By on September 14, 2011

Let’s face it, hybrids are boring. They are slow, complicated, come with hard tires and soft suspensions, sloppy handling, and they look weird. We’ve heard the story before: this hybrid is different. First Lexus gave us the GS and RX hybrids claiming V8 performance with V6 fuel economy, but the result was more like V6 performance with V6 economy, not really a great sales pitch. Still, hybrids sell well and with Infiniti marching towards mainstream luxury success they “need” a hybrid. Of course, with Infiniti aiming to be the “Japanese BMW”, performance is obviously a prime concern, so the claim from Infiniti that the M35h will deliver “V8 performance and four-cylinder economy” was expected. But is it another case of leather clad disappointment? Let’s find out.

Not too long ago Infiniti dropped off a new M56x at my doorstep, at that time I didn’t much care for the styling, commenting: “Every time I approached the car I felt as if an enormous box-fish was going to devour me.” While the Infiniti M still looks hungry to me, seeing more of them on the road has perhaps warmed me up to the design and I find the form more attractive than before. As we often point out on TTAC, style is terribly subjective and subject to our own personal leanings, so take my opinion with a grain of salt if you like the look. My informal lunch group’s opinions were mixed with some loving the flowing curves and some preferring sharp creases in their sheet metal alá Cadillac and Mercedes.

Inside the M35h (and much like the M56x) there is little to find fault with. But there is also little to identify this M as the hybrid that saves the world and your testosterone. The only change to the well put together cabin for hybrid duty is the charge/power gauge in the cluster replacing the engine temperature gauge found on other M models. The center stack, nav system and trim are all the same (with the hybrid specific software teaks of course) and there are no blue back-lit hybrid badges, EV mode buttons, or displays with growing leaves to be found. This is the sleeper hybrid if there ever was one.

The lack of hybrid bling does not mean the M35h lacks tech, quite the contrary. The M35h gets the same suite of standard and optional gadgets as the base M37, not a bad list to pull from. The 7-inch standard infotainment screen does everything but navigation, iPod and USB integration with Bluetooth speakerphone is standard as is the 6-speaker Infiniti auto system with a single in dash CD player and XM satellite radio. Opting for the $3,350 “premium package” gets you Infiniti’s easy to use navigation system with a high-resolution 8-inch display, Bose 5.1 channel surround sound system with speakers in the seat backs, voice controlled functions, heated steering wheel and cooled front thrones and active cabin nose canceling.

Should you desire the latest in driving nannies, Infiniti is happy to oblige with radar cruise control, collision warning and prevention, lane departure warning and prevention and an accelerator pedal that fights back. The accelerator pedal is perhaps the nanny that people will find the most fault with, especially if you are an aggressive driver. The feature can of course be turned off, but if dialed up to full-on German-au-pair, it will fight you hard, forcing the pedal back at you if you’re driving uneconomically or if it thinks you are getting too close to a car, or if it feels like it needs to stop the car NOW. While I dislike the thought of a car that drives for me, honestly at least half the drivers on the road need this pedal stat. Not that we condone distracted driving, but if you needed to, this car could help you accomplish the feat more safely.

The hybrid system is where the M35h departs from the regular M or the hither-to-normal hybrid. Until recently if you bought a hybrid in North America, you had one of three systems. Honda’s weak-sauce Integrated Motor Assist system just puts a motor between the engine and transmission and is essentially a start/stop system with some extra oomph. GM/BMW/Mercedes developed a crazy-expensive and crazy-complex 2-mode hybrid system which seems to be dying a slow death in the market [Ed: until CAFE rescued the investment]. And lastly we have the original true hybrid system, the Toyota/Ford system which uses a planetary gearbox to allow the engine, motor or both to drive the vehicle. Infiniti took a different approach to “hybridification” by removing the torque converter from a regular 7-speed automatic transmission and in its place stuffing a slim electric motor with two clutch packs (similar to the Hyundai/Kia hybrid system). These clutch packs are what make the Infiniti system innovative and different from the Honda IMA system.

Starting at the front of the car and working your way back, you first find a Nissan 3.5L V6 engine running on the Atkinson cycle (like most hybrids) putting out 302HP and 258lb-ft of twist. After the engine sits a dry clutch pack that allows the engine to start and run while decoupled from the electric motor. Next up we have a 360V AC motor that’s good for 67HP and 199lb-ft directly coupled to the Nissan 7-speed automatic transmission. Located inside the rear of the transmission is a wet clutch pack that allows the engine and motor to be connected with one another to charge the batteries with the vehicle stationary (it also slips to help make gear changes smoother). Decoupling the V6 reduces mechanical losses boosting the electric drive efficiency; this is an area where Honda’s system suffers. Behind the rear seats a 1.4kW lithium-ion battery, wedged where you’d put the 5th bag of golf clubs (Infiniti says a quartet of golfers can still be accommodated and they kindly print a diagram in the trunk to tell you how to manage it). And the final  change is a tall 2.6:1 final drive ratio allowing the V6 to spin leisurely on the freeway (1,600RPM at 60MPH).

