2013 Infiniti M35h Review: Introduction
Luxury hybrids are almost always niche cars, vehicles that are built either to help well-heeled buyers sooth their eco-consciousness or instead to make use of electric motors to dump even more performance into an established platform. While they rarely sell in great numbers - save for Lexus and its seemingly endless supply of hybrid-thirsty customers - luxury hybrid cars are one way for premium brands to inject a bit of flair and differentiation into their existing product lineups.
Sometimes, however, the hybrid formula doesn't quite work out the way it really should. Consider the 2013 Infiniti M35h, a battery-assisted version of the brand's mid-size luxury sedan that attempts to meld the sporty personality of the Infiniti brand with the performance-enhancing capabilities of dual electric/gasoline power. While on paper the extra jump offered by the hybrid drivetrain might seem like a legitimate intermediate step between the entry-level V-6 M37 and the top-tier, eight-cylinder M56, in reality the car fails to put together the pieces to form a coherent whole.
2013 Infiniti M35h Review: Models and Prices
The 2013 Infiniti M35h is offered in a single model that starts at an MSRP of $54,750. This model matches all of the equipment that comes with the base M37, which means dual automatic climate control, a sunroof, automatic windshield wipers, heated leather seats with power adjustment up front, leather upholstery, a rearview camera, HID headlights, keyless entry and push button start, Bluetooth connectivity, and 18-inch rims. As is Infiniti's custom, a number of high tech features and comforts can be added to the M35h through the judicious selection of options packages.
My test vehicle came with the Premium package (navigation, a heated steering wheel, voice controls, heated and cooled front seats, rear parking assist), the Deluxe Touring package (wood trim, a surround sound audio system, a softer headliner, upgraded leather, the Forest Air ventilation system, nicer trim throughout the interior, and a rear sunshade), and the Technology package (blind spot warning and intervention, lane departure warning and intervention, adaptive cruise control, active trace control to improve handling, forward collision warning with active braking, and distance control assist). My full-loaded test vehicle's final sticker price came to a heady $65,900.
2013 Infiniti M35h Review: Design
- The 2013 Infiniti M35h retains the same design it offered for the previous model year.
Infiniti has generally done very well for itself when it comes to introducing the luxury world to styling that is classy without being dull, a challenge amongst Japanese premium brands that at times seem to go out of their way not to offend potential customers. The 2013 Infiniti M35h, however, is more anonymous than one would expect from the company that gave us the FX crossover and the G coupe. Although the vehicle's front fascia features the broad grille and canted headlights that have become an Infiniti trademark, the vehicle's long hood and relatively stunted rear deck provide somewhat awkward proportions that prevent the admittedly large sedan from achieving the grace of other Infiniti products. The grey paint job of my test vehicle certainly didn’t help matters either, and the M35h had trouble coming across as a premium contender and merely looked like a nice family sedan. Those seeking to stay under the green radar will be pleased to know that aside from the HYBRID text on the front fenders - easily removed - only a small 'h' on the rear deck after the M35 nomenclature identifies it as being different from its gas-only siblings.
Inside, the 2013 Infiniti M35h offers an attractive, if again conservative take on what a luxury driving environment should look like. The additional soft touch materials installed by the Deluxe Touring package was quite welcome, and the wood trim on the center console, dash, and door panels was easy on the eyes. Infiniti's ergonomics have always been good, and the M35h manages to maintain the brand's lead in this respect.
2013 Infiniti M35h Review: Comfort and Cargo
- The 2013 Infiniti M35h doesn't offer any new comfort or cargo features for the current model year.
The 2013 Infiniti M35h does not suffer from a harsh ride despite a stiffer-than-normal suspension system, and its deep front bucket seats are every bit the luxury thrones that they need to be in order to satisfy anyone spending over $60,000 on a sedan. The rear bench is more of a concern, for while the outboard positions offer the kind of bolstering that will keep passengers in positioned through spirited driving, the vehicle's legroom is not as generous as it needs to be. Models like the Buick LaCrosse, Volkswagen Passat, and the Lexus GS all have the Infiniti beat when it comes to allowing those riding in the back to stretch their legs, with the GS offering close to six inches of additional space.
The 2013 Infiniti M35h also suffers when it comes to trunk space, although this is a common issue for most battery-assisted automobiles. With just a tick over 11 cubic feet of total storage room on offer from the mid-size sedan, one has to be clever when packing and take into account the cavity's near vertical rear panel during the loading process. I was able to fit my groceries as well as a couple of bags of charcoal inside the M35h, but if you were a family of four you would most likely not being able to squeeze in every piece of luggage needed for a weekend trip.
2013 Infiniti M35h Review: Features and Controls
- The 2013 Infiniti M35h does not introduce any new features for the current model year.
The 2013 Infiniti M35h is jam-packed with the kind of comfort features that would seem conspicuous by their absence in a car at its price point. The cooled seats are a welcome addition to the options list on a searing hot summer's day, just as the heated steering wheel is when the mercury drops and one needs to remove gloves in order to access the car's touch screen. Of course, Infiniti has rigged its infotainment apparatus to be navigable using a series of hard buttons as well, which is the kind of dual-access that I have come to appreciate. The system's layout is quite logical, which makes moving from one menu screen to another a relatively simple task.
