Staff Writer - CheersandGears.com
September 4, 2012
Hybrid vehicles usually fall into two completely different categories. The first category is filled with vehicles whose main purpose to use a hybrid powertrain is to eek out every drop of gas, which typically means they lack the fun to drive factor. The second category is the opposite; vehicles which use their hybrid powertrain, using a smaller engine, to produce the power and fuel economy of a larger engine.
There are a few automakers who have figured out how to balance these polar opposites with a hybrid powetrain. The latest automaker who thinks it has got the balance correct is Infiniti with the hybrid version of the M sedan. But did Infiniti get it right?
Next: The Outside
The M Hybrid follows the same design doctrine of other M models. The front end of features a long hood that curves downward from the middle and rise back up before sitting next to the front fenders. A large, rectangular chrome grille and a set of projector headlights don the fascia. Around the side, the front and rear wheel wells are pushed out to cover the standard eighteen-inch aluminum-alloy wheels. The roof line slopes down to the trunk where in turn it gradually rises back up to the lip of the trunk lid. The short rear end has a curved trunk lid, a chrome bar hiding the trunk release and rearview camera, and a set of polished exhausts.
The overall look of the M Hybrid is very daring and elegant to my eyes. I would put it in the same category as the Jaguar XF and Lexus GS as being my favorite mid-size luxury sedan designs.
Next: The Inside
The M Hybrid’s interior is an exercise in the details. That’s very evident when you look inside and notice how the metal trim flows along with the leather and wood trim in the dash and door panels. Also, the M Hybrid doesn’t skimp out on the stitched leather, using a good amount on the seats, door panels, and dash. The wood used in this M Hybrid was the optional Japanese White Ash wood trim which has a silver powder finish to make it really stand out. All of these little details make the M Hybrid feel very special.
For the front seat passengers, the M Hybrid comes equipped with supportive, powered leather seats. Back seat passengers sit on a very comfortable leather bench seat. Legroom is very good throughout the M Hybrid, while headroom is somewhat tight for backseat passengers due to the sloped roof. Trunk space is also on the tight side, measuring 11.3 cu.ft , due to the large lithium-ion battery pack.
Our Infiniti M Hybrid came equipped with two massive option packages. The $3,800 premium package adds a eight-inch touchscreen, hard-drive based Navigation system, 9.3 GB music jukebox, XM NavTraffic and weather, a 10-speaker Bose sound system, Bluetooth audio streaming, climate-controlled front seats, and a heated steering wheel. The other option package on our test vehicle was the $3,350 Deluxe Touring Package which adds the Japanese White Ash wood trim, semi-aniline leather-appointed seats, suede-like headliner, forest air system, power rear sunshade, and a 5.1-channel, 16-speaker Bose sound system. Both packages are very much worth it as they add some needed features for the class and add on to the specialness of the M Hybrid’s interior.
The heart of the M Hybrid is Infiniti’s Direct Response Hybrid system. The system is made up of a 3.5L all-aluminum V6 producing 302 HP and 258 lb-ft of torque, a 50kW electric motor producing 67 HP and 199 lb-ft of torque, and a lithium-ion battery pack. Total output of the Hybrid system is 360 HP.
How the M Hybrid delivers its power depends on the circumstances and how much the battery is charged. Leaving a stop with the battery fully or half charged, the M Hybrid will enter EV mode. Using only the electric motor, the M Hybrid able to sustain speeds in urban areas for a good distance. When the battery gets depleted, the 3.5L V6 seamlessly kicks on. If you need to merge onto a freeway or make a pass, the V6 and electric work together to provide more than enough power to get you through.
The seven-speed automatic transmission does a very good job of making sure it is in the right gear as the situation demands. Also, the shifts are very quick and smooth.
The M Hybrid also has Infiniti’s Drive Mode which allows the driver to change the throttle response, engine and transmission behavior via a knob in the car. Four settings are available: Snow, Eco, Standard, and Sport.
- Snow: Softens throttle response even more to reduce wheel spin in snowy conditions
- Eco: Softens the throttle response to help improve efficiency
- Standard: Sets throttle response and shifts points to provide a balance between responsiveness and fuel efficiency
- Sport: Increases throttle response and holds gears longer when driving aggressively
Fuel economy for the M Hybrid is rated at 27 City/31 Highway/29 Combined. Our average for the week was 27 MPG, mostly on suburban and rural roads.
Next: The Drive
Ride & Drive
The M Hybrid’s suspension is the same one used on the standard M37 and M56. Double wishbones are used up front and a multi-link setup in the rear, with stabilizer bars at both ends. The only difference between the regular M and the Hybrid is a set double-piston shock absorbers that have been tuned for the M Hybrid. The ride is soft and comfortable, no matter the road surface. Road, wind, and engine noise are kept to a minimum, making the M Hybrid a perfect long drive companion.
But what if you want to have a little bit fun? The M Hybrid is a very willing partner. The suspension is very surefooted on curvy roads. Steering is very good, providing good feel and response. One surprise is the M Hybrid’s brakes. Most hybrids exhibit the mushy pedal syndrome, which doesn’t inspire much confidence and could cause you to have a longer braking distance. The M Hybrid differs from this by having a brake pedal that doesn’t feel as mushy, which gives you more confidence and shorter stopping distances. Despite the extra weight and soft suspension tuning, the M Hybrid can be very fun.
Visibility for the M Hybrid is good for the front and side. Rear visibility is a little bit tricky due to the smallish rear window. Infiniti has included a rear-view camera as standard equipment, making it a bit easier.
Next: The Verdict
So has Infiniti figured out the balance of performance and economy with the M Hybrid? In a word, yes. Infiniti’s Direct Response Hybrid system delivers the same performance as a V8 and delivers some impressive fuel economy numbers. Add in a well-appointed interior and a distinct exterior shape, and the M Hybrid stands on its own.
Aside from some rear headroom and trunk space concerns, the M Hybrid is one of the best arguments that choosing a hybrid doesn't mean you have to choose more power or better fuel economy; you can have both in perfect harmony.
Disclaimer: Infiniti provided the vehicle, insurance, and one tank of gas
Year - 2012
Make – Infiniti
Model – M
Trim – M Hybrid
Engine – 3.5L V6, 50 kW Electric Motor
Driveline – Rear Wheel Drive, Seven-Speed Automatic
Horsepower @ RPM - 302 @ 6800 (V6), 67 @ 1770 (Electric Motor), 360 HP (Total Outout)
Torque @ RPM – 258 @ 5500 (V6), 199 @ 1770 (Electric Motor)
Fuel Economy: City/Highway/Combined - 27/31/29
Curb Weight – 4129 lbs
Location of Manufacture – Tochigi, Japan
Base Price - $53,700.00
As Tested Price - $61,745.00 (Includes $895.00 Destination Charge)
William Maley is a staff writer for Cheers & Gears. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or you can follow him on twitter at @realmudmonster.