Nissan's First Mass-Market Hybrid: The 2012 Infiniti M35h
With the introduction of the 2012 Infiniti M35h, Nissan North America will not only get a hybrid luxury sedan to compete in this growing niche segment, it will also give the automaker its first mass-market hybrid available in all states. The all-new Infiniti M Hybrid was unveiled at the 2010 Los Angeles International Auto Show, and it will go on sale in early 2011 going up against other fuel-efficient, mid-size luxury sedans like the Lincoln MKZ Hybrid, 2012 Buick LaCrosse eAssist (mild hybrid) and the diesel-powered Mercedes-Benz E-Class BlueTec.
Nissan has offered a hybrid version of the Altima since 2007 using Toyota's Hybrid Synergy Drive, but the 2012 Infiniti M35h will be the first use of Nissan's in-house-developed Direct Response Hybrid system. In the M Hybrid, this system pairs a 50kW electric motor with the 3.5-liter V-6 which gives the car an all-electric range of 1.2 miles at speeds up to 62 miles per hour. The engine alone is rated at 302 horsepower while the electric motor is rated at 67 horsepower, and the two deliver a combined 360 horsepower. As for fuel economy, the final EPA figures haven't been announced, but Infiniti expects the M35h to get 25 miles per gallon in the city and 30 mpg on the highway. According to Infiniti, this would make the 2012 M35h the only car on the market to deliver 30 miles per gallon and more than 350 horsepower - the next vehicle that comes closest to accomplishing this feat is the base 2011 Ford Mustang that gets 31 mpg highway and 305 horsepower.
'Simply put, the Infiniti M Hybrid will be the most advanced performance luxury sedan hybrid in the market, delivering V8 power and 4-cylinder fuel efficiency,'? said Ben Poore, Infiniti Vice President.
The 2011 Infiniti M is already available with either the 3.7-liter V-6 in the M37 or the 5.6-liter V-8 in the Infiniti M56, with the 2012 M Hybrid offering new-car buyers a third choice that offer performance between the two current models and far superior fuel economy. Like the standard M models, the hybrid will still use a seven-speed automatic transmission, but it will utilize electric power steering to reduce the load on the engine and regenerative braking to recoup some of the lost energy to the batteries - Infiniti claims both hybrid-specific systems are tuned to maintain the M's sporty ride and handling. In total, the compact size of the battery pack and electric motor only adds 276 pounds to the M Hybrid over the 2011 Infiniti M37, which should further help preserve the car's sporty, well-balanced driving dynamic.
While hybrids like the 2012 M35h aren't really groundbreaking anymore, Infiniti did manage to incorporate some technology into the car to make it more unique. In all-electric mode at speeds under 20 mph, the M Hybrid uses an audible warning system which is intended to alert nearby pedestrians when the car is approaching. This system is the same as what will be available on the 2011 Nissan LEAF and consists of a varying high-pitch frequency that is designed to be heard easily by the visually impaired as well as older pedestrians and children.
With its stylish looks and sporty performance, the 2011 Infiniti M is already quite popular as Poore pointed out that the redesigned M is experiencing sales growth of more than 100 percent. The addition of this all-new hybrid model should help improve sales even more. Aside from the subtle hybrid badges on the front fenders and the M35h badge on the decklid, the exterior of Infiniti's all-new hybrid is indistinguishable from the regular M models. Likewise, the only interior difference between the M35h and the non-hybrid M models is instrument cluster layout that adds a small gauge to display whether the battery is being recharged or is being used to help power the car. The large touch-screen navigation display also shows hybrid-specific information to display what hybrid mode the car is operating in.
Pricing for the 2012 Infiniti M35h has not been announced yet, but it will likely start somewhere between the M37 and M56 which range in price from $46,500 to $57,900 for 2011.