One of the most well-rounded entry-luxury crossovers around.
– Seattle, Washington
To understand why the 2017 Infiniti QX30 is so important, you need only comprehend one set of numbers. Last year, crossovers made up about 51 percent of Infiniti’s U.S. sales. So far this year, that figure is already up to 63 percent. Premium small crossovers are one of the hottest-growing segments around, and Infiniti wants in on the action. Hook people with this affordable model, the thinking goes, and they’ll graduate to other Infinitis going forward.
“From here, we expect people to grow with the brand,” says Infiniti product planning director Keith St Clair.
Rather than starting from scratch, Infiniti elected to build its new QX30 on the bones of the Mercedes-Benz GLA-Class. The latest fruit of the product-sharing partnership between Nissan and Daimler, the GLA-to-QX30 exchange is far more than a case of swapping badges. Despite starting out life more than two years ago as a Mercedes, the QX30 has completely different bodywork, unique tuning for the powertrain and suspension, and will be built at a Nissan factory in the U.K. Based on a drive through scenic byways around Seattle, that differentiation allows the QX30 to beat its GLA progenitor at its own game.
Despite starting out life more than two years ago as a Mercedes, the QX30 has completely different bodywork, unique tuning for the powertrain and suspension, and will be built at a Nissan factory in the U.K.
The 2017 Infiniti QX30 range comprises three models. The base QX30, which comes with front-wheel drive and is sold overseas as the Q30 hatchback, will start just above $35,000 (no exact figures are available yet, but Infiniti provided estimates that should hold pretty close) and has dual-zone climate control, paddle shifters, a backup camera, power-folding mirrors with puddle lamps, and LED daytime running lights as standard. The QX30 Sport sits 15 millimetres lower on seven percent stiffer suspension springs, with 19-inch wheels and summer tires, larger cross-drilled front brakes, a flat-bottom steering wheel, and a new body kit identifying it as the boy-racer of the group. And the QX30 AWD rides 30.5 mm higher than the base model, and sports black plastic fender cladding, a front fascia with fake chrome skid plate, and roof rails to identify itself as one of the crossovers for which customers are so eager. The fully loaded, Premium trim, all-wheel drive version will be the most expensive QX30 although pricing is yet to be announced.
It’s the latter model, which Infiniti thinks will make up more than half of all QX30 sales. The 2.0-litre turbo engine is quiet and smooth as I creep through gridlock on a traffic filled morning in downtown Seattle, aided by the seven-speed dual-clutch transmission’s gentle performance. There’s no lurching or crunchiness at low speeds from this gearbox, nor does it hunt abruptly between gears, habits that make the Mercedes-Benz GLA from whence it originates a chore in traffic. And because it starts in first gear every time, unlike the ‘Benz, the Infiniti’s transmission feels sprightly from a stop.
The 2.0-litre turbo engine is quiet and smooth as I creep through gridlock, aided by the seven-speed dual-clutch transmission’s gentle performance. There’s no lurching or crunchiness at low speeds from this gearbox.
Outside the city, I can open up the engine more. Peak torque (a generous 258 pound-feet) comes on early and pulls toward redline smoothly, without any surging or lagging. Shifts are crisp and brisk once on the move, though sometimes the transmission is eager to stay in a high gear when passing until you get really deep into the throttle. Nonetheless, the QX30 is plenty quick for this car segment, with gobs of shove on offer at all times. There are no official fuel efficiency figures yet for the QX30, but Infiniti officials expect the numbers to come very close to that of the Mercedes GLA. Based on that, expect somewhere around 9.8 litres per 100 kilometres city and 7.4 L/100 km highway with all-wheel drive.
Driving the Infiniti QX30 is pleasant at all times. Its chassis and steering are tuned to be on the sportier side of the premium small crossover class, but Infiniti hasn’t gotten carried away with the pursuit of driving aggression. Body motions are tightly controlled and the electric power steering weights up nicely through bends, yet the suspension never bangs or crashes over bumps. It’s a very Audi-like balance between control and comfort that brings a smile to my face on winding roads without annoying me in the city. As is the case with the transmission, the Infiniti’s ride comfort is markedly smoother and more relaxed than the Mercedes on which it’s based. Couple that with strong brakes that have a firm pedal stroke, and you’ve got a recipe for about as much fun as can be had from a small crossover.
