The Q starts here

In­finiti throws down the gaunt­let ... with a lit­tle help from the baby Benz

Herald Sun - Motoring - - PRESTIGE - PAUL GOVER CHIEF RE­PORTER paul.gover@cars­guide.com.au

FROM to­day, there are no ex­cuses for In­finiti in Australia.

It fi­nally has the car it needs to con­nect with picky pres­tige shop­pers, in­stead of re­ly­ing on Amer­i­can-cen­tric SUV mus­cle and out­dated cruiser coupes.

The Q30 be­gins a ma­jor prod­uct over­haul at In­finiti and is the right size and price, from $38,900 with lots of kit, to con­vert cus­tomers who are look­ing for some­thing that’s ev­ery­day us­able but still has some per­son­al­ity.

There is also a QX30, com­ing next month, with slightly more cross­over con­tent in­clud­ing all­wheel drive.

The baby of the In­finiti fam­ily has a huge ad­van­tage in the hid­den bits, which it shares with the Mercedes-Benz A-Class fam­ily. That means the ig­ni­tion key and switches and con­trols in the cabin are fa­mil­iar and the ba­sic sus­pen­sion and driv­e­lines are from Ger­many.

In­finiti has pro­duced its own body­work and the touch-and-feel stuff to move it away from the Benz ba­sics. It’s longer and taller than its three-pointed star coun­ter­parts and, typ­i­cally for the brand, the styling is look-atme edgy but thank­fully not as street brawler ag­gres­sive as the QX80 flag­ship.

Most im­por­tantly, and ob­vi­ous to any­one who has com­plained about the overly sporty driv­ing dy­nam­ics in the A-Class, the Q30 is re­laxed. And com­fort­able. Quiet in the cabin. And pleas­ant to drive.

But there is no re­vers­ing cam­era, ex­cept on the flag­ship model which goes overkill with a 360-de­gree vi­sion pack­age.

In­finiti ad­mits it is only a chal­lenger brand here, with only four real years of sales against Benz, BMW and Audi de­spite an orig­i­nal ef­fort back in 1989. That’s why the Q30 comes with a four-year war­ranty that beats the lux­ury stan­dard, as well as af­ford­able capped-price ser­vic­ing, a three-model line-

up, and three en­gines with two sus­pen­sion set­tings.

It is hit­ting the restart but­ton — af­ter badly over­pric­ing its cars in 2012 — but com­pany chief Jean-Philippe Roux de­nies that the Q30 is a makeor-break car.

“I will say it is a mile­stone car. It’s not a fresh start. It’s the be­gin­ning of a full suite of models,” he says.

“There is a plan. We have four new prod­ucts com­ing this year. There are more again next year.”

As for the cross­over styling, pric­ing and equip­ment, he says, “We are tar­get­ing peo­ple who are look­ing for some­thing dif­fer­ent.”

A pres­tige com­pact cross­over, ac­cord­ing to In­finiti, the Q30 also could be pitched as a hatch in the same vein as the BMW X1 and Audi Q3.

En­gines are 1.6 and 2.0-litre petrol and a 2.2-litre turbo diesel. Drive goes to the front wheels via a seven-speed DSG gear­box.

The model grades are GT at $38,900, Sport at $44,900 and Sport Pre­mium at $52,900, and In­finiti says the only op­tion is a 10-speaker Bose au­dio on the Sport for $1000.

ON THE ROAD

The Q30 is same-same, but dif­fer­ent, to the baby Ben­zes.

The dif­fer­ence is suf­fi­cient for In­finiti buy­ers to believe they are unique and spe­cial and not just part of the A-Class crowd. The styling works well and there is vis­ual cut-through in traf­fic, while the cabin — even in the ba­sic GT — is re­fined and uses qual­ity ma­te­ri­als.

The seats are well shaped and sup­port­ive, too, and there is the se­cu­rity of blind-spot warn­ing and auto safety brak­ing.

The best thing about the Q30 is the re­fine­ment in the sus­pen­sion. It feels to have more damper ca­pac­ity than the A-Class cars, which means the ride is both smoother and more con­trolled. It’s not up­set by potholes or bro­ken sur­faces but still has good cor­ner­ing grip.

My time be­gins with the GT and I like it, even with­out a re­vers­ing cam­era and only an in­fla­tion kit in the boot for punc­tures. It would ben­e­fit from a big­ger in­fo­tain­ment screen and Ap­ple Carplay but the ba­sics are right and the 1.6litre is fine for peo­ple who want a sub­ur­ban run­about.

Switch­ing to the Sport Pre­mium brings more equip­ment and a more sump­tu­ous look and feel, from nappa leather seat trim to al­can­tara for the roof lin­ing, but the black-and-white striped trim re­minds me of a skunk.

The all-round cam­era works well, the safety gear is even bet­ter with radar cruise con­trol and speed sign recog­ni­tion — which, as in the Mazda3, re­ally works — and it’s just as re­lax­ing for high­way cruis­ing with a bit more 2.0-litre punch for traf­fic lights and twisty roads.

All up, the Q30 is what we’ve been wait­ing for and a car to hap­pily rec­om­mend to friends. The big chal­lenge now, for In­finiti, is cre­at­ing some cut­through to get peo­ple to take a test drive.

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