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Driven: Infiniti’s new Merc-based Q30 for SA

2015-11-20 09:43

LUXURY HATCH: Infiniti launched its Q30 hatch to the world's motoring media in Portugal. Ferdi de Vos offers his thoughts. Image: Motorpress

Ferdi de Vos

Cape Town - We’ve all sat through them; those sometimes dreary Q and A sessions following a presentation.

They can be a real pain; with inane questions asked, followed mostly by ridiculous answers. Still, sometimes they can be informative, with pointed inquiries and illuminating responses.

In the case of Infiniti’s new premium compact – revealed recently to the world media in Lisbon, Portugal – it was quite easy… because this Q is actually an A.

Let me explain...

Infiniti on a roll

Infiniti is currently on a roll. The Japanese luxury brand headquartered in Hong Kong sold a record 154 600 vehicles worldwide during the first nine months of this year – 16% more compared to the same period last year.

In September alone, Infiniti posted global sales of 17 900, an increase of 29% over the same month last year. Yet to further strengthen its presence in key regions, it needed something more – an affordable entry-level model. Fast.

Gallery: 2015 Infiniti Q30

So, in an effort to quickly fill this gap Infiniti leveraged its ties with Daimler-Benz even further to procure not only engines (used in the Q50), but a complete platform for its new premium compact.

Merc underpinnings

The new Q30 is thus in essence based on the A-Class, but with a major twist. While conceived to take on the BMW 1-Series and Audi A3 (and in future the Lexus CT) the new Infiniti actually uses GLA underpinnings – in my view a smart move by the Infiniti engineers.

Infiniti says its new Q30 will arrive in South Africa later in 2016.

Not only does it allow for higher than normal ground clearance, giving the Q30 an elevated yet dynamic stance, but also for all-wheel drive. In contrast to the 120mm ride height of the A-Class (and 170mm for the GLA without Off-Road package) Infiniti’s white-coats opted for a ride height of 210mm, while the sportier S model sits 15mm lower.

Bridgestone Dueler HP Sport tyres with interesting sizes (215/60 R17, 235/50 R18 and 235/45 R19) were also specifically developed for the Q30, giving it a definite crossover look.

Still, Infiniti insists the Q30 is a compact hatch, probably because its real crossover, the QX30, that made its simultaneous global debut at the 2015 Los Angeles and Guangzhou motor shows, is being developed on the same platform to compete against BMW’s X1, the Audi Q3, Lexus NX and yes, the GLA.

To find an optimum suspension setup for the Q30 with its raised ground clearance presented quite a challenge for the engineers.

According to Grahame Cornforth, Infiniti’s chief vehicle engineer, this was overcome by fitting every Q30 model with rebound springs to counteract pitch and roll and compensate for the higher ride height.

In spite of a suspension tuned for comfort, the rebound springs ensure a flat ride at all times – and a high level of grip by ensuring a larger tyre contact patch under cornering, he added.

The priority was to strike an ideal balance between a comfortable ride and enjoyable handling, and depending on model, the suspension settings offer two different styles of dynamic performance.

Daring design

Infiniti has dared to be bold and ambitious with the styling of the Q30. Staying true to the design cues from the original 2013 concept, executive design director Alfonso Albaisa sculpted a car that defies categorisation with its rare shape.

With the Q30 he took signature design cues and evolved them into new dynamic shapes. The double-arch grille with 3D mesh has grown from the Q50, while dramatic curves and turbulent lines flow up the bonnet, over the fenders and across the body line into the strong shoulder of the car.

The signature C-pillar arcs forward in a dynamic, but quite messy crescent shape, while the long roof-line and the car’s elevated stance add to the visual impact.

The Q30 Premium LED is kitted with front fog lamps, body-coloured door mirrors, chrome dual rectangular exhaust finishers and 18” alloy wheels, while the Sport has a more purposeful front fender design with gloss black front grille.

Custom body-coloured side sills, a dynamic rear bumper with dark chrome dual rectangular exhaust finishers and 19-inch alloys complete the sporty look.

Albaisa said: “The Q30 is not the little brother or sister to siblings from larger segments – it features a unique posture and shape that conveys the type of spontaneity and independent spirit that can only be matched by its owner.”

Interior ‘dissymmetry’

Complementing the expressive exterior, the Q30’s “dissymmetrical” interior design also challenges traditional standards in auto design.

While beautifully styled with wavy shapes, the instrument panel is busy and quite cluttered – contrary to the minimalistic design traits found in the cabins of the latest BMW and Audi models.