Swapping into the QX30 Sport, which comes only with front-wheel drive, reveals a much more energetic character. Sitting lower on a stiffer suspension with “sport-tuned” steering, this model is notably more fun to drive. Its suspension is sharp and more poised, and its 235/45R19 Goodyear EfficientGrip run-flat summer rubber provides plenty of grip. The Sport model also uses its standard 10-speaker Bose audio system to pump in some extra “sound enhancement” for the engine. Based on the way it looks and drives alone, it’s probably the QX30 version I’d buy – even if most rational buyers will skip it.
Head- and legroom are fine for adults in either row, though I wouldn’t want to sit three-abreast in the back. The optional giant panoramic moonroof on these test cars lets in plenty of light, too, to keep the interior feeling roomy.
Whichever trim level you buy, the Infiniti QX30 has a spacious and comfortable cabin. At 544 litres with the rear seats raised, cargo capacity beats that of the Audi Q3, BMW X1, and Mercedes-Benz GLA. Head- and legroom are fine for adults in either row, though I wouldn’t want to sit three-abreast in the back. The optional giant panoramic moonroof on these test cars lets in plenty of light, too, to keep the interior feeling roomy.
Anyone who’s driven other Mercedes-Benz cars will notice many familiar parts: the window and lock switches, the dual-binnacle instruments and small LCD trip computer, the climate-control knobs and dials, and the steering wheel and its attendant buttons. Yet every other interior piece has been redesigned by Infiniti, starting with the asymmetrical dashboard that features sweeping curves and, depending on options, nicely stitched leather. Everything you touch and see feels and looks expensive; there’s no sense that this is a cut-price Infiniti, even though it will be the cheapest in the lineup.
Everything you touch and see feels and looks expensive; there’s no sense that this is a cut-price Infiniti, even though it will be the cheapest in the lineup.
Perhaps the most glaring sign of cheapness is the seven-inch infotainment display, which looks awkwardly tiny amidst a larger panel of plain plastic atop the center stack. It’s a huge technical achievement for Infiniti to wire its own infotainment system with the Mercedes-Benz electrical architecture, an engineer proudly boasts, but the InTouch interface is otherwise not particularly notable. The touchscreen interface works well, aided by a scroll wheel and physical knobs on the console near the driver’s knee, but there’s nothing particularly revolutionary or segment-defying in the system’s operation. And smartphone-addicted drivers will note neither Apple CarPlay nor Android Auto is available. This is the first application of the single-screen version of InTouch; the upcoming Q60 coupe will be the second vehicle to use it, whereas the Q50 has a two-screen version.
Other demerits are few. Road noise is prominent at all times, perhaps in part because all Canada and U.S.-spec QX30s ride on run-flat tires. Rear visibility under the low roofline is so-so, and the sloped rear window cuts into vertical space in the cargo area. And despite Infiniti’s efforts to brighten up the throttle mapping, there’s still some lethargy at low RPM before the turbo spools.
One logical comparison is to the Mercedes-Benz GLA250 on which this Infiniti is based. Though I didn’t drive them back-to-back, my overwhelming memories of the GLA-Class are of a harsh, brittle ride, and a rough, clunky transmission – big contrasts to the way the Infiniti drives. The Mercedes has a little less cargo room (421 litres with the seats up, versus 544 litres in the QX30), and you’ll also pay a bit more, as the GLA250 4MATIC starts at $38,000.
Where the 2017 Infiniti QX30 excels is in its universal appeal. It’s stylish and more expressive than other entries in the class, with a pleasant and functional interior that can comfortably fit your friends and luggage. From behind the wheel, it brings a dose of sportiness without beating up driver and passengers. If you absolutely must buy a small premium crossover – and market trends are showing that more and more people want to – this is one of your best all-round choices.
Photos: Jake Holmes / Motor1.com