The new 2017 Infiniti QX30 is too straightforward for its complex situation. It’s an Infiniti and a Mercedes, a hatchback and a crossover. There are three different options with only a few inches of ride height between them. It’s aimed at a younger buyer who wants luxury things at affordable prices, and has considered having a life beyond the city on the weekends, but has never committed to actually doing it.
At least, that’s the theory. In practice, Infiniti is delivering exactly what upwardly mobile Millennials—and other people—are buying in droves right now, and there’s no reason it shouldn’t work.
(Full Disclosure: Infiniti needed to help clarify its confusing new entry-level crossover so bad they flew me out to Seattle for two beautiful sunny days to drive the middle- and top-level trims of the all-new QX30. Lodging, food and flights were provided.)
You may recognize the QX30, and that’s probably because we drove the European Q30 hatchback version of it back in November. Back then, America was to get the Q30 hatchback along with a lifted crossover version called the QX30.
And then Infiniti wised-up and realized America’s insatiable demand for SUVs and things that look like SUVs meant the crossover version would likely destroy the hatchback’s sales, so they scrapped that idea and instead developed three versions of just the QX30. From those three versions, there are six available models: the entry level QX30, QX30 Luxury, QX30 Premium, QX30 Sport, QX30 Luxury AWD and the QX30 Premium AWD. Europe gets to keep the hatchback.
Still with me? Okay.
There’s also the odd fact that the QX30 is mostly just a Mercedes GLA wearing a tighter fitting Infiniti skin, as it’s the first product of a new partnership between Renault Nissan and Mercedes. That means that the QX30 gets the same 2.0 liter turbo four-cylinder with 208 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque. It also benefits from the same 7-speed dual clutch transmission. Infiniti didn’t have fuel economy figures ready at the event.
The entry-level luxury crossover segment is one of the newest and fastest-growing segments, so neither Infiniti nor Mercedes seem really worried about losing out to the other. Both companies are convinced that there’s plenty to go around when the QX30 goes on sale in September.
And after driving the QX30, I’d make the argument that Infiniti has the better deal.
The only things young people care about are brands and appearances. You have to look better than everything else in something that seems better than everything else, and I’m convinced the Infiniti wins its segment in the looks department.
All three models of the QX30 are almost indistinguishable from one another unless you happen to have them lined up. There are some different bumpers to designate between the three body styles, and some genuinely unique colors like “Ink Blue” that really bring out the depth of the wavy frosting-like surfacing.
While the GLA is trying too hard to look like a larger SUV, I think the dramatic surfacing of the QX30 gives it a sharper, prettier and sportier posture.
The QX30 AWD sits a full 1.2 inches higher than the base model, giving it the presence of a genuine crossover without looking too much like a backyard lift kit on a hatchback.
The QX30 Sport sinks down a little over half an inch lower than the base model, essentially becoming a few measurements shy of just being the hatchback it was originally meant to be.
If you’re moving over directly from the AWD to the Sport, you may bump your head the first time, but otherwise there wasn’t an extremely noticeable difference in ride-height sitting in the interior.
If you’re a fan of Mazda’s recent design language (and Infiniti’s, obviously), I think the QX30 succeeds at looking like a premium version of the wrong Japanese automaker. That’s not a bad thing as long as you don’t park next to a Mazda.
Inside becomes a very familiar place to be if you’ve ever been in a Mercedes GLA. The steering wheel, seat adjustments, door locks and a lot of the dashboard come right out of a Mercedes. Infiniti has thrown in some awful gloss black hard plastic trim pieces around the center line controls, and everything else gets some very stiff foam layering.
You also get Infiniti’s single touchscreen infotainment system with a control dial just below the arm rest. This was said to be replacing the dual screen setup in some other, current Infiniti models in upcoming refreshes.
Of course you can option up to some very cool cosmetic packages that will get you white or brown leathers, faux wood, and some more aesthetically pleasing pieces here and there, but at a cost.
The cost of the QX30 is where Infiniti thinks it’s clever. The solution to avoid too much competition between this and its German cousin was to cut the price down. Infiniti’s goal is to keep the base QX30 under $30,000 and not be completely optionless; that’s supposedly with navigation and leather equipped.
With similar equipment, Infiniti claims the Sport model will stay under $40,000 and the AWD model will be available with some furnishings still under $35,000. Again, that’s with navigation and leather. This is a “luxury” car, after all.
