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Launching a new car in a highly competitive space must be tough. Attempting to steal away buyers of luxury brands – where badge cachet is often more important than the car itself – by launching an unknown nameplate must be even harder.
That’s where this car – the 2017 Infiniti Q30 GT 1.6t – comes in.
It’s the most affordable variant in the Q30 range, starting from $38,900 plus on-road costs. That puts this unknown quantity in a quandary in terms of its competitors: it’s more expensive than the entry-level versions of the Audi A3 ($36,500 plus costs), BMW 1 Series ($36,900), Lexus CT200h ($38,750) and Mercedes-Benz A-Class ($37,200).
You’d probably expect, then, that the base model would be lusciously specced as a means to getting potential buyers through the door, at least to have a sticky-beak…
But the truth is that it falls short in some key ways. There’s no rear-view camera on this model (you have to spend up to the top-spec at $52,900 for that!) and the latest in-car connectivity in the form of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto aren’t available, either.
Still, buyers get a 7.0-inch media screen that has both a central controller and a touchscreen, satellite navigation with live traffic updates, Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, two USB inputs, a six-speaker stereo system and voice recognition. Keyless entry is standard, too – but like some Mercedes-Benz models you have to insert the key rather than push a button to get things going.
It rides on 18-inch wheels with run-flat tyres (Yokohama C Drive 2 in 235/50 on our test car) as standard, and this variant – unlike all models that sit above it – has the comfort-tuned suspension set up: we’ll get to that soon.
While there’s no camera to help you see when you’re going backwards (and one would be welcome, because the back pillars are pretty bulky), when you’re driving in a forward direction there’s forward collision warning and autonomous emergency braking. You get rear parking sensors, too.
There are seven airbags (dual front, front side, full-length curtain and driver’s knee protection), and in the back there are two ISOFIX attachment points as well as top-tether hooks.
This model gets the “signature” LED daytime running lights, but halogen headlights, with auto on/off functionality, an auto-dimming rear-view mirror, auto-dimming driver’s side mirror, and rain-sensing wipers, too.
All the Mercedes instruments are reasonably classy to look at, and they do lift the ambience somewhat – despite the fact that there’s a lack of cohesion between some of elements: the digital centre screen between the dials, for example, bears little resemblance to the main media screen, and the instrument cluster fonts are pretty different, too.
That centre media screen can be confusing to operate – the menus have small fonts that can be hard to read, and the media interface is weird: you have to press the radio button on the dash rather than getting there using the rotary controller.
The gear selector is nice – it looks to have been borrowed from the Mercedes-AMG parts bin, rather than using the stalk selector in many Merc models – and the P button below the selector puts the car into park, but doesn’t apply the park brake. There’s a second button for that, down near the driver’s knee, and it doesn’t auto apply when you turn the car off. It will auto release if you engage a gear, though.
The front seats are manually operable – no electric slide or tilt, here – and the driver’s seat has electric lumbar, and there’s a good amount of adjustment available to drivers of different sizes. Taller drivers may find head room a little tight, though.
The leather-trimmed steering wheel – again with Mercedes buttons and an Infiniti badge – is nice in the hand, and the soft leatherette finishes on the dash-top adds a little something to the cabin. The manual air-conditioning controls – single zone rotary gizmos – are borrowed straight out of the Benz parts catalogue, and while they’re nice, they’re the same as you find in a Vito van.
As for storage, there are good-sized door pockets with bottle holders, and there are decent cup-holders between the seats. Those who carry pockets full of loose items may find a lack of useful storage annoying, with only a small covered box below the centre stack that is also home to twin USB inputs.
In the back seat the Q30 is pretty tight for space. Behind this six-foot tester’s preferred seating position there was very tight knee space (we’re talking knees against the seatback), fine toe room and not much head room due to the outer headlining eating into space.
For smaller occupants there are three top-tether attachment points as well as two ISOFIX anchors, but there’s no flip-down armrest, nor are there cup holders or air-vents in the back.
The door pockets are sizeable enough to cope with small bottles, but the mesh map pockets on the seat backs are a bit cheap (Infiniti is by no means the only culprit with these, though!).
With 368 litres of cargo space the Q30’s boot is smaller than an Audi A3 (380L), but bigger than an A-Class (340L) and 1 Series (360L), and it’s easily big enough for a couple of suitcases and backpacks. Because the car rides on run-flat tyres, there’s no spare wheel under the boot floor, meaning an extra hidey-hole if required. And there’s a 12-volt outlet in there, too.
Some of these findings may sound a little picky, but if you’re buying something premium, it should look and feel premium… right? How about the drive experience, then?
Under the bonnet, as you may have guessed from the model name, is a 1.6-litre four-cylinder turbocharged petrol engine. It produces 115kW of power (at 5300rpm) and 250Nm of torque (from 1250-4000rpm), and is teamed exclusively to a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission.
There are three drive modes to choose from – economy, sport and manual – with the latter relying on the driver doing their bit with the paddleshifters on the wheel. A Merc-sourced button (again!) near the gear-shifter selects between these modes.
In the standard economy mode, the drivetrain can be a tad lethargic in its response, with some lag before the car picks itself up and gets on with things at about 2000rpm. This is exacerbated by the stop-start system, which can be grumbly upon firing back up.
At low speeds when you make a quick switch between drive and reverse when parking, for example, the transmission can be slow to react, stuttering as it manages its clutch packs. The lack of a camera makes it all the more hard to park, because the rear pillars are quite large, too.
While the engine can come across as a bit lazy at low speeds under light throttle, it gets along decently when you push a little harder. Choose sport mode and the transmission holds on to gears a lot longer (sometimes too long), allowing you to explore the rev range. Strangely, though, there’s some slurring between shifts, which is somewhat uncharacteristic of a dual-clutch gearbox.
Fuel use is claimed at 6.0 litres per 100 kilometres for the base model Q30 – we saw 8.3L/100km over a tankful of mixed highway and urban driving.
The aforementioned comfort suspension set-up largely lives up to its name, with decent ride comfort in most situations, though it can be a little firm in the way it recovers from bumps, and it doesn’t coast over bumps as well as an A3 does. In fact, it never feels as settled or planted over most surfaces as the three German premium small cars.
The steering, too, could be better. It is darty in the on-centre position, meaning you can accidentally overdo your intended steering input on straights. And the more lock you apply, the less response you get.
Infiniti offers a four-year 100,000-kilometre warranty program for its new cars, and there’s a capped-price servicing campaign for the Q30 that sees it require servicing every 12 months or 25,000km (whichever occurs first), with up to five years or 125,000km of cover. The average cost per visit over the first three years/75,000km is $550.
The 2017 Infiniti Q30 GT 1.6t doesn’t argue a very strong case to get new buyers through the doors of Infiniti showrooms. As if the challenge wasn’t big enough for a challenger brand.
It is comparatively under-equipped and overpriced for an entry-level premium car, and it doesn’t feel special enough inside, or from the driver’s seat, to justify it. If you’re looking at an entry-level prestige car, there are better options out there.
Click the Photos tab above for more images by Sam Venn.