What is it? The Infiniti Q30 is the company’s hatchback hope for European growth.
Key features: Distinctive style, well-finished interior, refined cruising.
Our View: Distinctive, generally well finished and will rack up many a motorway mile without fuss.
Type of review: First UK drive
Infiniti itself would likely admit that its European growth has not been as rapid as the brand would have liked. Nissan’s luxury arm, so successful in America, has discovered like Lexus before it that European audiences are somewhat more conservative in adopting new names – particularly those who present themselves as upmarket cousins to known volume manufacturers.
The Q30 is the car that carries Infiniti’s hopes of changing that perception. Unlike the large saloons previously offered by Infiniti, this is a hatchback, launching the brand into the high volume, if highly competitive C segment. It also brings the entry point of owning an Infiniti down from the £28,000 of the Q50 to only £20,500, so it should appeal to a wider range of potential customers.
In the UK market in particular the Infiniti Q30 seeks to gain followers through its ‘Britishness’. The car was both designed and developed in the UK, at the Nissan group’s Paddington and Cranfield centres, and it is being built on a brand new line at Nissan’s enormous plant in Sunderland – the first Infiniti constructed in Britain.
Infiniti won’t say how many Q30s it is hoping to sell in the UK, only that the brand expects to double its British sales year-on-year. So there is no doubting the importance of the Q30 and its crossover-style sister the QX30, coming in June 2016, to the brand’s volume aspirations.
The Infiniti Q30 will compete against stiff opposition, the brand hoping to steal sales from core performers in the established premium brands – the Audi A3, BMW 1 Series and Mercedes A-Class. And the latter is a particularly interesting rival as it is also effectively a sister car to the Q30. A joint programme between the two brands sees the two cars built on the same platform and Infiniti powering its car with engines that are mostly built by DaimlerBenz. The exception, oddly, is the powerplant expected to be most popular, the Renault-sourced 1,5 diesel.
Visually the Q30 scores some early plus points. It’s quite a large hatchback, outstretching its A-Class relation in all areas, and Infiniti’s oft-quoted ‘design-led approach’ is highly evident in the styling. Bold swoops and curves run right through the car’s profile to end at a large grille with the eye-like headlamps effectively mounted on the front of the wheel arches. In the company car parks where Infiniti hopes to gain half of its Q30 sales the car will certainly stand out amongst the usual German fare.
Slip inside and one will likely first notice the higher-than-usual seating position – something that has proven popular with those that have already tried the Q30. Just how high depends on the model. Base and Premium trim variants of the car have an overall height of 1495mm, with the Sport that drops 20mm closer to the ground.
Sport versions also get their own bespoke bumpers which on the front expose a deal of extra grille. The alloy wheels expand from 18 to 19 inches, the side sills are body coloured and there are chromed rectangular exhaust finishers.
We digress – the second notable aspect of the car’s interior is the effort to create a quality environment, that mostly works. There is much trimming and stitching, use of leather and suede and combinations of two-tone finishes that certainly up the ambience, though the soft-touch surfacing used in lower-down areas doesn’t quite come up to the standard of the rest.
Despite the strong coupe-like styling of the shell, the Q30 doesn’t lack for interior space up front. It’s not so great in the rear where head and particularly legroom are less generous, but at a quoted 430 litres boot space is comparable to rivals.
The instrument layout is unremarkable and suggests further evidence of the Mercedes collaboration. There is a touchscreen which can also be controlled from a rotary dial and buttons between the front seats – it works adequately enough but there are better systems that feel more modern in rival cars.
For UK buyers Infiniti offers four engine options – 1.6-litre 121bhp and 2.0 208bhp petrols and 1.5 108bhp and 2.2 168bhp diesels. Both six-speed manual and seven-speed transmissions are available, while the 2-litre petrol and 2.2 diesel units can also be specified with all-wheel-drive transmissions.
The Car Expert tried out the engines likely to appeal to the widest range of buyers, the 1.6 petrol and 1.5 diesel – the latter is expected to take by far the majority of Infiniti Q30 sales. Both our test cars were in Premium trim, again expected to attract most buyers especially in the fleet market.
The 1.6 petrol is smooth, refined and ultimately has more power – but it feels somewhat held back at slow speeds. The diesel is 2.5 seconds slower to 62mph but offers an impression of much more eagerness, and negotiating the traffic-choked northern suburbs of Manchester on a week day it was the diesel that we felt happier with.
Once out on the open road both engines settle down to a steady rhythm and combined with a chassis that effectively soaks up the bumps, travelling in the Infiniti Q30 certainly feels suitably premium. As an aside, cars fitted with the larger 2.2 diesel also get Active Noise Cancellation, which emits sound waves from the four door speakers to cancel out any booming noise from the engine.
The steering is excellently weighted and compliant in use – the test route made it difficult to find any roads with which to seriously test the Q30’s cornering prowess, but the overall impression was of a car that it will be easy to complete long distances in without excessive fatigue. Again, this fits in very much with the likely customer base.
The Premium trim comes with a suitably long options list but one needs to study the price list carefully as there are a number of varieties of Premium, based partly around their interior colours, and which you choose can have an effect on standard equipment, most notably the navigation system. This, a package that includes traffic sign recognition and the only way to have DAB digital radio, is standard on Premium and Sport City Black models, but optional on others, and comes with a sizeable £1200 price tag.
Overall, Nissan still faces a challenge in seriously establishing its premium brand on the UK market, but the Infiniti Q30 is by far the most likely model to achieve such success. It’s distinctive, it’s generally well finished and it will rack up many a motorway mile without fuss.
Infiniti Q30 – key specifications
Models tested: Infiniti Q30 1.5D Premium Tech Manual, Q30 1.6t Premium Manual
On Sale: Jan 2016
Range price: £20,550-£31,180
Insurance groups: 13-26.
Engines: Petrol 1.6, 2.0. Diesel 1.5, 2.2.
Power (bhp): 121, 208. 108, 168.
Torque (lb/ft): 148, 258. 192, 258.
0-62mph (sec): 9.4*, 7.3**. 11.9*, 8.3**.
Top speed (mph): 124*, 143**. 118*, 137**.
Fuel economy (combined, mpg): 48.7*, 45.6**. 68.9*, 64.2*.
CO2 emissions (g/km): 138*, 143**. 108*, 115**.
Key rivals: Mercedes A-Class, Audi A3
Test Date: February 2015.
* = best figure (varies with auto gearbox, trim level) ** = front-wheel drive version.