2012 Infiniti M35h: It’s All The Same In The End [Review]


Since we were down for maintenance on Monday, we’re bringing you a special Friday edition post. Enjoy!

It doesn’t matter who you blame, it’s all the same in the end.

With the successful launch of the world’s first mass-produced all-electric car – and reigning World Car of the Year – tucked under CEO Carlos Ghosn’s Levantine belt, Nissan’s very first semi-electric foray into motoring should be a straight-forward application of now-familiar technology.

Battery + Motor + Luxury = Infiniti M35h

Ta da?

Ward’s even went so far as to crown the M35h’s novel powertrain, which matches a very familiar 3.5L V6 to a 50kW electric motor and next-gen Li-Ion battery, to their prestigious 10Best List for 2012. In isolation, and as a piece of technology, the M’s hybrid system makes the class pioneering Lexus GS450h look laughably infantile – a nice effort, at best. What with its sport-tuned suspension, “real” 7-speed transmission, and award-winning hybrid system featuring a dry clutch (in front of the transmission) AND a wet clutch (behind the transmission), the M has the luxury hybrid game in the bag every day of the week and twice on Sunday.

Further driving this narrative is the welcoming interior of the M35h: occupants greeted by an elegant and colourful 8″ navigation system, 3-stage heated and cooled leather thrones with swooshy stitching, Bose speakers embedded in the freaking seats, and seductively silvery brown woods as far your the eye can see. To eke out a further few inches as the tallest boy in the class, our M35h came with a full complement of class-leading technology. On offer was blind-spot monitoring, the always appreciated adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning, too-cool adaptive headlights that look around corners for you, an eco-licious gas pedal that pushes back to save gas, and some trademarked thing called Forest Air™. It all adds up to a voluptuous, sensuous, and ever-so-slightly more digital environment than the stark GS we drove last summer. The M35h, then, offers its discerning driver a neat balance of technology, green-cred, and RWD sportiness. But wait, there’s more!

There’s even a certain flair about it, often absent in the middle manager (of Goldman Sachs) segment, with charming curves that seep throughout the sheetmetal, perhaps most successfully around the headlights and front wheel arches. The derivative taillight design is the only hitch in an otherwise pleasingly fluid design, but we’ll leave it to you to decide whether you prefer the new M to Lexus’ GS, not to mention the more common German trio. And did we mention the price? Well, we’ve saved the best for last because this might just be the best part. At $67,300 – $4,500 less than the entry-level GS450h – the M35h undercuts pioneer-san by a seppuku-inducing difference. Don’t expect the upcoming Audi A6 Hybrid and BMW 5-series ActiveHybrid to undercut either of them, as the Germans have never once competed on price with anyone other than themselves.

But before our benchmark GS450h is ruthlessly relieved of its crown based on boxes ticked and figures drawn, let’s take a quick and poetic foray into its road manners versus those of the reigning Lexus, for this is where the comparison truly takes form. For this purpose, the Lexus GS450h shall be referred to as “King” and its heir apparent, the Infiniti M35h, shall be referred to as “Prince”.

King croons over bumps like water slithering down a stream,
Prince jams itself into every nuance like a cat hunting mice for sport.
Blame the Sport suspension that Prince ludicrously bears,
Blame those who equate handling with jarring,
Blame the yen,
It’s all the same in the end.
King glides effortlessly towards the horizon like a healthy Sidney Crosby,
Prince clunks in and out of service like a turn-of-the-century elevator.
Blame the numerous clutches,
Blame Prince’s meak 50kW, playing King’s 147kW,
Blame the yen,
It’s all the same in the end.
King’s Mark Levinson audio system sounds like a symphony orchestra,
Prince’s Bose is tympanically hollow like an iPad playing YouTube.
Blame the Bengali-American-Chinese cheapness of Bose hardware,
Blame Lexus’ inimitable acoustic insulation,
Blame the yen,
It’s all the same in the end.

Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn is deservedly proud of the Leaf’s accomplishments. The Nissan Leaf is much like the first MP3 player: expensive, limited, but also a glimmering beacon of change yet to come. His company’s efforts at semi-electric motoring, however, are less convincing. This first effort is nothing less than the MiniDisc of motoring: promising on paper, high-end, but ultimately too adherent to old ideas. That this 2012 model can’t even match the 2007 model of its chief rival is a troubling sign of the long 6 years ahead until the next M generation.

The damage to Infiniti’s green reputation is now done, at least until it brings an all-electric luxury car to market. We’d much prefer something along the lines of the bouncy Etherea concept, shown in Geneva last year, to this half-baked and only half-electric effort. We love Nissan, mainly because they’re as crazy as the French and as measured as the Japanese, so our expectations are higher than most.

But that still leaves us with this Infiniti M35h, a dashed attempt to make a difference, undone by its choppy execution and pointless sporting pretension. Carlos Ghosn is fond of blaming the strong Japanese yen for even the most obscure of Nissan’s woes, but here, it doesn’t matter who you blame, it’s all the same in the end.

[Photo credits: author]

This vehicle was provided by the manufacturer for the purpose of this review.