BIG cars have been behaving badly for years but I do believe some of them are trying very hard to
BIG cars have been behaving badly for years but I do believe some of them are trying very hard to mend their wicked ways.
On the vexed question of fuel, for example: big cars have loved to guzzle the gas in the past but now even the largest and thirstiest — the three-, five- or six-litre cars — are inching towards more responsible behaviour.
Well, they had to really, didn’t they? Even motorists with the deepest of deep pockets must be feeling the pinch with fuel bumping back and forth around the 140p per litre mark.
So this week I was intrigued to step aboard a car that was doing its utmost to sip and conserve fuel while providing all the big-time comfort and power one would expect from a large, luxurious saloon.
Not an easy task for a very long vehicle with a big body and sporting a 3.5-litre engine. But this manifestation of Infiniti’s M range was the Infiniti M35h GT Premium — the hybrid version.
This car in its non-hybrid version with a stonking 3,696cc engine achieves a mere 27.7mpg on the combined fuel cycle. However, the hybrid version I have been driving returns a respectable 40.9mpg on the same cycle. Not only that: while the non-hybrid version of the M35 achieves emissions of 235g/km, the hybrid model comes up with praiseworthy emissions of 159g/km.
All this illustrates graphically that even makers of cars that retail at on-the-road prices north of £38,000, such as the Infiniti M range, who might be thought to sell to the more exotic members of the human race, are abundantly conscious of the way things are going in the auto industry worldwide.
It is not really just a question of being pragmatic. One would have thought that there will always be people around who will insist on buying gas guzzlers: cars are still very much status symbols.
But the sea change in car manufacturing, I think, is that it is the car makers who are responding to the majority of motorists’ demands that we get real value for money and that some responsibility is shown for producing “greener” cars.
So the Infiniti M35h was at pains to show me that even if I as a motorist was not taking the matter of the environment seriously, then this particular car was.
Each time we set off together the car would respond accordingly to my driving demands and traffic situations. There are various hybrid versions around today but the Infiniti uses a combination of an electric motor and the internal combustion engine. The EV (electric vehicle) mode kicks in on start-up and you set off in silent bliss. However, as soon as your foot on the accelerator demands more power, the main engine starts up.
From then on the Infiniti M35h will do its best to behave in a responsible way. At every opportunity — in slow crawls through traffic, for instance — the EV will light up and you are silently conserving fuel while running on electricity generated by the car itself.
But there are times when you take your foot off the accelerator and expect the EV to take over and it politely refuses. That is because the engine management system (its computer) judges that the road you are travelling on does not warrant utilising the electric motor.
An example of this was a drive to Cheltenham recently. There is a very long downhill approach to the city from where I live nearby in the Cotswolds. I took my foot off the accelerator and expected the EV to cut in even though we were doing around 60mph. It will do this at this speed but the car’s “brain” sensed that engine power was needed on the steep descent to make for a smooth ride. Once we were in the 30mph limit, and the engine was satisfied its “braking” abilities were no longer required, the EV kicked in and we drove halfway across the city in splendid silence.
My conclusion with this sort of car — which I happen to like very much — is that with practice you could drive economically and responsibly while enjoying big-car comfort and luxury at the same time.
And if, at the end of the day you fancy a bit of a thrash, even the hybrid version of the Infiniti M series has a “sport” mode. When you put your foot down, this car can fly from 0 to 62mph in 5.5 seconds. That has to be the best of both worlds, in my book, and the future for large, luxurious cars.
* Infiniti’s first hybrid and first to use new-generation Infiniti Direct Response Hybrid technology
* Power plus efficiency: 359bhp with 40.9mpg on the combined cycle
* High performance with low emissions: 0 to 62mph in 5.5secs with 159g/km of CO2
* One electric motor/twin clutch system delivers performance and consistent rear-drive handling
* Up to 62mph possible on electric motor alone
* Award-winning safety features include audible pedestrian warning system
* Just one GT Premium model available in the UK, with top specification