Let’s get one thing straight from the outset. I am not going to do any ‘To infinity and beyond!’ jokes; I only went to Reading. So it was that, bright and early with the weather staying mercifully dry, I rolled up at the Infiniti premises in the aforementioned town to trial the new Infiniti Q30 Active Compact hatchback and cast a stern, discerning eye over the showroom stock.
An Eye For Design
In terms of capturing buyers in the burgeoning hatchback market, Infiniti have a bit of a mountain to climb. Certainly, this is a brand that has designs on the premium market currently ruled by the likes of the BMW 1 Series and the Audi A3 and this is reflected in the price. The model in my images in that rather fetching ‘Liquid Copper’ metallic paint came fully loaded with options and a total OTR price tag just shy of £34,000, although the range starts at a less daunting £20,550. Choice then is definitely budget dependent. It would be easy to get carried away with the huge number of options and variants on offer.
On first viewing the most striking thing is the exterior styling. All too often manufacturers bottle it at the last minute and take the correcting pen to the more feverish visions of their designers and actually build a car that is but a pale imitation. It is good to see that flowing, sculpted lines have not yet given way to the ‘Angular Bland’ school of thinking. The long bonnet, stylistic grille and sweeping headlights that, say the company, were inspired by a human eye, means there is no mistaking an Infiniti when it looms up in your mirror.
Basically, there’s a choice of ten variants and they all come with a full complement of engines and gearboxes. The principal featured car was, to give the full title, a Q30 Premium Tech 2.2D 7DCT AWD and try saying that after a couple of small sherries. I liked it very much straight out of the box but with a couple of reservations for which see below.
The driver and front seat passenger are well served with a couple of very comfortable, Nappa leather-clad seats. In fact, leather abounds throughout including on the well-padded dashboard. Personally, I would have liked a little more lateral support but overall I settled into a fine driving position – but there was an issue and it concerns the pedal box.
Don’t worry about it if you are possessed of dainty, Geisha-like feet but if you have great clod-hopping plates like me – especially when wearing stout winter boots – then you may find the pedal box a bit tight. I found my right foot was snagging the brake pedal when using the accelerator. For me – and it might just be me – the pedals are too close together. The same applied to the manual version when I tried that. Eventually I solved the problem by realigning my right foot position but it’s still tight in there.
The Q30 is describes as being an Active Compact by which I’m assuming Infiniti means it is a small family car which is of course exactly what it is. It is very comfortable and the ride is really excellent (see below). The front passenger has the room to shuffle forward on the electrically or manually adjustable seat to allow a reasonably tall person to sit behind them. If the driver is tall then it is not the same story in the back seat. Legroom is tight, so five adults in the car is out of the question for all but the shortest of journeys. However as a four seat family motor it works well.
The boot is reasonably capacious at 368L (with 60:40 split seat-backs up) and the hatch opens wide, although with a rather high lip. The dashboard is fine; it is well laid out but seems to me to lack the flourish of the exterior design. It’s just a bit unexciting. All the usual technology – Bluetooth, USB, steering wheel controls, climate and an excellent Bose audio system – make an appearance and, I’m delighted to say, the venerable CD player is retained, which is a nice touch.
It is my opinion that perhaps more space could have been found inside. Overall the interior is of high quality and the really good news is that the car is built by our home-grown technicians up in Sunderland. Great for the British car industry.
The Open Road
I had this car out for rather more time than I should have because I might have got a bit lost in unfamiliar country. I even made a surprising and unscheduled visit to the historic Blackbushe Aerodrome which was very interesting. Fortunately I enjoyed the drive.
I approve of the seven-speed twin-clutch auto gearbox. In Drive it works as an eco-warrior ensuring the car is in the best high gear as soon as appropriate. Shift delays are history. With one clutch for even gears and another for odd, the next gear is always set and ready. The result is smooth shifts you barely notice.
Adjacent to the drive selector is a small button that switches the gearbox from Drive to Sport to Manual with paddle shift. Put your foot down in Drive and the 2.2L Renault supplied diesel (187BHP) responds in a lazy fashion, ideal for cruising. Select Sport and floor it however and the engines wakes up with a diesel growl and you can press on with a bit more vim, hanging onto gears for longer. Select the paddles and total control is yours.
This is not to say though that the Q30 has any real sporting credentials; it just offers up a more spirited drive if you’re in the mood and, above 1400rpm there’s a big whoosh of 258lb/ft of torque that carries you along. The test car had AWD which will transfer up to 50% of the power to the rear wheels should the need arise. Regular versions drive just the two front wheels.
Steering is balanced and speed-sensitive, weighting up the faster you go, but – and I know I always say this – it is too light for me. Most will be content, I dare say. Where the Q30 really scores is on ride quality which remains smooth even on our ruined roads – although there was tyre noise on some surfaces from the 18” rubber. Apparently Infiniti tested more than 50 damper settings to make sure that lighter and heavier engines in the range got bespoke settings to do a proper job. That’s attention to detail and it shows.
There’s a choice of engines. The 2.2L diesel is the real long distance choice. Get the car up to speed and you feel you could travel for many miles, such is the level of comfort. The more popular choice is likely to be the lesser 1.5L 108bhp turbo-diesel (shared with Mercedes, interestingly) which would be the preferred option for urban users.
You can get a 2.0L petrol motor in the Sport models (that are lowered by 15mm with firmer suspension, larger brakes and drilled front discs to aid cooling). Regrettably I didn’t try that but I had a quick spin with the 1.6L petrol engine (the white car in the images £24,170) which disappointed, I’m sorry to say. Certainly the car felt lighter in use and came with the same amount of comfort but even with some spirited stirring of the six-speed manual it would not raise its game, although to be fair, not all drivers want to crack on so it’s horses for courses I guess. On balance, my choice would be an auto/AWD Sport model with the big diesel.
The featured car offered some good safety kit which included front collision warning signalled by a subtle warning light and a lane departure warning system that nudged the steering wheel to give a timely reminder to pay attention.
And In Conclusion..
The Japanese brand have their work cut out with the Q30 to make inroads into the stranglehold the German companies have on the premium compact hatchback market. The Infiniti Q30 has many positive attributes against few disappointments. It’s pricey when you add extras and it is tight on space in the back; the smaller petrol engine is lacklustre and, for me the pedal box was awkward. On the plus side I would argue that the ride is one of the best on offer in this segment, economy seems fine (officially 57mpg for the tested car), it is very well made and of course the car is a bit of a looker. BMW’s and Audi’s abound, so the Infiniti badge brings a nice touch of exclusivity and you can’t argue with that. Geoff Maxted