It is time for enthusiasts to embrace hybrid powertrain technology. A few short years ago, the mention of "hybrid power" conjured up images of low displacement engines, tiny electric boost motors and lethargic performance. Sure, the vehicles were environmentally-friendly (on a local level, at least) and they spanked their pure-combustion counterparts when it came to fueling stops, but they were also absolutely boring to drive. No, make that numbing.
Of course, there are always a few exceptions to the rule. Vehicles including the Lexus LS 600h L, Lexus GS 450h, BMW ActiveHybrid 750i and BMW ActiveHybrid X6 deliver spirited performance, but only mediocre improvements over their gas-only siblings when it comes to efficiency. And, we don't need to remind you that these vehicles are always very complex, excessively heavy and hardly inexpensive – there were simply few compelling reasons to put one in the garage.
Infiniti, a brand in itself almost embarrassing late to the hybrid game, seems to be in a position to change all that.
Continue reading Quick Spin: 2012 Infiniti M35h...
Photos copyright ©2011 Chris Shunk / AOL
This comfortable leather-lined roost is hiding a secret. We are sitting behind the wheel of the new 2012 Infiniti M35h piloting the sedan up California's Pacific Coast Highway. From the driver's seat, and to those in the city of Santa Monica, this full-size sedan appears no different than its M37 and M56 siblings – it's just another commonplace mid-size luxury sport sedan crowding the Los Angeles basin. Unknown to the drivers stuck in traffic around us, this 4,129-pound four-door masquerading as commonplace is Infiniti's first hybrid gasoline-electric vehicle.
The automaker's third-generation M sedan was launched in late 2009 (for the 2011 model year) with two traditional gasoline combustion engines. The flagship M56 boasts a 5.6-liter V8 (VK56VD) rated at 420 horsepower and 417 pound-feet of torque while the volume selling M37 has the brand's familiar 3.7-liter V6 engine (VQ37VHR) rated at 330 horsepower and 270 pound-feet.
Brand-spanking new for 2012 is the M35h, a hybrid gasoline-electric variant. As expected from its badging, the new frugal sibling is fitted with a slightly smaller 3.5-liter V6 (it's the VQ35HR, also found under the hood of the previous-generation M35). The all-aluminum four-valve powerplant is rated at 302 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque. Bolted to the back of the engine is a seven-speed electronically controlled automatic transmission, identical in type and ratio to the gearbox in today's torque-laden eight-cylinder M56. Sandwiched between the engine and transmission is a 50 kW electric motor with a power rating of 67 horsepower and 199 pound-feet of torque (it is a one-motor, two-clutch parallel hybrid system).
According to Infiniti, the engine/motor package develops a combined 380 horsepower (Infiniti isn't releasing torque figures, but combined we figure they are making an easy 400-plus pound-feet). The power is sent solely to the rear wheels, as Infiniti's adaptive "Intelligent All-Wheel Drive" isn't offered on the new hybrid M.
We can't blame those around us for not noticing the M35h, as Infiniti has tastefully kept the "hybrid boasting" to an absolute minimum. In fact, it's only mentioned twice on the exterior – mid-mounted on each front quarter panel, just the behind wheels, is small "HYBRID" lettering. The rear decklid merely says "M35h." We like the low-key approach.
Of course, the cockpit has a few minor changes. The tachometer has a reduced redline of 7,000 rpm (the M37 redlines at 7,500 rpm) and the temperature gauge at the far left side of the cluster has been replaced with a small "efficiency" indicator. The center-mounted eight-inch touchscreen display also features the obligatory "Energy Flow" graphics designed to micro-manage power usage.
Those loyal to the brand and sports car enthusiasts will also spot the smaller standard 18-inch wheels (wearing 245/50R18 tires at all four corners), instead of the optional 20-inch wheels offered on its combustion-only siblings. There's no Sport Package offered for the hybrid either, but the dual chrome exhaust tips are identical to those used on the M37, giving the overall design a clean, tasteful appearance.
While there's plenty to like about the barely-touched exterior and wonderfully-appointed cabin, the real surprise comes on the road. The M35h drives just like we want it to – fast and frugal.
