Infiniti M35h First Drive: Making Efficient Hybrids Hot

By Nick Chambers

As the luxury brand of Nissan, Infiniti has built its name on the back of its parent company—often benefitting from the larger organization’s research and development. But with the Infiniti M35h Hybrid—a vehicle designed from the ground up to meet the demands of luxury customers—the tables have been turned.

Merging Performance Beast With Efficiency Beauty

After several hours of driving in both L.A. traffic and on winding, less-traveled back roads, I can say without a doubt that the Infiniti M35h Hybrid sedan is a brand new type of beast—merging performance and efficiency in an unprecedented package. When I drove it gently, I was able to return about 30 miles per gallon and spent about 57 percent of the time in EV mode. But when I needed to pass or get around a sticky traffic situation, the torque and power that provides a 5.5 second 0-60 mph time was incredibly useful…and provided heart-pounding exhilaration.

With a 7-speed, sport-tuned transmission, the M35h shifts seamlessly and smoothly. Due to the added benefit of an electric motor, it has such high gear ratios that it can drive at 65 mph in 2nd gear—giving you a sense of what kind of maniacal driving this car is capable of.

Certainly if you drive the M35h Hybrid like a race car you won’t see nearly as good fuel economy; my spirited driving session returned, eh, about 18 miles per gallon. But if you drive it with even a slight concern for efficiency, it will reward you in droves. The EPA rates the Infiniti M35h at 27 mpg city and 32 mpg highway.

“It’s the only vehicle with more than 350 horsepower and greater than 30 miles per gallon on the highway,” said Kyle Bazemore, Senior Manager Infiniti Communications, in an interview with HybridCars.com. “It has best-in-class fuel economy, V8 power and we don’t have that rubber-band CVT transmission.”

Infiniti’s First In-House Designed Hybrid, But Not For Nissan?

While the Nissan Altima Hybrid was built on top of a modified Toyota Prius system, the M35h Hybrid features Infiniti’s—and Nissan’s—first in-house designed hybrid drivetrain. Although the one-motor, two-clutch parallel hybrid system is considered last-generation technology by some, the fact that Infiniti was able to squeeze such amazing performance and decent fuel economy out of it is testament to both the engineers’ skills and the amount of life left in such a system.

Underneath the hood, a 3.5-liter V6 engine is mated with a 50 kW electric motor, providing a total output of 360 horsepower—placing it right in between the V6-powered M37 and V8-powered M56. Using its high-power lithium ion batteries, the M35h can travel in EV mode at speeds up to 60 mph (85 while cruising) for distances of one mile at a time and recharges the battery while braking and when the engine is running.

Interestingly enough, although Nissan is the parent company of Infiniti, company officials told me that the only platform that Infiniti shared with Nissan was the Z and therefore it is unlikely that the M35h drivetrain would make its way into any Nissan vehicles.

Solid First Generation, But Second Gen Could Benefit From a Few Changes

The M35h has a huge amount of flexibility in how you can display all the eco-statistics of the car including when it’s in EV mode, how energy is fluxing throughout vehicle, and fuel economy—but drivers of this car will never need it and likely never use it. In fact, looking at this car from the a luxury performance driver’s perspective, many of these items that would be considered “features” by people who are concerned with fuel economy are likely to instead be complicating annoyances.

Infiniti M35h

Even the Eco mode is superfluous. In that mode, the car provides physical feedback to limit the amount of pedal travel and stop you from accelerating like you would want to. I used it for two hours straight—even though I got annoyed with it after about a half hour—and found that my right foot started to hurt from having to exert so much pressure. In a conventional non-luxury vehicle this feature would likely be ignored by most, but in a luxury performance vehicle nobody will ever use it. It’s just another unneeded layer of complication.

When pushing the car to pass and under heavy acceleration, the M35h has slow steering response—I occasionally felt like I was having to push where I wanted it to go. Also, as with almost all parallel hybrids, the M35h exhibits a bit of a lag time when accelerating from a standing start after coming to a stop. It’s not nearly as bad as with some other hybrids, but this is a feature that performance drivers may find slightly annoying.

No Compromises, But Will it Be a Hit?

The M35h is almost indistinguishable from its M37 and M56 brethren. The only difference between them is the rear badge and the “hybrid” label—otherwise they have the same paint and interior choices. They also have the same package choices with the exception that the sport package isn’t available on the Hybrid. This similarity is something Infiniti was shooting for, so mission accomplished.

