Review: 2012 Infiniti M35h

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Daddy likes this car.  Daddy really, really likes this car.  Now I just need a sugar momma to buy me one.

I recently spent a week with an Infiniti M35h.  Turns out you can really enjoy saving the planet.

The M35h sits in the middle of the M-family.  Although it’s not the ignored, forgotten middle-child.  It seems as though it got more attention than the other kids here.  It sits above the M37 and below the M56.  The M35h didn’t come with an invoice, so I priced it out online.  It comes in at CDN $69,370.00 including freight/PDE.  It’s not cheap, but I see that there are essentially no option packages available for this car.  It comes loaded as described here, and the only thing you can add on are some goofy accessories – moonroof wind deflector, anyone?  Come ON!

If you’re not familiar with it, the “h” in the name stands for hybrid.  And when I said you’ll be saving the planet, that’s a bit rich.  But we’ll get to that later.

Infiniti uses a gas/electric hybrid that, through the ingenious use of a second clutch, can decouple the engine and run on purely electric mode when it sees fit.  The system works pretty well.  Under the beautifully sculpted hood you’ll find a humongous shroud labelled “HYBRID” and that’s about it.  It’s very clean under there, which I find unfortunate.  I miss being able to see manifolds and intake runners and all the beautiful things that make cars go.  Anyway, that shroud is hiding a 3.5 Litre V-6 running on the efficient but torque-poor Atkinson cycle, putting out 306 HP and 258 lb.ft of torque.  This mates with a 67 HP electric motor, that churns out 199 lb.ft of delicious, instantly-available torque.  The combined peak (the highest combined power you’ll see) is 360 HP @ 6500 RPM and a yummy 410 lb.ft of torque at 5200 RPM.

This ooey-gooey goodness goes through an exceptional 7-speed automatic, which I’ll talk about in The Drive, and drives only the rear axle.

Let’s talk fuel economy.  This is considered a performance hybrid, so you’d be better off to consider it a more capable version of the M37, with no penalty at the pump instead of a highly-efficient version of that car.  It outperforms the M37, but gets better mileage.  Of course, you’re also paying more for it.

The M35h is rated at 8.7 L/100 km (27 mpg) in the city, 7.4 L/100 km (32 mpg) on the highway and a very nice 8.1 L/100 km (29 mpg) for the combined cycle.  Of course it’s tough to achieve EPA ratings when you’re a real person on Earth – unless you’re coasting downhill with a tailwind, but I actually did very well with this car.  I observed 6.7 L/100 km (36 mpg) in slow city commuting.  Seriously.  As astounding as that is, I was almost more impressed with the mileage I saw when I wasn’t driving slowly or even remotely efficiently.  Driving with a heavy foot, often with 4 adults in the vehicle, and barely ever trying for any measure of efficiency, I still saw the car get 10.5 L/100 km (22 mpg).

Sure, 10.5 L/100 km isn’t something that will make the world go round.  But it is in a car that’s over 4100 pounds, and has been measured doing the 0-60 sprint in 5.2 to 5.5 seconds.  I used to own an Audi S4, which was about this fast, and it could barely get 10.5 L/100 km on the highway, cruising at 120 km/h.  So this impresses me greatly.  Even more so because I couldn’t even fit my entire family in the Audi.

 

Exterior

My first impression was “Whoa!  This is a big car!”  But it’s not.  It’s not a small car, but there are significantly bigger cars out there.  It looks bigger than it is.  I absolutely loved the styling.  It’s hard to explain – but let’s start this way.  Consider it the complete opposite to Cadillac’s school of design, where you’ll find Caddy’s cut out of sharp angles, lines and creases.  This car is a lovely combination of smooth, flowing lines – curves that travel down the side of the body and over the rear shoulders, and curvaceous, hour-glass figure hints in a number of places.  Does it sound like I might be smitten with this car?

One of the most sensuous elements is the hood – the hood itself swoops low, and sits over an aggressive grille.  Sure, it looks a bit like a hungry carp coming at you, but I love it.  The front fenders, however, are gorgeously sculpted and raise up significantly higher than the hood, and this view is best enjoyed from the front seats.

