2013 INFINITI M REVIEW
Vehicle Style: Large hybrid luxury sedan
Price: $99,900 (plus on-roads)
Fuel Economy claimed: 6.9 l/100km | tested:10.3 l/100km
Infiniti’s ambitious plan to carve out a foothold in the Australian luxury car market hinges on being different. Different styling, different pricing and a different approach to luxury motoring.
Take, for example, the M35h. It might wear hybrid badges on its flanks, but the driving experience is anything but dull.
In fact, a 0-100km/h sprint time of 5.5 seconds makes this a seriously fast hybrid (quicker than a Porsche Panamera S Hybrid, for instance).
Its exterior and interior styling also challenges conventions. It’s hard to find a straight line on the M35h, both inside and out.
But is Infiniti’s M35h GT Premium just different for the sake of “being different”, or do these differences make it better than the competition?
Quality: Build quality is superb in the M, but interior styling and switchgear are weak points.
While this reviewer had no qualms about the organic, curvaceous styling of the interior, others struggled with it. Likewise the white ash wood trim, whose burnished edges polarised views.
We also found the climate control switchgear to be placed just a little too far away to be practical, and the little rotary switches for the seat heaters/coolers required a very close visual inspection to check what setting they were on.
But materials are top-notch and so is fit and finish. The leather upholstery is smooth and supple, and panel gaps tight and consistent.
Comfort: The M’s big front seats are like La-Z-Boys, such is their comfort. There’s acres of room to move, and loads of adjustment in the seats and steering column.
The back seats are less satisfying, particularly for taller passengers (headroom is limited) but rear face-level air outlets are a plus, as are height-adjustable headrests and a power retractable sunblind.
Equipment: This is the flagship of the Infiniti range, and it’s stuffed full of all kinds of techno-gear, all as standard.
First, there are the luxury staples of dual-zone climate control, keyless entry and ignition, auto-on wipers, dusk-sensing bi-xenon headlamps, power folding mirrors, 10-way power adjustable seats and steering column, parking sensors, sat-nav and a sunroof.
Then there’s Bluetooth phone and audio integration, air-purifier, radar-assisted active cruise control, blind-spot monitor, ‘lane keep’ assist, heated and chilled front seats, power retractable rear sunblind, reversing camera and a thumping 16-speaker Bose sound system with 10GB on onboard music storage.
Storage: At 350 litres, the M35h’s boot is small even by modern hatchback standards. The lithium-ion battery pack behind the rear seats eats into so much boot space that owners will struggle to carry more than a couple of suitcases.
ON THE ROAD
Driveability: The M35h is blessed with the rev-loving 225kW 3.5 litre naturally aspirated engine from the last-generation 350Z. It’s augmented by a 50kW/270Nm electric motor sandwiched between the engine and transmission, where the torque converter would ordinarily be.
The combined output of the petrol/electric powertrain is a healthy 268kW and 350Nm, the electric motor fattening up the torque curve at low RPM. .
Operating together, the petrol/electric powertrain can produce quite savage thrust in the big Infiniti. Torque delivery is instantaneous (a key characteristic of electric motors), and, given the beans, the M35h can burn rubber on dry pavement with ease.
Infiniti quotes a 0-100km/h time of just 5.5 seconds - which up until recently qualified it as the world’s fastest hybrid. Our own testing had it a shade slower to 100km/h, tripping the timer at 5.65 seconds.
It’s quick, then. Most assuredly.
But the M35h has a couple of other tricks up its sleeve. At highway speeds it can cruise on electric power alone, a feat that most other hybrids can’t match (although the moment the road inclines, the petrol engine kicks in).
There’s enough battery capacity to drive the M35h on electric power for about two kilometres. In heavy peak-hour traffic the Infiniti can crawl through on a gentle wave of electric torque, for significant fuel-saving benefits.
Unfortunately, when crawling, there’s no way to keep the M35h in electric-only mode - anything other than a feather-light touch on the accelerator will have the engine powering up.
Unlike many existing hybrids, the M35h takes drive to the rear wheels via a seven-speed conventional automatic transmission, not a CVT.
It’s a fantastic gearbox. Shifts between gears are smooth and there’s plenty of ratio choices to keep the engine working at its best.
A manual shift-mode is standard, but when an automatic is this good there’s little need to choose your own gears.
Refinement: On the whole, the M35h is buttery-smooth. Sound suppression is superb and vibration is well isolated, but we noticed a couple of minor drivetrain refinement issues.
When driving under electric power alone, there’s a small jolt as the gearbox shifts from first to second. The transition between electric and petrol power could also be smoother.
Suspension: Although there’s plenty of straight line thrust, the M35h feels floppy once it arrives at a corner with significant body roll. Also, for a car carrying a GT badge, the stability control is intrusive and easily-triggered.
But this isn’t a car for attacking mountain roads - the M35h is for gliding from hotel driveway to opera house in silky-smooth comfort. Those big sidewalls and soft springs mean road imperfections all but disappear.
Braking: Like many cars equipped with regenerative braking, the M35h suffers from inconsistent brake pedal feel.
There’s a pronounced change in braking force as the car switches between brake energy regen and the conventional hydraulic brake system, and modulating the pedal smoothly can be a small challenge at times.
ANCAP rating: Not tested
Safety features: Standard safety includes ABS, EBD, brake assist, traction control and stability control.
On the flagship M35h, there’s also Infiniti’s “Dyanamic Safety Shield”, which, at the press of a button, uses the forward-facing radar, lane-keeping cameras and rear-facing radar to keep the the car placed a safe distance from other cars.
If the system judges another vehicle or object is approaching too quickly, it will brake autonomously to reduce the chance of an impact.
Passengers are protected by front, front side and full-length curtain airbags, as well as three-point seatbelts, anti-whiplash front headrests and pre-tensioning front seatbelts.
WARRANTY AND SERVICING
Warranty: 4 years, or 100,000km.
Service costs: Maintenance costs can vary. Contact your local Infiniti dealer.
HOW IT COMPARES | VALUE FOR MONEY
Lexus GS 450h Luxury ($99,900) - The Lexus GS 450h benefits from two things - time in the market and a well-recognised badge.
However, in Luxury spec the GS 450h can’t match the M35h for value, nor is its hybrid powertrain able to cruise on electric power at 100km/h like the Infiniti can.
The GS is more refined though, and slightly roomier in the back. (see GS reviews)
BMW Activehybrid 5 ($122,900) - BMW’s first large hybrid places a greater emphasis on performance, although its 250kW turbocharged 3.0 litre six and electric motor combo can’t match the M35h in a straight line sprint.
But it’s got 450Nm of torque - 100Nm more than the M35h - and handling is much sharper. The Infiniti’s feature list though betters the BMW. (see 5 Series reviews)
Note: all prices are Manufacturer’s List Price and do not include dealer delivery or on-road costs.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
A week in Infiniti’s M35h leaves the strong impression of a car that quite doesn’t know what it wants to be. Is it a luxury cruiser, sport sedan, or eco-warrior? The M35h tries to be all three, but doesn’t quite succeed.
It’s different, yes, but is compromised.
But before you think we’re being too harsh, we can find plenty to like about Infiniti’s flagship M35h sedan.
The fact its electric motor is strong enough to single-handedly propel the 1.8-tonne M35h at highway speed is impressive. Also, the luxury features on offer for less than $100k is a strong plus in its favour, as is the ride comfort.
But that tiny boot is a handicap, and so is the love-it-or-hate-it styling.
Luxury hybrids are a very small market niche; we suspect M35h sales will account for only a sliver of that market.
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