Back in early 2015, I got my hands on the Audi Q3, the smallest crossover SUV in the automaker’s lineup. I liked it, but I also found it perplexing.
Since then, I’ve sampled a few other small crossovers, but none have punched my “this is weird” button quite like the Q3, which struck me as an oddly squashed-down interpretation of luxury SUV-ness.
And then the Infiniti QX30 landed in my driveway at Business Insider’s test center in suburban New Jersey.
Infiniti occupies an unusual place in my luxury imagination in any case. We also recently sampled the Q50 sedan, and as with most other Nissan and Infiniti vehicles (Infiniti is Nissan’s luxury brand), it took me a couple of days to warm up to it. Infinitis almost never grab me by the lapels and shake hard, they don’t set off a tuning fork at the core of my being, and they don’t paste endless smiles on my face.
But they’re actually great cars, for the most part, and as luxury brands go, Infinitis are a bit more snazzy than Acuras or Lexuses (although both brands have pushed the design envelope in the past half decade). When I see one, I say, “Ah! Flamboyant!”
The QX30 is no exception. The vehicle is actually based on a Mercedes GLA, sharing both an engine, transmission, and interior elements. But it still has a groovy, swoopy, exterior that sets it apart from the GLA, which has a more stately, Teutonic vibe.
To Infiniti … and beyond?
A couple of years ago, when I lived in Los Angeles, I needed to buy a new ride, and I looked seriously at a few Infinitis. I was leaning toward the G37 sedan, which appealed to me because it had rear-wheel-drive, so it compared with a BMW 3-Series, but minus the questionable German car’s reliability. (I didn’t buy the G37 because I moved back to the New York area and got a Prius.)
So I’ve always understood how Infinitis work their strange magic on me. But that doesn’t make the strangeness go away.
My test car was a $44,000 pre-production vehicle, a well-optioned 2017 QX30 Premium all-wheel-drive crossover that starts at about $37,000 base. It came in “Magnetic Red,” with a “Graphite Leather” interior, and LED headlights. It’s 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine cracked out a respectable 208 horsepower, all channeled through a sort of balky 7-speed automatic transmission (it seems to get lost in the lower gears) that I didn’t much like, but got used to.
I got used to the whole car, really. Over a week, I ran errands, drove to New York City from New Jersey, and squired my children around. The QX30 has three driving modes: Eco, Sport, and Manual (the last gives you the opportunity to flick through the gears using the paddle shifters).
The driving isn’t stupendous or arresting, and because the QX30 is relatively small compared to other luxury and near-luxury crossovers, the ride is far from plush. I also couldn’t develop much of a sense of the AWD system, largely because the weather was perfect and roads were dry. It felt surefooted. But obviously it isn’t optimised for any kind of rough rolling.
But it’s a nice place to spend time, with an infotainment and navigation system that’s up-to-snuff with the segment. The Bose 10-speaker audio system that our tester came with delivered a listening experience that was right in line with what we’ve come to expect from Bose: not overwhelming or rapturous (Bowers & Wilkins it isn’t), but never muddy nor wimpy.
Cargo capacity was fine, although a trip any longer than a weekend would stress the QX30. The back seat also wouldn’t be comfortable for more than two medium-sized adults. But then again, small crossovers like this aren’t meant to be family haulers; rather, they appeal to affluent empty nesters, young folks with a bit more disposable income, and people who want a nice second car that isn’t a sedan.
Our QX30 was also optioned out — for a little over $2,000 — with a suite of “Technology Package” features, including intelligent cruise control, lane-departure warning, emergency braking, and a cool “around view” monitor that creates an overhead image of the vehicle on the infotainment screen. This came in handy for parking maneuvers.
What’s the point of this car?
I know what you’re thinking: This car sounds like it didn’t do that much for me, beyond providing somewhat upscale basic transportation. Why not just buy a Nissan Rogue and save several thousand bucks?
That’s a valid question, and one that many upscale buyers of crossovers might ask themselves. But in my experience, you do get a little extra something, even in the most modest premium SUV packages. The leather is stitched a bit better, the audio resonates more nicely, the plastic is nicer plastic, the paint job is 10% more luminous. Bottom line: you get what you pay for.
You could certainly argue that you might get what you overpay for with the QX30. The Audi Q3 is cheaper, in the base version, as it the BMW X1. And the Mercedes GLA that the QX30 borrows from is also less expensive.
In the end, however, I decided that I wouldn’t mind owning the QX30, even if it cost me more than a competitive vehicle. But the real realisation I came to is that the compact luxury crossover segment is itself what’s baffling me. Maybe a guy like me should just move up to the QX50, a larger crossover from Infiniti.
More money. Less confusion.
Business Insider Emails & Alerts
Site highlights each day to your inbox.