AUTOMAKERS are in the business of manufacturing cars. But as with any company, it’s really all about making money. And because every new model is a gamble, car companies need every advantage possible.
That includes cooperating with each other.
To save resources and operate more nimbly, automakers occasionally hook up. It can be as simple as BMW using automatic transmissions engineered by General Motors. Or maybe it’s Toyota selling a Mazda 2, with new fascias, as the Yaris iA. Sharing happens.
Infiniti’s new hatchbacklike crossover, the QX30, doesn’t use a powertrain or platform from the parts bin of its parent company, Nissan. Instead, the chassis structure, suspension, 2-liter 208 horsepower turbo 4-cylinder engine and 7-speed dual clutch gearbox all come from Germany. It is a result of the partnership that Daimler (you know, the Mercedes-Benz people) formed with Renault-Nissan in 2010.
Think of the Infiniti QX30 and Mercedes GLA 250 as brothers from different mothers. For Infiniti, adapting from the Mercedes vehicle meant reducing the strain on the company’s engineers, bringing the QX30 more quickly to market. It was a good strategy, because very small crossovers are a big deal.
Infiniti didn’t just slap new badges and a different grille on the GLA. Other than some interior switches, there are few clues to the QX’s origins.
The striking brushstroked sheet metal is pure Infiniti swoopiness down to the signature “crescent cut’’ flourish all Infinitis have on their rear roof pillar.
In an era when safety regulations, aerodynamic considerations and blatant copying have made it harder to distinguish cars by design, the QX30’s stylists deserve kudos. The cocoonlike cabin appears richer than its Teutonic sibling, especially in the optional Cafe Teak package (which uses real wood, although not teak).
The heated seats use Nissan’s Zero Gravity contouring that follows the curvature of a human spine in weightless conditions. They are comfy without having to leave Earth. Infiniti made this platform theirs by changing the suspension tuning, steering, throttle response and transmission calibration. A quick test drive proves how different the two cars feel. Driving the GLA, I found the transmission dynamics lethargic in economy mode and over-caffeinated in the sport setting, with no middle ground.
The QX30 achieves a happy medium. It dashes from a metered on-ramp light to 60 miles an hour in just under seven seconds. At speed, the QX30 cruises well for a small vehicle. There is a button-down manner on the straightaways and quelled road noise. Choose between three QX30 models: a standard version, Sport (lowered by 0.6 inches) and all-wheel drive (raised 1.2 inches from the base version). Across the board, the suspensions are firmer than the GLA’s. All-wheel-drive models have a higher center of gravity, so the steering ratio is slowed. If cornering is your thing, consider the front-drive Sport.
My week with an all-wheel-drive model coincided with a rare blanket of snow covering Seattle. The QX30 happily crawled up and down my hilly neighborhood (remember, snow tires on a front-drive vehicle are a revelation). This rig is fine for the light off-roading that a few owners might point it toward.
As with the GLA, checking your left blind spot reveals little but a face full of pillar. Highly recommended is the $2,200 Technology Package with blind-spot warning, auto braking and semiautonomous parking.
Rear seating is acceptable but snug in all dimensions for an average adult, with seat backs fixed a tad too upright for my taste. The cargo hold takes on a half-dozen grocery bags. Drop the split rear seat, complete with ski pass-through, and it gobbles up a bike with the front wheel removed.
The QX30 starts at $30,945 for a base front-drive car; with options — including $540 lighted sill plates — my Premium AWD copy was listed at $46,035.
Near as I can figure, that is $4,000 less than a comparably equipped Mercedes GLA 250. Compare these two with Audi Q3, BMW X1, Lexus NX and maybe, for the budget-minded, the Buick Encore.
The Buick, by the way, is a product of South Korea, built by the former Daewoo Motors, which General Motors purchased. Just another example of how the industry is deeply intertwined.
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