I found the car had a nice balance between looking solid and heavy, yet retaining a sense of athleticism and a muscular stance.  The long hood and relatively short rear deck give this car great proportions and the roofline slopes toward the back with a sharkfin antenna sitting on top.  The trunk lid is surprisingly stubby.  The car looks classy.

Walk around it and you’ll notice nice chrome touches – the grille, rings around the foglights, etc.  The headlight pods are swept back in Nissan/Infiniti’s way of doing things and contain HID lights.

I liked the huge side-view mirrors (for how well they work), and the nicely styled rims with 245/50-18 sized rubber on them.  At the back, you’ll find double horseshoes on their side LED tail lights, and two big oval tailpipes.  Badging on this car is simple – the model designation on the back, and “HYBRID” on the cowl on both sides.

Interior

If it seems like I’ve been gushing…. well, I have.  I was thoroughly impressed by this car.  The materials in the M35h are exceptional.  The plastics are beautiful, and soft to the touch.  The leather is supple and comfortable.  There is lovely stitching throughout the car, and even the carpets are thicker and the headliner is softer than what you might expect in a vehicle.

Plop your weary rear end into one of the most comfortable seats I’ve sat in, adjust it any of the 10 ways possible, and get ready to give ‘er.  Oh, before you do that, admire the unique, swooping, wavy leather panels stitched together to make up the seats – they’re styled unlike anything I’ve seen before, and I liked it.  The driver’s seat has a two-position memory, and both front seats are heated and cooled, using a rotary knob on the console.

The seats offer good bolstering but lean slightly toward comfort over performance.  Go ahead and close the door, enjoying the Teutonic thunk, instead of a clunk.

In front of you sits a traditional set of gauges in a double-domed instrument bin surrounded by nice stitched material – you’ll find a tach, a speedometer, the fuel gauge and a power/charge gauge specific to the hybrid.

Grasp the comfortable steering wheel.  Soak in the stunning wood trim around the car.  Whatever that material is, it really worked for me – and got a lot of appreciative comments from passengers.  It’s a grey-brown wood treatment, and the grain is lovely, and it’s used liberally – including on the door panels front and back.

The sunroof eats into your headroom a bit, leaving you less than you might think in a car this big.

The shift lever is just about perfect, and I couldn’t help but want to hold it while driving.  Manufacturers building sports cars could take notes on how this automatic lever feels, and copy it for their manual boxes.  It has a manual function, where you slap the shifter up or down to change gears – no paddles on the wheel however.

Beside the shift lever is a lidded ashtray with a “cigar” lighter – a weird touch these days.

Everything around the cabin just felt right to me.  The switchgear is flawless, with great precision, tactile feedback and resistance.  The hinges for all the lids are smooth and silent.  The interior just felt well thought-out and well executed.  It feels thoroughly modern and progressive, and yet it retains a sense of style and character.

 

Tech/Convenience

This might be a long section again.  I can’t think of much that this car doesn’t do, tech-wise or convenience-wise.  Take a deep breath – here we go:

Getting into the car is no problem – even when it’s dark, as there are cool white LED lights in the front door handle spaces.  There’s a keyless fob, and a push-start ignition to go with it.  Power window, door and mirror controls are on the driver’s door – right where they belong.  There is a power sunshade in the rear window, controlled with a button by the driver.

At the top of the center stack you’ll find a big 8″ touch screen – it’s bright, very fast and responsive and covers a lot of ground in terms of what it can display.

Below the screen are the controls for dual-zone, automatic climate control.

Below that are the controls for the navigation system, including a rotary joystick button to control the screen functions – if you prefer that to the touchy-feely way of doing things. The navigation system is fast, accurate and worked well for me and it offers good graphics.

Further down, you’ll come upon controls for the media system, and a single CD slot.  All the controls I’ve noted here are extremely simple, and work very well.

The media system will feed off AM, FM, XM satellite radio, CD or USB sources.  The USB plug, along with a 12V plug, are located in the centre console bin.  The sound system is a BOSE one, and although I hate BOSE home systems, I have come to enjoy their vehicle ones quite a bit.  This was no exception.  It was powerful and effortless for most of the stuff I listened to.  It plays through a ludicrous amount of speakers.  I counted three per front door, a center channel, one per back door, two on the back shelf and a subwoofer.  Oh, and two on top of each front seat for good measure – for surround effects, apparently.  That adds up to at least 16 speakers.  Honestly, that seems a bit retarded to me, and I’m sure the performance could be achieved with less speakers, but I suppose this is a major win if you subscribe to the MOAR SPEAKERS theory – call it bragging rights.

