Infiniti Q30

Premium hatch hitches its star to Mercedes-Benz

JOHN CAREY

FIRST OVERSEAS DRIVE

SOME marriages, itís said, are made in heaven.

This one is made in Sunderland, in the northeast of England. The Q30 is a partnership production of the Renault-Nissan Alliance and Daimler, owners of Infiniti and Mercedes-Benz respectively.

The pair inked a strategic cooperation agreement in 2010.

Which is how an English factory comes to be producing a premium-price, five-door premium hatchback thatís mostly German, even though it wears a Japanese badge.

Infiniti spokespeople refuse to reveal how much Mercedes- Benz it takes to make a Q30, but itís obviously a lot. As has been widely reported already, the Infiniti uses the same transverse front-engine MFA platform thatís the foundation for the A-Class, B-Class, CLA and GLA. It has the same wheelbase and appears to use the same suspension, steering and braking components.

Three of the Q30ís four engines, and the transmissions theyíre teamed with, are Benz units as well. None of this is obvious from outside the Infiniti, but inside the Q30 there are many familiar components (see annotation.)

The Q30ís key dimensions are much closer to Mercedes-Benzís GLA than the A-Class. Infiniti says the aim was to create something midway between conventional hatch and crossover. A slightly elevated and easy-to-access seating position was seen as an essential attribute.

Although Infiniti produces the Q30 with all-wheel-drive, six-speed manual transmissions (though only with low-power engines) and a Renault-made 1.5-litre turbo-diesel four, none of these will be offered when it launches in Australia in the third quarter of 2016. What weíll see is a choice of three Mercedessourced drivetrains, three equipment grades, and few options.

That distant arrival date means Infiniti wonít talk cost or specification. ďAustralian prices for the Infiniti Q30 will be attractive and competitive, with generous standard equipment levels planned,Ē is the official line. What this should mean is a starting price around $35,000, with steps upward in power and equipment to arrive at a rangetopper around $50,000.

The engine line-up looks like this: 115kW 1.6-litre and 155 kW 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol fours, plus a 125kW 2.1-litre turbo-diesel four (which Infiniti misleadingly labels Ď2.2dí). All will be teamed solely with a sevenspeed dual-clutch transmission and, as mentioned earlier, drive through the front wheels.

None of the Q30s at the international launch in Lisbon was a match for whatís heading to Oz. While there were 2.0t

and 2.2d models with dual-clutch íboxes, all were all-wheel drive.

Ride and handling seemed well-sorted, even in the 2.0t in Sport spec (15mm lower ride height) wearing 19-inch wheels.

Performance was fine, though the 2.0t sounded a bit Hooverish when revved and the 2.2dís throttle response was doughy.

What does stand out is the rolling refinement of the Q30. Itís a quiet thing, even on the cobbled roads to be found near the centre of the Portuguese capital.

The Q30ís high waistline doesnít hinder vision too much, and a standard rear-view camera is promised for Australia. An autonomous emergency braking system goes into every Q30 made.

The basics arenít bad, but whether the Q30 will be able to boost Infinitiís tortoise-slow sales in Australia depends very much on something we donít know about it: price.

PLUS & MINUS

Front passenger seat too high; doughy throttle response of 2.2 diesel Overall refinement; strong 2.0-litre petrol turbo; standard AEB

MERCíS WORK 01

Mercedes-Benzís involvement is obvious the moment you enter the cabin: steering wheel, column wands, headlight and electric window switches, and ignition key are all courtesy of the three-pointed star.

THE REAR STEER 02

Cargo area provides a generous 368 litres, while the rear seat is also reasonably roomy and offers 60/40 split fold.

HIP POINTER 03

The front seats are brilliant; firm, well-shaped and supportive.

But the Q30ís high hip point spells a shortage of headroom if thereís no seat height adjustment provided on the passengerís side.

One for the (off)road

In late 2016, just months after the Q30 arrives, Infiniti will launch the QX30 SUV in Australia.

Its steel body is identical to the Q30, but the QX30 will wear different plastic parts, including front and rear bumpers and side sills. The QX30 will also ride a little higher and will likely feature allwheel- drive as standard.

That difference is certain to mean slightly higher prices, slightly more weight and slightly less performance. Still, with Australiaís appetite for SUVs showing no sign of abating, the QX30 could be a better seller than the Q30.

OR TRY THESE...

Mini Countryman S $50,555

Like the Q30, relies on exterior style for a large chunk of its appeal. This FWD version of the Countryman, with petrol 1.6-litre turbo four and sixspeed auto, is priced where Infiniti needs to place its more powerful top-grade 2.0-litre turbo Q30.

Mercedes GLA200 CDI $48,300

Q30 2.2d is very closely related to the only front-drive model in the similar-size GLA line-up. The Infiniti gets the 125kW version of Mercedesí 2143cc turbo-diesel, for a 25kW power advantage, but its interior lacks the sparkle of the German.