The Sunday Times Driving Placeholder
The Nissan with knobs on
Pros
Design stands out from the pack
Mercedes tech and well-made interior
Super 1.5 diesel from Renault
Cons
Looks won't convince everyone
Not as good to drive as an Audi or BMW
It's a posh Nissan

First Drive review: 2016 Infiniti Q30

Does my bumper look big in this?

More Info

Infiniti

2016 Infiniti Q30 at a glance

  • Handling: ★★★☆☆
  • Comfort: ★★★★☆
  • Performance: ★★☆☆☆
  • Design: ★★★☆☆
  • Interior: ★★★★☆
  • Practicality: ★★★★☆
  • Costs: ★★★☆☆

INFINITI arrived in Britain in 2008 and thus far its offerings — lane-filling luxury Japanese coupés and SUVs with a touch of the silky kimono about them — have been slow to catch fire here.


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One might put that down, in part, to the natural pace of evolution (the brand has just 12 UK showrooms so far) and perhaps also to an approach to bodywork you might call “design-forward”. Infiniti likes (in its own words) to “challenge the norm” — and there’s no denying that poor old norm gets a good kicking every time Infiniti comes up with a car.

Infiniti says it likes to “challenge the norm” — and there’s no denying that poor old norm gets a good kicking every time it comes up with a car

Somewhere between a training shoe and a CGI crustacean, an Infiniti will tend to be big on curves and swerves and crimps — a car caught passing through a funfair’s hall of mirrors. At concept stage, most cars look like Infinitis. The difference is, Infinitis continue to look that way into production. To drive one is to feel ever so slightly like the star of your own personal manga strip.

Now, though, the company is looking to stir up some mainstream sales with the new Q30, no less uncompromisingly bulbous than any other Infiniti but representing a pitch to the broader market in the sense that it is a hatchback (Infiniti’s first).

The family hatchback market is a bit like New York: if you can make it there, you can make it anywhere. It may also be the case that if you can’t make it there, you’re doomed. But Infiniti at least has the background for the battle. The company enjoys a complicated and highly modern domestic arrangement, living at home with its mother, Nissan, which subsequently married Renault, prior to entering into a three-way cohabitation with Daimler.

q30

Accordingly, Infiniti’s engineers have their pick of parts from a multinational warehouse, although obviously the arrangement is subject to restrictions. Which would explain why Infiniti chose to raise this new car on the platform for the Mercedes A-class, widely felt to be the stodgiest and least easy-to-love model in the current Mercedes range. Otherwise it would be a bit like winning the chance of a five-minute supermarket trolley dash and spending the whole of it in the rice and pasta aisle.

Still, all credit to Infiniti for what it has done with the base material, particularly the 2.2-litre diesel engine, which, in the A-class, notoriously sounds like a cow giving birth in a high wind, but which has been retuned and acoustically blocked to get the painful lowing noises out of the cabin.

The potentially passion-killing possibility that you might be driving a posh Nissan never enters your thinking

Better still is the 1.5-litre diesel from Renault — muted, compliant, perfectly powerful enough. You can choose the slightly smudgy manual or the smooth DCT automatic; in either case the Q30 will carry itself with dignity and remain sociably quiet on motorways, especially if you keep the blind over the sunroof.

Inside, the seats are Infiniti’s own and very comfortable. The upscale Premium version included some panels of red-stitched white leather that could well have been cut from a German rock star’s trousers. I preferred the black-on-black finish, with its more studious wood trimmings.

Infiniti-interior

Mercedes is firmly present in the graphics on the dash, the buttons and stalks, and even the key fob — but why should that be a bad thing? The potentially passion-killing possibility that you might be driving a posh Nissan never enters your thinking.

There’s also a Sport model, which sits a little lower, with a new bumper and trimmings, to suggest it might be a thing unto itself. Maybe, but I struggled to feel any sportiness.

It probably needs to be a hybrid, where all these troublesome questions about driveability and throttle response can be made to disappear in a soothingly Lexus-style electronic waft. Infiniti was extremely coy when asked whether hybrid versions were on the way — but coy in a way that seemed to suggest they would be.

There are already reasons to jump aboard, though. The Q30 is unquestionably well made. It’s the kind of car that everybody is buying, but it doesn’t look like everything else. And you also have a chance to get in there relatively early while people don’t yet have any settled and perhaps unhelpful ideas about what being the owner of an Infiniti means.

Throw the neighbours a curveball, maybe: go for the nob’s Nissan and watch for the confusion in their faces.

2016 Infiniti Q30 1.5d SE specifications
  • PRICE: £21,500
  • ENGINE: 1461cc, 4-cylinder diesel
  • POWER: 108bhp @ 4000rpm
  • TORQUE: 192 Ib ft @ 1750rpm
  • TRANSMISSION: 6-speed manual, front-wheel drive
  • ACCELERATION: 0-62mph: 12.0sec
  • TOP SPEED: 118mph
  • FUEL: 68.9mpg
  • CO2: 108g/km
  • ROAD TAX BAND: B (free for first year; thereafter £20)
  • RELEASE DATE: On sale now

 

Infiniti Q30 1.5d SE rivals

Audi A3 1.6 TDI Ultra, from £21,735 (view cars for sale)

  • For Impressive economy and emissions; elegant interior; well priced
  • Against There are plenty on the roads

BMW 116d ED Plus, from £22,030 (view cars for sale)

  • For Best to drive; frugal and clean as the Audi; brisker than the Infiniti
  • Against It’s no looker; legroom in the back seats is pinched

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