2013 Infiniti M35h RWD Hybrid Sedan

M35h

Infiniti began selling cars in America two dozen years ago with a pair of initial offerings, the Q45 and the M30.  As the luxury division of Nissan of Japan, they brought out the Infiniti line pretty much in response to Honda and Toyota’s introduction of their Acura and Lexus nameplates.  Infiniti chose to use a handcrafted approach to their manufacturing process, as opposed to Acura and Lexus, both of which chose more automation.

Thirty or forty years ago, the term “Japanese luxury car” was considered an oxymoron; their products having gained a foothold in this country as a result of the fuel crises (1973 and 1977).  But when the Detroit Auto Show went to a global affair in 1989, Infiniti exploded on the scene, along with Lexus, with new luxury offerings to join Acura; thus, it was “on”.  Today these manufacturers and their models are part of the American auto lexicon and they have muscled in on the territory of Cadillac, Lincoln, and the German luxury cars.

I have tested several Infinitis, and this past week another was brought by for evaluation – the M35h hybrid sedan.  The M’s are the top of the line sedans for this company, and this car is in its second year of production.  Its M.S.R.P. was $66,245, including freight.  That price included several options – technology package ($3,050), deluxe touring package ($3,900), and premium package ($4,200).  Thus, the car had adaptive cruise control, blind spot and lane departure warning, and adaptive lighting up front.  The interior was sumptuous, and included a suede headliner, semi-aniline leather trim, Japanese white ash wood trim, Bose 16-speaker surround sound stereo with satellite radio, electric tilt/telescope, navigation system, backup camera, moon roof, power rear sunshade, and air conditioned seats/steering wheel.  The stone (off-white) interior was striking with “Infiniti” stitching in the front buckets and soft double-stitched speedometer/tach hood.

The M35h is a high performance hybrid, with 369 total horsepower – at the heart of the power train is a 3.5 liter V-6 with 258 lb. ft. of torque.  It’s rear-wheel drive, the preferred architecture for a luxury performance car in this category.  The transmission is a seven-speed automatic (like Infiniti’s V-8 has) with manual shift mode.  The driver selects from four driving modes with a console-mounted button – sport, standard, eco (omy), and snow.  The eco mode maximizes fuel economy, and this car’s ratings are an impressive 27 city and 32 highway.  I observed 27 mpg during the time spent with the M35h.  Reportedly the Infiniti can operate up to 50% of the time in electric mode (battery charge permitting).  The trunk, of course, suffers a little with the battery on board, providing 11 cubic feet of luggage space.  It is covered with an electric cinch-down lid.

The M35h styling features chrome door handles, exhaust tips, and double-arched massive grill.  The paint was “Moonlight” white metallic, and actually looked best in sunlight.  The 18” alloy ten-spoke bright wheels were surrounded with 245/50R18 all-season radials.

Despite all of the aforementioned driving-assist options on the Infiniti, I actually had to do some driving myself, and it indeed was a pleasure.  This reviewer would love to own such a vehicle, and it comes with my recommendation.

“Evolution Orange” 2012 Toyota Prius C

Prius C

    An evolution is taking place within the Toyota Prius lineup, most recently with the introduction of their Prius c (city), which occurred earlier this year.  It’s the smallest Prius, and is the fourth model that the company currently makes available.  Toyota brought me an orange one to test last week, or at least that is what it looked like.  The color is Habanero, named after a chili pepper of the same hue.  The paint, which is metallic, received a split vote at our house; I liked it and Ruth didn’t.

Toyota had two goals in mind when they started production of the Prius c, and they were to offer it for under $20,000, and to insure that it got 50 miles per gallon.  It is basically a redesigned Yaris with a hybrid power train.  The power comes from a 1.5 liter, four cylinder, 73 horsepower aluminum engine with 82 lb. ft. of torque.  It is coupled with an electric motor with 60 horsepower, and the total hybrid system horsepower is listed at 99.  A continuously variable automatic transmission puts the power to the front wheels.  It’s OK to drive, although certainly not as perky as the regular Prius with its 134 horsepower system or even a Yaris with its 106 horsepower.  Trips both north and south out on Interstate 25 were not terrifying – I had the cruise control and power enough to stay out there with the glut of traffic associated with that artery.

On the northbound trip to Cheyenne, I obtained a combined 55.2 mpg on the round trip with the Prius c.  Ratings on the car are 53 city and 46 highway, and 50 combined.  This is the information that Toyota wants you to contemplate when you consider the window sticker on the Prius like I drove, which is $26,140.  It’s way over twenty grand because it’s the “four”, upgraded model with leatherette SofTex (black) buckets, moon roof, navigation system, push button starting, in-your-pocket keyless entry, tilt/telescope, satellite radio and 16”, eight-spoke attractive alloy wheels.  Toyota installed Bridgestone P195/50R16 Turanza EL400 all-season radials on the car, and I liked them fine.

