Although Infiniti is the luxury arm of Nissan and there's a hybrid version of the Altima sedan, with technology licensed from Toyota, this system has been developed in-house over six years and millions of miles in testing. It streamlines the usual hybrid setup by building its single electric motor into a seven-speed automatic transmission. As a result, it's 66 pounds lighter than Toyota's arrangement.
Fuel consumption is expected to be about 25 percent thriftier than the M37, Infiniti's conventional V6 gasoline-engined counterpart, which comes out to around 22 mpg in the city and 32 mpg on the highway, compared with 18 and 26. However, since the "normal" M is such a well-built, rear-drive car with enthusiast appeal that measures up against the BMW 5 Series, the company was determined not to lose that edge in search of kinder fuel bills and fewer emissions.
Two areas where that normally happens in hybrids are the steering and brakes: the former can feel too remote and over-assisted, the latter tend to be grabby as the system takes and stores their energy. Infiniti has developed an "on-demand" power assistance program for the steering, which helps out more in tight parking lot maneuvers than straight-line highway work. The braking is a little more complicated, but represents a world-first innovation: it uses the electric motor to enhance stopping power.
The combination of electric motor and the company's much-lauded 3.5-liter V6 endows the M35h with muscle similar to its V8-powered sibling, which starts at $57,550, and has an appreciably larger carbon footprint (16 mpg, city/25 mpg, highway). All M cars have a blind spot warning system, plus Forest Air climate control that wafts leafy-smelling breezes around the cabin.
By coming out with the hybrid M35h now (well, soon), Infiniti appears to have beaten the competition to the punch. There are currently no similar versions of the Audi A6, BMW 5 Series or Mercedes-Benz E-Class, while the Lexus GS 450h is an aging model that costs $57,950. Since this is Nissan/Infiniti's own hybrid technology, expect it to turn up in other vehicles from the company as well.