What are you looking at here? We drove this car in 2015, when it was called a Q30 – originally it was going to be the lower-riding counterpart to the slightly jacked-up QX30. Then Infiniti decided it’d make more sense to sell all variants of this vehicle as CUVs in the US, so we have three slightly different flavors of the QX30 instead. There’s the normal version, the Sport which is 0.6 inches lower, and the AWD which is 1.2 inches higher. Infiniti brought us to Seattle to sample the Sport and AWD flavors on a semi-circumnavigation of the Puget Sound. It didn’t rain a drop, thanks for asking, but it was sunny and mild the whole time.
It’s easy to make the QX30 sound more confusing than it actually is. This is essentially a Mercedes-Benz GLA250 with full exterior styling and partial interior design by Infiniti, built in the UK alongside several other Nissans. The powertrain and chassis, including the optional AWD system, were all “co-developed” with partner Daimler, with final calibration and tuning by Infiniti engineers.
Here’s another way of explaining it: Infiniti needs an entry-level car to appeal to new premium car shoppers, and the QX30 is the prescription. It’s a hatchback that’s been given the mildest of CUV treatments and a lot of marketing descriptors. That’s because hatchbacks are sales death in America. In Europe, they’ll see right through the CUV posturing and realize it’s just a hatchback offered in three different suspension heights. Whatever you call it to make it palatable to Americans, it’s a useful little vehicle.
This car is mechanically identical to the Q30, so there are some things we can gloss over. Both are powered by a transversely-mounted 2.0-liter Mercedes inline-four. It’s a turbocharged, direct-injection gasoline engine, and it sure feels like one. It sounds like a rock tumbler full of nickels and runs out of breath at about 5,000 RPM.
All versions make 208 hp at 5,500 RPM and 258 lb-ft of torque from between 1,200 and 4,400 RPM – more than adequate but less than thrilling. The engine sends power along through a dim-witted 7-speed dual-clutch gearbox on board, which occasionally got crossed up in Sport mode and is a snooze in Eco. Even though Infiniti did the throttle and transmission calibration, it’s a very German driving experience: torque comes on quick and in volume, a bit like a biergarten server bringing an armful of lager all at once. After the first round, the beer doesn’t come at quite the same generous rate, but you’re far enough along not to mind.
The optional front-biased AWD system is there, allegedly, although we didn’t (and most buyers outside of the snow belt won’t) have occasion to notice it working. Likewise, there are mild suspension and wheel size differences between the three. We only drove the AWD and Sport versions, and were legitimately surprised to find the 1.2 inch ride height increase palpable. Otherwise, it’s a wash. Between 60 (AWD) and 62 percent (FWD) of the car’s weight is over the front axle, limits are limbo-bar low, and there’s not much incentive to push hard on the QX30. If you want a full serving of adrenal aggression, the mechanically-related AMG GLA45 is only several thousand more than a fully-loaded QX30.
They styling hasn’t changed much from the car’s Q30 pupal phase – swoopy creases and exaggerated character lines form an Infiniti chrysalis for the German mechanicals. The AWD version’s minuscule lift manages to make the wheel arch gaps seem immense, while the unique front fascia’s faux skid plate won’t convince anyone of increased all-terrain prowess. It’s artificial crossover enhancement, and it isn’t nearly as handsome as the base or Sport fascias. The car was born to be a hatch, and looks most natural in the lower, wider-seeming Sport trim.
From the outside, there isn’t any indication that this isn’t a whole-hog Infiniti proposition. Inside, it’s another story. Anyone stepping out of a late-model Mercedes into a QX30 will notice that the majority of the switchgear and the instrument cluster are cribbed right from the Daimler parts bin. The infotainment system and center console controller are Infiniti bits, mainly because they were needed to work with Infiniti’s safety systems, like the Around View Monitor bird’s eye camera that activates when reversing.
A hard plastic bezel around the instrument cluster looks jarringly out of place, and on our drive of both the AWD and Sport versions tended to rattle over rough pavement. However, Infiniti’s Spinal Support Seats, which are allegedly home-brewed Infiniti units, worked as advertised and provided multi-hour comfort without fidgeting. While the dashboard is finished nicely in standard Infiniti materials and patterns, it is notably taller and more monolithic than I’ve seen in most Japanese cars – a coded sign of German engineering underneath to those car-geeky enough to read it.
Infiniti hasn’t finalized pricing, but it’s almost certainly going to undercut the less visually dramatic GLA250 and the less utilitarian CLA250 by a couple thousand dollars. We expect the base FWD car to come in at $30,900 without features like navigation, and a fully-loaded AWD model with the extra-special Cafe Teak* (*wood is not actually teak) package at $45,450.
Spend a bit more and you’re into front-drive BMW X1 range, a more powerful and more capacious vehicle that wears its CUV-ness a little more comfortably. After all, it doesn’t have a lower hatchback version of itself running around calling itself an X1 as well. Having driven one recently, I think the more expensive X1 has a more entertaining drivetrain, crisp but restrained good looks, and BMW’s brand cache. There’s also the Audi Q3, also more expensive and coherent but with slightly less interior room than the QX30.
Among its Japanese competition, there are not many small and premium CUVs to be had, and maybe that’s where Infiniti has the greatest room for conquest. It’s far, far more entertaining than the aging Lexus CT Hybrid, cheaper than the larger Lexus NX, and considerably more stylish than the Acura RDX and its chrome beak. In this corner of the market, it’s Infiniti’s game to lose.
It doesn’t seem like it should matter what we call the QX30, or who built what portion of the vehicle. It’s a mashup, sure, but not a disharmonious one because of it, so what does it matter? I think the QX30’s mixed parentage shouldn’t – not because I love the powertrain or the complicated exterior styling, because I don’t – but because it’s an interesting choice rather than an obvious one. Infiniti has cast a line into the pond, and we’re just as anxious as anyone to see if consumers respond to the bait.