THE PROS & CONS
- WHAT’S BEST: Stylish inside and out; smooth transmission operation; ‘AroundView’ monitor very clever.
- WHAT’S WORST: Harsh ride quality due to run-flat tires; handling acceptable but hardly inspiring; price will have to be very competitive for customers to choose this over the Mercedes.
- WHAT’S INTERESTING: Will Infiniti come up with a 360-horse equivalent to Mercedes’s GLA 45 AMG? We can only hope …
SEATTLE-It costs about $2 billion (with-a-B) to develop a new car from scratch.
So when Nissan wanted an entry in the ultrahot compact luxury crossover segment for its upscale Infiniti brand, it only made sense to look at the inventory of Daimler-Benz — its six-year technology joint-venture partner — to see if there was anything that might create the underpinnings for such a vehicle.
So, if the new Infiniti QX30 compact crossover isn’t much more than a re-bodied re-interior-ed and mildly tweaked Mercedes-Benz GLA, well, it isn’t much less either.
The Sunderland, U.K.-built car has been on sale in Europe for a few months now; it hits Canadian Infiniti stores some time in August.
Pricing hasn’t been announced. Given the GLA starts at $38,000 and Infiniti doesn’t carry the same brand cachet as Mercedes, I’m guessing the QX30 will have to start somewhere around $35,000.
Infiniti has identified the GLA as well as BMW’s X1 and Audi’s Q3 as the main sales targets.
RELATED: BMW’s X1 impresses on many fronts
We will get the QX30 in three versions each with slightly different faces and different wheels.
All use essentially the GLA’s turbocharged 2.0-litre, four cylinder pumping maxima of 208 horses and 258 lb-ft of torque through a 7-speed, dual-clutch manumatic transmission with steering wheel paddle shifters.
The base QX30 and one-up Sport models are both front-wheel drive; the Sport also rides on firmer suspension and sits a wee bit lower than its brethren.
The AWD model has — aw, you guessed — a four-wheel drive system. It’s part-time a front-driver until it senses front-wheel slippage, then up to 50 per cent of the drive torque can be directed rearward.
It rides a bit higher than the base car and carries standard roof-rack rails, emphasizing its practical nature.
Louis-Philippe Rochefort, chief marketing manager for Infiniti Canada, estimates between 80 and 85 per cent of our QX30s will be the AWD model with the remainder more or less equally split between the other two variants.
Mark Snyder, an American engineer based in Japan, noted that the suspension and engine have been re-calibrated to reflect an ‘Infiniti’ feel, which he characterized as being a bit sportier than its corporate cousin.
“We have a slightly quicker throttle tip-in (meaning the response of the throttle to initial pedal movement),” he told me, “and firmer damper settings.
“We did back off the response of the gear changes in the transmission, however. Europeans seem to prefer a more positive feel, while North Americans want their shifts to be smoother, almost to the point of imperceptibility.”
If the oily bits are mostly Mercedes, the so-called ‘top hat’ — the sheet metal — and interior are almost all Infiniti.
The body closely follows the concept car revealed at last year’s Geneva Auto Show and features deeply sculpted body sides, ‘double-arch’ grille, and crescent-cut rear roof pillar — all aspects of what Infiniti is trying to establish as its look.
To my eye, it’s a handsome car, and to my memory, it looks a bit larger than how I remember the GLA, although none of those were available for back-to-back eyeballing, let alone driving.
The QX30 is in fact slightly longer overall on an identical wheelbase leading to slightly more cargo space, although total interior volume is fractionally smaller due to a slightly narrower rear seat.
But the straighter roofline than the GLA means the rear seat feels more spacious. Again, than I remember …
The interior combines some familiar Benz bits — door-mounted seat controls, the dead-wrong twist-the-left-steering-column-stalk for wipers (come on, Mercedes, a right-side stalk is the only way to do this), and the three-position mode switch at the base of the shift lever (for Economy Sport or Manual shift programs) — with a unique-to-Infiniti layout and upscale materials.
I hadn’t been in an Infiniti for a while and hadn’t noticed that they have dropped the lovely analogue clock which used to be a signature item. I guess they are aiming at customers who never knew what ‘clockwise’ meant …
The seats follow Nissan’s recent progress in high-tech-ery, although they don’t seem to use the ‘NASA’ label any more — they used to say the seats were developed with space-age technology. Whatever they promise — 30 per cent less fatigue — were comfortable and supportive during our drive.
Odd though that in a Hyundai Tucson or Kia Sportage you can get heated rear seats and a power tailgate, neither of which appear to be available on the QX30.
On the road, about the first thing you notice is that Infiniti has followed BMW and Mercedes down the primrose path of run-flat tires.
You only ‘save space’ with run-flats if the car is so loaded there is no room for a spare AND you get a flat. That is statistically approximately never.
Yet you have to put up with lousy ride quality every second you are on the move.
Not a good trade-off.
The harshness is most noticeable on rougher pavement (in Toronto? Perish the thought …). On smoother surfaces like most of the roads we drove on in the Olympic Peninsula, it isn’t too bad.
But just as you have to do now with all BMWs and some Mercedes, your first stop after picking the car up from the dealership should be your favourite tire store to get five new tires.
Performance is fine and the transmission does indeed shift smoothly.
One notable item — the idle stop-start function also operates more smoothly than many I have tried.
A host of Darwin-denying nanny systems — emergency braking, lane-keeping assist, etc. — are offered on the higher-end models. For those of you who still know how to drive, you can shut them off.
One Infiniti-originated system that truly is useful is the ‘AroundView’ monitor, which presents a real-time view of what’s around the car in the seven-inch centre touchscreen. You can see your kid’s tricycle — or your kid — back there. Now, for this, they should make a law.
Not much to complain about in the handling nor much to wax eloquent about either. Steering is light, the car basically goes where you point it. Not a class of car where handling delight is a big thing.
It is, however, a class of car in which Infiniti needs badly to be competing.
The QX30 is stylish inside and out and competitive with the class in just about every other aspect.
Will it succeed? Time — and that pricing — will tell.
Infiniti QX30: Four-door, five-seat compact crossover front-wheel/part-time four-wheel drive.
ENGINE: 2.0 litre, in-line 4 dual overhead camshafts, four valves per cylinder, variable valve timing, turbocharged.
POWER/TORQUE horsepower / lb-ft: 208 @ 5,500 r.p.m. / 258 @ 1,200-4,000 r.p.m.
FUEL CONSUMPTION Transport Canada City/Highway l/100 km: N/A
COMPETITION: Audi Q3 BMW X1, Mercedes-Benz GLA.