In­finiti Q30 Was up­mar­ket hatch an Audi beater?

The bar is set high for pre­mium com­pact hatches. Did the Q30 man­age to soar above it dur­ing six months of scru­tiny?

Autocar - - CONTENTS - JIMI BECK­WITH

Time has come for the In­finiti Q30 to leave us. And, to be hon­est, the car has left us a lit­tle bit cold. Our six-month test with the Q30 was a chance for us to try to dig deep with the car, to try to find the rea­sons why it’s not sell­ing like the Audi A3 and other pre­mium mod­els against which In­finiti is pitch­ing it.

We opted for the 2.2-litre diesel, the punchier and more re­fined of the oil­burn­ing en­gines. We also de­cided to em­brace the role of the car’s in­tended up­mar­ket au­di­ence by opt­ing for the high-spec Pre­mium Tech In­touch trim with the optional Safety Pack. This gave us a wealth of gad­gets and giz­mos, in­clud­ing a park­ing as­sis­tant sys­tem, around-view mon­i­tor and In­touch sat-nav and in­fo­tain­ment.

In­ter­est­ingly, dur­ing our time with the car, a new cham­pion rose to the top in the pre­mium hatch­back class. In the first six months of this year, al­most 23,000 ex­am­ples of the Mercedes-benz A-class hatch were sold. In­finiti’s sales are on the up, too: the brand had a 36% in­crease in its mar­ket share the first half of 2017 com­pared with 2016. But that still equated to only 2131 cars, of which 70% were Q30 mod­els. I’ve seen only four oth­ers on the road.

Why men­tion this? Well, it’s a no­table di­vide in sales suc­cess given that the Q30 is closely based on the A-class. You can clearly see where the two cross over and the In­finiti’s valet key still has a three-pointed star on it. Is that sales deficit sim­ply due to brand per­cep­tion?

I’ve tested the Q30 as rig­or­ously as pos­si­ble over six months and my last­ing im­pres­sions are of how quiet it is on the mo­tor­way and how In­finiti is try­ing to charge nigh-on BMW 5 Se­ries money for a hatch­back. Still, I could con­tem­plate the lat­ter in com­fort while driv­ing the Q30: the cabin is as serene as you could ask for in a pre­mium hatch. Long, smooth jour­neys are where it feels most at home. A bit like a 5 Se­ries, then.

In my pre­vi­ous re­port, I high­lighted that, de­spite all that optional tech, there isn’t much in the Q30 that ri­vals don’t of­fer and there’s noth­ing to mark it out from an ever-grow­ing crowd of up­mar­ket hatch­backs.

Part of the prob­lem, I think, is In­finiti’s brand im­age. In­finiti is rel­a­tively new on the mar­ket, but in­stead of try­ing to stand out and make a name for it­self, there’s lit­tle in the Q30’s styling that’s aes­thet­i­cally dif­fer­ent from a num­ber of other hatches. It’s al­most iden­ti­cal to the cheaper Mazda 3, for ex­am­ple. There’s no fash­ion­able yet mus­cu­lar el­e­gance like the A-class, on which

it’s based, no solid de­pend­abil­ity like the A3 and no long-nosed sporti­ness like the BMW 3 Se­ries. There’s plenty of vis­ual drama, but no real stand­out fea­ture to set it apart. When I was filling up at a petrol sta­tion once, some­one liked the styling and then asked if I was driv­ing a Toy­ota.

The Q30’s fail­ure to re­ally stand out grew more no­table the longer I spent in it. Where other cars re­veal charm and per­son­al­ity over time, the Q30 flat­lined. A car’s char­ac­ter is of­ten what you re­mem­ber about it, rather than elec­tri­cal gad­getry or a leather-trimmed cabin. But the Q30, with its throt­tle by wire and other trick­ery, left me cold in this re­spect.

Os­ten­si­bly, it has some of the mak­ings of a de­cent car: good boot space, a plush cabin, a strong engine, good re­fine­ment and a de­cent amount of kit. But it’s the draw­backs that stick in my mind: the poor rear space, con­spic­u­ously placed cheap trim and fid­dly user in­ter­face. They’re ar­eas of a car that cus­tomers fre­quently come into con­tact with and re­mem­ber.

If I was to rec­om­mend a Q30, I’d sug­gest the Safety Park is a good op­tion to have. It’s not an easy car to see out of and the around-view mon­i­tor helped me park it in the tight­est of spa­ces with ease. Tyres with gen­er­ous side­walls – rather than the low-pro­file ones on the more at­trac­tive ‘sport’ al­loys – en­sured no kerb­ing hap­pened, too.

Fuel econ­omy was a mixed bag. It av­er­aged 43.1mpg, oc­ca­sion­ally dip­ping into the high-30s, at best touch­ing on the high-50s. I couldn’t get close to the claimed econ­omy of 64.2mpg do­ing a mix of a short ur­ban com­mute and a bi-weekly long mo­tor­way jour­ney. But although it’s not a fru­gal diesel, the Sport driv­ing mode was at least en­ter­tain­ing on the oc­ca­sions we en­gaged it. Add that fuel econ­omy onto fairly hefty de­pre­ci­a­tion, though – In­finiti’s fledg­ling sta­tus in the UK and the car’s rel­a­tive anonymity can be ap­por­tioned some blame here – and own­er­ship costs can mount up.

Ob­jec­tively, the Q30 is tech-heavy yet ex­pen­sive, re­fined but thirsty, hand­some yet undis­tinc­tive. Still, it has the right in­gre­di­ents to show prom­ise; the A-class on which it’s based might not be a class leader in terms of ca­pa­bil­ity, but it of­fers enough to make buy­ers flock to it in re­mark­able num­bers.

Sub­jec­tively, the Q30 is too ex­pen­sive, over-thought, thirsty and too much of an un­known en­tity to pose a real threat to the top-sell­ers of the class. That’s a shame, be­cause the good bits are re­ally promis­ing. It’s just a pity that, in a mixed bag of a car that com­petes in such a com­pet­i­tive seg­ment, it isn’t as rounded as its chief ri­vals. The chal­lenge for In­finiti is to re­ally stand out. To do that, it needs a car that breaks the mould and that’s not cur­rently the Q30.

At a petrol sta­tion, some­one liked the styling and then asked if I was driv­ing a Toy­ota

Beck­with ap­pre­ciat the Q30’s ca­pa­bilit as a hushed crui

It worked well as com­fort­able and re­fined trans­port

A tyre picked up a nail; the Q30 it­self ran fault­lessly

Boot is a de­cent size, but at the ex­pense of rear pas­sen­ger space

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