Liquid Copper arguably the best colour and worth the £670

Liquid Copper arguably the best colour and worth the £670

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It's been a long time coming but finally European car buyers are becoming aware of Infiniti. The Q30 is the reason why brand sales were up by 177% in the first half of 2016.

Nissan's premium brand had various options when it came to adding a C segment model to its range. The temptation to use an Alliance platform must have been strong, basing the car on the similarly sized Renault Megane and Nissan Pulsar. Instead, Daimler's MFA architecture was chosen and it's a sound decision.

MFA is now five years old, having been launched with the Mercedes-Benz B-Class, which is about the same size as the Q30. Since then, the A-, CLA- and GLA-Class models have been added. Nissan's Sunderland plant builds the Q30 (model code: G1DA) and its crossover brother, the QX30 (G1XX). 

An aside here - the two Infinitis really aren't that different, the higher ground clearance of the QX30 being the obvious external factor. The US importer decided that two additional models might confuse buyers so it's selling just the one combined model, the 2017 QX30. The twist is that two of the three variants are in fact cars from Europe's Q30 range. The base QX30 in North America is the rest of the world's Q30 and the QX30S is what we in Europe call the Q30S. North America's third variant is the QX30 AWD. This is the same car the world over. 

Let's leave the QX30 for the moment and concentrate on the Q30, a car which I was able to spend some time with recently. It's taller than many of the vehicles which Infiniti Europe sees as what it must compete with, and that includes the A-Class, as well as the Volvo V40, Audi A3 Sportback and BMW 1 Series five-door. Let's also add the Lexus CT 200h though that model is close to the end of its life and the non-availability of a diesel engine or a manual transmission are a couple of the reasons why it's never been popular in EU markets.

It took Nissan many years to approve a Golf-sized hatchback for Infiniti, but there were many signs that one was on the way. The Etherea concept version which appeared at the Geneva motor show in March 2011 was the first official sign, though looking back it was more a preview of the QX30 than the Q30. A second design study, this time called 'Q30 Concept' followed at the Frankfurt motor show in September 2013.

Production had originally been subcontracted to Magna Steyr, which was to build it at the rate of 50,000-60,000 units per annum. However, Nissan Europe stated in October 2012 that instead, "Infiniti intends to manufacture the vehicle in-house in a European production plant. The company will announce a production location and more product details closer to the start of production".

In June 2012, reports in the Polish media stated that Magna could build the model in Warsaw at a former FSO-Daewoo plant but the Canadian Tier 1 denied this alleged plans. Six months later, the production location was revealed: the model would be made at Nissan's Sunderland plant in England from mid-2015, at the rate of 60,000 units per annum. 

In July 2014, the then head of Infiniti Andy Palmer told the media the UK-built car would be supplied to all global markets, including the US and China. Since that statement was made, there has been some clarification from Infiniti Europe president Francois Goupil de Bouille. Interviewed in February 2015, he said the 60,000 units of capacity at Sunderland is a combined number for the Q30 and QX30.

Sales records broken

The world got to see the Q30 in the metal for the first time at the Frankfurt IAA last September and production began ramping up in December. Sales commenced here in Britain only a couple of months ago but already the car has transformed the brand's fortunes. In the first six months, deliveries shot up by 157% year-on-year to 1,565 vehicles. France is Infiniti Europe's best market, with sales for CY2016 having reached 2,190 units, a YoY surge of 260%.

"We are very proud of the sales achievements we have made in 2016 this far. With the QX30 premium active crossover, the newly upgraded Q50 sports sedan and the all-new Q60 premium sports coupe to be launched later this year, we are confident to continue our success in Europe", François Goupil de Bouillé, vice president of Infiniti Europe, Middle East and Africa, stated on 15 July.

Worldwide, Infiniti sold more than 110,200 vehicles in the first half of 2016, an increase of 7% over the same period last year. In the month of June, more than 19,300 cars were sold, up 15% versus June 2015, and in the second quarter of the year (April-June), a record was set: almost 53,000 vehicles sold, representing an increase of four percent.

What it's like to drive

Given all this success, you won't be surprised to learn that the Q30 is a supreme first effort from the brand. Perhaps the cleverest thing which Nissan did was to give the car an appearance like nothing else in its class. Infiniti has also been brave in not putting the brand's name on the grille. Like other models, it instead just has the logo in the hope that this eventually becomes better known. 

You've a choice of four engines: two diesels and two petrols, each one a Mercedes-Benz or Alliance unit. The base Q30 comes with a 90kW 1.6 petrol turbo and costs from GBP20,550 (US$26,884 or EUR24,504). The range goes all the way up to GBP34,890. That gets you Sport City Black trim and a 155kW 2.0-litre turbo with all-wheel drive and a seven-speed dual clutch gearbox. 

