Infiniti QX30

Chasing volume with high-riding faux Benz

ASH WESTERMAN

FIRST AUSSIE DRIVE

THERE are plenty of things capable of causing sleepless nights for German car executives, but Infinitiís presence in Australia is not one of them.

Nissanís luxury arm is a sales minnow here, selling just 574 cars last year. Mercedes moves a similar number every week.

But optimism runs deep, and Infiniti is confident that this QX30 model, combined with its Q30 sibling, will bolster sales to the tune of 30 percent.

Like the Q30 hatch, the QX30 is essentially a rebodied Mercedes GLA, and brings greater light-duty off-road ability over the Q30 with AWD, 30mm extra ride height and a bit of body cladding. Like the Q30, it aims to seduce would-be Mercedes-Benz buyers with sharper pricing and extra kit.

Arriving in two spec levels (entry-level GT at $48,900 and GT Premium at $56,900), the QX30 is powered by the gutsiest (sub-AMG) petrol engine offered in the GLA, a 2.0-litre turbo punching out 155kW/350Nm. It is capable of sending 50 percent of torque rearward on those rare occasions when the fronts are incapable of finding traction.

In terms of value, both models are about $4K more expensive than the lower-riding, front-drive equivalents in the three-tier Q30 range. Losing the three-pointed star predictably saves money and adds equipment over the GLA, some of it more useful than others. More relevant is what the QX30 gains over the Q30, and whether itís worth that extra $4K.

We drove the QX30 on sealed roads and fire trails in Victoria and found torque steer was still evident when belting it on dirt, despite some drive being sent to the rears. Secure and predictable, yes, but it was hard to imagine the regular Q30 being troubled in these conditions.

On-road, the extra ride height is most noticeable in tight cornering, with more bodyroll and slightly lower grip levels as a result of running all-season 18-inch Yokohama tyres. The upside is a less reactive and slightly more pliant ride, but overall itís satisfying rather than sizzling.

Thereís no doubting the QX30ís core competency, but is that enough? Even in this more affordable end of the premium market, a car purchase is still an emotive buying decision, influenced by perceptions of quality, implied status, brand association and intangible feelgood factors.

This is where the QX30 starts to drift off course. Itís well engineered, well equipped and, against Benzís GLA, appears reasonable value. The question is whether thatís enough to tug at the heart strings, which tend to be connected to the pen that signs the purchase agreement. ornering, lightly lt

PLUS & MINUS

Higher ride height and SUV tyres affect handling; premium over Q30 More ride compliance than Q30; greater ability e to handle unmade roads Model Engine Max power Max torque Transmission Kerb weight 0-100km/h Economy Price On sale Infiniti QX30 GT Premium 1991cc 4cyl, dohc, 16v, turbo 155kW @ 5500rpm 350Nm @ 1200-4000rpm 7-speed dual-clutch 1566kg 7.8sec (estimated) 6.9L/100km $56,900 Now

No options angst

In stark contrast to Mercedes-Benz and other premium Euro brands, Infiniti limits options for the QX30 to just one: metallic paint ($1200). The most notable lifts in equipment for the Premium model over the entry-level GT are Nappa leather, electric seats, dualzone climate control, active cruise, lane-departure and blind-spot warning, park assist and reversing camera, and a fixed glass roof.