by Liz Turner
Don’t feel bad if you don’t recognize the name Infiniti, but the brand has arrived in the UK to steal customers from BMW, Audi and Mercedes. So far you’re most likely to have spotted the name on the racing suits of F1 superstar Sebastian Vettel and the gorgeous Mark Webber as a sponsor of Red Bull Racing, but you’re going to see more of it on the road.
Infiniti is Nissan’s posher brand, like Lexus to Toyota or Banana Republic to Gap. In the States, Honda has Acura, too, and Infiniti is well established as a minor royalty brand that offers a lot for the price. I’ve driven plenty of Infinitis on the wrong side of the road, including a G35 saloon the length of Route 66, so I looked forward to trying it over here, on a trip to Northumberland.
The Infiniti M35h GT Premium is not the kind of hybrid celebrities like to be seen driving to save the planet – our average fuel consumption was 36mpg. The electric motor boosts a 3.5-litre V6 to give it the power you’d expect from a premium car of this class in place of a bigger engine. The downside is a slightly smaller boot, so we packed light.
As we set of up the motorway, it was a quiet, comfortable and premium place to be. I was fascinated by the dials telling me that the system was in electric mode, sometimes at surprisingly high speeds (up to 60mph), or that it was charging. At times I was using kinetic energy stored while braking – just like Vettel and Webber using their KERS.
Safety and sound
The safety technology packed into the car is astounding. Sensors monitor the speed and angle of the car and the either warn the driver or takes action if anything untoward is happening. This meant a lot of beeping as I avoided the potholes and puddle on sweeping open country roads and the Lane Departure warning scolded me for crossing the white line. I came to like the light on the A-pillar warning me if there was anything in my blind spot. It was good to know the car would slam on the brakes harder and faster than I could if a collision became unavoidable. The rear parking camera is handy, too.
I like the idea that they’ve given the hybrid car a sound to warn pedestrians rather than sneaking up on them silently in electric mode. A tune would have been nice, but it’s more of a sigh.
The sound system was excellent – Richard and I agreed we’d both heard extra bits of percussion or guitar licks for the first time on favourite tracks. We were able to plug in my iPhone to hear them, but I was bereft when I discovered this model had no DAB radio. Where’s my 6Music?
The GT has lovely soft leather seats with 10-way electric adjustment for both front seats. It also whooshed the driver’s seat back to the position of the previous driver each time you set off, not ideal for us because we tend to take turns, but a nice thought.
The best bit was hustling over the high north Yorkshire moors, swooping up and down the S-bends to cross tiny stone bridges designed for sheep. The seven-speed automatic box has a Sport mode that hangs on the gears longer, to make it feel sportier, and it was great fun. But the Infiniti doesn’t become an extension of the driver in the manner of a BMW 5-series, the steering feels a little artificial.
As we arrived, the family gathered around to stare at the big beast with its slim silver jewelry, and most were impressed. One of Infiniti’s central design themes is the soft wave shape of the roof, creating a coupe-like profile to the four-seater, four-door saloon. Inside, it’s hard to find a single straight line. Looks are always a matter of opinion, and personally I like the rear of the car, but I’m not keen on the twin humps at the front – maybe less would have been more with the curves.
So does it work over here? I feel it suited the roads better in the US, but it’s a worthy challenger. Company drivers will like its low emissions, and for anyone who wants something different, or the idea of a prestige car with a less frightening price tag, it makes a good choice.
Infiniti M35h GT Premium
Engine 3.5-litre V6 petrol/electric hybrid
Top speed 155mph
0-60mph 5.5 seconds
Official economy (combined) 40.9mpg