Bantam beauty

BY Andrew McCredie . Aug 12 04:00 am

BAINBRIDGE ISLAND, WA. — Driving through the primordial rain forests of the Pacific Northwest, one’s mind can wander to ponder the larger questions of existence. Why are we here? What does it all mean? Did Led Zeppelin really steal the opening rifts to Stairway to Heaven?

But behind the wheel of this all-new vehicle earlier this week, the thought that kept going through my head was: Does the world really need another premier compact crossover? Probably not, but if you’re Infiniti, the all-new 2017 QX30 makes perfect sense.

Three out of four of its top-selling models in Canada are luxury CUVs and SUVs, but sales in the compact segment have ballooned by some 43 per cent this year over last year. With no dog in that fight — one that is dominated by the Teutonic Trio of Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz with the Q3, X1 and GLA-Class, respectively — it made good business sense for Nissan’s luxury arm to enter the fray.

With the QX30, it’s done so with some of that German pedigree. The all-new crossover is the first offspring of a five-year partnership between Infiniti and Mercedes’ parent Daimler, and it shares many of its underpinnings with the GLA, which also happens to be the top-seller in the segment in Canada. Those shared components include platform, engine and transmission, along with some technological bits and pieces. More on that later.

The QX30 also represents the first new model for Infiniti since the launch of the Q50 sedan in 2013, the sport sedan that replaced the much admired G37.

The QX30 comes in three versions: Base, Sport and AWD. It is the AWD version which Infiniti Canada says will be the big seller, with estimates as high as 80 per cent of QX30 buyers in this country choosing that variant. Further to the three models, a Premium package can be added to the Base and AWD versions, as can a Technology package to the Sport and AWD model.

The Sport model is 1.5 centimetres lower than the Base, gets a sport front and rear fascia, 19-inch wheels — Base and AWD come with 18-inchers — and cross-drilled front rotors with Infiniti-branded calipers. Its spring rate is also seven per cent stiffer than the Base. The AWD is just over three centimetres higher than the Base, and gets its own front and rear fascia, along with roof rails and distinctive 18-inch wheels. To firm it up, its spring rate is stiffened by three per cent over the Base model.

No choice when it comes to power, though, as the only engine available is a 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder producing 208 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque. As mentioned, this is the same engine as the GLA-Class, though Infiniti engineers did some “throttle tuning”’ to make it their own. It features stop-start and, thankfully, a switch that allows you to shut that off.

The seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission is also from Mercedes, but again, Infiniti engineers got in there to do their own tuning. Paddle shifters come standard on all models, as do three driving modes: Economy, Sport and Manual.

True to the signature stylings of the Q50, the QX30 has a muscular exterior, with high haunches and beltlines, a double-arch grille and a swept-back windshield. It’s an aggressive look, and one that makes further comparisons with the GLA inevitable.

Inside, however, the QX30 reveals it’s own unique personality. True, like the GLA it’s driver-oriented cockpit is more sports car than sport ute, but its simplicity in gauge design and control layout is a refreshing change from the too-often cluttered and overwhelming displays luxury makers feel they must install.

Five minutes behind the wheel of the QX30 and you’ll have figured out how to use the climate control, navigation and driving condition selections. And there’s even a nod to that Daimler relationship in the form of door-mounted front seat controls and a single stalk for turn signals and windshield wiper controls.

To be honest, with a few ponies over 200, I wasn’t expecting much in terms of engine performance, but that turbo-aided 258 lb.-ft. of torque really came to the fore as it is there from a low of 1,200 r.p.m. all the way up to 4,000.

The stiffer spring rate provided sure footing, and while we didn’t do any off-road driving, the up-and-down, twisty roads of Bainbridge Island gave ample opportunity to push the suspension. It was very tight and solid, and cabin noise was exceptionally low, though we did experience an intermittent rattle somewhere in the top of the driver’s door.

My only real complaint about the driving experience was the lack of a ‘Normal’ mode in the driving selector. Eco mode provides better fuel economy, but at the cost of acceleration and low-rpm shifts. The Sport mode was almost hyper in its shifts and the Manual mode still upshifted and downshifted at predetermined r.p.m., often at times that surprised me.

The 2017 Infiniti QX30 will be in Canadian showrooms later this month, and fuel-economy figures and pricing will be released in the coming weeks. Expect the pricing to be in line with the GLA, ranging between $38,000 and $48,000.

— Postmedia Network Inc. 2016 

 

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