SEATTLE – Demand is so brisk for utility vehicles that automakers are finding creative ways to bring them to market quickly.
For instance, the Renault-Nissan Alliance and Daimler have a long-term cooperative agreement to share products and technologies for years to come, and this arrangement has spawned the new Infiniti QX30, a likable luxury compact CUV that handles well, looks stylish inside and out and is affordable.
The ’17 QX30 essentially is a reskinned version of the front-wheel-drive Mercedes GLA, so think of both vehicles as sibling rivals courting similar customers. Renault-Nissan builds the QX30 at its plant in Sunderland, U.K.
Let’s withhold judgment of Infiniti for its willingness to place its badge on the vehicle of a competitor because – truth be told – most consumers don’t care.
What matters to them is the monthly payment, the color and whether it provides reliable transportation. If they ever look under the hood, they might not even notice the words “Mercedes-Benz” on the oil cap.
Infiniti aspires someday to have the swagger of Mercedes, so potential customers who do their homework might be perfectly fine to get German DNA at Infiniti prices.
Cosmetically, the QX30 stands on its own, and Infiniti insiders consider its interior among the brand’s finest, incorporating many of the latest features and electronics from the popular Q50 sedan, such as the reasonably intuitive and graphically slick 7-in. (178-mm) In-Touch display screen.
Infiniti uses its own seats (rather than borrowing from Mercedes) and designed a completely new instrument panel that neatly integrates the fixed display screen, while the GLA’s central screen stands above the dashboard.
However, Mercedes leaves its prints all over this interior: in the steering wheel controls, window switchgear, door handles, locks, seat controls, turn-signal stalk and light switch. The familiar Mercedes font even appears in the gauge cluster. Still, the two distinctive styles from each automaker’s design studio nicely meld together.
Less impressive are the glaring fit-and-finish problems appearing on some of these pre-production models evaluated: Rear trim had pulled away badly from the passenger seat in one QX30, while a poorly fitting bezel left a sizable gap with the instrument cluster in clear view of the passenger.
Exterior styling is crisp and swoopy, seemingly void of straight lines, from the boomerang-shaped C-pillar window trim and steeply raked backlight to the complex folds in the hood that fall toward the grille like a plunging neckline.
Not that the GLA is dowdy or frumpy, but the bold shape of the QX30 suggests Infiniti designers were encouraged to take chances and chart a fresh path.
Relative to its rivals, the QX30 has the longest wheelbase and more cargo capacity than the BMW X1 and Audi Q3. In passenger volume, the QX30 comes in third behind both the X1 and GLA. With its dropped suspension, the Sport model rides lower than any vehicle in the segment.
On the powertrain front, the QX30 makes good use of Mercedes’ 2.0L turbocharged 4-cyl., rated at 208 hp and 258 lb.-ft. (350 Nm) of torque, same as in the GLA. Infiniti engineers handled calibration and throttle tuning. Premium fuel is required.
A 2.0L turbo-4 making only 208 hp would appear on paper to be uncompetitive, especially in a luxury vehicle. But this engine, though quiet and soft-spoken in casual driving, becomes spirited and even grunty when pressed hard, abetted by the clean-shifting 7-speed dual-clutch transmission.
The QX30 might be the least functional ute in Infiniti’s stable, but it’s enormously fun to drive – perhaps a happy waypoint between a sporty coupe or sedan and a top-heavy SUV.
There are three flavors of QX30: standard (starting at $29,950), Sport (which is 0.6 ins. [15 mm] lower) and AWD (which is 1.2 ins. [30 mm] higher). More than half the U.S. sales mix is expected to be AWD models. Run-flat tires are standard on all models.
The Sport variant, starting at $38,500, gets the largest wheels (19-in. alloys), cross-drilled front brake rotors, sport seats with integrated head restraints, a flat-bottom steering wheel and unique fasciae front and rear.
The AWD model, which starts at $34,400, comes with Nappa-leather seating, aluminum kickplates and chrome trim in the cargo hold. A 10-speaker Bose premium sound system is available in both the Sport and AWD models.
The most expensive AWD Premium QX30, with in-dash navigation, moonroof, LED headlamp package, technology package and Café Teak interior trim, stickers for $44,500. The tech package includes blindspot warning, emergency braking, lane-departure warning, intelligent cruise control, high-beam assist, intelligent part-assist and around-view monitor.
By comparison, Mercedes GLA pricing begins at $32,850, and the top-line GLA45 AMG model easily will top $50,000 with options.
So the Infiniti QX30 is undercutting its brother in pricing, but don’t count on the upstart to become Dad’s favorite. The GLA is leading the segment, selling 14,317 units in the U.S. through July, with the BMW X1 close behind.
'17 Infiniti QX30 Sport Specifications
|Vehicle type||4-door, 5-passenger FWD and AWD cross/utility vehicle|
|Engine||2.0L DOHC turbocharged direct-injected all-aluminum 4-cyl.|
|Power (SAE net)||208 hp @ 5,500 rpm|
|Torque||258 lb.-ft. (350 Nm) @ 1,200-4,000 rpm|
|Bore x stroke (mm)||83.0 x 92.0|
|Wheelbase||106.3 ins. (2,700 mm)|
|Overall length||174.2 ins. (4,425 mm)|
|Overall width||82 ins. (2,083 mm)|
|Overall height||58.1 ins. (1,476 mm)|
|Curb weight||3,364 lbs. (1,526 kg)|
|Base price||$38,500 plus $995 destination charges|
|Competition||Acura RDX, Audi Q3, BMW X1, Mercedes GLA|
|Sizzling good looks||Turn-off for conservative buyers|
|Stylish, well-appointed interior||Glaring fit-and-finish issues|
|Great engine/trans combo||Is it really an Infiniti?|