2012 Infiniti M Hybrid, makes others green with envy

Starting at $54,595, the 2012 Infiniti M Hybrid Starting at $54,595, the 2012 Infiniti M Hybrid costs $6,000 more than the V-6 version of Infiniti's M37 -- the car the M Hybrid is based upon. Photo Credit: Handout

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Shuddering in anticipation of new federal fuel economy standards, luxury car makers that traditionally paid little attention to gas consumption are finally paying heed. Take Nissan's upmarket marque, Infiniti, which for 2012 introduced its first-ever hybrid, the M.

Few green-leaning people of means want to swap their prime rib for soy patties, so it follows that Infiniti would design its hybrid luxury sport sedan for drivers who want better fuel economy and performance too.

Starting at $54,595, the 2012 Infiniti M Hybrid costs $6,000 more than the V-6 version of Infiniti's M37 -- the car the M Hybrid is based upon. In hybrid form, the mid-size sport sedan is the first car to achieve 360 horsepower and a fuel economy rating of 32 miles per gallon on the highway from the Environmental Protection Agency.

The M Hybrid is powered by a 3.5-liter V-6 engine, a 50-kilowatt electric motor and a 1.4-kilowatt-hour lithium ion battery. The M Hybrid is also the first car on the market to employ a one-motor parallel hybrid with a double clutch that feeds power directly to a seven-speed automatic transmission. It gets 30 percent better fuel economy than the gas-powered M37.

Actual results, of course, vary. There are four different drive modes in the M Hybrid -- Standard, Snow, Sport and Eco. I spent my first day or so in Eco mode, which was surprisingly responsive despite the car's design to reduce throttle sensitivity when driving in that mode.