Hybrid systems like Toyota’s Hybrid Synergy Drive combine the motor and engine numbers in a way that is not simple addition (google is you must know why), however Infiniti’s system is easy to figure: the peak number is achieved where the HP and torque curves of the engine and motor meet, making the M35h good for a combined 360HP at 6,500RPM and approximately 410lb-ft at 5200RPM. Note: Our combined torque number is an estimate as Infniti does not officially list a combined rating; the “online” 457lb-ft numbers floating around are not accurate according to Infiniti because when the V6’s 258lb-ft peak does not align with the motor’s 199lb-ft peak.

The high torque of the electric motor from very low RPMs make the M35h far faster than the numbers on paper would imply, we easily recorded 5.2 second runs to 60MPH with our lowest taking only 5.03 seconds. The low 1.9 second sprint to 30MPH (the M56 takes 2.3) is perhaps the most telling number because by the time the spedo crested 100 the M35h had lost its lead on the V8 powered M56 clocking a 13.5 second ¼ mile at 103MPH (vs 13.4 at 106 for the V8). Part of the reason the performance is so good is the weight gain, at only 276lbs heavier than the M37, the M35h manages to be 99-lbs heavier than the M56 and slips in just below the AWD M56x on the scales. (The Lexus GS450h is only five pounds heavier.) Stoplight racers be warned however, that after a few 0-60 runs the battery and motor heat up enough that the control circuitry puts the kibosh on at least a portion of the electric assist and by the 6th back-to-back 0-60 run our times had risen to 6.2 seconds.

If you drive the M35h on a normal commute and not a track day, the EPA claims you’ll achieve 27MPG city, 32 highway and 29 combined. In our 7 days and 820 miles with the M35h we averaged a quite respectable 29.1MPG (excluding our track adventures, photo shoots, etc) in our mixed driving of mostly California freeway and rural mountain highway. Our numbers were no doubt buoyed by moderate traffic and a general inability to exceed 72MPH on the highways in the SF Bay Area. Infiniti claims the system will allow you to drive electric only up to 62MPH but in reality there didn’t seem to be much of an upper limit for the EV functionality provided you were gentle on the go-pedal. This is also a key area where the M35h differs from a Prius, to drive at 65MPH, the Prius has to use the engine because of the design of the transmission, the M35h on the other hand just disconnects the engine from the equation. While on a level highway with the cruise control set to 67MPH the hybrid system would switch in and out of electric only mode fairly often with my daily commute spending some 19% of the time in “EV mode” (22% for the lifetime of the car) as figured by the trip computer.

Since the M37 delivered some 22MPG on the same commute, the efficiency gain is noticeable. Thankfully hypermiling skills were not required to achieve our test numbers, but perhaps more strangely a daily jaunt testing all the hypermiling skills from Prius forums didn’t appreciably bump the numbers either. Since Infiniti opted to keep the grippy all-season tires from the non-hybrid M, and thanks to the nearly perfect weight balance, it was possible to test the economy figures on some of my favorite mountain roads. When driven this way the economy certainly drops like a rock (17MPG for that trip), which may sound bad, but put in perspective the lighter G37 convertible scored 11MPG on the same route.

What’s the M35h’s competition? By my estimation it competes most directly with the Lexus GS450h, a sedan that is not long for this world. Since the 2013 GS450h has yet to be announced officially, a comparison to the current hybrid GS is all I can offer. In this match up the GS offers a suitably swish cabin that has aged well but is a definite step behind the M35h’s silver-dist rubbed goodness (the 2013 GS I was able to preview at Pebble Beach has a competitive cabin, but is not a substantial step above the M35h). The GS is also significantly behind the M when it comes to fuel sipping delivering only 22/25/23 (city/highway/combined) EPA numbers, a substantial 26% lower than the 27/32/29MPG numbers Infiniti scored. If that weren’t enough of a shot across the bow of the company known for their hybrid tech, the M also wears a 20% smaller CO2 footprint, if you care about that sort of thing. Driving pleasure in the GS is limited by the CVT that is the heart of the Lexus Hybrid Sybergy Drive system, but that may be balanced out by the M35’s less polished transitions between gasoline and electric power.

