After decades of scoffing at it, I have become not just a fan but a connoisseur of cruise control. This stems from an encounter last July between two Maine state troopers, one in a Ford Interceptor and the other overhead in a Cessna 182, and me in a 470-horsepower Chrysler 300 SRT8. It was friendly and even semi-humorous, but now my driver’s license has a blot on it.
Which means no more, “Sir, I see you have no violations so I’ll let you off with a warning.” Which in turn means tiptoeing down the interstates more carefully than ever. (My insurance is high enough.) The best way to stay under the radar, literally, is to set the cruise control at something barely permissible—I like 78—and then clear the left lane so the dudes doing 85 or 90 can blow by and attract the heat.
So far, so good. With proper cruise control, it isn’t even that boring; and the one in the Infiniti M35h may be the best I’ve tried.
Here’s how modern interactive/adaptive cruise control works: Turn it on. Toggle up or down to set the precise speed. (MPH appears in a little window.) Adjust the interval (approximately two, three or four school-bus lengths behind the car in front). Withdraw foot from throttle. The genie maintains the set speed until it “sees” traffic ahead; then it slows your car to the same speed and holds the pre-set gap. If the obstruction isn’t moving, or it stops, cruise control should bring you to a stop too. (It can’t yet swerve you into an empty lane.)
However, few CCs do this with the smoothness of a human brain processing distance and speed and fluidly adjusting throttle, brakes and steering. Faced with an obstacle, many such CCs just freak out—chop the throttle abruptly, then get back onto the gas only agonizingly slowly after you’ve nosed your car to the side. But not this Infiniti; its ICC, Intelligent Cruise Control, really is. The transitions are smooth but positive and relatively quick; braking and acceleration are pretty much what most of us do. ICC lacks only a “tailgate” setting—to impress upon the hellspawn clogging the passing lane that it’s high time to move over—but Infiniti has (probably wisely) resisted this.
ICC can slow the M35h to a crawl and then recover—even from toll booths, at least if you have E-ZPass. The system flawlessly negotiated I-95 from Massachusetts through Connecticut and right across Manhattan to the George Washington Bridge with no human inputs beyond steering. At the GW, however, we learned that once the Infiniti comes to a complete stop, ICC shuts down and has to be re-booted.
Why, you’re wondering, the lecture on cruise control? Because the rest of the M35h is so compromised.
It’s not the cabin or the comforts and conveniences, which are every inch what is expected from a $66,245 sedan loaded with Technology, Deluxe and Premium packages. (Although the satnav did go into an endless Groundhog Day loop in metro DC, complete with an unfinished highway on-ramp.) Nor is it the advanced suspension, which produces a refined and controlled ride.
No, the compromise is in the M35h’s hybrid gas-electric drive, which on the one hand is quite fuel-efficient but on the other suffers from horrid lag whenever the computer has to choose between the two. At a stop, the genie sits and thinks, OK, what’s it gonna be . . . ? while the driver’s foot sinks ever farther toward the floor. And then a rush of torque catapults the car ahead like a demented rabbit. When we lift off the throttle in surprise, the car sags back into the wet sand again. Not even the multi-mode, adaptive 7-speed transmission helps; the Sport setting just amplifies the abruptness, and don’t even try Eco unless you’re just morbidly curious.
Fortunately, once it’s up to speed, the M35h stays there with considerable aplomb and even fuel economy. Thirty MPG at 78 MPH in a luxury car is commendable, but this particular good deed does not go unpunished. Infiniti, get the h out! Or tune it up to restore the sweet harmony between man and machine—as in your other M sedans, the 37 and 56.