Infiniti's parents at Nissan consistently do powertrains right, and its first in-house hybrid is no exception (before you shoot us an e-mail, remember the Nissan Altima Hybrid uses Toyota technology).
The strong VQ engine and traditional geared seven-speed transmission make a great pair, delivering strong off-the-line power with a kick of boost from the electric motor. The electronically controlled gearbox allows the distinctive-sounding V6 to spin up the tachometer a bit before grabbing the next ratio. Press the accelerator with authority, and the abundant torque launches the sedan off the line with gusto. Infiniti isn't releasing numbers (it never does), but we bet that the rumors of a sprint to 60 mph in just 5.5 seconds are not only true... but possibly conservative.
The steering (a custom electric system for the hybrid) and brakes (identical to the gasoline-only models, with the exception of a regenerative braking system that turns kinetic energy back into electricity) work well, and exactly as advertised. The non-sport suspension (only modified for the higher curb weight) gives the M35h surprising sure-footed agility. Thanks to the batteries hidden behind the second row of passengers, the weight distribution of the hybrid is actually better than that of its siblings. Infiniti quotes 51/49 (percentage front/rear) for the M35h, compared to 54/46 for the M37 RWD (the M56 RWD is 56/44).
Completely out of sight, but taking more than their share of trunk space, the bank of high-output lithium-ion batteries offers 50 kW of output at a nominal 346 volts – enough power to propel the Infiniti sedan to 62 miles per hour on electric power alone.
When the driver's aggression is under control, the M35h shows its softer, environmentally conscience side. As expected, the M35h is equipped with auto start/stop to save fuel when the vehicle isn't in motion (the only Infiniti configured with the fuel saving technology, as of today). Even better, at lower speeds the combustion engine shuts down placing all propulsion duties firmly in the hands of the electric motor. With the exception of a slight hum from the all-season tires, things get eerily silent. Infiniti doesn't want owners to run over hapless pedestrians around town, so they've equipped the M35h with a strange electronic noise that is emitted at low speeds. It doesn't sound like a car. It sounds... like a sound (we honestly can't describe it, and neither can Infiniti).
We spend just a couple hours with the new sedan, but we really start to like the Kool-Aid. Compared to its closest rival, the Lexus GS 450h, the M35h provides comparable acceleration but without the numbing (and boring) continuously variable transmission power delivery. The stepped gearbox simply makes the M feel sportier in nearly every driving situation – it's genuinely fun and engaging to drive. Finally, and most important to everyone in the green segment, the Infiniti absolutely slaughters the Lexus when it comes to fuel economy.
Official EPA fuel economy figures for the 2012 Infiniti M35h come in at 27 mpg city and 32 mpg highway, or 29 mpg combined. (During a full day of aggressive media test drives around Hollywood and Santa Monica, our test car averaged an impressive 25.3 mpg with 47.2 percent of our driving in pure electric-only mode). According to the EPA, the 2011 Lexus GS 450h will earn 22 mpg city and 25 mpg highway, or 23 mpg combined – blame its six-year-old technology for those embarrassing numbers.
When it comes to nitpicking, we could only find two small idiosyncrasies with the M35h. First, the trunk is – as you'd expect – compromised as the batteries are stored in the wall behind the rear seats. There is no longer a fold-down seat option, or a pass-through, meaning long items must go directly into the cabin. The second oddity, only discovered once we deliberately probed, was a slight hesitation when the accelerator was floored while in pure-electric mode. Most vehicles take a moment to drop a couple gears before the power shoves occupants back into the seats. But, due to its hybrid nature, the M35h needs to ignite the combustion engine and then drop a couple gears before the power comes on (don't fret, as most owners will never deliberately try to confuse the system as we did).
With a base price of $53,700, the hybrid M35h sedan commands a $6,000 premium over the standard six-cylinder M37 sedan, but undercuts the eight-cylinder flagship M56 by $5,400. And this is where things get interesting.
It seems that Infiniti is now offering consumers a hybrid luxury sedan that is nearly identical, both inside and out, to its combustion-only siblings. Thanks to its innovative VQ-based hybrid powertrain, it is more efficient than the M37 and it delivers its power better than the M56. And, when it comes to luxury and technology, the hybrid may also be saturated with the Premium Package, Technology Package and Deluxe Touring Package just like its peers (again, the hybrid isn't offered with the Sport Package or all-wheel drive).