Unfortunately, the graphics used by Infiniti's navigation and infotainment system are starting to age. Although still on par in most areas with similar features offered by competitors like Lexus, there are some aspects of the M35h's presentation that significantly detracted from the car's luxury experience. In particular the driver's LCD information screen found in the gauge pod looks cheap in a way that nothing else inside the sedan's interior does, and the simplistic representation that it uses to indicate whether the hybrid system is charging or not is glaringly low-rent when compared to almost any other electric-equipped car in its class. This seems like an unusual oversight from a brand that is usually so attuned to the details of its premium cars.
2013 Infiniti M35h Review: Safety and Ratings
- The 2013 Infiniti M35h does not introduce any new safety features for the current model year.
All versions of the 2013 Infiniti M35h come with side impact airbags up front, dual forward airbags, and side curtain airbags that run the entire length of the passenger compartment. Electronic stability control and traction control are also included free of charge. My test vehicle's extensive array of active safety equipment was somewhat of a mixed bag. I found that the blind spot monitoring feature did a good job of picking up vehicle that I couldn't detect in my mirrors, but that the braking feature that brought the car back into its lane should it step outside activated a little too late for me to rely on it - especially when compared to smoother, steering-based systems from automakers such as Lincoln.
The distance control feature was another interesting, but not necessarily useful gimmick that, when activated via a steering wheel-mounted button, would prevent the M35h from getting too close to the vehicle in front of it. This included automatically slowing the car even with adaptive cruise control disengaged, which meant that in stop and go traffic the Infiniti would bring itself to a halt if necessary and hold itself there for a few seconds before the system would disengage and the car would begin to creep forward. I am uncertain as to why the M35h wasn't programmed to maintain its stop until some form of driver input was provided, as that would have made the feature much more useful.
2013 Infiniti M35h Crash-Test Ratings: The Infiniti M35h proudly bears a five-star overall crash test safety rating from the NHTS, and the vehicle is also a Top Safety Pick from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
2013 Infiniti M35h Review: Engines and Fuel Economy
- The 2013 Infiniti M35h makes no changes to its drivetrain for the current model year.
The 2013 Infiniti M35h features a 3.5-liter V-6 engine that has been yoked to a single battery-powered electric motor. Together, the setup produces 360 horsepower. A seven-speed automatic transmission is provided, and while no manual shift paddles are available with the sedan the gears can be rowed manually using the console shifter, if desired. Fuel economy for the rear-wheel drive M35h is listed at 27-mpg in city driving and 32-mpg on the highway. I saw roughly 25-mpg in combined driving, which is below its 29-mpg combined EPA score.
2013 Infiniti M35h Review: Driving Impressions
The 2013 Infiniti M35h is a sedan with a dual personality. On the one hand, the 360 horsepower on offer from its hybrid setup is all too willing to rocket the car forward at an exceptional rate of speed, especially when the vehicle has been set to Sport mode via the rotary controller mounted on the center console. The car can reach 60-mph in 5.2 seconds, which is enough hybrid juice to get its rear tires squirming in a straight line. Unfortunately, power slides are out of the question as I was unable to find any way to disable the M35h's traction control or electronic stability control and the latter was quite good at stepping in quickly to dial town throttle inputs when the wheel was cranked one way or the other.
The 'tsk-tsk' of the traction control isn't the only member of the no-fun patrol that follows the 2013 Infiniti M35h around, however, and that brings us to the second face concealed by the sedan's hyperactive drivetrain. Simply put, there's not a lot of joy to be squeezed out of the Infiniti's chassis when driving in a spirited manner. Translating any of that straight-line speed into a corner is squelched by steering that feels overly heavy, even when traveling at low speeds in Standard mode. Beyond that, when the pedal isn't on the floor Sport mode makes it quite difficult to modulate the throttle, leading to a jerky experience in every day driving that had me switching back to Standard after a few miles of frustration. Smoothness just wasn't in the vocabulary of the M35h, unless I elected to use Eco mode and dealt with its molasses-like engine response designed to squeeze out as many miles per gallon as possible from a single tank of gas.
The 2013 Infiniti M35h does not offer the same level of driving engagement that other members of the Infiniti family are so good at bringing to the table. There's no doubt that this sedan's pair of motors are willing and able to provide the thrust required to make the M35h a terror at the drag strip, but something seems to have been lost in translating that fury into a total package that includes solid handling, braking, and road feel.
2013 Infiniti M35h Review: Final Thoughts
I had high expectations for the 2013 Infiniti M35h, because I am usually impressed by the brand's take on all things luxury and performance - regardless of vehicle category. Was I too harsh in evaluating the 'fun' factor of this mid-size sport sedan? I don't think so. Hybrids aren't by their nature sporty, and it takes a deft hand to engineer more than just great acceleration out of a drivetrain that is continually juggling electric and gasoline power sources.
The potential to build a genuinely exciting premium sedan out of the parts that make up the current M35h is what I find to be the biggest let down about this car. The luxury accoutrements and gorgeous interior are all there, and so is the sparkling technology (particularly from a safety perspective), but when evaluated against its overall driving experience I don't feel that Infiniti has managed to create a compelling in-between step for buyers looking to upgrade from the entry-level M37.
2013 Infiniti M35h Review: Pros and Cons
- Boisterous acceleration from a powerful hybrid setup
- Top-notch interior materials and layout
- Comfortable ride at almost every speed
- Willingness to dip into EV mode whenever possible
- Touchy throttle in Sport mode
- Heavy steering even when car is set to Normal mode
- Lack of seamless transition between gasoline and EV operation
- Not fun in the corners
Nissan Canada supplied the vehicle for this review.