In between the two prices extremes there are multiple choices of model grade, plus the two diesels: an 80kW version of the 1.5-litre Renault-Nissan dCi and a 125kW 2,143cc (marketed as a 2.2) Mercedes-Benz unit. The second of these is the one to go for, as its 350Nm of torque gives good performance (0-62mph in 8.5 seconds and top speed of 134mph) with competitive CO2 (127g/km) and economy (Combined: 57.6mpg).

About the only thing I didn't like from the word go was the manual transmission, or rather the awkwardness of selecting reverse. I did get used to it but had to take my eyes off the road at first as the lever must be pushed left and upwards but there is no collar. So it didn't always go in cleanly until I tried pulling the lever, which is an awkward action. If you choose the 2.2d the DCT comes as standard. 

Another oddity is a parking brake that's located…can you guess where? If you said "it's a pedal" that's a good try as it is on most other Infinitis. But no, the answer is a button under the dashboard and it doesn't disengage automatically. Again, you get used to it. 

Something else which requires familiarity - by the end of my week everything felt normal - is the single column stalk. This can in fact be dangerous as this overloaded control needs to be quickly mastered or you'll all too easily blind an oncoming driver in an attempt to squirt the windscreen. 

OK, onto the great details, apart from the exterior, which really appealed. Full marks to Infiniti for having its glass sunroof supplier fit a black-out blind, not the ones which are now all too popular with their mere perforations. Velvet upholstery was also a nice surprise as it tends be cooler and warmer at relevant times than the usual dead cows' skin can ever be. In the test car, this was in shades of silver and slate and it was better to look at than I am making it sound. Premium, and at the same time, novel, is what I am trying to say. 

As well as being really very good indeed to drive - a ride no-one could complain about even on 19-inch run-flats, and not much understeer from the larger of the two diesels - far and away what made me such a fan of this car was its spaciousness. I did wonder if Nissan's engineers knew they had a high standard to reach to match the legroom of Nissan Europe's Pulsar. All MFA platform cars have a 2,699mm wheelbase versus the same (well, it's 2,700mm) for the Nissan yet the Q30 makes your legs and knees think they're in Business rather than the Premium Economy of an A-Class. Perhaps it's down to different seat designs and mounting systems?

I'm yet to drive a QX30 but likely will do so in the coming months. Infiniti Europe was wise to get them onto the market some months apart so as to avoid potential confusion - we know what can happen when overwhelmed with complicated choice: a person can very easily click away to the competition's website and fall for a rival product. Clearly, that's not happening in the case of Infiniti's new hatchback as looking at infiniti.co.uk, the cars' silhouettes come up with respective labels of The premium active compact and The premium active crossover. Be prepared to have your breath taken away, however, when you immediately see that the QX30 has a Starting Price of GBP8,940 more than the Q30. Wow. That's ambitious. It's also a hundred and seventy pounds more than the base Q50.

As a new choice in the global C-Premium or Compact segments, the Q30 is the best first attempt which a luxury brand has launched since Audi added the original A3 twenty years ago. And we know how successful that model series has since become.

Infiniti's future models

Speaking at the Detroit auto show in January 2014, the then Infiniti president Johan De Nysschen told the media he didn't see a model below the Q30 until after 2020. That strategy might now have changed but whatever has been decided, there are lots of new models coming. 

The Q60 lands in showrooms worldwide from next month but will there be a convertible with the new generation? Infiniti won't say but if it IS on the way, Geneva next year would be the logical launchpad. Before then we'll have our first look at the next QX50 at the Paris show in September, and perhaps the long-wheelbase L will be revealed earlier the same month at the Chengdu show.

Next year the Q50 is due for a mid-life facelift but the big news is the opening of a new Nissan plant in Mexico which will make an Infiniti crossover. This will either be the QX30 or a larger model which would be badged QX40. 

China's ESQ (a Juke with Infiniti badges) will be replaced in 2017 while the QX70 will be nine years old next year so its successor is overdue. Also, the Q70 and Q70L will be seven in 2017 so their replacements are also likely, though these might not appear until 2018. 

The giant QX80 will probably also be renewed in 2018 and it should share lots with the next generation Nissan Patrol and later, the Mitsubishi Shogan. 

A Q80 will be an additional model - Infiniti wants to take on the Porsche Panamera rather than the next Lexus LS with this big hatchback and this one should be out in either late 2017 or 2018. One year later comes the follow up to the QX60, which had a facelift not too long ago. Both these vehicles should be available with PHEV powertrains, and in the case of the QX60 it should replace the Hybrid.

What about EVs? Infiniti did have some ambitious plans at once stage for a compact sedan and a supercar but these ideas were shelved due to the lack of a water tight business case. A plug-in crossover in the style of the Audi Q6 e-tron seems like a better idea but unlikely to be in showrooms before 2019.

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