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Infiniti's new M and hybrids at Geneva motor show

Wed, 03 Mar 2010

Infiniti, Nissan’s upmarket wing, can finally have a serious stab at the European luxury car market after launching its Renault-based turbodiesel V6. Its pleasingly idiosyncratic range of cars – ultra modern, finely crafted and mostly fun to drive – have been hamstrung in the showrooms by a range of V6 and V8 petrol engines which have been designed for customers in Los Angeles or Boston, not London or Berlin. Of a diesel, there has been no sign. Until now.

The Japanese maker also launched its handsome new M Line saloon at Geneva, a swoopy curvy E-class or 5-series rival that boasts excellent space and a stylish cabin. The new 238bhp V6 diesel will naturally be the big seller – although actual Euro volumes, from this budding brand, are still tiny. The big news at Geneva was its hybrid engine.

This is the first hybrid powertrain developed by Nissan – previous US-focused Nissan hybrids have been licensed from Toyota – and there are a number of technical improvements compared with the competitor Lexus GS hybrid. The whole hybrid unit is more compact – not least because it uses one electric engine, not two – and lighter (by 30 kg). Its lithium ion batteries are also more compact than the Lexus’s nickel metal hydride units and, says Infiniti, will last longer. Their compactness means boot space, in the hybrid M, is still generous. Rear leg room is positively capacious, close to class best.

As Infinitis are performance biased, the hybrid is more sports saloon than street slacker: 0-60 in 6.0 seconds, and it can do 62mph in electric drive alone. The seven-speed dual clutch semi-auto box removes the torque converter, helping throttle response. Even in electric mode, it drives through the seven-speed ‘box, so you can play with the paddles even when you’re purring on battery power.

The hybrid is clearly aimed at the US, easily Infiniti’s biggest market, but even in diesel-obsessed Europe, bosses expect the hybrid to account for a third of M sales.

By Gavin Green