Lisbon, Portugal - Infiniti, a Japanese brand known for its big executive sedans and posh SUVs, is venturing out of its comfort zone and into a territory it’s been completely absent from over its 26-year existence. But, it’s not going the journey alone.
The plan is to tap the booming C-segment where younger buyers are spoiled for choice in a market teeming with premium hatches. In other words, it wants a piece of the Audi A3 and BMW 1 Series pie.
Problem is, Infiniti doesn’t have a C-segment platform of its own to work with. But Mercedes does, and these two brands signed a project-sharing deal back in 2010. Now, five years on, the Infiniti half of the tree has begun to bear fruit and the first to drop is this car, the Q30.
Launched to the international media in Portugal last week, the Q30 is basically a Mercedes GLA (or A-Class depending on how you look at it) with a stylised Infiniti body perched on top. If you ask Infiniti, however, this car fills a gap between the A and GLA, with a ride height set smack in the middle of the two.
There’s enough ground clearance here to qualify the Q30 as a proper crossover, although Infiniti staffers at the media event avoided that term like the plague. We know this is because a slightly more elevated, slightly more butch, and slightly more adventure-oriented QX30 version is also on the cards.
If the Q30’s wildly sculpted sheetmetal does well to cloak its Merc underpinnings, the interior does anything but. There’s evidence of A-Class DNA scattered all around; steering wheel, window switches, door-mounted seat adjusters, and instrument cluster are all direct transplants from the German donor. Even the ignition key is identical.
A small amount of effort has been made to give this hatch a specific Infiniti flavour, in areas around the central dash facia and 7 inch infotainment display (touchscreen here unlike Merc’s unit), but if you’re familiar with current Benzes you’ll easily spot the unashamed parts-bin raid.
The Merc/Infiniti/Nissan cooperation stretches to running gear too, and besides an 80kW/260Nm 1.5 turbodiesel (the same as in Juke and Qashqai) all engines, gearboxes and drivetrains come from the GLA. The four-strong engine lineup also includes a 125kW/350Nm 2.1-litre turbodiesel, and two turbopetrols – one a 1.6 with 115kW/250Nm, and the other a two-litre with 155kW/350Nm.
A seven-speed dual-clutch transmission is standard across the range (a six-speed manual is optional on the 1.5 and 1.6) and drive comes from either front or all four wheels. Infiniti South Africa cannot yet confirm if all-wheel-drive Q30s will make it to our market, but if so they’ll come exclusively with the two-litre and 2.1 engines.
Four trim grades - Base, Premium, Premium Tech and Sport - offer varying standard feature levels, and three interior colour palette choices include Café Teak (brown), City Black and Gallery White.
Local specifications aren’t yet finalised, but expect navigation, eight-way power seats, active noise cancellation (2.1 diesel only), radar cruise control, lane-departure warning, forward-collision warning and self-parking systems to be available as either standard or optional fitment features.
I drove both diesels and the two-litre petrol with all-wheel drive on a wide variety of roads around Lisbon, where character similarities between the Q30 and the A-Class were crystal clear. Infiniti says the suspension is set up to minimise body roll in corners, and while it’s indeed quite sporty on winding routes, the ride is borderline harsh and it’s clearly intended for first-world tarmac.
On perfectly smooth surfaces things are good. The cabin’s wonderfully quiet, the seats are comfy and handling is superb. But, introduce a ripple or pothole (even a very small one), and the suspension transmits crashy judders right through the chassis.
With its relatively high stance visibility is good, and even if Infiniti refuses to consider this a true crossover it should still appeal to those looking for that commanding seat position and view of the road.
I was impressed with all three engines – the 1.5’s obviously not the most powerful offering but it pulled smoothly with enough torque to keep my hands from stirring the manual gear lever too often. The top 2.0 turbo is very gutsy, and its DCT gearbox ticked up and down with good intuition, but the 2.1 diesel was my pick of the bunch for its easygoing and effortless nature.
I’d also advise spending extra on the alcantara-covered sports seats that added an air of quality to the cabin and were the most comfortable in my opinion; and if navigation is optional in our market, I’d say give it a miss. This particular system was developed in-house by Infiniti and, to be kind, is not the best out there. A dash-top TomTom or Garmin will produce far fewer wrong turns and headaches.
Pricing and specifications will be announced closer to the Q30’s South African launch in July 2016. The stockier QX30 should also arrive next year. - Star Motoring
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