Its basic outline and curves also clearly originates from the A-Class, and most of the switch gear, like the door-mounted controls for the electric seats are from Benz bins. The Merc influence is not necessarily a bad thing, as it also ensures high quality materials and trim.

Three different trims, apparently inspired by the art found on traditional Japanese Hanafuda playing cards, are available – ‘City Black’ that blends black upholstery with purple stitching, ‘Cafe Teak’ combining classy brown and black upholstery with black stitching, and ‘Gallery White’ endowing the Q30 with a high-contrast appearance, featuring white leather with red accents.

The Infiniti engineers are particularly proud of the seats in the Q30. The backs have been carefully engineered to match the curvature of the spine, providing more support and comfort.

Its coupe-like design also belies its interior space and functionality, ranking among the best in the segment while at 368 litres (VDA) its boot capacity is highly competitive.

Power

As to be expected the Q30 shares drivetrains with the A-Class, except for an entry-level 1.5-litre turbodiesel also used in the Nissan Qashqai.

The small diesel, producing 80kW/260Nm; good enough for a 0-100km/h time of 12 seconds, was redeveloped for Infiniti’s premium requirements and emits only 103g/km of carbon dioxide.
The Q30 base, Premium and Premium Tech models are also available with a fast-revving turbocharged 1.6-litre petrol engine offering two different power and torque outputs (90kW and 200Nm, or 115kW and 250Nm) and bigger 2.2-litre turbodiesel.

The 2.2-litre mill produces 125kW and 350Nm of torque, good enough for a 0-100km/h acceleration time of 8.3 seconds for the front-wheel drive model (8.5 seconds for the all-wheel drive derivative).

The Q30 Sport models are also equipped with a 155kW 2.0-litre turbocharged DIG (direct injection petrol) engine producing 350Nm of torque – similar to the power plant in the A250 and GLA250.

Coupled with a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission driving either the front or all four wheels the high-performance engine propels the Q30 from 0-100k/h in 7.2 or 7.3 seconds respectively.

The dual-clutch transmission (in essence Merc’s fifth generation 7G-Tronic) is available with every engine in the Q30 line-up, while six-speed manual gearboxes are optionally available on the 1.5-litre diesel and 1.6-litre petrol models.

Standard on the Q30’s two larger engine derivatives is Active Sound Enhancement that balances the car’s harmonics to create a pleasant background noise, while the 2.2-litre diesel model boasts a class first with the addition of an Active Noise Cancellation system.

On the road

The small 1.5-litre impressed with its willingness on the highways and byways in and around Lisbon. It felt livelier in the lighter Q30 than in the Qashqai, but at higher revs it quickly lost steam, forcing frequent gear-changes.

With its shovels full of torque the bigger 2.2-litre fared much better in this respect, but it still felt lazy and quite lethargic – only really performing when prodded hard in Sport setting (the Drive Mode Selector allows three modes –Standard, Eco and Sport).

While no 1.6-litre derivatives were available for evaluation the potent 2.0-litre petrol-turbo in the Sport was the pick of the bunch dynamically – although its lower stance and 7% stiffer springs gave it a harsher ride quality.

Infiniti has fine-tuned two different suspension settings for Q30 – one for lighter models, and another for the heavier versions – but it was clear that the settings for the 1.5-litre diesel worked better than that of the heavier 2.0-litre petrol and 2.2-litre diesel models.

Still, the suspension was more forgiving and comfortable than that of the GLA, without sacrificing too much agility.

Its electronically-controlled power steering had much better feel than the system employed in the Q50; being much smoother and more balanced, but it isn’t best in class.

Infiniti claims the Q30 features a 10% improvement in audibility over segment competition at speeds of up to 120km/h , but while the cabin was remarkably quiet at cruising speeds, one can question whether it’s really that much less noisy…

In terms of safety, the big Brembo brake package provides progressive stopping power, while selected models are bestowed with the optional all-wheel drive system.

The Q30 also features a host of intuitive technologies to enhance the driving experience and provide safety to all occupants.

These include Blind Spot Warning, Forward Collision Warning with Forward Emergency Braking, Auto High Beam Assist, Intelligent Cruise Control and Automatic Park Assist, while the InTouch infotainment system, first introduced on the Q50, has been evolved and upgraded, also with voice recognition.

Local derivatives?

The Q30 is the first Infiniti vehicle built in Europe, at the newly upgraded production facilities in Sunderland, United Kingdom, and will be available in Europe at the end of this month.

However, it is only expected to be launched locally mid-2016. Models earmarked for South Africa include both turbodiesels (1.5-litre and 2.2-litre) the 2.0-litre turbopetrol (perhaps also an all-wheel drive derivative) with the 1.6-litre models expected later.

