There's a Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class sedan following us down the highway out of the city, and we can't help but smile at the coincidence. Our 2017 Infiniti Q30 test car is based on the CLA-Class, but you'd never guess from the way the car looks, feels, or drives. Rather than simply slapping Infiniti badges on a Mercedes and calling it a day, Infiniti used its partnership with Daimler to take Benz's MFA small-car platform (used for the A-, B-, CLA-, and GLA-Class) as a starting point and create a totally new vehicle.
Some of the Q30's switchgear comes directly from Benz, as do its engines and transmission, but in other respects the car is an Infiniti through and through. Every body panel and most of the interior is unique to Infiniti. The car is stamped and built at a Nissan factory in the U.K., the powertrain and suspension were retuned by Infiniti engineers, and even the car's infotainment-system software comes from Infiniti rather than Benz. Yet although it's clear that the Q30 is more than just a rebadged Mercedes, the big question is whether the new car has the combination of style and sportiness to help Infiniti grasp a chunk of the burgeoning entry-luxury car segment.
Living up to the concept
Infiniti managed to carry the wild styling of the 2013 Q30 concept to the production car with very few changes. Hard points such as the position of the firewall and all the suspension mounting points are common with other cars on the Mercedes MFA platform, but every other part of the body is unique to Infiniti. It's a smart, modern look that draws plenty of intrigued eyeballs on the streets of Lisbon.
Deep-draw stamping allows for prominent, sharp character lines that ripple along the car's panels. The double-arch grille seen on the Q50 sedan leads into Infiniti's eye-inspired headlights, while creases and strakes develop on the hood, run across the front fender and A-pillar, and onto the doors. A sloping roofline and sloped rear window (with Infiniti's signature crescent-cut C-pillar) result in a modern, athletic look. Black plastic cladding around the wheelwells helps prime buyers to think of this luxury hatchback as a crossover, even though Infiniti will actually launch a higher-riding QX30 alongside the Q30.
Dimensionally, the 2017 Infiniti Q30 is quite close to Benz's GLA-Class small crossover -- it shares the car's wheelbase and is within a few inches of its width, height, and length -- and also near to the Audi A3 Sportback. Exact curb weights for the U.S.-market version are not available, but expect something around 3,400-3,500 pounds once the car arrives on our shores.
Remarkable differences on the road
We're spending our day in the most enthusiast-friendly 2017 Infiniti Q30, a Sport model with the 2.0-liter turbo-four that is the only engine choice for American buyers (Europeans also can pick from a 1.6-liter gas and 1.5- or 2.2-liter diesels). Compared to the regular Q30, which will be badged the Premium in the U.S., the Sport model has unique front and rear bumpers, 19-inch wheels instead of the standard 18-inchers, and larger, cross-drilled front brakes. The suspension has 7 percent stiffer springs that lower the car by 0.6 inch, as well as unique power steering and damper tuning.
This particular test car also has all-wheel drive, which won't be offered on any version of the Q30 in the U.S.; Infiniti figures that buyers who really need all-weather traction can pick the related QX30 crossover. Cutting down on order complexity for the Q30 also makes it a little easier for U.S. dealers to stock a car that must be shipped from the U.K, and should both lower the car's starting price and raise its fuel-efficiency figures, although neither number has yet been confirmed.
As we leave Lisbon for the coastal town of Cascais, we're immediately struck by how smoothly the Q30's dual-clutch transmission works in city traffic. There's no low-speed lurching or clunking, just the imperceptible takeoff and slick upshifts we'd expect from a torque converter box. It's night and day compared to Mercedes' tuning of this transmission; the CLA and GLA can be downright unpleasant in stop-and-go traffic as the gearbox hunts and slams between gears. It also always sets off in first gear, whereas Benz's tuning uses second gear to smooth out low-speed starts at the expense of responsiveness.
Power from the 2.0-liter turbo-four is ultimately plenty for this class of car, with 0 to 62 mph taking just 7.3 seconds. The engine is smooth through its rev range and pulls hard once the turbocharger wakes up, but it's lazy below about 3,000 rpm. It doesn't help that in its default Eco mode the transmission is reluctant to downshift unless you're really deep into the throttle, which will likely save lots of fuel but saps some of the fun from driving the Q30. Switch to Sport mode so the transmission holds gears for longer and shifts more promptly, and you can make much swifter progress. An aggressive stop-start feature cuts the engine the millisecond you roll to a stop in traffic, restarting the engine with a mild shudder when you let off the brake.