The all-new "have your cake and eat it too" M35h hybrid isn't flawless, but it is one of the best arguments we can come up with to convince a passionate driver to sit behind the wheel of a green-themed vehicle. For the record books, the 2012 Infiniti M35h just may be the first hybrid carrot worthy of capturing the appetite of an enthusiast. Infiniti has a winner on its hands – and it could be the best M in the automaker's lineup.
Photos copyright ©2011 Chris Shunk / AOL
New Car Test Drive
Fast M Hybrid joins sporty luxury sedan lineup.
The 2012 Infiniti M line of luxury sports sedans with rear-wheel drive enters its second year of production, the sweet spot according to some. The Infiniti M37 and Infiniti M56 were completely redesigned for 2011, so they carry over to the 2012 model year mostly unchanged.
However, a new Infiniti M Hybrid has joined the lineup for 2012. The 2012 Infiniti M35h uses a hybrid gas-electric powertrain that pairs an electric motor with a 3.5-liter V6 good for 360 net horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque. The 2012 M35h holds the Guinness World Record for the world's fastest-accelerating hybrid. Yet the Infiniti M Hybrid gets an EPA estimated 27/32 mpg City/Highway, or 29 mpg Combined.
The Infiniti M37 makes a class-leading 330 horsepower from its 3.7-liter V6 engine, while the 5.6-liter V8 in the Infiniti M56 is good for 420 hp and 417 foot-pounds of torque.
The M37 and M56 come with a choice of rear-wheel drive or all-wheel drive. All Infiniti M models use a 7-speed automatic transmission with manual shift override, which yields satisfying acceleration in the lower gears, and four driving modes including Normal, Sport, Economy and Snow. Infiniti M models with the Sport package get magnesium paddle shifters with blip-throttle downshifting.
The Infiniti M comes loaded with active and passive safety features include a lane-departure warning system that alerts a driver who veers toward a dividing line, and a blind spot warning system that, when ignored, will apply the right front brake to guide the car back into the lane in which it belongs. There's Active Trace Control, which adjusts engine torque and the control of the braking to individual wheels to help the car get around a corner in a skid. There's an Eco Pedal that gives the driver feedback to encourage eco-driving behavior. And there's the Forest Air system, which helps reduce the intrusion of unpleasant odors into the cabin and provides a natural breeze-like airflow. Infiniti designed this as a true luxury car and, based on our experience, there is nothing luxurious about unpleasant odors in the cabin. We know this, we are automotive experts.
Active noise control is used to quiet the cabin, a dual microphone system that listens to the ambient noise created by the powertrain, the mirrors, the body, and the tires and produces sound waves that cancel those noises. It doesn't cancel out voices, however, so if you shout you will be heard by the other passengers. But this is indeed a quiet car, even at full-throttle while going a hundred miles per hour it's quiet inside.
For audio enjoyment, there are three different sound systems on the M cars, including two Bose upgrades. The Premium Package includes a two-channel, 10-speaker sound system by Bose, the Deluxe Touring Package adds a 5.1 surround sound system with a subwoofer and 16 speakers arrayed throughout the interior.
Competitors to the 2012 Infiniti M line include the Lexus GS, Acura RL, Audi A6, Mercedes-Benz E-Class, and BMW 5 Series.
The 2012 Infiniti M lineup includes the V6-powered, rear-wheel drive M37 ($47,700), the all-wheel-drive M37X ($49,850), the V8-powered, rear-wheel-drive M56 ($59,200), all-wheel drive M56X ($61,700), and the new hybrid-powered M35h ($53,700).
The Infiniti M37 comes with leather upholstery, heated eight-way power front seats with driver memory function, power lumbar support, power tilt-and-telescoping steering column, dual-zone automatic climate control, Bluetooth connectivity and a six-speaker audio system with satellite radio capability, single CD player, iPod connector and auxiliary jack, bi-xenon headlights, a sunroof, fog lights, power-folding heated mirrors, automatic wipers, rearview camera, keyless ignition/entry, auto-dimming rearview mirror, 18-inch alloy wheels.