The back-up camera includes distance guide marks and trajectory path guides – but I don’t believe there is an audible distance sensing alert system, which is a strange omission.  If I’m wrong about this, I’d appreciate if someone would correct me.

In terms of driver assistance tech, it’s almost too much.  If you have everything turned on and dialed in, you can get reminded about your crappy driving and the dangers around you quite often.  There is the blind spot warning system, the lane departure warning system, the front collision warning system and radar cruise control, which allows you to specify the distance between you and the car in front of you while cruising – and the car will adjust the speed appropriately, if necessary.  It works really, really well.  What I appreciated is that you can essentially customize and/or turn off any or all of these aids, and use what you get value out of.

There is an additional bit of driver assistance – the Distance Control Assist, which apparently does the braking for you – even in traffic.  Are you kidding me?  This is a bit too far for me, and I never turned it on.  Why on Earth would you want your car to do that?  And would you trust it 100% of the time?  Would you trust it if your own child was running in front of the car?  No thanks on this one, Infiniti.

I found the voice recognition for the systems in this car to be very fast, and accurate.

Between the main gauges, there is a small but useful driver information screen.  It can show you the average fuel economy and average speed, instant mileage, elapsed time, fuel range, coolant temperature, power source, energy flow and an interesting one – the total number of kilometers travelled in EV mode.  At all times, you’ll see the outside temperature, the odometer reading and what selection/gear you’ve chosen with the shift lever.

The steering wheel is heated, and has controls for the media system, the phone and cruise control.

Overhead you’ll see a tilting and sliding sunroof, and there is a 3-setting HomeLink transmitter for your garage doors.

The last bit of tech I want to talk about is the drive mode dial.  It’s on the console, and has four positions.  Standard is self-explanatory.  Sport will resort to gas power more often, and hold off on shifting longer – it feels much sportier, and will impact your fuel economy.  Conversely, you can affect your fuel economy the other way with the Eco setting.  It will stick to EV mode as long as possible, and makes the vehicle feel like quite a slug, but it’s just fine for bumper-to-bumper commuting.  Eco mode also has an “ECO” light in the speedometer – it glows green if you’re being a good, granola person.  It flashes green if you’ve stepped on the gas in a wasteful fashion, which is supposed to be a warning to you and all eco-minded onlookers that you’re about to tread over the green eco line.  The “ECO” light will glower at you in an angry orange if you try having any fun with the car.  Finally, there’s Snow mode, which I assume will turn all the grannies on, to keep you from doing anything silly.  Being an enthusiastic driver, I felt that the Sport mode should be the default one.

 

Rear Seat

This is a very nice place to be.  The seats are extraordinary in their comfort.  They have the same cool wavy panels stitched into them, and they look as good as they feel.  The style continues to the door panels – they have beautiful brushed metal, wood and leather design elements exactly like the front door panels.  Interestingly, the rear doors each have a lidded ashtray along with the power window switch.  I guess Infiniti drivers and passengers smoke a lot.  Each side also has a reading light overhead.

Leg room and foot room is good, but less than you might expect from a car that looks this big.  The headroom is similar – it’s OK, but things are pretty cocoon-like back there – it’s very comfortable, and not claustrophobic, but I’ve been in airier rear seats.

There are three headrests and three seat belts, but it’s made for two adults back there.  The drive shaft tunnel in the middle is enormous, and any middle passenger would be doing the splits over it.  If you make an adult ride in the middle for long, you’ll lose a friend.  That said, I had my three kids back there very comfortably, and they loved it!  For family concerns, you’ll find two LATCH connector pairs, and three top-mount anchors.

The back of the center console holds two air vents, which you can turn on and off, and position for air-flow.  The seatback for the middle position folds down to become a fantastic lidded armrest.  Fold up the lid, and you’ll find two cupholders and a large storage bin.

Outward vision from the back is great, unless you’re looking directly to your side.