In a departure from Prius custom, the c has the shifter on the console of this car, an improvement in my mind.  The hand brake is there, as well, and those front buckets proved comfortable for me and Ruth.  My daughters from Denver jumped in the back for a ride around Northglenn, and they had no complaints either.  The cargo area equals 17.1 cubic feet (it’s a hatchback – no trunk lid to cap off your cargo), and the nickel-metal hydride, 19.3 KW battery resides under the 60/40 fold-down back seats.

Styling is different than the big brothers in the Prius lineup, and includes huge, 23” rear taillights and no lower tailgate window.  The reconfigured Yaris body style is an improvement, and up front they’ve installed fog lights and projector-beam halogen headlamps.

“Evolution Orange”, by the way, was a song by Earth, Wind, and Fire from their 1982 R & B album, “Raise!”.  It was a middling number on that album among hits, and perhaps the Prius c will suffer the same fate, what with shoppers opting for a used, traditional Prius.  Or they may like the looks as much as I did and go for the “little fella”.

2013 Lexus GS450h Hybrid

GS450h

    I don’t know if GS means “guaranteed satisfaction” on this particular sedan offered by Lexus, but it would be OK with me.  That’s what the buyer gets with a car like this, which is the model I drove this past week.  It’s called a GS450h, and the “h“ stands for hybrid drive train, made up of a 286 horsepower V-6 and two electric motor/generators.  Total horsepower of the gasoline/electric package is 338, and the power is delivered through a continuously variable automatic transmission.  Although not officially designated a “sports sedan”, this 4,150 lb. car can go from zero to 60 mph in under 6 seconds.  Top speed is reportedly a governor-limited 136 mph.

The Lexus GS series of cars has been around since 1993, and is now in its fourth generation configuration for 2013.  Lexus, headquartered in Nagoya, Japan, is the luxury brand of Toyota Motor Company, and the first Lexus to hit our shores was the big LS series in 1989.  The company currently manufactures Japan’s top-selling make of luxury automobiles.  The GS models come in a V-6 sports sedan, a high-performance F sedan, and the hybrid model that I tested.

Highway manners of the GS450h are impeccable, with an assist from the blind spot monitor to keep me out of trouble.  Ride on the Dunlop 235/45R18 SP Sport Maxx radials (on 18” nine-split-spoke alloys) is silent and responsive, and the driver can select from four drive modes – Eco, Normal, Sport, and Sport+.  In winter the driver can select “snow”, and there is an “EV” (all-electric) selection to made, too.  Lots of options, and lots of performance in the Sport+ mode, especially so for a hybrid vehicle.  While in Sport+, the car provides more shock damping, tighter steering, and improved throttle response.  And all these handling and power characteristics are present in a car that delivered over 30 mpg for me all week.  Official ratings are 29/city and 34/highway (31 overall).

The M.S.R.P. of the GS450h is $58,950 (base), and options include a luxury package for $5,645, blind spot monitor for $500, premium Mark Levinson stereo for $1,380,  hard-disk navigation setup for $1,735, and intuitive park assist for $500.  Total list price with freight and some incidentals comes to $69,754.  That luxury package includes heated and cooled, 18-way power front semi-aniline leather seats, heated bamboo and leather steering wheel, LED headlamps, and rear-door manual sunshades (an electric sunshade is present in the back window).  The 835 watt stereo includes 17 speakers with 7.1 surround sound architecture.  The screen for the navigation is gigantic, at 12.3”, with split-screen capability, and controlling its applications is done with a mouse on the console.

The GS450h came with Obsidian (black) paint and the interior was called “Flaxen”, which was a golden hue.  The paint seemed to be two feet thick, and the styling excelled mostly up front.  No tailpipe finishers were present at the rear, in somewhat of a curious styling move (hybrid?).  But the car is an eye catcher, for sure.

The saying goes, “you get what you pay for”, and for Lexus and the GS450h, the saying holds true to form.  Lots of money, lots of car, and a satisfying test.

2012 Toyota Prius Hybrid

2012 PriusThe Toyota Prius was introduced in our country in 1997, and is America’s top-selling hybrid car.  The Prius accounts for almost 51% of the 270,000 or so hybrids sold in America each year, and globally the U.S. accounts for half of Prius production.  The name on the car, “Prius”, is Latin for “before”.  This is the second “Prii” that I have driven this year, with the first one designated as a “V”, for versatile.  This 2012 that I am reporting on now was a Winter Gray metallic, 3rd generation Prius in the Five Model configuration.  A Five Model is the top-of-the-line Prius with SofTex leather-like interior and 17” alloy five spoke wheels, among other things.  And by third generation, I mean the car that has been on the market since 2009, with its full re-design.  It is the best-looking Prius that has ever been produced.

