I have been driving Infiniti cars this week. Never heard of them? That’s because they’re new here. The brand has actually been in the UK since 2009, but a new showroom in Stockport heralds its formal arrival ahead of an extravagant October launch party.
Although new in the UK, the brand has been around for well over a decade, selling particularly well in the US and Far East. Nor did the name just ‘appear’ in the ‘90s; it is in fact the premium brand from Nissan (although the two trade names and imagery are completely segregated in the market place).
Infiniti builds luxury vehicles with emphases on performance and technology. I shall be covering the FX50 (the flamboyant five-litre V8 crossover) in a forthcoming issue of thebeaconmagazine but there’s another quite remarkable vehicle from the Infiniti stable, the M35h hybrid. Read on…
There is an increasing fight in the segment which is the executive-saloon-pretenting-to-be-a-coupé. The Mercedes Benz CLS and Audi A7 are obvious contenders in terms of pricing, so how does the M stand up?
Infiniti makes a large play on the perfect line being a curve and you’ll struggle to find a straight edge on any of their cars. There is no mistaking this for anything other than an executive barge but it has a handsome, well-proportioned profile. The rear is tidy, albeit a little bling with the chrome work. The nose is marginally bland but this is probably due to the complete absence of brand image in the viewer’s eye. A significant chunk of what makes certain vehicles evocative is their pedigree and history – often symbolised by brand logo and familiar grill. ‘My dad used to have a…’ or ‘remember when such a car won that race…’ Infiniti doesn’t have any of that imagery to call upon. Instead, the car must sell its self. Initially, exclusivity will hold appeal for some customers.
Open the door of the M and step inside to see where Infiniti starts to hold its own. It is loaded with every extra you can think of (and some you possibly can’t). There is adaptive cruise control, automatic breaking, blind spot warning, forward collision warning, lane departure warning, a reversing camera and a heated steering wheel.
Not only does it have all the toys, it is beautifully crafted. Compared to the splatter of controls in Audi’s A7, the interior is wonderfully ordered. Instruments are clear, switchgear feels great and the sophisticated electronics aren’t too intrusive (contrasting sharply with Volvo’s approach). The menus on the central display are easy to use – even for the untrained – and instead of a fussy electronic handbrake, there is a foot-operated lever which is very effective.
The seating is impressive – matching the best I have experienced in any car. Everything is electric and the basic shape is supportive and well bolstered. The seats can be heated or cooled. Cabin space is generous but the boot capacity (or ‘trunk’ according to the clearly amended US literature) is much compromised.
The M range has three different engine options. There is a 3.7 litre petrol, a 3.0 litre diesel and this hybrid with a 3.5 litre petrol putting out 306 PS plus an additional 68 PS on tap from the electric motor. The fact that the two modes of propulsion can be combined makes this not only the quickest M but the fastest Infiniti currently available in the UK.
The hybrid’s engine is also the most frugal, utilising the electric motor at low speeds and when there is little load on the drive train. The M35h’s party trick is to pull away in silence and then roar from its delightful V6 when the road opens up. It might sound a little schizophrenic but the two modes of propulsion are well mated to each other via a clever double clutch mechanism and the transition is virtually seamless. Sometimes, the only indication that the petrol unit is not in use is the sleeping rev counter and small green ‘EV’ letters which appear in the centre of the dial. It does take a very gentle right foot to use just electricity when pulling away – the V6 is eager to jump in to help, even in the Eco mode. Overall economy is respectable, offering 30+ mpg in heavy, urban traffic.
On the road, the the rear wheel drive M is very well mannered and civilised. For an almost five metre car weighing upwards of two tonnes, it changes direction with ease. Even when trying I failed to unsettle the balance. It’s no track car but it is very accomplished on the highway. All Infinitis use smooth seven-speed auto ‘boxes.
And just as the new showroom is all very Zen, the M also leaves its occupants calm and unflustered in a way that seems absent from some continental rivals. It’s often hard to define exactly what makes a car right or wrong. Wanting to climb straight back in after a long journey is clearly an indication that Infiniti has hit the mark in many respects with its M35h.
In addition to the FX and M series, there is a smaller crossover (the EX) and a smaller saloon, the G (with coupé and convertible variants). I briefly drove the coupé which is also very accomplished. How soon Infiniti will respond to the British taxation model with smaller/cleaner engines – particularly in the G series – remains to be seen but there is a deal in the offing with Mercedes Benz to share platforms, engines and technology so watch this space. That said, the initial range will almost certainly find buyers.
The Infiniti marketing people certainly have a challenge on their hands though. Part of me will be glad to hand the M35h back so I don’t have to explain yet again what it is I’m driving.
[Petrol] power: 306 PS @ 6,8000 rpm, torque: 350Nm @ 5,000 rpm
[Electric] power: 68 PS @ 1,700-2,000 rpm, torque: 270Nm @ 1,770 rpm
CO2: 162 g/km, 0-62 mph: 5.5s
Motor Writer rating: ●●●●○Tweet