If you were to take a handful of hot-button buzzwords and phrases like ‘prestige’, ‘compact SUV’, ‘aspirational’ and ‘technology’ and throw them in a blender, the results could be spectacular. But more than likely you'll end up with something disastrous.
You’d have to tread a very fine line to get the balance just right, which is exactly the situation aspirational luxury marque, Infiniti, finds itself facing with its QX30 compact SUV.
In Australia, Infiniti is almost invisible having sold just 649 cars of the 1.15 million new cars registered in Australia in 2018.
The QX30 and its closely related Q30 twin contributed 170 of those registrations, so they’re pulling their weight within Infiniti’s range. But (and it’s a big but) Infiniti’s compact SUV is based on the Mercedes-Benz GLA of which 3906 were sold in 2018, so there’s some catching up to do.
Why the state-of-play update? Because for 2019, Infiniti has tinkered with the QX30 in an attempt to maintain some kind of market presence. That means the 2019 Infiniti QX30 Sport you see here, priced from $49,888 drive-away, is now the only variant available in Australia, and takes the place of the previous QX30 GT and QX30 Premium trim levels spanning $48,900 to $56,900 before on-roads.
At that price, the QX30 Sport comes powered by a 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol engine producing 155kW and 350Nm, which is paired with a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission and all-wheel drive.
Below the QX30, the Q30 also continues with the same body shape (but minor differences to wheels and bumpers), the same engine, but lower ride height and front-wheel drive only, which makes it more a hatch than SUV despite still being marketed as the latter.
If you’re keeping score, the engine, transmission and all-wheel-drive system are supplied by Mercedes-Benz and are the same as you’d find in a GLA250. But you’d have to stump up $61,800 plus on-road costs (at full retail before offers) to buy a mechanically identical car with a three-pointed star in the grille.
In styling terms, the two are quite different. Infiniti’s aesthetic is a little more daring than that of the chunkier Benz, though neither is likely to be mistaken for a serious off-road adventurer. Active urban lifestyles are clearly the target market.
The QX30’s Benz-based model sharing also sees a number of identifiable interior components make their way across. Steering wheel, switchgear, indicator stalk, climate-control panel, instrument cluster and key all bear Mercedes hallmarks, although Infiniti installs a unique infotainment system – more on that soon. The dash, doors and seats also bear Infiniti's design influence, though whether or not you prefer the revised looks is a matter of personal taste.
The standard features list is a plump one, and with just one variant there’s no fear of missing out. You’ll find leather seat trim, powered front seats with memory, dual-zone climate control, proximity key and push-button start, speed limiter and adaptive cruise control, adaptive LED headlights, fixed glass roof and 19-inch alloy wheels all included.
Value gets a big shot in the arm as a result with now-standard leather, adaptive cruise, push-button start, and rear-view camera, which were all missing from the previous QX30 GT base model before the 2019 model-year range revision.
Safety features include tyre pressure monitoring, traffic sign recognition, forward-collision warning with forward emergency braking, surround-view camera, lane-departure warning, blind-spot monitoring, a pedestrian-protecting pop-up bonnet and seven airbags.
A five-star ANCAP safety rating applies to the Q30, not expressly the QX30, despite identical engineering and construction. However, the rating awarded under 2015 criteria isn’t necessarily a match for a car with a 2019-assessed five-star score.
Infiniti’s take on infotainment sees Mercedes’s COMAND system sidelined for a different 7.0-inch touchscreen packed with features like satellite navigation, DAB+ digital radio, CD player, Bluetooth, voice command, and secondary console controller. A 10-speaker Bose audio system brings your tunes to your ears.
Unfortunately, while the system Infiniti uses brings a family resemblance to cars like the larger Q50, it’s wildly out of sync with expectations of how a contemporary infotainment system should work.
Interfaces are clunky, graphics are dated, there’s no rhyme or reason to some of the menu layouts, using the rotary controller doesn’t bring any tangible benefits, and at 7.0 inches the dim, low-res screen seems way behind contemporary segment expectations.
Worse still, no smartphone mirroring means features like Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are also off the cards. The default screen at every start-up is the map screen, rather than staying where you last set the system or even reverting to the home/main menu screen – another annoying oddity.
