When some people picture a luxury car, they picture a vehicle focused on super-smooth cushy comfort. And when some people picture an SUV or crossover, they picture a vehicle with lots of space inside for people and cargo.
But many of today’s premium vehicles instead prioritize sporty handling over smooth rides, and sleek styling over stretch-out interior space. And many of today’s crossovers offer minimal SUV pretense to justify their price premiums over ordinary passenger cars.
The new 2017 Infiniti QX30 is one model that epitomizes this trend. In Europe, most premium brands are comfortable selling ordinary hatchbacks, and the Infiniti Q30 is among them. But for the American market, Infiniti markets essentially the same vehicle as a crossover – hence the X added to the name. It’s an effort to capitalize on the hotter market segment while cautiously avoiding the perception of hatchbacks as basic economy cars.
By crossover standards, the low, light QX30 is quite sporty. The 208-horsepower four-cylinder engine isn’t especially powerful by the class standards, but the Infiniti weighs a lithe 3,475 pounds as tested, keeping it both peppy and fuel efficient – the EPA rates it for a respectable 25 miles per gallon in mixed driving with the tested all-wheel-drive. And the handling exudes great confidence; the steering isn’t as brilliant as the best passenger cars, but it’s hard to complain compared to most crossovers. It’s also affordable for a premium crossover, or even any car from a premium brand, with a base price of $30,945.
But if you’re looking for the traditional strengths of a crossover, the QX30’s size quickly leads to a lengthy list of demerits. If you like a high seating position and commanding view over lower vehicles, you’re out of luck – the Infiniti is low and offers constricted visibility out of its small windows. If you want a roomy rear seat or cargo hold, you’ll find more space in a five-door Honda Civic.
Meanwhile, the suspension is tuned more for sporty handling than for a smooth ride; the QX30 isn’t terrible, but it’s definitely not cushy-smooth or whisper-quiet by any stretch. Also, some aspects of the interior, such as the interface on the small infotainment touchscreen and the fussy door locks, can seem a little dated. And prices can rise quickly; the tested car cost $46,035.
The QX30 is an agreeable enough car in many respects, with a well-finished interior, comfortable front seats, distinctive styling, long list of available features and relatively affordable base price. If you like what it offers, and aren’t wedded to crossover qualities, think of it as a pleasant premium hatchback, albeit an imperfect one. Note also that it’s mechanically identical to the Mercedes-Benz GLA – thanks to a partnership between Mercedes and Infiniti’s parent – Nissan, though each has its own style and different available features.
A popular QX30 competitor is the Lexus NX 200t, which first appeared as a 2015 model. Lexus also emphasizes sportiness and distinctive styling, but the overall package is more conventional than the Infiniti’s. It’s essentially a luxury version of the strong-selling Toyota RAV4, and although the NX 200t doesn’t have the Toyota’s interior space, it’s bigger and bulkier than the little Infiniti. Even so, Lexus managed to make the somewhat dull RAV4 fun to drive in its NX 200t incarnation, thanks to tighter steering and handling, and a peppy 235-horsepower four-cylinder engine. A slower, less refined, but much more fuel-efficient NX 300h hybrid is also offered, rated for 31 mpg compared to 24 for the tested NX 200t with all-wheel-drive.
The NX 200t is more expensive than the QX30, though its base price of $36,080 includes more standard equipment; comparably equipped, the Infiniti’s advantage shrinks to $3,200, according to the TrueDelta.com pricing calculator. But the space advantages are significant, providing more usable rear seating and 61 percent more room, helping it bridge the gap between smaller models like the QX30, GLA or Audi Q3, and pricier ones like the Audi Q5 and Mercedes-Benz GLC. The NX also has a smoother ride than the QX30 and a higher seating position.
But Lexus isn’t ideal either. Some buyers will want even cushier ride quality, or more opulent interior decor. Lexus’s touchpad-style infotainment controls continue to frustrate in contrast to competitors’ simpler solutions. The optional power-folding rear seats weren’t fully thought through, as you need to manually slide the front seats forward or remove the rear head restraints before using them. But the NX 200t is overall a pleasant crossover that mixes some degree of sport and luxury.
Besides the aforementioned models, shop both the QX30 and the NX 200t against the excellent BMW X1 and the spacious, bargain-priced Acura RDX, as well as the impressively luxurious new Honda CR-V.