With a base price undercutting Lexus by $5,250 and offering more interior room, a real transmisison and improved economy I’d take the M35h over the GS450 any day. Unfortunately like most hybrid cars the M35h has less of a value proposition when compared to its own non-hybrid brethren. The M37 which is cheaper, delivers 8/10ths the speed, 8/10ths the fuel economy and perhaps 11/10ths the luxury feel due to the sometimes quirky nature of the hybrid clutch packs the M35h uses. At the end of the day the M35h is far from a leather clad disappointment like other luxury hybrids, but as long as the M37 is available for sale, I just don’t see the M35h enjoying a place in my garage.

Not a fan of our Facebook page? Too bad. For out Facebook peeps, here’s what you wanted to know: Jason M: Smugness level is similar to a Prius, 1/2 the economy but 2X the car. Andy A: No paddle shifters. Clay C. I tried, but BlendTech doesn’t carry a car-sized blender. Phillip W: We never reached battery depletion levels, try as we might. This is easier in Toyota hybrids because putting the car in N disconnects the generator, the M will still connect the generator whenever it feels like it, N or not. Mirko R: Yes. Marc C: Mileage depends greatly on how you drive, we did however average 29.1 which is the combined EPA number in mixed driving, moderate speeds, moderate acceleration. Sergio P: No idea what the batteries will sell for, my dealer didn’t know either. J S: Not quite sure why Autoblog thought it was more refined than the Lexus system. Infiniti’s solution is perhaps more interesting, and it is newer, but it isn’t as smooth. Given the choice, I’d take the Infiniti.

Infiniti provided the vehicle for our review, insurance and one tank of gas.

Specifications as tested
0-30: 1.9 Seconds
0-60: 5.0 Seconds
¼ Mile: 13.5 Seconds @ 103MPH
Average Fuel Economy: 29.1 MPH
Miles Driven: 820


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29 Comments on “Review: 2012 Infiniti M35h Hybrid...”

  • avatar

    The problem with the exterior styling: this car was designed for the 20-inch wheels that appear in all of the ads, but you can’t get the 20s with AWD or the hybrid. With the standard 18s the fenders appear much more massive.

    When I drove the M37 I also felt like the A-pillar was positioned unusually far inward, as if this were a classic roadster and not a current largish luxury sedan. Did you notice anything similar, Alex?

    I’ll have one of these in early November. Maybe it’s not the sort of thing you notice after a few days.

    • 0 avatar
      Alex L. Dykes

      MK, The A pillar position didn’t really bother me that much, nor did the smaller wheels to be honest. I’ve never been one to like large wheels in general, I think it’s a personal taste issue there and some people like ’em bigger. I’d be most interested to see your take on the transmission and clutch behaviour, that really is an area where I think a differing opinion is not only possible but likely. The extremely swoopy/bubbly style is what I wasn’t a huge fan of, but I’m warming up to it now. I think perhaps the fairly upright dash makes the A pillar seem a bit closer than in other designs.

    • 0 avatar

      Too many curves make the M too feminine for me. It looks like a fish – and not the menacing “shark”-like fish that a BMW resembles. It looks more like a catfish or other type that tends to end up in sushi – to me.

      I think the M37 is the best deal and I see no reason for the M56 to exist. The Hybrid version, I’d only get so I can park in “Hybrid only” spaces or abuse HOV lane rules.

  • avatar
    Felis Concolor

    In keeping with the active pedal theme, Toyota should also offer a proper “Big Foot” styled throttle pedal as an option.

    I love that instructional graphic in the trunk: “stack the bodies in this order.”

  • avatar

    The accelerator pedal is perhaps the nanny that people will find the most fault with, especially if you are an aggressive driver.

    Hey, if it’s good enough for a Boeing 777, it’s good enough for me.

  • avatar

    Is the radar cruise any better than the horror story it is with Mercedes’ Distronic system?

    With that, even with the system adjusted for the shortest following distance you have to leave far more than an adequate stopping distance between yourself and the car in front, and if you try to go beyond this the Nanny will whack the brakes on causing you to bite large chunks out of the dashboard.

    Furthermore, you don’t have the option of using it as an ordinary cruise control; it’s radar or nothing. Several hundred quid badly spent.

    • 0 avatar
      Alex L. Dykes

      I don’t find Mercedes’ “Distronic Plus” system a horror story at all, I actually find that Volvo and Mercedes’ latest systems are probably the best in the bunch. Infiniti does allow you to disable the radar portion (if I recall correctly) but that also disables all the nannies as well (all or nothing).

