Lisbon, PORTUGAL – There no way to avoid the elephant in the corner… Under the skin and in the cabin (and on sections of the body), the Infiniti Q30 shares parts with the Mercedes-Benz GLA. That includes the latter’s 2,7-metre extended version of the MFA small-car platform, its suspension, engines, transmissions, some electronic hardware, hard buttons inside and even Stuttgart’s exterior door handles.
And some would argue that’s rather an inauspicious base to use for Infiniti’s first global family hatchback… The GLA and it’s A-, B- and CLA-Class brethren have not exactly been showered with praise since their respective launches. Be that as it may, as a result of Renault Nissan’s technical partnership with Mercedes-Benz, the latter’s know-how and established technology have allowed Infiniti to bring the Q30 to market in a speedy timeframe. And it claims to have done exhaustive in-house development work on Benz’s donor hardware to bring the Q30 inline with the focused expectations of Infiniti customers. Those expectancies include excellent refinement and comfort, not words readily associated with vehicles constructed on the MFA platform… So, let’s address them first.
REFINEMENT AT THE FOREFRONT
Infiniti claims the strikingly styled Q30 is the quietest vehicle in its class, which includes the Audi A3 Sportback, BMW 1 Series and Volvo V40. Tricky one to judge, this, but the Q30 certainly instils the impression of excellent refinement. There’s very little wind noise at highway speeds and the 1,5-litre turbodiesel engine settles into a murmur once the revs stabilise. Road roar is noticeable, but the vehicles we drove on the global launch in Lisbon were shod with noise-generating large alloy wheels and low-profile tyres, so this was difficult to judge.
Comfort is easier to assess. Contrary to belief, Portugal’s capital has some appalling road surfaces, but the 1,5d outfitted in Premium Tech trim that includes standard suspension rode these very well indeed. Infiniti’s engineers tested more than 50 suspension tunes and decided on a slightly softer configuration for the 1,5d and 1,6T versions owing to their lighter engines, while the 2,0T and 2,2d models have slightly firmer tuning to compensate for their heavier powertrains.
A separate setup has been engineered for Sport models (the top tier of four trim levels). Those feature a 15 mm reduction in ride height and 7% firmer springs suspending 19-inch wheels on 235/45 tyres. This change has a pronounced effect of the ride quality, which deteriorates to the point of discomfort.
Stick to the standard suspension and the level, composed ride and direct steering system complement the smartly trimmed cabin. Yes, there’s Benz switchgear scattered all over the place (the key is even a Benz clone), but that’s scarcely a criticism.
Tactility is guaranteed through the use of such interesting materials such as suede-like Dinamica and Alcantara (depending on the trim level, of course) and soft-touch surfaces elsewhere. There are some missteps such as lower door cards that are trimmed in hard, scratchy plastic, but overall the Q30 feels on par with the 1 Series and A-Class in terms of perceived cabin quality, while not quite reaching the lofty levels of the A3.
However, a less desirable characteristic of the A/GLA the Q30 has adopted is cramped interior room. Front headroom is at a premium when the optional glass sunroof is fitted, while the rear quarters won’t seat two tall adults without those in the front sacrificing their own comfort and moving their seats forward. The boot, however, is large and well shaped.
The South African market will receive the full complement of engines and transmissions – 1,5- and 125 kW/350 N.m 2,1-litre turbodiesels; 115 kW/250 N.m 1,6- and 155 kW/350 N.m 2,0-litre turbopetrols; six-speed manual and seven-speed dual-clutch transmissions – although Infiniti SA hasn’t decided whether to import all-wheel-drive versions to accompany the lighter front-wheel-drive options.
The range kicks off with the familiar 1,5-litre turbodiesel shared with a number of Nissans, Renaults and certain MFA models in overseas markets. It’s the engine I drove most on the launch and it’s a good one. Mated with a sweet-shifting six-speed manual transmission, there’s sufficient torque to propel the heavy Q30 at a commendable rate – although overtaking punch in sixth gear at highway speeds is in short supply – and it’s a decently refined powertrain. It, like all the other motors, can be paired with Benz’s seven-speed dual-clutch transmission, and that coupling looks likely to be the model of choice.
HOW DOES IT COMPARE?
So, despite their myriad on-paper similarities, the Q30 does manage to distinguish itself from the GLA and improve on some of that vehicle’s less desirable traits. However, whether it’s good enough to differentiate itself in a segment with an embarrassment of riches is another matter. The Q30 isn’t as rounded as the Audi A3 Sportback and fails to match the 1 Series’ dynamic sparkle, but it may prove a tempting alternative to the Volvo V40 and A/GLA if Infiniti gets the local spec and pricing right. We’ll find out whether it has when the Q30 – and its QX30 crossover cousin – hits our shores in July.