Infiniti or Mercedes?
Look beyond the gorgeous exterior of the Infiniti Q30 and you’ll find something even more intriguing: this is, almost, the Mercedes-Benz A-Class hatchback you can’t buy in America. Except you can buy it in America, starting next summer. It just won’t have a Mercedes-Benz badge.
How is that? The Infiniti Q30 is the first whole-cloth vehicle to come to Infiniti from the Renault-Nissan alliance with Daimler, and it’s based on the A-Class architecture.
Most notable, to those who’ve driven an example or two of the Mercedes interpretation of the architecture, is the suspension tune. Rather than using adjustable dampers—or even offering them—as in higher-trim models of the CLA and GLA, the Q30 uses a fixed damper and spring setup. That non-adjustable system has a trick up its sleeve, however, in the form of rebound springs—springs which act in the negative direction on the inside wheels during cornering to help reduce body roll while maintaining compliance—sort of like a one-sided anti-roll bar. Generally speaking, the suspension does a fantastic job of both. Like all non-dynamic suspensions, there are limits to its compliance and control, but the compromise chosen permits a great deal of both sporty driving and city comfort.
A huge chunk of the credit for that engaging drive is owed to Infiniti’s suspension tune, to be sure, but just as much of the fun comes from the combination of the 208-horsepower, 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine and seven-speed dual-clutch transmission—Infiniti reckons it’ll rip off a 7.3-second 0-62 mph run. Both have, again, been built by Mercedes, but the software controlling both engine and transmission (and their interaction) has been re-done by Infiniti. The result is a lively and linear torque curve (and hence power delivery) from the engine, and smooth, positive shifts from the transmission. In-gear acceleration with the Infiniti Drive Mode Selector in “Sport” feels for all the world like that of a manual gearbox—direct, hooked up, and solid.
When it comes to actually shifting the dual-clutch, however, we’re left wanting more. None of the applications of the Mercedes seven-speed dual clutch have been extremely sporting in their demeanor, save perhaps the AMG variants in Sport+ mode, but in the Q30, the lag time between request (a tap of either steering-wheel-mounted shift paddle) and response (the actual gear change actuated within the transmission) seems much greater; so great, in fact, that it’s considerably less fun to try to click through the gears yourself than it is to just let the car’s brain do it for you. Plus, if you take the current gear to redline—even in maxed-out sport mode—the Q30 will up-shift for you, rather than holding at the limiter, so it’s not even fully manual in manual mode.
All of these performance-related concerns are somewhat beside the point for most Q30 buyers, however. Sure, the Q30S buyer might want to know that it’s no GLA45 AMG, but for everyone else, these are non-issues. And they should be non-issues for the Q30S buyer, too—provided Infiniti gets the price right. Put it right on top of the competing German offerings (Audi Q3, BMW X1, Mercedes-Benz GLA — ranging from roughly $33,000 to $35,000 base price) and the Q30 will likely come up short—it just doesn’t offer the high-tech goodies or the name-brand cachet of the establishment. But price it a significant portion of a year’s salary below those stalwarts, and these things may well fly off the shelves.