      If you radar cruise, why are you using the go pedal anyway? The whole point is for a more relaxed driving experience, and conversely, if you want to do the pedals yourself, why is the cruise on?

      But, to answer your actual question, if you are driving in such a way that the Merc slaps on the braked hard when you let go of the accelerator, then the Infiniti’s nannies will give you the smack down, it will forcibly push the accelerator pedal up from the floor and then apply the brakes without waiting for your right foot to lift from the accelerator. If you don’t like it, don’t buy the option.

      • 0 avatar

        I just find it somewhat heavy-handed in operation, even during foot-free operation when you’re not driving especially gung-ho. When the radar senses slower traffic it tends to slow the car pretty abruptly, far more so than seems necessary. Afterwards, when you pull back into a clear lane it accelerates far harder than I’d want to, too. It’s like somebody with digital feet is in control.

        It’s a shame, because when you’re paid to sell them it helps if you have faith in the product. When a customer ponies up for a GL he’s pretty likely to want it full-house, just in case he regrets not having something that all his golf-club buddies do.

        Good review BTW, of a car we’ve only just started to see over here.

  • avatar

    That’s very nice graining on the wood.

  • avatar

    I quite like the styling, it looks like a Maserati.

  • avatar

    Still looks like a Super-Maxima to me. I also agree with Mike that the 18″ wheels are really undersized, and the 20s apparently ride too hard. Cabin tech might be comparable to BMW and Mercedes, but the suspension tech isn’t.

    Koni FSDs might be able to solve the ride problem on 20s, but nothing can solve the “base model” looks of the undersized wheels. I think Infiniti would be smart to replace those with 19s.

    Still, Infiniti deserves credit for such an overall improvement over this car’s bland, unrefined, noisy predecessor, and that goes double for the awful joke that was the short lived, unloved first gen M.

    There’s still no way I’d take one over the 2012 A6, however.

  • avatar

    Why not? The Infinity will likely be more reliable than the Audi.

    • 0 avatar

      Based on typical Nissan reliability? Not likely.

      • 0 avatar

        For whatever reason, the Japanese-built Infinitis appear to have better reliability than the U.S.-built Nissans. I think this is less because of the factories themselves, and more because of the greater influence of Le Cost Cutter on the parts and systems sourced for the non-Japanese models — I suspect the company’s ties to longtime Japan-market suppliers have proven harder for him to break.

  • avatar

    “We’ve heard the story before: this hybrid is different. First Lexus gave us the GS and RX hybrids claiming V8 performance with V6 fuel economy, but the result was more like V6 performance with V6 economy”

    I think you’re quite wrong on this one. The GS450H was quicker to 60 than the GS430 and it was nearly 30% more efficient in city driving and 20% more efficient combined. It was also quicker to 60 than the M45 of the same year.

    The RX400H was quicker than the gas RX330 (though not V8 powered) and it was 40% more fuel efficient in the city and about 25% more efficient combined. It was also about the same to 60 as the V8 powered FX45.

    Lexus delivered on their promise with these cars…and the upside was less fuel burned and fewer emissions.

  • avatar

    Maybe they should figure out a way to get this engine in the Z car. 30 MPG and 0-60 in less than five seconds? That’d be cool. If they don’t want to make the Z car as fast as the pony cars, it needs a niche.

  • avatar

    This is not a good looking car. I’d get a Blue-tec E-Class over this any day.

  • avatar

    I seem to be a minority opinion, but I loved the looks of the last-gen M, and I think they ruined its understated good looks with this one in a fevered effort to make an Italian-style visual statement. I can say for sure that they trashed the rear-seat room in the attempt, which is pretty inexcusable in a car this enormous.

    They seem to have fixed the faults that rendered the M35 useless as a daily driver: a pointless and exhausting boy-racer exhaust note, and a too-high set of ratios that made the car wind frantically with horrible gas mileage and NVH results even at ordinary highway speed. Too bad they fixed what wasn’t broken in the process.

  • avatar

    The low 1.9 second sprint to 30MPH (the M56 takes 2.3) . . .

    Better tires or just better weight distribution?

    • 0 avatar
      Alex L. Dykes

      It’s the 199ft-lbs at almost zero RPM that help this time. The motor is directly connected to the transmission meaning there is no torque converter to slush things up.

      • 0 avatar

        While that would help with the street start and in normal driving, I doubt that’s the determining factor on launch. Both cars must already be traction limited with the many hundreds of ft-lb that the engine/torque converter combination can provide to the transmission input shaft.