The Sport package ($3,750) includes 20-inch wheels, a unique front fascia, summer tires, sport-tuned suspension and brakes, four-wheel active steering, sport seats and steering wheel, and distinct exterior trim. The Sport Touring package ($2,000) adds a power rear sunshade, air filtration system and 16-speaker Bose surround sound system.
The Infiniti M56 includes everything on the M37 plus heated and ventilated front seats, a heated steering wheel, navigation system with voice recognition and real-time traffic and weather updates, as well as an upgraded, 10-speaker Bose audio system with digital music storage. The M56 Sport package ($5,650) includes 20-inch wheels, unique front fascia, summer tires, sport-tuned suspension and brakes, four-wheel active steering, sport seats and steering wheel, distinct exterior trim, power rear sunshade, air filtration system and 16-speaker Bose surround sound system.
Hybrid M35h models come with all standard features found on the M37 plus unique display screens. It also comes with Infiniti's Vehicle Sound for Pedestrians (VSP), which generates sound to alert passersby (to compensate for the car's quietness).
Options include a Premium package ($3,450) that adds a heated steering wheel, heated and ventilated front seats, a navigation system with voice recognition and real-time traffic and weather, as well as a 10-speaker Bose audio system with streaming Bluetooth audio and digital music storage. The Deluxe Touring package ($3,900) adds a power rear sunshade, an in-car air purifier, upgraded leather upholstery and interior trim, and a 16-speaker Bose surround-sound stereo. A Technology package ($3,050) includes adaptive headlamps, an Eco pedal that provides driver feedback to encourage fuel-efficient driving, a blind spot warning system, lane departure warning, adaptive cruise control, and forward collision warning system. Standalone options include 18-inch alloy wheels ($650), a rear decklid spoiler ($450), midnight black grille ($430) and an aerodynamic kit ($2,000).
Safety features that come standard on all models include dual-stage front air bags with seat belt and occupant classification sensors, side-impact air bags, and roof-mounted curtain air bags for front and rear-seat outboard occupant head protection. Active safety features on all models include anti-lock brakes (ABS), and electronic stability control.
The Infiniti M echoes other Infiniti designs with its flowing, curvaceous lines that are swoopy and sophisticated, yet strong and muscular. The body and underbody are aerodynamically pure, leading to a very low 0.27 drag coefficient, and that leads to a quieter interior, among other things.
The long hood and short rear deck conveys that the Infiniti M is a rear-wheel-drive sedan, with the severely laid-back windshield and the flowing fenders and body lines accentuating its sportier nature. Illuminated door handle cutouts make the Infiniti M stunning in the dark.
Everything in the cockpit of the Infiniti M is luxurious to see, touch and use. The steering wheel is substantial yet feels manageable in hand, and the wheel controls are within easy reach. The navigation screen is easy to read and has an attractive interface. Bluetooth phone pairing is easy.
We found the voice recognition system can be unreliable, however. It took us multiple tries for the system to understand our commands, even without any cabin noise. It can also be rather laborious to get through all of the system's prompts, but it gets faster once you become familiar with the setup.
The center stack is loaded with buttons. Their layout is logical, though we found oddities. The HVAC power button and fan controls are in the center beneath the navigation screen, while the temperature controls are off to the sides.
Cargo space in the M37 and M56 is average for the class at 14.9 cubic feet. But due to the battery pack in the M35h, trunk space measures a mere 11.3 cubes. The trunk release button will unlock the deck lid, but not pop it up, which requires some clawing and fumbling, especially with full hands.
The intelligent key system used on the Infiniti M incorporates the normal unlocking and locking features but adds audio setting, climate control settings and navigational settings to the memory in the key, an interesting and useful feature not offered on most luxury cars.
An auto entry/exit system lifts the steering wheel and slides the seat back to create more space when the driver opens the door or turns off the engine. While this might be convenient for tall drivers or those of larger stature, it can be tough for smaller drivers to depress the brake pedal, necessary for starting the car, with the seat back so far.
Similarly, the seats accommodate those with large frames well, but average and petite-sized females may find it difficult to get comfortable.
