Though it technically competes with subcompact SUVs like the BMW X1 and Audi Q3, the new Infiniti QX30 has very little SUV going on. It's a five-seat hatchback with front-wheel drive - or all-wheel drive, in a butched-up version. Taken as that, it has some appeal.

A product of six years' collaboration between Nissan and Daimler, the QX30 is a platform sibling to the Mercedes-Benz GLA-Class, another hatchback that masquerades as an SUV. (Daimler runs Mercedes-Benz; Infiniti is Nissan's luxury brand.) When the QX30 goes on sale early this fall, its starting price of around $31,000 with destination will make it Infiniti's least-expensive model.

At a media preview in Seattle where I drove two versions of the QX30, officials emphasized the car's myriad differences from the GLA. Indeed, Infiniti improved on a lot of the hit-and-miss Benz's problems, but a few drawbacks live on.

At First GLAnce



The GLA lineage is clear in the QX30's profile. The two cars share the same tapering lines and wheelbase; length and height are nearly identical. Still, the QX30 is chock-full of Infiniti styling cues. The headlights and taillights follow Infiniti's sinewy themes; the C-pillars kink forward; the grille has pinched sides. Contour lines wander all over the place and they're either sleek or half-melting, depending on your take.

Note that the front-drive QX30 replaces the originally planned Q30, a name it will still carry in markets abroad. With front-wheel drive, the QX30 comes in regular or Sport variants, the latter with a lowered sport suspension, unique bumpers and larger standard wheels (19-inch alloys, versus the others' 18s). The all-wheel-drive QX30, meanwhile, has a 1.2-inch higher ride height and beefier styling cues.

How It Drives
Infiniti says it tuned the accelerator, transmission and suspension calibrations (not architecture) versus the GLA250, and the differences are obvious. Versus the GLA's unresponsive automatic, the QX30's unit upshifts smoothly and downshifts swiftly. Accelerator response is immediate and the engine - a turbo four-cylinder co-developed between Nissan and Daimler that's good for 208 horsepower and 258 pounds-feet of torque - has broad enough power to tack on speed, even uphill.

More importantly, the QX30 improves a lot on the GLA250's choppy ride. Over expansion joints and tar patches, the Infiniti exhibits a healthy degree of softness, even with the QX30 Sport's firmer tuning. Too many entry-level hatchbacks and SUVs drop the ball on ride comfort. It's nice to see the QX30 play up the soft side; I suspect shoppers will find this approach much more agreeable.

Driving enthusiasts should look elsewhere, though. The QX30's steering feedback is acceptable, but the wheel responds to quick directional changes with a touch of initial slop and the chassis allows too much body roll to really tear through corners. Even in the QX30 Sport, the reflexes seem too blunted for enthusiast appeal. The car's racy styling, it seems, is the raciest thing about it.

The Inside


The GLA's limitations hit home inside: Like its Mercedes sibling, the QX30 is cramped up front, short on storage and hard to see out of. The low driving position and limited front headroom will be deal-breakers for larger folks, and the narrow cabin inhibits knee and hip space. The backseat is improbably adult-friendly once you're in it, but the short rear doors make entry and exit a bear. The QX30's cargo area is deep but not very tall, and in-cabin storage is minimal. Visibility is a mess, with a tiny rear window, low windshield and A-pillars that sit in your field of view.

The cabin mixes old and new, with an expanse of genuine leather across the dashboard in most versions. Various surfaces sweep into each other in a thematic repeat of the QX30's exterior. It's attractive overall, with enough premium materials to distract from the cheaper textures below eye level. GLA-Class bits abound, from the window switches and climate controls to the key fob, a Mercedes remote with Infiniti's logo instead.

None of the Benz parts really detract, except perhaps the Mercedes-issue gauge display, whose fonts don't align with the QX30's dashboard screen. The latter, an Infiniti-designed 7-inch touch-screen, is also workable through a knob controller near the center console. It uses Infiniti's multimedia format, complete with Infiniti's menu structures and graphics. HD and Satellite radio, a backup camera and Bluetooth are standard, but Apple CarPlay and Android Auto aren't available.

The Early Takeaway
The QX30 is a credible alternative to the GLA-Class or a Lexus CT hybrid hatchback, and its price (from about $31,000 to the mid-$40,000s with all options) gives Infiniti a shot at younger, more value-conscious shoppers. But the QX30 is a world apart from a BMW X1 or Audi Q3 - both legitimate SUVs, however small, in terms of driving height, visibility and utility.

Such is the nature of subcompact SUVs. Luxury or not, some are miniature SUVs while others are glorified hatchbacks. Both seem to have found their place and GLA-Class sales indicate strong interest in Mercedes' approach. For Infiniti, that bodes well.

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