There is a beautifully stitched Infiniti logo on the carpet over the drive shaft tunnel.  It’s a nice detail.

 

Storage

There are a number of nice small storage areas in the M.  Behind the shift lever is a lovely wood-panelled lidded compartment that covers two cupholders.  Behind that is a large, lidded armrest – pop the lid up, and you’ll find a deep and very usable center console bin – a tray beneath the lid slides out of the way as you flip up the lid – nice!

There’s a big glovebox, and reasonable door bins on all four doors.  A map pocket adorns the back of each front seat.  There is a small bin on the back of the console for the rear passengers – it pops out with the push of a button.

 

The trunk, as is typical with hybrids, is smaller than you want it to be.  I measured this one to be 24″ deep by 20″ high by the full width.  It actually surprised me that this trunk was THIS small.  It’s a usable space, but you won’t be getting the bigger suitcase sized back there.

The trunk was completely upholstered, and not a single screw or bolt is sticking out anywhere.  That’s more than I can say for most other vehicles I’ve driven.  The trunk is also nicely lit.  Under the floor, you’ll find a space-saver spare and a jack.

 

The Drive

How does this hybrid drive?  Well, I’d have to say the hybrid part of the deal is less intrusive than the other hybrids I’ve driven, but certainly not invisible.

The best way to describe the driving experience in the M35h is smooth.  Everything is buttery smooth, and absolutely refined.

The ride is very good, and in my opinion, almost flawless.  The suspension is tuned to comfort, and you will experience some body roll when you’re throwing this car around.  But you can definitely throw it around.  The handling is fantastic and always feels competent and predictable.  The balance between comfort and performance has been struck perfectly for this car.  This is aided by the nearly perfect front-rear weight distribution.

The transmission seemed to be very well programmed, and I had to focus to perceive the shift points many times.  Again – the word is smooth.  That even goes for manual downshifts.  One thing that surprised me at times is that the manual didn’t want to follow orders – on occasion it would just refuse to shift up, and I believe it was because it felt my revs were too low to go up another gear.  But I’ve never had a car refuse to do that.

Unfortunately, the hybrid EV mode to gas power lag remains here.  It’s been the thing I’ve distressed over most on the other hybrids I’ve driven, and it’s here too.  There is a slight lag, as if it were spooling a huge turbo up.  This is most noticeable under medium throttle.

When you’re feathering the throttle around town, it can cruise around on EV for quite a while, especially if you’re in “ECO” mode.  It’s sluggish, of course, but that’s to be expected.  It’s quite smooth when driven that way.  As a matter of fact, I occasionally hit 80 km/h on purely EV mode when I was in the “ECO” mode.

Step on the throttle in a big way, and you’re rewarded with a herculean effort, and astounding acceleration, and let’s not forget the throaty tune exiting the exhaust pipes under throttle.  It’s a very linear delivery of power, and because it’s so quiet and smooth, it will surprise you when you look down at the speedometer to find you’ve ventured well into illegal speed territory.  Accelerating quickly feels more like a building of momentum, but it won’t leave you disappointed.  It’s a fast car.  As quick as the 0-60 business is, I don’t think it’s what this beast is all about.  But I concur, it’s nice to know your car can sprint from 0-50 km/h in 1.9 seconds.  That’s the torque talking.

Turn off the traction control, and you can kick out the rear end around corners – I did, and that was with four adult males in the car.  I was more than surprised, to be honest, but duly impressed.

The brakes are typical hybrid fare – they felt grabby as that first bit of travel seems to go toward regeneration, and makes it difficult to make really smooth, quick stops.   That said, the brakes are very powerful.

Low-speed maneuvers and turning circle concerns, as well as parking, are excellent.  Outward vision in this car is very good, with the exception of the rear view which is OK, but a little tight.

 

Nitpicks

I had very few with the M35h.

The biggest quibble I had was that when the vehicle is “idling” which means it turns the engine off, and just draws electric power, I noticed it stopped heating very quickly and wouldn’t start again until the engine ran and built up some heat.  That may seem trivial, but it’s not.  Not in this climate where we have 6 month long winters, or if someone frequently waits in their car.  I waited in a parking lot in -8 C one morning, and after two minutes, it was blowing freezing cold air.  To the point where the heated seats no longer made a difference.  It was uncomfortable.  I’m not sure if that’s normal, but I’ve also heard from folks who have a hybrid Toyota that does the same thing.  This wouldn’t be a consideration in warmer climes, but it would really, really suck here.  Especially when we’re looking at a -30 C kind of day.

