Is the best new Mercedes an Infiniti?
It might be. Because sneaky folks that they are, Infiniti started with a fine small SUV, the Mercedes GLA250, and then kept the good bits, massaged some of the other bits, and did a pretty major overhaul of the exterior and interior.
The result is a unique blend of performance and style. But is it enough to lure buyers of the three-pointed star to the sideways Pac Man?
Well on looks alone, yes. While the GLA has that Euro-sensible look, like a taller hatchier version of the CLA sedan, the QX30 in comparison, is a Sports Illustrated model.
This thing is just plain sexy.
Especially for a small SUV where function and off-road swagger is more often the design direction.
The QX30 definitely lives in Infiniti’s evocative new design language, one that especially pleases our eyes with the Q50 Sedan and the luscious, new Q60 coupe. With it’s double arch grille and eyelid-like LED headlamps, the QX30’s front end has a serious snarl on its face.
Come round to the side, and the dramatic shoulder line gives it bulges in all the right places, and the roofline drops aggressively back to a crescent-shaped C-pillar. At the back, that falling roofline meets a kicked up rear panel separated by a tight rear window. From this angle it looks more like a sport coupe than SUV. And we like it.
Our tester was in a tasteful Chestnut Bronze – a nice premium color that offset the aggressive lines.
And if you like the exterior, you’re going to love the interior. If you want some confirmation of Mercedes bits, the graphic seat controls on the door are pure Benz.
But surprise, the Infiniti is actually the more luxurious piece here. Where the GLA has one of those stand-alone center displays that look like a tablet and tempt you to snap it off, the QX greets you with a 7-inch touchscreen that’s built into the dash and looks much richer.
The design of that dash is more expressive too, with a beautiful swoosh of leather that flows from the dash center across to the passenger side. It begs to be touched, along with pillars and headliner that are covered in a lush faux-suede called Dinamica.
Our tester was a real stunner, thanks to the Café Teak Theme Package, which included a brown Nappa leather seating and door trim, brown leatherette on the console and door trim, contrasting black stitching and genuine wood on the center stack and around the door handles. Gorgeous.
Even the little details, like the info-tainment, climate controls, and the squat little shift lever look like they were poured over to make them look, feel and function beautifully. And they do.
We found the front seats to be extremely supportive, and appreciated the 4-way lumbar support for keeping the lower back happy.
Well, at least those in front will be happy. That stylish sloping roof line makes for tight rear quarters for adults, and impinges on the cargo space. We think it’s a fair trade-off, but if rear seat room and luggage capacity are of prime importance, there are many other small SUV’s out there. But none look as good as this.
One area where we really like European cars is in the dynamics. Infiniti says they spent a lot of time, tweaking the chassis to their liking – raising our journalistic eyebrow. Our eyebrow is still up, because we were hard pressed to find a notable difference between this and the GLA.
Which is no bad thing, as both vehicles bring plenty of autobahn-bred driving fun to the party. Power is supplied by a 2.0-liter turbo 4-cylinder that puts out 208 horsepower, which is just ok, but a plump 258 lb-ft of torque at just 1250 rpm which is very, very good.
The engine has a nice little gurgle as it rips along, and doling out the power is a 7-speed dual-clutch auto that’s happy to shift. The responsiveness feels more like a hot hatch like VW’s GTI than an SUV.
We found ourselves dropping the transmission into Sport Mode to keep the turbo on the boil for quick blasts like merging on the freeway, and then toggling back to ECO for relaxed cruising. And when hot-dogging, we took advantage of manual mode, and snapped off gear changes with the paddle shifters. Great fun.
Doing so netted us 25 mpg overall – not bad considering the rush of power goaded us into enjoying all the turbo had to offer.
Once at cruising speed, we found the ride surprisingly comfortable, and the handling confident, thanks to all wheel drive and precise steering. It’s an enjoyable drive.
If you’re looking for an even sportier experience, the QX30 is offered in a front wheel drive Sport Model, that sits nearly an inch lower, and is a bit livelier. The tradeoff may be the day-to-day livability you desire. Test drive before choose your weapon.
Choosing becomes an exercise in self-control. The base QX30 starts at just $29,950, and much of the style and performance in our tester is found here as well. We’d probably at least indulge in the Luxury model, which adds Nappa leather seats, power heated with memory up front for $32,600. All Wheel Drive adds another $1,800.
Posh folks that we are, our tester was a QX30 Premium AWD model, starting at $37,700.
Ours had the Technology Package, which is all leading-edge safety stuff, including Blind Spot and Lane Departure Warning, Intelligent cruise control with forward emergency braking, Infiniti’s (and Nissan’s) neat 360-degree around view monitor with Moving Object Detection, and intelligent park assist. $2,200 well spent.
The previously-mentioned Café Teak Theme Package is $1,750 and would also be a rough one to resist. The active front lighting system and LED interior ambient lighting of the LED package added another $1,000. The Navigation package, $1,850. And while we’re at it, how about illuminated kick plates? $540.
Adding in $995 for destination, and our QX carried a sticker $46,035. Interestingly, a comparably-equipped Mercedes GLA would save you at least a couple grand. But you’d probably wince every time one of those sexy QX30 sauntered by.
So if you’re looking for a Mercedes – especially one that well turn your friends green with envy – your first stop should be your friendly Infiniti dealer. And if you couldn’t care less about owning a Benz, the QX30 is still an excellent, enticing piece in its own right. Win-win.
Ben Lewis grew up in Chicago, and after spending his formative years driving sideways in the winter – often intentionally – moved to sunny Southern California. He now enjoys sunny weather year-round — whether it is autocross driving, aerobatics, and learning to surf.