The next revelation is that the 2017 Infiniti Q30 Sport is more fun to drive than some of its competitors. The car stays remarkably flat through corners, aided in part by special rebound springs within the dampers that help resist body roll. The chassis soaks up off-camber and bumpy turns without a fuss, giving us the confidence to place the Q30 exactly where we want on the way out of a bend. Credit in part the quick steering ratio and well-programmed electric power steering. There's just enough dead space on-center so the Q30 never feels darty in a straight line -- unsurprisingly, it has a very Germanic sense of straight-ahead on the highway -- and enough heft as you dial in more steering to keep the driver apprised of what's going on at the front tires. We'd enjoy driving the Q30 Sport on these types of two-lane roads all day long.
At the same time, ride quality puts the car's German cousins to shame. Despite the 19-inch wheels on our Sport model, little jostling comes through the cabin. The suspension settles quickly after crests and dips, and passengers are jarred only over the most severe potholes. There is none of the crashiness we found so grating in the CLA- and GLA-Class suspensions.
All-day comfort and utility
Let's get this out of the way: Yes, you'll notice Mercedes-Benz parts in the cabin. The window and door-lock switches, instrument cluster, shifter, and climate-control knobs are all familiar to anyone who's been in a Mercedes recently. That said, the rest of the 2017 Infiniti Q30 cabin looks completely different from what you’ll find in a CLA- or GLA-Class. Infiniti's asymmetrical dashboard design has a pleasant curve on the passenger side, and suede lines the pillars and headliners. Despite the low roofline, over-the-shoulder visibility when checking your blind spot is quite good (and there's a blind-spot warning system anyway).
Specifically designed to conform to the curvature of the human spine and rump, the Q30's seats are exceptionally comfortable, even with the extra bolstering of the one-piece seats in the Sport model. The cabin remains quiet at speed, with just the right amount of engine noise but very little wind or tire roar reaching occupants' ears.
The standard 7-inch infotainment screen is one of the smaller displays offered in today's luxury cars, and although it is a touchscreen we found it easier to operate the system by the rotary controller and buttons on the center console. Infiniti's InTouch is not the prettiest or the most intuitive infotainment software on sale today, but it responds quickly to inputs and functioned flawlessly during our drive.
A brief ride in the back seat reveals more than enough head- and legroom for a 5-foot, 10-inch passenger, thanks in part to the scalloped headliner. A wide and deep trunk with fold-flat 60/40-split rear seats imparts lots of utility to this crossover, although the steeply sloped rear window will limit the height of your cargo. At 13.0 cubic feet with the seats raised, cargo space compares favorably to a GLA-Class's 11.8 cubic feet.
Standard equipment includes things such as LED taillights, running lights, and foglights; power front seats; and heated mirrors. The long options list includes a panoramic sunroof, full-leather upholstery, navigation, a Bose sound system, and safety features including forward-collision warning and braking, adaptive cruise control, lane-departure warning, a 360-degree camera, and self-parking. In other words, all the clever features we have come to expect from a modern luxury car are present and accounted for.
Ready for primetime
Though it is a global model that will be sold in 50 different markets, the 2017 Infiniti Q30 is clearly positioned to help the brand gain a bigger foothold in Europe, where the Infiniti brand is still something of an unknown. Small, luxurious hatchbacks are all the rage in Europe, so much so that Infiniti expects that segment to grow three times faster than the rest of the luxury market.
In the U.S. market, the Q30 will compete with the Audi A3 and Mercedes-Benz small cars, but it'll also overlap with entries like the Audi Q3 and BMW X1 crossovers. And the upcoming QX30, revealed this week in Los Angeles, will be an even closer match for those entry luxury crossovers. Given the continued buyer migration to crossovers and SUVs, as well as cold-weather states' love of all-wheel drive, we expect the QX30 will be a much bigger hit than its little brother.
Nonetheless, buyers who walk past the Q30 in an Infiniti showroom are doing themselves a disservice. It outshines its Mercedes progenitors in terms of style, comfort, and driving satisfaction, and it works well as an everyday entry luxury car. Interesting to look at, pleasant to ride in, and fun to drive, the 2017 Infiniti Q30 is a welcome addition to the burgeoning segment.
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