First drive: 2017 Infiniti QX30 [Review]

Infiniti gets into the small crossover game.

Lately, it seems like not a month goes by without the introduction of a new small crossover. From mainstream brands to the luxury tier, everybody's getting into the game, and with good reason; there yet doesn't seem to be any ceiling in sight.

Infiniti is the latest to take a stab at carving out part of the C-segment CUV market. How does it measure up? We spent a few days in Seattle to find out just that.

Shared DNAThe Infiniti QX30, like many modern vehicles, is a product of industry partnership. If you follow the industry, there's a decent chance you're aware of the alliance between Daimler and Renault-Nissan (Nissan, of course, being Infiniti's parent).

The fruit of this development partnership has just begun to ripen. Look no further than the new four-cylinder engine now available in the Infiniti Q50 sedan (and soon in the Q60 coupe). It shouldn't surprise you, then, that the 2.0L engine under the hood of the QX30 is the same Mercedes-sourced unit found elsewhere in Infiniti's newer products.

In this case, however, that's just the tip of the iceberg. The QX30 platform itself is shared with the Mercedes-Benz GLA-Class CUV (and, by association, its CLA-Class compact sedan and hatchback).

Brand positioningWhile this level of co-development is not at all unheard of, it's fairly rare in the luxury segment. This was a point Infiniti's product and marketing managers were willing to address head-on. Yes, Mercedes beat them to market on a co-developed program because the Germans were already a good ways along in development before Infiniti came to the party. Yes, the Infiniti QX30 is cheaper than the Mercedes-Benz GLA.

And yes, Daimler's luxury brand carries more weight than Nissan's, so the above are just the facts of life when it comes to this partnership.

Under the metalSo what exactly is common to these cars? The fundamental platform, for starters. All of the suspension pick-up points match up, along with the powertrain mounting and, come to think of it, the powertrain itself.

That's right. While it may not be the case in other applications, the QX30's powertrain is lifted entirely from the Benz parts bin. The 208-horsepower four-cylinder produces 258lb-ft of torque and is mated to a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission. Front- and all-wheel-drive configurations are available, and while the GLA's AWD variant may be branded as a 4Matic, the underlying system was co-developed with Infiniti.

Spotting the differencesFortunately, what makes the QX30 unique is fairly obvious. The sheetmetal is entirely Infiniti's, from the squinty front headlamps and signature grille to the sharply cut rear pillar and everything in between. While the proportions may give away the underlying connection, there's no mistaking the QX30 for anything but an Infiniti. Love it or hate it, the brand has carved out a unique style.

It's also worth noting that while the QX30 may share the Benz's suspension hardpoints, the components and their tuning are unique. Infiniti's powertrain programming was also handled in-house.

Variations on a ThemeInfiniti offers its new luxury CUV in three configurations: A base, front-wheel drive model with 6.7 inches of ground clearance; a step-up AWD model with a 1.2-inch increase in ride height and a slightly stiffer rear anti-roll bar; and the Sport, which is lower than the base model (6.1 inches of clearance) and rides on springs and anti-roll bars that are slightly firmer than the AWD model's. The Sport model is also equipped with summer tires wrapped around 19-inch wheels; the base and AWD models are equipped with all-season tires on 18-inch wheels.

In the cabinThings are a bit less clean-cut inside. While Infiniti went to great lengths to dress the QX30 differently, there are some common elements that simply couldn't be avoided, such as the 7-speed DCT's shift mechanism.

There are a few bright spots to mention here. For starters, the QX30's infotainment and navigation system is Infiniti's through-and-through, and we found it both easy to use and pleasantly capable (if perhaps a little dated in the graphics department). We experienced no trouble connecting our personal devices and were able to navigate through extensive music libraries with relative ease. We also liked one of the few items on board that represented trickle-up technology--Infiniti's version of Nissan's "Zero Gravity" seat design, which we found to be very comfortable and supportive.

That's not to say the experience was flawless. For starters, the QX30 feels cramped, especially in the visibility department. The wide rearview mirror crowds out forward visibility significantly, and the B-pillars are so thick that any driver who isn't versed in proper mirror adjustment could potentially lose track of a super duty pickup over his or her left shoulder. Thankfully, blind spot monitoring is not difficult to option in.

On the roadFor the average CUV buyer, driving dynamics may not be the most valuable asset a car can possess. Be that as it may, Infiniti's offerings have always tended to be a little firmer and more capable than some other luxury automobiles. That's true here, too. We drove both the Sport and AWD models, and we found them capable and confidence-inspiring in the corners. We also found that the Infiniti's electronic power steering was both quite responsive and immediate in its feedback--rare qualities in luxury-market vehicles.

This all comes at a price, however. As much as we enjoyed the communication coming from the Infiniti's helm, we disliked how much feedback came in the form of noise--road and engine alike. We noticed during our photo stop that the QX30's hood lacked any sort of sound deadening liner (though it appeared there were attachment points for it). Considering the QX30's low curb weight, we wouldn't be surprised if this was representative of its overall approach to NVH.

Engine noise was secondary to road noise in terms of our discomfort, however. The QX30 was pleasantly quiet on ideal surfaces, but the noise on concrete or otherwise imperfect highways bordered on intrusive. We found this to be the case both in the Sport and AWD models we drove, so it wasn't a product of any particular tire compound. This isn't the sort of thing we'd consider a deal-breaker, but it stuck with us throughout the drive.

While the QX30's engine tuning is unique, the Mercedes-Benz 7-speed's three drive modes (Eco, Sport and Manual) carried over basically unchanged. The system defaults to "Eco," so it's synonymous with "normal" and not nearly as aggressively uninteresting as some other driving modes centered around fuel economy. Sport, as you may imagine, holds gears to higher revs to promote quicker in-gear acceleration. Manual is exactly what it sounds like.

It's not unusual for us to feel like "Manual" is the only mode we can trust to get the job done in cars that aren't designed around performance first, but we were pleasantly surprised by both the Eco and Sport tuning in the QX30, and we only found ourselves opting for manual operation a few times just for the sake of evaluation. We were also very impressed by the smoothness of the seven-speed DCT, which could have been mistaken for a traditional automatic even on the hilly streets near the downtown Seattle waterfront.

Leftlane's bottom lineThe Infiniti QX30 is a capable offering in a crowded segment. Its value proposition makes up for some rough-around-the-edges elements. For the driver who wants a luxury experience paired to an enthusiast's platform, the QX30 deserves a spot on the short list.

2017 Infiniti QX30 Sport base price, $38,500; as-tested, $43,0502017 Infiniti QX30 AWD base price, $34,400; as-tested, $43,700

Exterior photos by Byron Hurd. Interior photos courtesy of Infiniti.

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