First Drive: 2016 Infiniti Q30

First Drive: 2016 Infiniti Q30
 

If it’s a Tuesday afternoon, it simply means one thing — preparing copy for the next issue of the IgnitionLive supplement. But last week had a slight twist, as I found myself on the outskirts of Lisbon, Portugal, for the international launch of the Infiniti Q30 and Q30 Sport. Arriving a day early meant having the advantage of exploring the surrounds at a leisurely pace, which is how I came to be at a quaint little bistro, the Café Restelo. It was good, after a 16-hour flight, to just kick back, order a drink and soak up local life on the Rua Bartolomeu Dias, a lane dotted with an assortment of small eateries in a delightful part of town. I sat back and watched two elderly women, arm in arm, amble along the narrow sidewalk — a stretch they have probably walked a thousand times — stopping occasionally to chat to those they know.

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Their conversation was animated with much waving of hands as they inched along. When I looked again, they had disappeared into one of the many apartamentos in the area — apartments that ooze character and date back to pre-World War 2 — some neglected, but attractive nonetheless. The adjoining modern condos look somewhat out of place. A modern phase clashing with a bygone era — new versus old. I prefer the latter. But it’s the cobble streets that I admired — the craftsmanship and time that must have gone into to creating something so beautiful. The Infiniti Q30 — the brand’s first venture into the compact premium sector — possesses similar qualities. Showcased back in 2013 at the Frankfurt Motor Show as a concept, the Q30 drew, at the time, a lot of attention and praise, courtesy of a number of its design aspects. Fast-forward to 2015 and, thankfully, these have been carried over into production.

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This is a very stylish vehicle that projects a strong visual statement. Whereas some hatches today look pretty much of a muchness with little distinctive personality, the Q30 has some noticeably bold lines,clear proportions, a raised stance and dramatic contours.It’s a mixture that gives a degree of individuality in a segment that needed some impetus. When it comes to manufacturers these days — and the ever-increasing pressure on profit margins — economies of scale come into play. Which is perhaps why the Infiniti Q30 draws on technology not just from its parent company, the Nissan-Renault alliance, but also Mercedes-Benz.The Q30 is based on the same platform as the Mercedes A-Class, while under the bonnet there is a choice of three petrol and two diesel engines (all coming from Nissan-Renault or Mercedes). On offer is a 1.6 turbopetrol that can be tuned for either 90kW or 115kW; a 2-litre turbo petrol that is good for 155kW; and on the diesel front there is a 1.5-litre turbo(80kW) and a 2.2-litre turbo(125kW). Transmissions include a six-speed manual or a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic.

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Since its inception, Infiniti has adopted a philosophy of producing vehicles with a high number of standard features.The Q30 — which will be available in base, premium or premium tech levels —follows that trend. Just about everything that opens and shuts has been brought on board, and while it may push up the price, you will feel secure in the knowledge that you don’t have to fork out a significant amount of money at a later stage. My time was spent primarily behind the wheel of the2.2-litre diesel with the autobox and we weaved our way along the N6 from Cascais toLisbon — a spectacular drive that takes you so close to the Atlantic Ocean you can almost feel the spray on your face. There is always a concern about noise levels when it comes to a diesel, but Infiniti has done a reasonably good job with the Q30 by shutting out intrusive sounds thanks to a noise-cancelling system. The cabin of the Q30 is a particularly nice place to spend time. The seats (clad in Alcantara) are electrically adjustable and extremely comfortable, thanks also to lumbar support. The dashboard is fairly minimalistic — dominated mainly by a 7-inch touchscreen — while there is clear visibility of all the necessary gauges and dials. The ride itself is extremely comfortable.

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Our only concern was that the satnav was not the most user-friendly. With directions only being given at the last split-second, which is not the most confidence-inspiring experience when travelling on foreign soil. The Q30 Sport — which we got to drive on day two — has the 2-litre turbo petrol engine and also boasts some distinctive features. Apart from sitting 15mm lower than other Q30 variants, it has a different front bumper, with gloss-black front grille, custom body-coloured side sills, dark chrome dual rectangular exhaust finishers and 19-inch alloy wheels. Inside the cabin are sports seats with integrated headrests. The Sport also allows for additional personalisation options. Compared with the diesel, I did find this a more enjoyable drive. There is obviously less noise emanating from under the hood, but that little bit of extra power (30kW) appeared quite noticeable, particularly on the highway.

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Not only in South Africa, but in many markets around the world, Infiniti remains very much a niche brand. That said, it has had a very successful 2015 so far, with the first nine months showing an increase in sales of 16% compared with the corresponding period last year. Most of these sales have come from China and North America, with Australasia showing positive signs of growth. The introduction of the Q30 is clearly an attempt by the company to raise its profile and have a bigger footprint in more markets. This was echoed by Matthew Davis, director of Infiniti Global Communications, who talked about the need for the company to attract a new generation of premium buyers and described the launch of the Q30 as “an incredibly important moment”. Direct competitors for the Q30 include the BMW 1-series, Mercedes Benz A-Class and Audi A3. It is a formidable trio that pretty much has a stranglehold on this particular segment. Is there room for one more? Of course there is! Does the Q30 have what it takes to make inroads on the German’s sales? Yes, it does, but a lot will come down to pricing — that could be a key to its success in South Africa. But then again, price is often a trade-off for exclusivity.

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The Q30 and Q30 Sport — which will be built at a plant in Sunderland in the UK — will go sale in South Africa in July next year. This will be followed shortly after by the crossover QX30. Also headed our way next year is the super-hot-looking Q60 two-door coupé.

-Bruce Fraser