So, what’s it really like then? Unsurprisingly it’s a lot like a Benz. There’s a look and feel that’s eerily familiar, and while a few design differences pop up here and there, Mercedes instruments and door-mounted seat switches hide nothing of the QX30’s origins.
It’s certainly a compact car in the true sense of the word too. Interior space is snug, and front seat travellers will fit comfortably enough, though generosity isn’t the QX30’s main game.
In the rear, a modest amount of head and leg room, and an upright backrest, make the back seats more suited to short hops or a short passenger. A surprisingly large rear door aperture makes getting in and out a breeze – although, high sills require something of a step over to clear gracefully.
Speaking of breeze, rear face-level air vents are included to keep travellers comfortable.
Beneath the sweeping tailgate, the QX30 can host 430 litres of luggage. The boot is well proportioned, but a high loading lip forces an up-and-over luggage haul. Seats fold in a 60:40 split (though don’t drop fully flat, not from inside the boot), and Infiniti also includes a handy ski port to poke long items through while maintaining two outboard seating positions.
Ownership details include a four-year, 100,000km warranty (whereas most prestige brands stick with three years, unlimited kilometres) with capped-price servicing at 12-month/25,000km intervals totalling $1751 for the first three visits.
Worryingly, official fuel consumption looks impressive at 6.9L/100km, but after a week of mixed-cycle driving and no shortage of highway kilometres, the figure on test was a much more alarming 11.6L/100km.
From behind the wheel, and despite reasonable engine outputs, the QX30 only ever feels like it has enough power and torque to offer middling performance. Around town, the available acceleration feels pert enough to keep up with bustling traffic, but dig deeper and there’s no punchy reserve to draw on for more spirited driving.
The dual-clutch automatic transmission does at least blend gear shifts with minimal disruption to power delivery or passenger comfort, but again there’s no crispness or sense of sportiness during more dynamic driving.
While the engine and transmission are Mercedes-Benz carryovers, Infiniti claims to have carried out its own suspension tuning to give the QX30 a unique road feel. The result is a little like being at sea, with the QX30 bobbing and rocking about at low speeds, but becoming harsh with plenty of suspension crash-through at higher speeds. Tyre noise erodes refinement too, varying from persistent on smooth surfaces to downright obtrusive on coarse-chip tarmac.
The steering is more praiseworthy. The front end feels responsive and the steering weight has just the right amount of heft to feel secure without being a chore. Handling is safe and predictable. There’s obvious early understeer in daily driving situations, but it's consistent and no real cause for concern.
It’s also very unlikely to be any kind of issue for QX30 owners, who pick this car based on its aesthetics and obscurity, as it’s unlikely to be the first choice of enthusiasts.
By the same measure, it’s also unlikely to resonate with buyers driven by badge cred. Everyone knows Mercedes-Benz: pull up in a GLA and no-one will mistake it for anything other than a Benz. Arrive in the QX30, however, and prepare to be met with confused stares and plenty of ‘what’s that?’ questions.
So, if the fundamental basics are mostly Mercedes, is the QX30 your best way into a budget GLA? Well, no.
While the GLA in no way leads its class – having been surpassed by newer compact prestige SUVs like the Volvo XC40, BMW X1 and X2, and Audi Q2 ranges – the QX30 strips away some of the Benz finesse, particularly in areas like ride comfort and infotainment.
While the pricing lure compared to a directly comparable Benz might be attractive (and despite no advertised discounts at the time of writing this review, it’s hard to believe you wouldn’t knock thousands more off the price), the lack of brand presence and potential resale hit mean the decision to opt for a QX30 wouldn’t be a financial one.
Given the competitive segment, the QX30 stands out as a style statement. Infiniti deserves credit for bringing the QX30’s swept styling to the market as is, but hasn’t delivered a world-class challenger to small SUVs from established prestige brands.
With plenty of mainstream automakers already nipping at the heels of established luxo brands, Infiniti’s mishandling of the entry-level QX30 is a massive disappointment. This is a car the brand needed to absolutely perfect, and sadly it’s a long way off that lofty mark.