The Q30, if you’re not already aware, is Infiniti’s first car in the premium compact segment and is the company’s riposte to the BMW 1 Series, Audi A3 and the Mercedes-Benz A-Class. Curiously, though, it borrows its oily bits from the aforementioned Merc, so it’s kind of going against itself. We have tested the A-Class extensively here at wheels, which means there is an immediate sense of déjà vu the moment I step into the Q30 at its regional launch in Lebanon.
Cosmetically, it’s far removed from its German rival and I’d go as far as to say that the Q30 is perhaps the best-looking car in its class. The 1 Series just looks like a startled monkey with its oversized headlamps, while the A3 is rather staid. The muscly side and frowning headlamps, meanwhile, give the Q30 a much stronger presence. There is one slight issue though. In the pursuit of making the Q30 more comfortable on everyday runs, the suspension has been jacked up, which makes it look like a mash-up between a hatchback and a crossover. In that sense it’s actually got more in common with the GLA than with the A-Class. It’s got all-wheel drive, too, which is something that’s lacking — apart from the mental AMG A 45 version — in the latter. The dividends, and actually the logic of doing so, are not immediately clear, if I’m being honest.
On the twisty mountain roads in Lebanon, which comprise our test route, the Q30 feels planted and stable all of the time. However, I’m not sure that a front-wheel drive A 250 would feel any less composed. More importantly, under normal driving conditions, the Q30 is actually front-wheel drive and only sends 50 per cent of power to the rear when it detects loss of grip. There is something to be said about the ride quality, though. The longer suspension travel and tyres with proper sidewalls — no rubberband-spec lo-pros here — mean it is more comfortable than its German rivals. But only slightly so.
The biggest aesthetic improvement in my view, however, is that Infiniti has integrated the central infotainment screen into the dashboard.
On the move, the steering is also better than you’d expect. There’s an acceptable amount of feel; it’s nice and light when you’re pootling around town and firms up adequately as you gather pace. Overall, however, the rear-wheel drive Bimmer is more fulfilling to drive.
In November last year I had tested the pre-production version of the Q30 in Portugal and the most glaring flaw was the mapping of the double-clutch seven-speed gearbox. Throughout the entire drive the automatic whined, moaned and droned like — shudder — a CVT! Which meant that Infiniti had managed to make the Q30 worse than the car it was based on. As harsh as that might sound, no one was going to buy a worse-driving version of the A-Class with a relatively less desirable badge on the front. But after properly testing the actual production car, I’m happy to report that the transmission issues have been completely sorted. It’s still no Volkwagen DSG, but it does the job fairly well now. It works in quiet harmony with the 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbocharged engine making a polite 208bhp, the same as the A-Class. There is also a smaller 122 horsepower 1.6-litre unit available, which I didn’t get to drive, however, given the phlegmatic progress of the bigger engine, it would not be my first choice in the range.
Inside, there is distinctive Infiniti-ness to the design, with loads of curvy surfaces, but you cannot help but notice Mercedes-parts-bin specials peeking at you from one place or another.
That’s not to say that the cabin is a bad place to be. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. I feel that Infiniti has done a much better job on the Q30’s interior than Mercedes did on the A-Class. There’s loads of luxurious leather and Alcantara everywhere, and the driving position affords great outward visibility. The seats, although not the most supportive, are very, very comfortable on long drives.
The biggest aesthetic improvement in my view, however, is that Infiniti has integrated the central infotainment screen into the dashboard unlike the A-Class, where it looks like a tacky aftermarket addition.
The Q30 is not a revolutionary car by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s a pretty attractive proposition given its Dh142K price, which includes extended warranty and a servicing package. That said, it may be a while before it starts stealing its German rivals’ lunch money.