The fruit of a development deal with Mercedes-Benz, Infiniti's new entry-level model, the QX30 compact crossover, takes its drivetrain, suspension and even its key fob from the Mercedes-Benz GLA250.
The small hatchback I'm driving feels at home on the narrow and winding roads of Washington's Olympic Peninsula, its responsive steering nicely tuned to match the reasonably firm suspension. With 208 horsepower from the turbocharged two-liter under the hood, and all-wheel-drive, I should be in hot hatch territory.
But this car bears an Infiniti badge on the grille, and that very morning Keith St. Clair, Infiniti's Director of Product Planning, insisted that I would be driving a compact crossover. Not a hatchback, not an SUV and certainly not a wagon.
It feels a little odd to be driving an Infiniti of this small stature. The 2017 Infiniti QX30 comes in as a new entrant in the Infiniti lineup, just below the QX50, and the smallest car in its current US stable. Other markets will get the Q30, positioned as more of a hatchback, but it's only the QX30 for us SUV-lovin' Americans.
Even more odd, as I experience the QX30 on an Infiniti-sponsored drive in the Seattle area, are the Mercedes-Benz cues. St. Clair made clear when presenting the car that it was the first result of a partnership between Nissan-Renault Alliance and Daimler, the respective companies behind Infiniti and Mercedes-Benz. He pointed out that the driveline and the suspension components were all developed by Daimler.
Beyond those major pieces, I noticed the door-mounted power seat controls, steering wheel, drive mode selector and even the damned key fob all matched those on the Mercedes-Benz GLA250, the QX30's fraternal twin.
What did Infiniti bring to the party? While the QX30 shares the GLA250's form, the exterior sheet metal is completely different. Infiniti engineers tuned the suspension, throttle and steering to their specifications, creating a somewhat different drive feel. However, I found more than a few similarities in ride quality.
Infiniti partially makes the QX30 its own with the in-dash electronics, the latest version of Infiniti's InTouch navigation and entertainment system. Although I found that the 7-inch LCD in the dashboard is a touchscreen, Infiniti intends drivers to use its new dial-and-button control pod, mounted on the console.
This InTouch system showed reasonably nice-looking graphics, and responded quickly to my inputs. However, during my brief chance to explore, navigation, audio and phone functions all seemed little changed from past systems. For example, address entry still requires separate inputs for street name, number and city, rather than the quicker single-box entry paradigm found in navigation apps and in-car systems such as Ford's Sync 3 and Audi's Virtual Cockpit.
When I asked an Infiniti spokesperson at this drive event about Android Auto and Apple CarPlay support, he said he thought the new system supported it. However, when plugging my iPhone into the QX30, I was not able to activate CarPlay. Infiniti pointed out that this batch of QX30s were pre-production cars, so we will have to wait for the production release to confirm smartphone integration.
Playing the soundtrack for my drive, the 10-speaker premium Bose audio system in the QX30 delivered excellent fidelity, even at low volumes.
During the first leg of my drive, out of downtown Seattle, road noise overwhelmed the cabin, a fact that other journalists on this drive commented on as well. Infiniti staffers put that noise down to the road surfaces, an explanation I partially accepted as it diminished significantly once on more freshly paved highways. However, the QX30 doesn't use the thick acoustic glass of more luxurious rides, so befitting its spot as Infiniti's entry-level vehicle likely won't offer as quiet a cabin as its stablemates.
When I reviewed the GLA250, I felt the ride quality wasn't up to Mercedes-Benz standards. I was more forgiving with the QX30, mostly due to brand perception. Over rougher roads and bumps, its ride didn't feel particularly better than less-premium cars. Over the day's drive, I found the ride comfortable without being exceptional.
Infiniti notes the QX30's seats create 30 percent less fatigue for passengers. I couldn't exactly verify those numbers, but I didn't notice any discomfort.
The QX30 really shines in how its power delivery, steering and suspension all combine for an engaged driving feel. As I piloted the car along forested highways, it responded quickly to my inputs, and had more than enough power on top for easy passing maneuvers.
Along with the aforementioned 208 horsepower, the two-liter turbocharged engine makes 258 pound-feet of torque, the same specifications as the GLA250. During my drive, fuel economy averaged in the high 20s. Infiniti hasn't given figures for the QX30 yet, but it should come close to the GLA250's EPA-rated 24 mpg city and 32 mpg highway.
A seven-speed dual-clutch transmission worked seamlessly, with smooth gearshifts that never missed a beat during my drive. As in the GLA250, I toggled through Sport, Eco and Manual transmission programs with a simple button press.
The base, front-wheel-drive QX30, without navigation, comes in just under $30,000. I drove both the $38,500 Sport trim model, also front-wheel-drive, and the all-wheel-drive model in Premium trim, which starts at $37,700. Loaded up in Premium trim, the QX30 can cost almost $45,000.
With a heavier steering feel and lowered, stiffened suspension, the QX30 Sport is intended to offer a more engaged driving feel, but I really preferred the all-wheel-drive version. Boasting the same power output, that model felt sporty enough.
Infiniti cites the Audi Q3, BMW X1 and, of course, the Mercedes-Benz GLA250 as competitors for the QX30, all compact crossovers with premium cabin appointments. These models represent a potentially growing segment, serving urban buyers who prefer a smaller car, but can afford to go upscale.
Among this competition, Audi and BMW do a better job with small-car ride quality, but the QX30 may win on price.
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