Infiniti drapes new M35h hybrid with luxury
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For the average driver, hybrids can be a bit challenging to transition into. They typically feel underpowered, with a bit of lag time between pressing the accelerator and getting a response. The gas engine's automatic starting and stopping can also be disconcerting.
The 2013 Infiniti M35h is the least hybrid-like hybrid I've driven. It's so smooth and comfortable that you may never know it's a hybrid, making it a great option for a buyer who wants both power and efficiency.
The M35h, introduced in 2012, has 360 horsepower, putting it between the sedan's gas-only V-6 and V-8 versions -- the M37, with 330 hp, and the M56, with 420 hp, respectively. With an EPA-estimated 27/32 mpg city/highway, the hybrid beats those offerings, which are rated 18/26 and 16/24 mpg, respectively.
Other than a slight price increase, the M35h hasn't had any significant changes since last year, but you can compare the two side by side here. Other vehicles to research if you're in the market for a mid- to full-sized luxury hybrid sedan are the Lexus GS 450h and the Lincoln MKZ Hybrid.
While the king of the hybrids, the Toyota Prius, came out with a unique shape designed to improve aerodynamics (which also happened to let everyone know you're a hybrid driver), the luxurious M hybrid takes a different approach. Save for the small "h" on the nameplate, anyone else on the road may never even know it's a hybrid.
The M sports an unmistakable Infiniti look, from its aggressive-looking snarl all the way back to its strong yet feminine curves toward the rear of the car. The M is a looker from any angle and has proved to turn a head or two, including my own when approaching it in the grocery store parking lot. "Wow, that really is a sharp-looking car!"
Its sedan stature makes climbing in easy for youngsters with small legs. However, if you're lifting an infant or toddler into the backseat, beware of the low roofline, as you would need to in any vehicle this shape and size.
While the five-seat M sedan is designed more for hauling an occasional adult or two in the backseat (dinner out with friends or a real-estate agent chauffeuring high-end clients to house viewings), it functions surprisingly well for families, too. The 36.2 inches of backseat legroom feels expansive for little ones' legs. While there is enough lateral space to squeeze in all three of my girls (ages 8, 10 and 12) side by side, the child in the middle was forced to balance while perched atop a slight hump in the center seat. While this would probably be a complete annoyance if this were our "forever car," as a temporary car, my kids thought it was quite a hoot and made a game out of it, trying to balance on it like riding a mechanical bull.
There are pockets on both of the front row's seatbacks, a fold-down center armrest up front with two cupholders and a shallow bin, and a tiny storage area at the bottom rear of the center console, just big enough to stash a Polly Pocket or two. Now that my girls are outgrowing that stage, I'm really not sure how we'd use such a small bin.
The front seats aren't exactly awash in storage areas, either, but there's enough to get by. A hinged lid in the uncluttered center console opens to reveal two cupholders. The front door pockets are just deep and wide enough to stash the day's mail to sort through while waiting in the carpool lane.
The real story with the M's interior is one of feeling draped in luxury. The leather seats, door panels, suede-like ceiling liner and Japanese ash wood accents throughout made me feel like I should be riding to the Oscars rather than hauling the crew to another Thursday night ballet class.
One area where the M35h falls short for families is in its cargo space. The hybrid battery takes up some of the trunk, reducing the overall volume to 11.3 cubic feet, compared with the gas-only M37's 14.9 feet. Although the Infiniti's trunk is slightly larger than the Lincoln MKZ Hybrid's 11.1 cubic feet, it's definitely trumped by the Lexus GS 450h's 13.2-cubic-foot trunk. While my daughters' dance shoes and ballet slippers don't take up much space, a family hauling kids with soccer balls, hockey gear and more may have an issue in the M35h.
IT'S THE LITTLE THINGS THAT COUNT
Storage Compartments (Puny, Fair, Ample, Galore): Puny
Cargo/Trunk Space (Puny, Fair, Ample, Galore): Fair
SENSE AND STYLE
Family Friendly (Not Really, Fair, Great, Excellent): Fair
Fun-Factor (None, Some, Good Times, Groove-On): Groove-On
BEHIND THE WHEEL
Getting behind the wheel of the M was something I looked forward to every morning, and riding in the passenger seat with my husband driving was equally pleasant. The M is simply smooth as butter. This would be a great car for my annual seven-hour birthday drive from Denver to Telluride, Colo. The vehicle feels connected to the road, yet manages to smooth out undesirable feedback.
The active noise control inside the vehicle uses speakers in each of the doors to keep the interior quiet, regardless of how harsh conditions outside the vehicle are. The older I get, the more hypersensitive I become to sensory overload from noises inside the vehicle.
Transitions between running on the gas engine and the electric motor were nearly undetectable, both by sound and by feel, something I have yet to experience in any other hybrid.
According to the onboard trip computer, my average fuel economy for a week of combined city and highway driving was 30.1 mpg. That isn't great for a hybrid, but it's 1 mpg better than the EPA's combined estimate, and switching into Eco mode could improve this some. While my husband quite enjoyed driving it in Eco, saying it made him drive and feel mellower, I guess I'm just a little too impatient for that. The lazy response annoyed me when trying to overtake a truck pulling in alongside me while entering the freeway. I preferred the middle ground of keeping the drive selector in normal mode.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has not performed crash tests on the Infiniti M. In crash tests by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the M35h received an overall score of five out of five stars (an average of its four-star frontal crash-test score, five in the side crash and four for rollover resistance). As is required of all new models since the 2012 model year, the M35h has standard antilock brakes, an electronic stability system and traction control. Also standard on the M are six airbags, including driver and front passenger front- and side-impact airbags, plus side curtain airbags extending to protect both front and rear occupants. I have to say, though, that at this price I was surprised the vehicle wasn't loaded with additional airbags, such as a driver's knee bag or side airbags for rear passengers. (Additional airbags don't guarantee results, but they're more common among luxury cars.)
Families installing child-safety seats will not be thrilled with the M35h's lower Latch anchors, which are buried deeply in the seat bight and almost impossible to access. Booster seats will have a better time of it thanks to the M's broad, flat outboard seats.
Because the M typically starts up in electric mode, there's generally no engine noise associated with this car at low speeds. Infiniti has added a vehicle sound to alert pedestrians, a high-pitched whine so those outside the car can hear it coming. It works at start up until the car reaches speeds of around 15 mph, and then again when slowing down below 15 mph. This system also works in Reverse, emitting a gentle beeping tone. Both these noises are nearly undetectable from inside the vehicle.