We found the Infiniti M56X to be a strong performer. The added weight of the all-wheel-drive system is more than overcome by the additional 95 horsepower and 81 foot-pounds of torque from the new, larger engine and the deeper gearing in the silky-smooth, quick-shifting 7-speed transmission.
One drawback for both the V6 and V8 versions, however, is that both of these more powerful engines require Premium gasoline.
The 5.6-liter V8 engine's sound is muffled back to provide the car with a luxury feel, and the 7-speed double-overdrive transmission certainly lowers engine rpm at highway speeds; nevertheless, the throttle response is extremely quick, and the M56 accelerates with authority. And it does so quietly. This is not the 5.6-liter V8 used in the Nissan pickup trucks. Rather, is a larger version of the Infiniti 5.0-liter V8, the division's first engine fitted with direct fuel injection cylinder heads and other technologies such as variable valve timing and intake valve lift, and a variable intake tract, yielding a combination of low-end torque, high-rpm power, and very good fuel economy for an engine this size in a heavy luxury car.
The Infiniti M56X has a heavy steering feel aided by its heavier nose and tendency to understeer, but it acquits itself quite well on curvy roads, with lots of help from the suspension system, which uses mechanical twin-piston shock absorbers instead of electronic ones. It's plush and sporty at the same time without the harshness added by the 20-inch tires and wheels that come with the Sport package.
We found the braking to be exemplary, with a nice, high pedal, progressive actuation, and excellent ABS performance on panic stops. The standard brakes on our M56X were 12.6 inches front and 12.1 inches rear, but the Sport package brakes are huge: 14 inches front, 13.8 inches rear. Infiniti M brakes come with ABS, Electronic Brake-force Distribution and Quick Brake Assist.
We found the lane departure warning system to be unnecessarily aggressive. In congested urban areas like Los Angeles where constant maneuvering is a way of life, the system's incessant beeping proved irksome. Like the townsfolk in the 'Boy Who Cried Wolf,' after awhile we stopped listening.
The Infiniti M35h doesn't feel much different from other hybrids. Hybrid gas-electric powertrains aren't known for feeling seamless. In the case of the M35h, you can feel the system kick in when the gasoline engine takes over, when the regenerative brakes kick in, and when the fuel-saving stop/start system engages. Drivers who are used to this type of ride won't find it any more or less obtrusive here.
Shifting into the different driving modes in the Infiniti M35h hybrid makes for very different driving experiences. Selecting Eco mode renders the M virtually gutless, creeping off the line and slogging along at low revs; Eco is the most efficient mode. In Sport mode, instant torque from the electric motor combined with ready power from the 3.5-liter V6 make for a snappy getaway, but those eager on the throttle should beware of obnoxious wheel spin off the line. Normal mode strikes an appropriate balance between power and economy.
The Infiniti M is a solid alternative in the entry-level, midsize sedan market. Its attractive yet understated good looks, pleasing driving dynamics and bevy of available technology make it a good choice for those looking to take the road less traveled. Options can run the price up fast, however, and the M35h hybrid comes with a premium price.
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent Laura Burstein reported on the Infiniti M35h from Los Angeles, with Jim McCraw reporting on the M56X from San Diego.
Infiniti M37 ($47,700), M37X ($49,850); M35h ($53,700), M56 ($59,200), M56X ($61,700).
Options As Tested
Technology package ($3,000) with intelligent cruise control, Lane Departure Warning, Lane Departure Prevention, Distance Control Assist, Intelligent Brake Assist, Forward Collision Warning, Blind Spot Warning, Blind Spot Intervention, front pre-crash seat belts, active trace control, Eco Pedal, Adaptive Front Lighting System w auto-leveling headlights; Deluxe Touring package ($3,800) with power rear sunshade, semi-aniline leather seating, wood trim with metallic finish, seat bolstering, suede-like headliner, door inserts, upgraded 16-speaker Bose audio system, enhanced HVAC system; Premium Package ($3,350) with heated and cooled front seats, heated steering wheel, hard-drive navigation system with real time traffic and weather with 8-inch display and voice recognition; 18-inch aluminum-alloy wheels ($650).
Infiniti M35h ($53,700).
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