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Lexus is the name that first springs to mind when one thinks of Japanese luxury cars, but there is another lesser-known rising gun that’s been quietly chipping away here since 2012, and that brand is Infiniti.
As Lexus is to Toyota, so is Infiniti to Nissan – and while still a relative newcomer to these parts, Infiniti has been a consistent presence in the US market since 1989, where it’s a well-known and respected prestige brand.
Of course, if you’re going to be a player in any segment these days, you need an SUV or two in the line-up. Enter the Infiniti QX30 Sport, a compact luxury SUV that benefitted from a minor facelift earlier this year that piqued our interest.
In the absence of established brand cachet Infiniti is left to take the fight to its rivals on price and features and here the QX30 doesn’t disappoint.
At a drive-away price of $49,888 the compact softie is almost $11k under the list price of the similarly-powered Mercedes-Benz GLA250 on which it is based.
The QX30 also drives out of the showroom in extremely well-appointed fettle, packing a long list of standard features that many of its rivals charge thousands of dollars more for over their list price.
If there’s something more than a little familiar about the QX30 then that may be because the Infiniti is, in fact a badge-engineered version of the Mercedes-Benz GLA.
Badge-engineering is a quaint automotive euphemism for the practice where car companies effectively borrow from a rival manufacturer the platform and component set they need for a new model, then tweak it enough to call it their own.
Infiniti’s stylists have done a decent job of differentiating the QX from the GLA, softening the latter’s sharp, angular lines to deliver a softer, more organic form.
Dramatically swept-back headlights give the QX30 a vaguely amphibian look, while if you squint hard you can just make out the graphic of a Samurai warrior’s ’s helmet in the grille and surrounds. Probably.
The QX30 Sport is powered by a 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol that produces a competitive 155kW and 350Nm. The engine puts its power through a seven-speed twin-clutch transmission to all-four wheels and nails the 0-100km/h sprint in a respectable 7.5 seconds.
That compares with a slightly quicker 7.1 seconds for the identically powered GLA250, while the smaller and lighter Audi Q2 40 TFSI quattro nails the sprint in a sharpish 6.7 seconds.
If Infiniti’s stylists have been reasonably successful at giving the QX its own exterior look and feel, they’ve been less so inside, where there are frequent reminders of the car’s origins.
Still, the interior feels suitably luxurious and sporty with plenty of leather on the seats, dash and doors, accents of satin-chrome and sensuous black suede on the pillars and headlining.
There’s limited oddment storage in the entre console, though, and everything from the tiny transmission lever to the knob for operating the center stack, and a dated 7.0-inch touch screen itself seems to have been shrunk to scale.
The rear seats are snug and the back-rest upright, so it’s not the best place for a larger-framed lad to spend a few hours, but for kids or the petite and nimble it’s perfectly fine.
On the road, while the QX30 is no fire-breathing A45 AMG it’s decently responsive and pleasant enough to drive.
In urban settings it’s easily capable of getting away from the pack at the lights, the twin-clutch automatic transmission shifting smoothly and effortlessly up or down the ratios.
But out on the open road the engine and gearbox combo feel just a little muted for my liking, even when in ‘sport’ mode.
There are paddle shifts tucked away behind the wheel allowing you to take manual control, but even here the QX30 lacks the crispness and responsiveness of some rivals.
Launching a new automotive brand is a tough ask at the best of times, but when you’re doing so in one of the world’s most crowded and competitive new car markets, and with a badge-engineered version of a major rival, you really are facing an uphill challenge.
Infiniti also confirmed recently that it was pulling out of the Western European market in 2020 to focus on the US and China, so UK production of this right-hook QX30 will cease later this year.
With no replacement yet announced, this means the QX30 is soon to be an orphan within the Infiniti range and that will hurt its resale value.
On the one hand, the astute buyer can likely snare an even sharper deal on this already well priced and generously appointed model. On the other, badge cachet counts for a great deal and Infiniti still has a long road ahead to convince Aussie buyers it’s on level pegging with the German prestige triumvirate.