If you don’t yet believe that cars are getting better and better, you ought to drive the smallest and most recent addition to Infiniti’s SUV lineup: the QX30.
The crossover is smooth, powerful, luxurious – and priced under $30,000. Infiniti, the long-beleaguered upscale marque and Nissan sister brand, has initiated a product renaissance with hopes of catching up to its German and Japanese competitors. The diminutive, 208-horsepower QX30 is a solid place to start, as I discovered last week on a drive along the Puget Sound.
The QX30, Infiniti’s smallest and least expensive SUV, is the brand’s attempt to claim its share of the growing market for small and medium-sized crossovers in the U.S. Arriving at Infiniti dealerships next month, the sleek, entry-level hatchback could serve as a gateway to attract new customers to the marque.
“From here, we expect people to grow with the brand,” said Keith St. Clair, director of product planning at Infiniti Americas.
That the 2.0-liter, four-cylinder QX30 performs as capably as any small luxury SUV –hugging Washington’s winding curves and passing mightily on Interstate 5 – is not surprising given that its engine and platform were developed with Mercedes-Benz parent company Daimler . The QX30 is the first fruit of a Nissan-Daimler partnership dating back to 2010 to share platforms and powertrains.
However, Infiniti engineers developed the seven-speed dual-clutch transmission, throttle, steering, and suspension tuning.
The QX30 is intended to compete with the Mercedes GLA, BMW X1 and Audi Q3, landing solidly in the middle. The GLA, which is sportier with a meaner growl, is more expensive, priced from $32,850. However, the QX30’s cushier All-wheel drive and Sport models will debut at just under $35,000 and $40,000 respectively (not including the $950 destination and handling charge). Meanwhile, the Q3 offers less space and horsepower than the QX30, and the X1 is not as plush as the Nappa leather-clad, genuine-wood trimmed Sport model I drove.
Crossovers have been a sweet spot for automakers, accounting for most of their growth in the post-recession years. Sales of sport wagons and crossovers rose 9.1% for the first half of the year, outpacing the industry’s 1.5% growth overall. The X1’s sales performance more than doubled to 12,139 units through June, while sales of the GLA and Q3 rose 4.4% to 12,815, and 35.6% to 8,468, respectively.
The premium entry-level crossover segment is expected to continue growing, said Jessica Caldwell, senior analyst at Edmunds. “With low gas prices, we’ve seen an incredible market swing toward crossovers,” she said. “Then when low interest rates and a stable economy is layered on, there is an environment for buyers to not only go for a crossover but go for luxury as well. It is the right vehicle type for the right time.”
Infiniti, created 27 years ago to target premium customers in the U.S. who wouldn’t consider driving a Nissan, is determined to make a comeback after years of lagging competitors. Despite enjoying more popularity globally, Infiniti has reported that U.S. sales have risen just 1% so far this year. That’s why it has a spate of new and retooled vehicles set to launch over the next six months. Customers can expect a new limited model QX70 large SUV this month, as well as a new premium version of the Q70 sedan and enhancements to the QX60 and QX80 SUVs, Q50 sedan, and Q60 coupe later this year.