The touchscreen doesn’t angle toward the driver and I found it washed out in several situations, pending on the sunlight.

I have fat, I mean powerful hands, and I found it difficult and frankly uncomfortable to adjust my seat when the door was closed.  The power seat adjustment knobs are very close to the door.  I guess you probably wouldn’t be doing that very often, so no biggie.

Before I finish this chapter of lamentations, I should qualify that the last two are hybrid-specific – but still….  As noted, I don’t enjoy the lag between EV mode and when the gas engine fires up and joins the party.  I’m sure that will be eliminated somehow in the future, but for now, it’s one of the hybrid things that doesn’t resonate well with me as a driving enthusiast.

The last is the size of the trunk. Yes, you need a battery behind the rear seat to make hybrid goodies work.  Yes, the battery is bigger than a AA Duracell.  Yes, I know it’s necessary.  But to be left with a 11.3 cubic foot trunk in a car this size is a bit of a shame, and to be honest, you might find it tight if you’re taking 4 people on a road trip.  And this isn’t really the kind of car that can be ruined by adding a roof box.  As a matter of fact, if you do, I’ll find you and beat you like a bad monkey.

 

Details/Extras

I’m adding a new section, to be used and abused at my discretion.  It’s for little things that I noticed, that I thought were cool, or just plain different.

I enjoyed that this car didn’t remind you constantly that you’re an eco-weenie with the leafy, save the planet displays on the dash.  It leaves its hybrid bones under as much cover as possible.  It was refreshing to be in a “sleeper” hybrid.

Great care was taken in the details.  The ashtray has a thick rubber gasket under the wood lid, so when you close the lid, it will keep all the ashes in place.  Minor, but thoughtful, no?  Also, the sound damping is extraordinary here, and it can be seen in places like the beautiful matting under the hood, or the huge, thick rubber gaskets around the doors.

The blind spot warning system is on a black plastic trim piece inside, and glows orange – it catches your eye, and will start flashing if you’re signaling in the direction of danger.  Easy to see out of your peripheral vision.

I absolutely loved the main gauges.  They had a scalloped bezel, and an incredible knurled finish inside the dial – very reminiscent of an expensive watch sitting right there on your dash.  Speaking of that, there is one – a beautiful rectangular analog clock on the dash.

There is a hilarious diagram in the trunk giving you directions on how to fit four golf bags in there.  I’m not going to lie, I had to look closely, because at first I thought it looked like four bodies.  Sopranos style, baby.  TONY!

 

The Verdict

Um, I don’t know if you noticed, but I kind of liked this car.  OK, I really, really liked this car.  I can honestly say that everyone who had a look at or got a ride in this car loved it.  It feels as though it’s built well, and put together with care and pride.  It’s designed well, and there are very few things I would change.

I give this car 8.5 out of 10.  It would be interesting to contrast it with its stablemates, and see how the M37 and the M56 fare against it and how the performance differs.  It would allow a buyer to truly evaluate whether the extra money is worth it, for the increase in performance and fuel economy over the 37, or whether it’s worth it to drop a bit more coin and get the 56 monster.  Of course, no one will confuse you for being a planet-saving, gas-sipping eco-nerd if you’re in an M56.  There’s a hefty price at the pump for its performance gain.  Whichever model you choose, Infiniti’s M-series is a nice place to be.

WAF (Wife Acceptance Factor) was very high with this car.  She thought it was very comfortable and looked very stylish.  She also loved that our whole family fit in it.  She was weirded out by the EV-only drive mode, because she’s used to engine sounds.  But I have to say, this car suited my wife and she looked hot in it.  Oh wait, she looks hot in everything.  That’s why I bought her a minivan.  Zing!

I loved my time in the Infiniti M37h.  It’s a great car, and has few flaws.  I can truly say it’s a car I loved.

Disclosure:  Vehicle was provided by Infiniti.

If you enjoyed this review, feel free to check out my other vehicle reviews under the car reviews tab at the top of my blog.

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