Despite being based on the Mercedes-Benz A-Class, does the Infiniti Q30 offer enough of a difference to justify a brand swap?
Platform sharing isn't a new thing. We all remember the Nissan ute that was a Ford ute and the Toyota Lexcen that was actually a Holden Commodore. This time around it's Infiniti with the new 2017 Infiniti Q30, which shares a platform with the much-loved Mercedes-Benz A-Class.
Unlike the Nissan ute and Toyota Lexcen, the Infiniti is actually built by Nissan on the same production line as cars like the Juke in the United Kingdom. In fact, it's the first Infiniti to be built in Europe, with the company spending over $300 million to upgrade the production line to accept the new model.
The Q30 range starts from $38,900 (plus on-road costs) for the Q30 1.6t GT and goes all the way up to $54,900 (plus on-road costs) for the Q30 2.2d Sport Premium. The model tested here is the $52,900 (plus on-road costs) Q30 2.0t Sport Premium, which represents the sportiest vehicle in the Q30 range.
All Q30 variants are mated to a seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox and send torque through the front wheels. In the case of the Q30 2.0t, it's powered by a 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine that produces 155kW of power and 350Nm of torque, consuming 6.3L/100km on the combined cycle. According to Infiniti, it'll dash from 0-100km/h in 7.3 seconds.
From the outside, the Q30 looks smart, very smart. Flared wheel arches and defined angles cut a smooth line in traffic, while the both the rear and front offer a unique-to-Infiniti styling treatment in comparison to the A-Class it's based on.
As you open the door, it's not hard to see a number of components shared with Mercedes-Benz. There's the window switches (also shared with the Tesla Model S), seat adjustment attached to the door, speedometer and tachometer cluster, climate controls and some other switchgear.
Thankfully Infiniti has made enough of a point of difference with air vents and the perception of quality. The circular plastic-clad air vents in the A-Class feel a bit cheap, especially at the upper end of the price bracket.
Strangely, instead of adopting the column shifter fitted in all non-AMG A-Class vehicles, the Q30 uses a gear shifter in the centre tunnel. It robs the vehicle of a storage place, which is normally there when a column shifter is used.
While we often criticise Mercedes-Benz's COMAND system for being fiddly to use, Infiniti has decided to replace it with its own system.
The seven-inch Infiniti InTouch infotainment touchscreen unit feels at least one generation behind essentially every car in this segment. It can be clumsy at times and the quality of the 360-degree reversing camera is very poor and is essentially ineffective at night time.
Interior room feels much more accommodating than the A-Class. That's thanks to it measuring in at 4425mm in length (as opposed to 4299mm in the A-Class), 1805mm in width (1780mm in the A-Class) and 1475mm high (versus 1433mm in the A-Class). That means there's extra leg and headroom in the first and second rows, which is a handy addition given the somewhat cramped feel in the A-Class for adults.
Cargo capacity is also impressive, measuring in at 430 litres — almost a full 100 litres more than the A-Class.
Despite all of its shortcomings, the interior of the Q30 feels really premium. It feels well put together and the use of padded materials around the cabin give it a luxury feel.
It's also loaded with features. The Q30 2.0t Sport Premium comes with things like autonomous emergency braking; Bluetooth phone audio and streaming (which was very clear); adaptive LED headlights; cross-drilled Brembo front rotors; 19-inch alloy wheels; sports tuned suspension that sits 15mm lower than the entry level and seven per cent stiffer; moon roof; semi-automatic parking; eight-way power seats; Nappa leather seats and a 10-speaker premium Bose sound system.
As you turn it over, it has a raspy idle that sounds good from both inside and outside. Setting off in drive, it's immediately obvious that there's a dual-clutch gearbox mated to the engine. It feels slightly jerky off the line and has the same character traits of the A250 where it's difficult to move it off the line smoothly.
Once moving, it's fine and gearshifts are smooth. Static paddle shifters mounted to the steering wheel allow immediate manual override at any point, while a Sport mode can be selected in addition to a full manual mode and an Eco mode.
The Sport mode sharpens throttle response and keeps the gearbox humming along in a dynamic shift mode.
When it is in Sport mode, the turbocharged four-cylinder engine really begins to sing. Unlike the A250, which is driven through all four wheels, the Q30's front-wheel drive system results in a tendency to torque steer and occasional stability control intervention. The sticky rubber helps it remain planted though. What surprised us the most was the ride.
We were expecting it to be harsh and overly firm, but it presents a nice balance between firmness and comfort. The direct steering is communicative and despite being around seven per cent firmer than non-Sport models, the body sits flat through corners and absorbs mid-corner bumps with aplomb.
Without a mechanical limited-slip differential, it can get a little frustrating having the traction control continuously intervene when getting on the throttle swiftly on exit of a corner. It's easily solved by being less aggressive with the throttle, but this is where the A250 shines with an all-wheel drive system.
Around town the suspension is on the firmer side of comfortable but not to the point of being intrusive, despite riding on 19-inch alloy wheels.
In terms of the ownership experience, Infiniti offers a fairly compelling package. The warranty is four years/100,000km, while servicing occurs every 12 months or 25,000km and is capped for the first three services, coming in at $540 over 75,000km or three services.
Thankfully, we've determined this isn't just an Infiniti A-Class. It has a bunch of unique character despite sharing a huge number of components with its German cousin-in-law.
But, with the next-generation A-Class under a year away, it makes you wonder how Infiniti can justify having a car launch in Australia when its donor platform will be outdated in such a short time.
Either way, if you are in the market for an A-Class at the moment and want something a little different that feels premium and is affordable to run, the Infiniti Q30 is worth a look.