Car Culture: Infiniti crossover built on diversity
If you are trying to figure out exactly who makes the car you are considering, it is not as simple as looking at the brand name.
Take the Fiat 124 Spider for instance. It’s sold by Fiat, but made by Mazda in Japan. Or the Buick Cascada. It’s made in Poland, albeit by Opel (a Buick sister division). The latest such mishmash is a bit more unusual in that it comes from a premium/luxury brand, Infiniti.
For years, mainstream automakers have shared platforms and powertrains mainly as a cost-saving measure. But high-end brands tend to avoid too much sharing of major components with rivals because it goes against the purist image they aim to project. That said, Infiniti’s parent, Nissan, has embarked on an extensive and complex partnership with Mercedes-Benz that involves engines, transmissions, platforms and many other components.
One of the complete and visible products of this relationship is the new Infiniti QX30. Under its skin, which is very clearly designed to look like an Infiniti, the 2017 QX30 is essentially a Mercedes-Benz GLA, meaning the platform, engine, transmission and suspension are all sourced from Mercedes. In another unusual twist for such a deal, the QX30 (and its European sister models) are made in Nissan’s British factory.
For Infiniti in the U.S., the arrival of the QX30 this summer is an important step. As one of the second-tier premium Japanese brands, Infiniti is trying to overcome past missteps and reorient its model lineup to better suit American tastes. Infiniti sales globally and in the U.S. were up by around 15 percent in 2015 and will climb further in the second half of 2016 as new models come on stream, says Keith St. Clair, director of product planning.
Those new models include the revamped Q50 midsize sedan, which features the same Mercedes-sourced 2.0-liter, 208-hp turbocharged four-cylinder engine as used in the QX30. Best of all, the new Infiniti models coming to showrooms this fall is the 2017 Q60 coupe, which unquestionably presents the best expression of Infiniti design so far.
Speaking of design, the QX30 is very distinctive, especially in some of the vibrant new colors — blue is my favorite — being offered. The design is a little overwrought in places, particularly the chrome-highlighted kink in the rear pillar, but overall the QX30 really stands out from the crossover crowd. That’s important because this Infiniti has to contend with several heavy hitters in what is becoming a popular market segment — notably the Audi Q3, BMW X1 and of course, the Mercedes GLA.
Though the QX30 shares much of its hardware with the GLA, Infiniti has not just redesigned the exterior and interior, but has also retuned the power delivery and steering characteristics to be a tad more sporty than the Mercedes.
Three versions of the QX30 are available, starting with a base front-wheel drive version priced under $30,000, considerably lower than the competition. A Sport front-drive version is offered with a moonroof, leather and navigation for less than $40,000. Finally there is an all-wheel drive model, which starts at under $35,000.
Entry-level premium crossovers/hatchbacks are all the rage and the QX30 makes a good addition to the crowd, with a striking design, punchy performance and a finely trimmed, if rather cramped, interior.
So now American consumers have a new Japanese designed, German engineered and British-built vehicle to consider. If diversity is to be admired in the auto industry, then you’d be hard pressed to find a better example than the QX30.
John McCormick is a columnist for Autos Consumer and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org