Ah, the sporty premium hatchback: The soul of a luxury car with the body of an economy car. It’s a challenging proposition, and more than one prestige carmaker has tried and failed to build one that mattered – at least in the ever-important North American market. Mercedes-Benz C-Class SportCoupé, the BMW 318ti, the Acura RSX — fine cars all, but middling successes, quietly discontinued after brief lives. The Q30, unveiled this week in Frankfurt, is Infiniti’s stab at such a model, and there’s no denying that it’s an attractive piece. But can it succeed where others have failed?
Let’s just say there are factors in its favor.
For one thing, the world — and, specifically, the American market — is a markedly different place than it was a decade ago. Thanks to winners like the Fiat 500 and the Volkswagen GTI, small cars (that’s small by American standards, to be clear) are no longer seen as the thing you buy when you can’t afford something bigger. The Mini Cooper made tiny cars cool to the trust-fund set. The Lexus CT 200h has built a following by offering Prius efficiency and a Lexus dealer experience — never underestimate the power of free car washes and cappuccino. The humble VW Golf has pushed ever skyward in terms of amenities, performance and price; the 292-horsepower Golf R now pushes $40,000.
The Q30 bumps the soon-to-be-defunct Q40 (formerly G37) sedan as Infiniti’s new entry-level model. The production car hasn’t strayed far from Infiniti’s well-received Q30 Concept from 2013, and that’s not a bad thing, although comparisons to the similarly swoopy Mazda3 are inevitable.
Like the Mercedes-Benz CLA and the Audi A3 sedan, the Q30 exists to lure younger buyers into the family — buyers who, the company hopes, will move up the Infiniti ladder in future years. But make no mistake, the Q30 cuts no corners. The sporty interior features a full complement of high-end goodies, including a Dinamica faux suede headliner and brushed-metal trim bits.
The Q30 is the first car to benefit from a technology-sharing agreement between Infiniti parent Nissan-Renault and Mercedes-Benz parent Daimler. It makes use of the front-drive platform from the Mercedes A-/GLA-Class models, as well as Benz-supplied turbocharged 2-liter four-cylinder engine and a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission. The steering wheel also looks suspiciously Benz-like. No complaints.
The car will arrive in three flavors: base, Premium and Sport; Premium cars get LED front fog lamps and 18-inch alloy wheels, Sports get 19-inch wheels and a 0.6in drop in the ride height.
As compelling as the Q30 appears to be, it is the QX30 — the car’s higher-riding crossover cousin — that promises to make the real splash when it arrives later this year, facing off against such hot rivals as the Audi Q3, the Mercedes GLA and the second-generation BMW X1, also unveiled in Frankfurt.