Pricing will be crucial, and given the price range of its competitors, one can expect the derivatives to retail from around R360 000 for the entry-level 1.5-litre to close to R480 000 for the top-of-the-range 2.0-litre Sport model.
While the fact that it’s based on the GLA and will only be available as a hatch may count against it, the bold new Q30 in my view is more attractive than its A-Class and GLA donors, and also technically presents a better package.

If you are looking for something different, but still want Merc’s renowned engineering expertise, this could be the Answer. No Question.
 
Infiniti Q30 – Technical Specifications
Engines 1.6-litre  90kW Turbo Petrol (low)
Type - Four-cylinder inline, DOHC, turbocharged
Capacity - 1.6-litres, 1 595 cc
Bore and stroke - 73.7 x 83.0 mm
Compression ratio - 10.3:1
Max power - 90kW @ 5 000 rpm
Max torque - 200Nm @ 1 250-4 000 rpm
Valves -  four-per-cylinder
Fuel system - Direct injection with CAMTRONIC variable valve lift

1.6-litre  115kW Turbo Petrol (high)
Type - Four cylinder inline, DOHC, turbocharged
Capacity - 1.6-litres, 1 595 cc
Bore and stroke - 73.7 x 83.0 mm
Compression ratio - 10.3:1
Max power - 115kW @ 5 300 rpm
Max torque - 250Nm @ 1 250-4 000 rpm
Valves - four-per-cylinder
Fuel system - Direct injection with CAMTRONIC variable valve lift

2.0-litre  155kW DIG Turbo Petrol
Type - Four-cylinder inline, DOHC, turbocharged
Capacity - 2.0-litres, 1 991 cc
Bore and stroke - 92.0 x 83.0 mm
Compression ratio - 9.8:1
Max power - 155kW @ 5 500 rpm
Max torque - 350Nm @ 1 200-4 000 rpm
Valves - four-per-cylinder
Fuel system - Direct injection petrol (DIG)

1.5-litre 80kW  Turbodiesel
Type - Four-cylinder inline, OHC, turbocharged
Capacity  -  1.5-litres, 1 461 cc
Bore and stroke - 80.5 x 76.0 mm
Compression ratio - 15.5:1
Max power - 80kW @ 4 000 rpm
Max torque - 260Nm @ 1 750-2 500 rpm
Valves - two-per-cylinder
Fuel system - Multi-point common-rail direct injection

2.2-litre 125kW Turbodiesel
Type - Four-cylinder inline, DOHC, turbocharged
Capacity - 2.2-litres, 2 143 cc
Bore and stroke - 99.0 x 83.0 mm
Compression ratio - 16.2:1
Max power - 125kW @ 3 400-4 000 rpm
Max torque - 350Nm @ 1 400-3 400 rpm
Valves - Four-per-cylinder
Fuel system - Multi-point common-rail direct injection

Suspension and damping
Front - Fully-independent by sub-frame mounted MacPherson struts with lower ball-joint, coil springs and gas-filled shock absorbers, with anti-roll stabiliser bar
Rear  - Fully-independent by sub-frame mounted multi-link suspension, coil springs and gas-filled shock absorbers, with anti-roll stabiliser bar

Steering
Type    Dual-pinion, electronically-assisted power steering
Gearing - 14.4:1
Turns - 2.51 (lock to lock)
Turning circle - 11.37m (curb to curb)

Brakes
Front - 295mm ventilated discs/320mm ventilated discs (2.0t / 2.2d only)
Rear - 295mm solid discs/295mm ventilated discs (Sport only)

Wheels and tyres
Base - Steel 17", 215/60 R17 tyres
Optional - Alloy 18", 235/50 R18 tyres
Alloy 19", 235/45 R19 tyres

Capacities
Luggage (litres, VDA)    
Behind 2nd row    368
Fuel tank        
50 litres (1.6t, 1.5d, 2.2d FWD)
56 litres (2.0t, 2.2d AWD)

Performance and fuel economy
Manual
1.6t/1.5d
Performance    
Top speed (kph)    200/190        
0-100 km/h (secs)    9.4/12.0        

DCT / automatic (FWD)
1.6t -1.5d - 2.0t - 2.2d
Performance    
Top speed (km/h)    215/190/235/220
0-100 km/h (secs)    8.9/11.9/7.2/    8.3

DCT / automatic (AWD)
2.0t/2.2d
Performance    
Top speed (km/h)    230/215    
0-100 km/h (secs)    7.3/8.5


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