        I see that Car and Driver managed 0-30 in 2.0 seconds for both the M56 and M35h. The M35h had better weight distribution (51/49 vs. 55/45 on the M56) while the M56 had grippier tires (245/40R20 Bridgestone Potenza RE050A summer tires vs. 245/50R18 Michelin Primacy MXM4 all-seasons on the M35h). With similar tires, the M35h’s weight distribution would certainly give it the edge on a launch. I’d chalk it up to that.

  • avatar

    Alex why so negative towards hybrids and Lexus? GS450h is prime example of V8 acceleration with low V6 fuel consumption.
    Current GS450h is faster than 335i (which is equivalent or even faster than most 4.0L+ NA V8 sedans)
    You are totally underplaying the importance of seamless and quick reacting Lexus Hybrid CVT gearbox which gives unique strong continuous 0-250kmh acceleration. None of the other hybrids have that. But current model is almost 6 years old.

    New genaration specs are (Frankfurt show information):

    CO2 Emissions combined (g/km) – below 145
    Max. Output (252kW) 343DIN hp
    0 – 100km/h (s) 5,9
    Fuel consumption, combined (l/100km) 6,3 (37.33 mpg)

    To get that kind of acceleration and power figures with such low emissions and fuel consumption is great achievement in my opinion. Since European taxation is based on co2 figures, new GS450h is really attractive proposition in Europe.

    • 0 avatar
      Alex L. Dykes

      The new 2013 GS450h is not available for sale or testing yet and was officially announced after the review of the M35h was completed. The 2011 GS450h we tested in comparison to the M35h delivered 21MPG average vs the 29+ in the Infiniti. My 10 year old Jaguar XJ8 avages 20MPG, so this is not a huge achievement. Even the 2013’s 0-60 times are slower. While I like the Prius and the LS600h, the CVT is just not a terribly fun car to drive hard on mountain roads.

      I look forward to the new 2013 GS hybrid, it looks like the switch to the Atkinson cycle ans other tweaks have really boosted the fuel economy of the GS, and the interior (I have been in the 2013 but have not driven it yet) is competitive with the best from BMW and Audi including the new Lexus navigation system. The new GS450h looks like it will offer far more tech than the M35h, nicer seats with similar adjustment points to BMW’s sport seats, and unquestionably a more luxurious driving experience. The M35h will likely still be more fun to drive.

      With the 0-60 times, the quotes GS450h 0-60 is faster than the quoted 335i’s time, however Lexus is accurate (as they usually are) and BMW underrates (as they usually do as well). The automatic equipped 335i we tested ran to 60 in 5.3

      • 0 avatar


        Bear in mind that when Lexus was proclaiming “V6 economy with V8 power” it was when both vehicles were released…in 2006. And at the time, their statement was absolutely true. And most 450h owners are averaging in the mid 20s with little difficulty. Here’s a fuel economy log of an owner

        Oh…and the GS450h will bury your XJ8 in acceleration…. :)

  • avatar

    Wow, with all of this love for the GS450h, you think somebody would’ve bought one. The truth was that it was barely faster than the GS350, and managed to eek out an extra what, ONE MPG? Maybe TWO? And for all that, you get to hand over an extra $10K! What’s not to love? I’ll tell you what, an extra 400lbs. or so, and SEVEN POINT FIVE cu.ft of trunk space, which is nearly half down from the standard GS’s already pathetic 12.7 or so.

    Combine that with the bad interior packaging, mediocre seats, and bland design, and whaddaya know, nobody bought one.

    The 450h was just the Lexus version of the Honda Accord hybrid.

  • avatar

    Yeah, mountain roads. I like Initial D too. The the most common route to commute.

    An enthusiast should know, the truth is not in the 0-60 times. Highway overtaking and quick bursts from 20,30 to 50-60 and 50-60 to whataver speeds… is where actually where the power is needed. And there the GS hybrid shines. The GS hybrid critics are funny, most of them have never driven one. But the car is special. The way it drives. It is not M3 or some other corner-loving high-revving machine. But the way it drives and accelerates is truly special. A true enthusiast should recgonize that.

    Comparing GS hybrid to Accord hybrid in not even funny.

  • avatar

    “…Note: Our combined torque number is an estimate as Infniti does not officially list a combined rating; the “online” 457lb-ft numbers floating around are not accurate according to Infiniti because when the V6′s 258lb-ft peak does not align with the motor’s 199lb-ft peak…”

    Because when the V6’s 258lb-ft peak does not align with the motor’s 199lb-ft peak…what? Did I miss the last part of the statement?

  • avatar

    Alex, It looks like you were in my neighborhood. Is that Windy Hill?

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