January 3, 2012
The transition from electric-only to gasoline drive in acceleration isn’t seamless, though, accompanied in my tester by surges and ebbs in power, regardless of what your right foot does, as the system manages the cooperation of the two power sources. There are far less-expensive hybrids (the Prius and Lexus CT 200h are geniuses in this regard), and one more-expensive one – the Porsche Cayenne Hybrid – that do this trick better than the M35h.
2012 Infiniti M35h. Click image to enlarge
Eco pedal, a throttle that delivers feedback, by “pushing back” against the right foot, to suggest when the driver is driving in a less-than-efficient manner, is standard here. It can be deactivated, which I appreciated, as the gas pedal pushback was an eerie feeling. High-tech tricks like this are a nice nod to encouraging fuel-efficient driving, but fuel consumption, as with so many other car-related problems, often has more to do with the driver’s attitude than with the vehicle; educating drivers on how to operate the car efficiently would be a better means to the end of reducing consumption.
The M35h’s fuel consumption ratings, per Natural Resources Canada, are 7.5/6.1 L/100 km (city/highway). I came nowhere close to those numbers, but my tester’s real-world figure of 9.3 L/100 km was a solid result, considering it included a number of chilly mornings. The cool temperatures were offset by lots of rush-hour slogging, where the M Hybrid shone, its gas engine shutting off when the car was stopped, and with the ability to creep along on electric power. For some context, a Porsche Cayenne Hybrid I drove during the summer managed 10.4 L/100 km, and the gas-only version of this Infiniti, the M37, averaged 15.1 L/100 km in the cool conditions of November 2010. Taken on its own, the M35h’s real-world result is good for a big luxury sedan, but I expected it to do better; the Cayenne Hybrid came a lot closer to its city consumption rating than this Infiniti did.
Poor brake pedal feel has been a common complaint in hybrids, a side-effect of the regenerative braking systems that charge the battery while standard hydraulic brakes do the work of actually stopping the car. While many hybrids have improved on this in recent years, the M35h takes a step backward with grabby brakes that make it hard to stop smoothly, especially in low-speed situations, like heavy traffic.
The steering is better – light at low speeds but taking on a more satisfyingly heavy feel at highway speeds, which is most noticeable when you bend the car through a fast corner. Infiniti says the M Hybrid’s electric power steering is only active when the steering wheel is turned, in order to conserve power. The suspension is sport-sedan firm but mostly comfortable and handling is tight for such a big car. Tire noise at highway speeds is pronounced, and indeed louder than I remember from the M37 Sport I drove last year.