“Key to our customers is that they’re not looking for a hybrid that feels different,” said Dusty Pierson, an Infiniti Vehicle Performance Development Engineer, in an interview with HybridCars.com. “To them, ‘Hybrid’ is a subtle statement that they make—in fact they don’t really want to give up anything to gain the fuel economy.”

So why make the changes as all? An important driver for Infiniti right now is meeting new stringent fuel economy regulations around the world. The regular Infiniti customer is incredibly isolated from fluctuations in fuel prices and won’t be swayed by the fuel economy argument alone—until it reaches a much higher threshold than for the average consumer. Even so Pierson acknowledged that Infiniti needed to start planning for the future now saying, “We know that things are going to change so that when prices do get up to that level that customers have the right choices and we have the right business plan to adapt.”

Infiniti M35h

By building a vehicle with “no compromises,” Infiniti feels they’ve entered uncharted territory, but thinks there will be a significant market for it. “I think there’s an opportunity here given the fact that—if you can bring a technology like this to market that gives great fuel economy, gives performance and there are minimal tradeoffs in the premium segment—there’s a large opportunity,” said Pierson. “It’s not just the hybrid customer—our whole goal is that we are not sacrificing performance for the brand or this car and we wanted to get both. I think we’ve done that.”

“Recent Infiniti focus groups with a small sample of luxury customers thought the M56 was over the top for them with the V8 and opted for M37 with V6—not because of cost difference, but just because they didn’t feel they needed the power,” said Pierson. “Several of them came away after driving the M35h and said that’s the car they want—and it had nothing to do with the hybrid and everything to do with performance. The M35h has better horsepower and better torquefeel, and they said that they would consider this car over the V6 or the V8 for that reason alone.”


  • Mark David

    This is the beauty I was looking for. I just wonder how I have been unknown of such a wonderful car. Lovely car.. I am deadly eager to have it

  • pat

    David,
    You must be loaded!

  • Anonymous

    Lexus LS600h sells around 10 units / month, GS450h sells around 20 units / month.

    How many units will this Infiniti sell. A company smart enough to sell a wonderful product like Leaf, why are they wasting money on this vehicle.

    Hope they get at-least the Return on Investment.

  • Jesse Rudavsky

    Who the hell on earth needs 350hp? My 2005 prius does 107mph on the flat and that is fast enough. I have about 110 or so total hp.

  • Eric Whitaker

    At first, I thought hybrid cars were just a waste of time. However, when I started reading up on them, I retracted my statement. After reading up on the M35h, I realized that maybe a hybrid vehicle is not such a bad idea after all. I must say that Infiniti is definitely taking a step into unchartered territories with this vehicle.

  • Diane

    Who wants to drive a hybrid that looks like a kiddiemobile? Thank you, Nissan for the M35h! You continue to design the most aesthetically beautiful cars out there, and for a hybred, I gotta say, WOW!!!

  • Anthony C

    This car is ugly as hell in my opinion. I will say that the non-hybrid version does drive pretty decently. The steering felt connected to the road for such a big car and it felt like I could push it into a corner easily. It’s still ugly though and that will only be fixed by a whole different design, but that’s just my opinion as I see several people here and elsewhere that seem to like it. 32mpg isn’t that great either. A new Audi A4 is a much better looking car. It’s less expensive, gets 30 mpg with no hybrid system, 0-60 in 6.4 seconds which is probably not too far from this thing.

  • Flip

    Jeff Dunham put it just right vvrrrooommmm gayyyyyy

  • Flip

    That was in response to the Prius comment sorry

  • Anonymous

    Why even post about you lame toy car beep beep? If your not in the market for a real car then keep to your self.

  • Helaine

    I love my M35, she’s is a beast…..Definitely excited to test drive the hybrid and get myself into a 2011
    It drives better than an suv in the snow, and boy is she fast <3 <3
    Easy on the eye too.

  • Gary Bear

    My Jaguar XKR rag top gets 28+ MPG going to Vegas lazily cruising along at 85-90MPH and will eat this thing for breakfast. Looks drop dead gorgeous and costs more that twice as much — WTF !!! It’s worth every penny !! <=o)