Of course there are always options, and Infiniti will have ten packages available for each of the three QX30 models. One of the bosses at the presentation speculated the highest you could spec a model would be in the top half of the $40k range.
That would most likely be a heavily optioned all wheel drive model, and that’s exactly the one you should buy. Well, not necessarily heavily optioned.
I throw my full support behind the QX30 AWD because it is the crossover Infiniti wants to market. The entire existence of crossovers is based on consumer desires for room to fit the friends and family, but the option and capability to tackle whatever comes their way.
Now, of course, nobody goes rock crawling in a crossover without embarrassing themselves, but on the steep dirt and gravel fire roads to the campsite, or the driveway to your boss’s annual office mountain retreat you have to waste a weekend on once a year, the QX30 AWD will get the job done. Push it a little and it’s a ton of simple, near-effortless off-roading fun.
I spent most of my seat time behind the wheel of the AWD on such a road, and honestly, I had myself a pretty good time.
I’d think of it as less-boring, semi-obscure “nice” Subaru. Not once did I have an issue with traction, and I only remember the computer kicking in to control what I intended to be a rather dramatic stop.
All wheel drive on a vehicle like this, which is a FWD-biased system that kicks in to help out when it’s needed, is more than just a marketing gimmick. It’s a psychological security blanket.
It’s for the person who worries about traction every time it rains, or has to deal with thin ice on the roads for only two weeks a year in winter. While a lot of issues can be solved with different tires, sometimes it’s just not a practical investment if the weather only acts up sporadically.
And in that case, the AWD badge offers a comfortable state of mind, and the QX30 looks good doing it. Early morning highway trips to work on melting icy roads become a little more comfortable. It may mean you’re finally confident enough to go to beach you can drive on. It’s those simple little things that sell crossovers like the QX30—a sense of security. Should you ever need it, the AWD version is really the only QX30 model they should be selling as a crossover.
The entry level QX30 is the cheapest, but it also lacks a gimmick the other two have. The QX30 Sport is FWD only, but drove stiffer through both the steering (if ever so slightly) and the suspension. But it doesn’t get any extra power. If you’re going to go with a gimmick, go with the AWD that might actually do you some good one day.
Of course the QX30 lineup isn’t without its issues. I found the pedal box far too small, with a very shallow foot rest for my left foot, and a gas pedal that was almost touching the hard plastic to the side of my right foot. My size ten shoe was rubbing for the entire journey.
The gear selection is weird, with a squared off handle that you just push into reverse, neutral, or drive. I found that you will have to be careful adjusting the climate control settings as the shifter lies right in your path and can be moved while driving. There is no button to lock or unlock the gear selector.
Not only that, but once you stop the car, you don’t touch the selector. “Park” is a button you press separate from the other “gears.” There was concern that someone could stop the car, put it in neutral, turn it off, and it would just roll away if you forgot you had to push a separate button to put it in park.
Other issues included a constant struggle to get my phone to charge while connected to the USB charging port, no Android Auto or Apple CarPlay available for buyers when the vehicle launches, and nowhere safe or secure to actually put your phone in the car besides your pocket or a third-party mount.
Some weaker issues I had come from the car’s basic roots. At the end of the day, all three QX30 variants are lifted hatchbacks. This means the back seat is too small for big adults and visibility is tight thanks to the very low-cut curves of the design. Being a relatively small person, I didn’t struggle too much but the taller among us may take issue.
Infiniti’s main initiative is to get younger buyers into the brand at the beginning of their careers and have them work their way into pricier, more premium models. And if you just need to have a luxury brand, and a Mazda CX-3 or Ford Focus or Volkswagen Golf or Subaru Outback or Forester or Crosstrek just won’t do it for you, then the QX30 is a good balance of adequate performance, personalized options, and a “premium” brand name to brag about.
Essentially you’re getting an upscale badge—and that’s kind of debatable given Infiniti’s historic inability to really dance with rivals like Lexus or BMW or Mercedes—but with a humble driving demeanor. With six available trims and 10 different option packages, you’re going to get all the equipment, performance, and style you want and likely still come in a few thousand dollars cheaper than any of the QX30's competition.
It’s nice, it rides well, it’s priced competitively, it looks handsome, and it’s not a real SUV but it pretends to be. In short, it’s exactly what Infiniti needs it to be.