti M Hybrid is a shining example of green motoring shoehorned into a legacy platform, with surprisingly good results.
As opposed to the stellar Lexus GS450h, which uses electricity to amplify its gas powered V6 – besting the V8 model both in acceleration and fuel economy – the Infiniti M35 Hybrid focuses more on optimizing gas mileage and less on pure performance. It uses a smaller 3.5-liter V6, as opposed to the Infiniti M37 platform which uses a 330-hp 3.7-liter V6, but serves up 360 net horsepower with the combination of the gas and electric motors. This is significantly less than the V8 and its 420hp, but this combo still allows the M Hybrid to hit 60mph from rest in a respectable 6.1 seconds.
Infiniti has crafted up a marvelous parallel hybrid powertrain that consists of the aforementioned 3.5-liter Atkinson-cycle V6 (302hp) working in tandem with a Lithium-Ion powered single electric motor (rated at 67 hp) kept in check by two clutches (one dry and one wet) sitting between. And of course, the system is designed to rely on the gas motor as little as possible. Nissan utilizes a 1.3-kWh laminated Lithion-Ion battery that is the same size as a nickel-metal-hydride battery pack but sports twice the power.
When cruising at low speeds, the first clutch disengages, cutting off the engine while the motor powers the rear wheels. During full-on acceleration the clutches have no choice but to fully engage as both the engine and motor drive power to the wheels to maximize thrust. During deceleration or just coasting, the first clutch is shut off, thereby disconnecting the engine, while the second clutch stays active. Regenerative braking is used to power up the LI power pack. And at higher speeds, both clutches stay engaged as the engine powers the wheels. The motor and kinetic energy from the wheels help recharge the batteries.
All told, the end result is impressive. Fuel economy is rated at 27 mpg in the city and 32 mpg when cruising at highway speeds. Acceleration is snappy with 258 lb-ft of torque coming by way of the gas-powered VQ-Series engine and another 199 lb-ft of torque from the electric motor. In practice, the switching back and forth between the engine and motor is pretty seamless. Hard acceleration lags for a bit as the car seems to pause for a hot second to question your motives.
Several different modes are available to help the driver interact with the powertrain and a little indicator on the tachometer lets you know if you are taxing the engine. Turning the dial on the console to ECO immediately mutes throttle response and turns the car into a frighteningly slow behemoth that actually feels downright dangerous to drive. The Eco Pedal seeks to keep folks in check and limit "unnecessary" acceleration. When pressed too hard the throttle provides resistance and actually pushes back. You can adjust the amount of resistance as well as just power through, which kicks on an orange flashing EV light as the car gives you a disapproving nod. The system is incredibly effective but unnerving and if left on for too long can give your calf muscles a serious workout. If only the brake had a similar feature we could skip leg day at the gym.
SPORT mode kicks things into high gear by keeping the engine revs high for immediate power. This doesn't negate the electric motor’s interruption but lessens the opportunities for it to kick in and is the most enjoyable driving mode. SNOW naturally limits torque to the wheels to allow for better traction in slippery conditions. And of course, there is a Normal mode which keeps things on even keel.
The automatic transmission is smooth and rows through the 7 gears effortlessly. Infiniti does provide a manual mode to allow drivers more control. The ride is pretty soft as far as luxury cars go as Infiniti had to put a stake in the ground as active suspension wasn't in the cards. The M35h is composed during hard cornering thanks to sway bars but don't get too carried away. The electrohydraulic powered steering is relatively responsive for a beefy cruiser and has a good on-center feel. Braking is linear and stopping power is more than adequate.
The days when safety features in a car consisted of a lapbelt are long past but we are truly entering a new era of driver assistance. And it's a good thing… Driving around town in LA, for example, it's not uncommon to see lots of drivers juggling a Caramel Macchiato in one hand and a cell phone in the other, texting away using a combination of knees and wrists to operate their vehicle. The Infiniti G35h offers a Technology Package which includes blind-spot warning and intervention, lane departure warning and prevention, adaptive cruise control with a distance control assistance as well as intelligent brake assist with forward collision warning. Any of these things can be a life saver with all the distracted driving going on…
These systems have various options that can be turned on and off but overall they are quite helpful and not too overly intrusive. The blind spot detection is something that all cars should offer in this day and age. Rather than activating only when a turn is actually being made, lights in the A-pillar blink each time a car enters a blind spot zone while the turn signal is engaged. The intelligent cruise control system allows you to set a constant speed but will drop down and match speeds of cars in front as congestion materializes, going so far as to stop the car completely in gridlock. In addition, you can set a safe following distance for it to adhere to, with three different range options available.
Lane departure can be helpful when you’re fatigued but the constant beeping sound can be annoying and may encourage you to turn the system off. But if you are tired, the system's ability to use electronic stability control to guide the car back into the lane may be welcome. The same is true for the forward collision avoidance system which is a bit sensitive.
At one point during our road test, a fellow editor and I were cruising down to San Diego when a tarp blew off of the dump trunk ahead and everyone scattered frantically across lanes as the large cloth darted this way and that in the wind. In my daily driver, I would have taken the same kind of evasive action. But in the Infiniti I just stayed the course. In the event that the tarp covered the windshield, with all of the warning systems activated, it would not have been difficult to drive blind for a short period of time and get to a place where it could be pulled off.
Other nice safety features include a tire pressure monitoring system as well both side impact airbags for front seat passengers and roof mounted side air bags. The motorized seatbelt tensioner can be unnerving at first but does relax after if finds a snug fit.
The Dolby-Digital 5.1 Bose system presents an amazing sound stage with 16 speakers strewn throughout the cabin including the shoulders of the front seats. Both the bass and treble reproduction were impressive. The sound sources include all of the usual suspects as well as a 9.3 Gig Music Box hard drive and Bluetooth streaming audio. Speaking of Bluetooth, the phone sync functionality works extremely well but the system lacks the ability to download full lists for voice command calling. You have to add each one by one which is inconvenient. And the streaming audio controls only allow for Play and Pause.
The navigation system is clearly one of the most stellar we’ve reviewed and could be best-in-class with a few minor updates. Maps are stored on a hard drive so response is fast but the graphic overlays are a bit tired and not nearly as visually stunning as some of the recent offerings from other manufacturers. Infiniti did update the interaction with the system by going with a combo joystick dial that allows you to not only twist and turn but click up, down, left and right as well. And, of course, you can also directly interact with the 8-inch VGA touchscreen. Traffic and weather are provided by XM, and Zagat restaurant reviews are available but not much else.
The base price of the Infiniti M35h is $53,700. Our model came loaded with the Technology Package ($3,800), Deluxe Touring Package ($3,800), Premium Package ($3,350) and 18-inch wheel package ($650) for a grand total of $65,395 including the destination charge.
The 2012 Infiniti M Hybrid is an extremely compelling offering for those looking for a roomy luxury sedan that can claim bragging rights as a hybrid. The powertrain is capable and competent and one of the best we've come across. We're not lovers of the exterior design but it does depart from the amorphous blobs that much of the industry has been producing and is distinguished if nothing else. The interior cabin is welcoming, intuitive and laden with luxury appointments. The driving technology is top notch but the navigation and Bluetooth system could use some more love.