During the week, Ruth and I travelled to Denver twice in the little gray Prius and obtained over 40 miles per gallon of regular gasoline.  We were so excited about the national championship game at the Pepsi Center, I must admit that we failed to nail down the exact mileage of the car.  Everyone knows these Prii do good on gas, and the economy ratings are 50/city and 48/highway.  The reason that city ratings are superior is because of the availability of electric power to cruise around town.  The Prius has a 98 horsepower (1.8 liter) gasoline engine and two electric motor/generators on board.  In the “EV” mode, a person can drive to the neighbors or perhaps to Loaf ‘n Jug without the gas engine even operating.  For highway driving, you need internal combustion engine power, but the car runs pretty quietly and ride/handling are fine.  The Prius is pretty roomy (it seats five) and comfortable, with fetching two-tone seats and plenty of cup holders and compartments.  This Prius was base-priced at $29,805.00, and freight and technology package brought the total to $34,885.00.  That last item provided hard-disk nav, JBL sound system with MP3 connection, Entune (a Toyota exclusive), HD/satellite radio, Bluetooth, hands-free phone setup, back-up camera, radar cruise control, lane keep assist, and head-up speedometer display in the windshield. Approaching the car with a key fob in your pocket, you can just reach for the door handle and get in.  Upon getting situated, you just push the button and the car is ready to drive (even though you may not hear anything).  The navigation screen was 6.1” touch-type, and provided oodles of information for interested parties.

Outside, the car had blue-accent car badges, rear spoiler, LED headlamps, power mirrors, and front fog lamps.  Tires that were fitted on the 17” alloys were P215/45R17 all-season radials.  I recommend the Prius to anyone looking for a solid investment and a method for saving money on gas.  A person could wait for the plug-in Prius, due out soon, but would have to spend a little more money, and, well, plug it in.  Either way a person wants to go, the pump prices we are seeing make the purchase pretty sensible.

2012 Toyota Prius V

2012 Prius V

The new, bigger, Toyota Prius V (vee) was introduced in our country in October of 2011, and was designed as a station wagon/multi-purpose vehicle to complement the Prius lineup.  The Prius has been around since 1997 and is America’s number one selling hybrid.  In fact, it accounted for almost 51% of the 270,000 or so hybrids sold in America last year, and globally the U.S. accounts for half of Prius production.  The name on the car, “Prius”, is Latin for “before”.

The Barcelona red, front-wheel drive 2012 model Prius V was delivered to my house last week and I immediately planned a trip to Estes Park to buy lunch for my wife, Ruth.  I punched the button to begin calculating the fuel mileage for the trip, and we headed for the Other Side (on the other side of Estes).  I can’t really complain about the power it provided going up through the canyon, and handling was suitable, as was the ride.  In a hybrid like this, the car has a gas (98 hp) engine and two electric (80 & 36 hp) motor/generators that combine (through a planetary gearbox) to power the wheels.  Electric motors are actually generators, and visa versa.  Put the juice to a motor, and you get motion.  Crank the generator, and you get electricity.  So these motor/generators in a Prius serve the dual purposes of wheel power and battery charge.  And gasoline is the “motion lotion” that makes the car go – no gas, no go.  When you leave a stoplight with a Prius, electric power gets you rolling and gasoline power takes it from 15 mph.  When you slow down for a light, the weight of the car turns a motor/generator and charges the nickel-metal hydride battery.  You can select “EV mode” on the console and creep around with electric power only, for instance in a parking garage at night.  You can push a “power” button, too, and get maximum acceleration with max gas power.  You cannot plug in a Prius, but I understand a plug-in model is being introduced.  It will allow you to go, say, 50 miles without starting the gasoline engine, and the car is to be more expensive.

How does all this stuff work together for J. Q. Public, just trying to reach his or her destination?  Pretty darn good, I’d say.  I thoroughly enjoyed the week with this 5 passenger car, and by the way got 52.5 mpg on that trip to Estes Park.  Even with a “fudge factor” that may be involved with the car’s computer, it’s excellent economy.  The Prius V was equipped with heated leather buckets, as well as the “Advanced technology package”, that added $5,580.00 to the base price of $29,990.00.  M.S.R.P. therefore came to $36,622.00 with the floor mats, wheel locks, and freight.  In that package was hard disk drive navigation, back-up cam, 8 speaker stereo, satellite radio, USB port, Bluetooth phone setup, radar cruise control, double stationary moonroof arrangement with shades, electric power steering, power windows/locks/tailgate, and digital climate control.  So many gadgets are included, that I understand Nancy Pelosi tells her friends that if they want to know what all is present on her Prius, they need to buy one.