Infiniti frequently has to deal with being tagged as the underdog, which in Europe is fair enough when you look at the strength of the opposition. But backed by the hefty Nissan empire Infiniti has the technology to mix it with the best, and the M35h is a prime example. It’s a fairly large prestige hybrid saloon, with a petrol engine and an electric motor combining to increase performance, efficiency and luxury.
The arrangement sees a front-mounted, 302bhp 3.5-litre V6 descended in part from the one in the Nissan 350Z paired with a 67bhp electric motor and a relatively small 1.4kWh battery pack. Altogether the system develops a maximum of 360bhp, although it feels like even more at times thanks to the immense collective torque. That battery is enough to push the car along for what Infiniti calls ‘low-acceleration driving’ at up to 62mph if it’s downhill, although typically the hybrid system should use the electric motor on the flat at up to 50mph.
The reality is that the engine is almost always called into play to get the 1.9-tonne-ish M35h up to speed before the electric systems take over at a cruise and give the average fuel consumption a shot in the arm. At a constant 30mph you can expect a good two to three uninterrupted miles of electric running.
As with all hybrids the experience is strangely addictive. You find that those few minutes of lovely quiet time are worth going after whenever they’re available, and the system works well enough to make sure that hopping between 30mph country village limits and 60mph open roads leaves you with plenty of electro-juice to cruise at the lower speeds without burning any petrol.
It’s a little less clear cut on the motorway, where at 62mph or less the system cuts in and out as power becomes more and less available and road conditions let you use it. But a 60mph cruise on the M4 sees the drivetrain reasonably frequently swapping between electric and petrol power. The switch isn’t as smooth as it potentially could be. If it’s happening a lot it can be irritating in its unfamiliarity and apparent indecisiveness, but by doing its thing the engine is carving out over 50mpg – which is amazing. Or you could just sit at 70mph instead, which makes the motor mostly redundant.
Either way, a steady cruise gives you a chance to appreciate some more of the M35h’s finer points. The cabin is distinctive; swooping and curving around in much the same way as the bodywork. The wood trim is tinted at the edges and creates a younger, more obviously stylish ambience than in some of the car’s rivals. The quantity of centre console buttons is fairly typical for this kind of car, and they’re laid out in horizontal strips according to general function. It makes it easy to operate a device or piece of technology without having to scour the array for the next button you need.
On the down side, the main control dial is placed at a full arm’s stretch away, which isn’t ideal for ergonomics, especially while driving. Two trim levels are available: GT and GT Premium. Standard features are really rather impressive, with a 10-way electrically-adjustable driver’s seat, front and rear parking sensors with a reversing camera and large colour screen, Bluetooth, dual-zone climate control, Scratch Shield ‘self-healing’ paint, bi-xenon headlights and a soft-closing boot. A very nice selection indeed, and way ahead of the competition.
There’s also Infiniti’s Drive Mode Selector with dedicated driving setups for Normal, Sport, Eco and Snow, which is handier than you might think. You get keyless entry and semi-aniline leather upholstery that shows the hide’s original texture underneath a thin protective layer to prevent staining. The highlight at this level has to be the heated and ventilated seats, which are quick to respond and very effective. No more sweaty backs on hot days.
GT Premium gets the full safety system gamut – and it’s quite a suite of extras. There’s also Dynamic Cornering Enhancement, a ‘Connectiviti+’ surround sound system with 16 speakers, a 30GB hard drive, Michelin guides and 3D point-of-interest content. In short, the M35h is massively well equipped.
On the top-spec model you’re left wanting for nothing, but even the lower GT model is fabulously luxurious. You don’t need to spend thousands on options like you might have to elsewhere. It’s fast, efficient, comfortable and luxurious. The style is a matter of taste, but the substance beneath the surface is rich.