First drive: Infiniti M35h GT Premium

It might look like any other Infiniti M saloon, but the M35h is a significant car for both Infiniti and Nissan, as it's their first production hybrid car.

Infiniti appears to have taken the lead against German rival manufacturers, as they might be talking about production hybrid models, whereas the Infiniti is a production reality.
What's more impressive about the M35h, is that on top of being the cleanest (162g/km), it's also the fastest model in the M saloon line-up, with a 0-62mph time of just 5.5 seconds.

Available to order now, I headed to Birmingham to see what the hybrid Infiniti was like to drive on UK roads and to see if it's the car to increase British awareness of this Japanese luxury car brand.

So how does the hybrid system work? Well, it basically relies on two clutches. A single clutch to give electric power to the rear wheels via the seven-speed gearbox and another to disconnect the engine from the drivetrain completely, running only on electric power.

Apart from the 'Hybrid' badges on the front wings, the M35h could be any other model in the M saloon range. This is both good and bad; it's good because it's an understated car and doesn't advertise the fact it's a green option, but bad because although the M saloon is a sleek design with some neat styling cues, I don't really think it stands out against the opposition.

The interior design of the M35h impresses. I like the way dashboard, with its distinctive console, splits the cabin into two-halves; a design feature shared with all other Infiniti models. There's also a real feeling of quality to the leather and plastic finishes.

Our test car was fitted with distinctive white ash wood trim with silver powder finish, which won't appeal to all. I thought it went well with the snow white exterior colour and makes the interior feel more contemporary. There's just one version available, the £46,840 GT Premium that includes an HD navigation system, Bose premium sound system with 16-speakers, bi-xenon headlights, a heated steering wheel and a rear view camera.

With the supportive seats and the multi-adjustable steering column, I found it easy to find a comfortable driving position.

Move to the back of the M35h and there's more than enough head and legroom for two adults. In fact, the only disappointment is the bootspace which drops from 500 to 350 litres. However, those batteries have to live somewhere and Infiniti is keen to point out that they went for a compact design. Still, the boot is wide and deep enough for a couple of sets of golf clubs.

So what's the M35h like to drive? Well, with the combination of a 302bhp, 3.5-litre V6 engine and the 67bhp electric motor mated to a seven-speed automatic transmission rather than the usual CVT, performance is best described as slick, smooth and satisfying.

More impressive, is the way the engine regularly switched off whilst I was driving. Infiniti has designed the hybrid system so that the engine turns off as often as possible and I often found myself driving along only on electric power at speeds of up to 60mph, the engine only re-starting when the batteries ran out.

The transition from petrol to electric and back again is so smooth that I barely noticed. The electric motor's torque also helps when you accelerate hard, or when getting away from traffic lights.

There are four modes; Snow, Normal, Eco and Sport, which can change how the M35h feels to drive. I spent most of my time in the Normal mode, but go for the Eco mode and the throttle is retarded. Still, the slower reactions should equal a 10% increase in fuel consumption.

Select Sport mode and the M35h feels more like a sports car and the V6 feels rapid and lively.

The M35h's ride initially feels taut and sporty and thankfully there's plenty of suspension travel which means it's comfortable too. It's a shame then that the steering lacks feel and is slow to react, spoiling the fun.

The fastest hybrid has a top speed of 155mph, yet for a car with such high performance, the combined fuel consumption figure of 40.4mpg is remarkable and sure to appeal to company car buyers.

So to sum up, the Infiniti M35h is a case of having your cake and eating it. It's the fastest M saloon available, yet it offers impressive hybrid technology in a useable everyday executive package. If you're in the market for a new executive saloon, I'd search out your local Infiniti dealer; there are four across the UK, with another two to open by the end of the year.

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