What Happens When a Mercedes-Benz Meets an Infiniti?

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q30Does the world need another premium compact crossover utility vehicle?

It?s a fast-growing field, one clogged with any number of entries, including the Audi Q3, BMW X1, Mercedes-Benz GLA and Lincoln MKC, among others. The segment, which currently accounts for about 50,000 unit sales annually, is expected to triple in volume in five years. Not bad for a product that didn?t exist a half decade ago.

?This is definitely the fastest growing segment within the premium U.S. market and it also is one that will start to make its presence felt,? said Sean McNamara, senior manager with Infiniti product planning. ?That said, this is something we knew was going to happen.?

This is why Infiniti reconsidered its entry-level model strategy seven years ago in not only the U.S. but also in Europe, where compact hatchbacks are big sellers. The decision came as parent company Nissan entered into an alliance with Daimler, parent company of Mercedes-Benz. Since then, the partnership has grown to 13 projects worldwide.

The initial fruit of that collaboration is the 2017 Infiniti QX30, a five-door crossover utility vehicle now in showrooms. Developed by Infiniti and Mercedes-Benz, the QX30 shares many pieces with the Mercedes GLA, including its chassis, engine and transmission. But McNamara and others say there are significant differences between the two vehicles.

?If you?ve spent time in a GLA, you?ll notice some pieces are the same, but we spent a lot of time not only on the exterior and interior design, but also on the hardware itself,? he said. ?We did a lot of our own tuning to the transmission, throttle, steering and suspension.?

That?s quite true despite the QX30 sharing the GLA?s driveline, a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine rated at the 208 horsepower and 258 foot-pounds of torque and a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission.

And while GLA comes in three guises, the QX30 comes in six: Base, Sport, Premium, and Luxury trim with front-wheel drive, and Premium and Luxury with all-wheel drive. Prices start at $29,950, a substantial $2,900 less than the Mercedes-Benz GLA 250.

While the QX30 doesn?t feel quite as lively as its cousin, it?s more than eager enough for suburban sprints and highway hops. The steering effort builds nicely as you tackle the twisties, with some understeer revealing the vehicle?s front-wheel-drive roots. The ride is fairly firm, although not as firm as its German relative. This keeps the body flat while conquering corners, but ensures that pock-marked pavement will be readily noticed by all occupants. If ultimate cushiness is a priority, this is not your ride.

As you?d expect, the QX30 offers such driver?s assistance features as an around-view monitor with moving object detection, blind-spot warning, lane departure warning and forward emergency braking.

If you?re considering this vehicle as a foul-weather friend, keep in mind that all models have 6.8 inches of ground clearance except for the Sport, which is lowered to 6.1 inches. And while the Sport wears 19-inch rubber, other models make do with 18-inch wheels. This lends the Sport a more fetching look than its siblings, although all are striking.

The QX30?s deeply sculpted side lines flow freely from its double arch grille and curvaceous hood. Infiniti?s signature crescent-shaped c-pillar visually thrusts the car forward. In the rear, a double arch license plate surround and LED lighting clearly proclaim this CUV?s identity. So while it may share its underpinnings with a Mercedes-Benz, it looks nothing like it.

That?s especially true inside, where the materials are clearly a cut above those in the Benz. That said, the low roof and unique rear pillar design compromise rear visibility and give the rear seat a cramped feel.

Suitably, the instrument panel speaks with the same free flowing visual vocabulary as the QX30?s body panels, lending the cabin a sporting, modern aura. Especially pleasing are the optional Gallery White Theme Package, with white leather and red stitching, and the Cafe Teak Theme Package featuring brown Napa leather with black contrast stitching.

The packages only reinforce the QX30?s finest trait: its vibrant visual joie de vivre that?s distinctly different from its more sober cousin, or the many appliances against which it competes. More a high-fashion hatchback than a compact utility vehicle, the 2017 Infiniti QX30 is nonetheless a unique flavor, a welcome addition to an increasingly crowded, if popular, segment.

Prices: $29,950-$37,700

Horsepower: 208

Torque: 258 pound-feet

EPA rating (city/highway): 24/33 mpg (front-wheel drive), 21/30 (all-wheel drive)

Wheelbase: 106.3 inches

Length: 173.2 inches

Ground clearance: 6.1-6.7 inches

Curb weight: 3,280-3,364 pounds

Cargo volume: 19.2 cubic feet

(Source: TNS)