The car business is glamourous and gritty. Complicated and simple. Global and local.
Every product decisions is a $1 billion investment, or more. The oversized egos who run car companies are amusing yet somehow manage to retain their sanity while managing creative types — designers and engineers who are passionate, eccentric and sometimes unruly.
Point is, while what you see in showrooms is sexy, the gritty business of conceiving, designing, engineering, building, marketing and selling cars demands courage, discipline and luck in the form of good timing. Governments are always a regulatory force, by the way. They impose costly rules and want to see car companies building “in-market.”
As a matter of economics, car companies form alliances and relationships with other car companies and with suppliers. This is often a strategic piece intended to help them navigate a thicket of consumer advocates, lawyers, and fickle consumers. Vehicles today come from global companies looking to sell to the entire world, yet cars are sold one at a time to local buyers.
But if a new model is a hit, fat profits pad expanding bottom lines. A failed model, however, wrings red ink from the balance sheet. Something like the Pontiac Aztek is a costly, embarrassing disaster that can become a metaphor for the company.
This brings us to Infiniti’s QX30, a small, all-wheel-drive crossover wagon that is a perfect example of what’s happening in the auto game. The Q30 takes Infiniti into the “C-segment,” which is huge and growing. Small, luxury SUV sales in Canada are up 21.2 per cent this year, notes DesRosiers Automotive Consultants. This is where wealthy buyers are spending their money.
The QX30 is, in fact, a global model and the product of a tie-up between one alliance and another: the Renault-Nissan Alliance and Daimler. The QX30 uses the MFA chassis architecture of the Mercedes A-class, which provides the basis for the Mercedes GLA in Canada. The two share an engine, transmission, and interior elements.
The 2017 QX30 ($38,490 base plus $8,150 in options) has a swoopy design that makes it is as interesting to the eye as Scarlett Johansson in her Black Widow costume. The driver’s seat offers supportive comfort. But from there, you look disappointment in the eye.
Sadly, the instrument cluster is slightly undersized, which makes no sense. Potential Baby Boomer buyers have aging vision that demands big gauges and readouts. Worse, the infotainment screen mounted atop the centre stack is just a little bigger than a postage stamp.
Okay, it’s 7.0 inches. But Infiniti’s designers need to take a look at what Volvo has done in this area. Start with the XC90. HUGE screen. Better still, go sit in a Tesla Model S, which boasts the absolute industry standard for big, colour touchscreens.
The optional Bose 10-speaker audio system isn’t exactly Bowers & Wilkins, but the sounds it produces are clear and crisp. The cabin has space for four adults, no more, and even then the two in back might get stressed after an hour or two. Cargo space in the rear is adequate, given this is a small wagon: two sets of golf clubs. The Nappa leather and stitched dash insert are country club-ish.
The little turbocharged four-cylinder engine (208 horsepower) is strong, but the seven-speed automatic gearbox gets lost at lower speeds, in lower gears. But the dynamic responses – turn in, and so on — are first rate and highly entertaining.
As for extras, the $2,500 Technology Package delivers intelligent cruise control, lane-departure warning, emergency braking, and a parking maneuvers-friendly “around view” monitor. Bose sound is part of a Premium package that also includes a panoramic fixed glass sunroof and other things.
If this is the type rig you want, also look at Audi’s Q3, BMW’s X1, the Mini Countryman and, of course, the GLA. Of those, I’d put the Q3 at atop the heap, the X1 second, followed by the Countryman and the GLA/QX30.
2017 Infiniti QX30
Base price: $38,490. As tested: $46,640, plus $1,995 freight and PDI.
Drive: all-wheel drive.
Transmission: seven-speed automatic.
Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 10.6 city/8.0 hwy using premium fuel.
Comparables: Audi Q3, BMW X1, Mini Countryman, Mercedes-Benz GLA.