Ford Focus VS Infiniti Q30
- Great chassis
- Surprising engine
- Optional advanced safety
- Better tyres would be nice
- Too many optional colours
- Concept car looks
- Willing engine
- Standard safety
- Concept car practicality
- Lacking multimedia
- Priced in the big leagues
Ford's small hatch, the Focus, is criminally under-bought in Australia. The latest model is one of the best hatchbacks on the road and when you chuck in the decent price, impressive equipment and absurdly powerful engine for its size, it's a winner.
But you lot? You don't buy it in nearly the kinds of numbers it deserves. Partly because there isn't a bait-and-upsell boggo model to lure you in, partly because it's got a badge that is not exciting Australians any more and partly because it's not a compact SUV.
Or is(n't) it? Because alongside the ST-Line warm hatch is the identically priced and therefore technically a co-entry level model; the Focus Active. Slightly higher, with plastic cladding, drive modes and a conspicuous L on the transmission shifter, it's a little bit SUV, right?
|Engine Type||1.5L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Regular Unleaded Petrol|
Welcome to the future - where your Mercedes-Benz is a Nissan and your Nissan is a Mercedes-Benz.
Thanks to the state of various global manufacturing alliances the Q30 is mechanically, largely a previous-generation Mercedes-Benz A-Class, with a similar arrangement seeing the new Mercedes-Benz X-Class ute comprised largely of Nissan Navara underpinnings.
Recently, the Q30 has had its range of variants trimmed from a confusing five down to two, and the one we’re testing here is the top-spec Sport.
Make sense? I hope so. The Q30 Sport joined me on an 800km trip along the east coast in the height of summer. So, can it make the most of its German/Japanese roots? Read on to find out.
|Engine Type||2.0L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Premium Unleaded Petrol|
Ten years ago, the idea that the higher-riding version of a hatchback would be a good city car would have been laughable. The Focus Active is pitched as a kind of SUV with its different low-grip driving modes, which you'll never touch if you stick to the city.
The Ford Focus is genuinely a brilliant car, no matter where you take it. The Active takes a terrific chassis, tweaks it for comfort but, ironically, doesn't lose much of the speed.
The Q30 Sport is a left-field choice in the premium hatch segment. For those who don’t care about badge equity and are looking for something different, the Q30 provides maybe 70 per cent the feel of its well-established competition while offering decent value courtesy of standard safety and spec inclusions.
The biggest letdown is how much better it could be with just a little extra in every department. Even in this top-spec the drive experience is a bit generic, and it’s missing an up-to-date multimedia experience limiting its appeal to a younger audience.
Even with its promising mixed heritage, the Q30 hardly feels more than the sum of its parts.
Is the Q30 Sport different enough that you’d consider it over its premium hatch rivals? Tell us what you think in the comments below.
For a fairly conservative hatchback, the Focus came under fire for what some termed its derivative styling. I quite like it, and not just because the styling work was led by an Australian. The front end is very much family Ford, as long as it's the European arm of the family, fitting in with its smaller sibling, the Fiesta. The Active scores the usual black cladding, higher ride height and smaller diameter wheels, in exchange for more compliant, higher-profile tyres. All of that takes nothing away from a design that I think looks pretty good.
The cabin is well put together, with just that oddly angled touchscreen causing me a bit of a twitch. The design is a fairly steady Ford interior with a lot of switchgear shared with the Fiesta, but it's all quite nice. The materials feel mostly pleasant and the hardwearing fabric on the seats feels right for this kind of car.
The Q30 drew more than just looks for its badge. It genuinely looks like a concept car from a motor show stand. Not the paper mache Mars rover early prototype kind, more like the six-months-before-production kind.
It’s all swoopy with curves cutting all down the sides, and Infiniti has done a good job imprinting the brand’s signature design queues – like the chrome-framed grille and notched C-pillar - on the front and rear three-quarter views.
It’s genuinely hard to tell it shares major componentry with the last-gen (W176) A-Class from the outside and I’d place the overall look somewhere between Mazda and Lexus’ design languages for better or worse.
While the front is swoopy and resolved the rear is a bit busy with lines everywhere and bits of chrome and black trim all over the place. The tapered roofline and high bumpers set it apart from your regular hatchback fare.
It might grab the eye for the wrong reasons, but it certainly gives the Q30 a slick look when viewed in profile. I wouldn’t call it a bad looking car, but it is divisive and will appeal only to certain tastes.
Inside is simple and plush. Perhaps a little too simple when compared with the new (W177) A-Class with its entirely digital dashboard or the 1 Series with its M bits. One could even argue the Audi A3 has done ‘simplicity’ better.
The seats are nice in the two-tone white-on-black trim and the Alcantara roof is a premium touch, but the rest of the dash is a bit too basic and dated. There’s a smattering of buttons down the centre stack which are replaced with more intuitive touchscreen functions on most rivals, and the 7.0-inch touchscreen looks small, distantly embedded in the dash.
The materials are all nice to the touch, with most important touch-points clad in leather, but it also feels a little claustrophobic, with the abundance of dark trim, thick roof pillars and a low roof-line, especially in the back seat. The switchgear, which is mostly dropped straight out of a Benz A-Class, feels good.
The Focus is quite roomy compared to other cars in its class. The rear seat has good leg and headroom, with the feeling of space accentuated by large windows. Annoyingly, though, all that work put into making the rear a nice place to be is ruined by a lack of amenities like cupholders, USB ports or an armrest.
Front-seat passengers fare better with two cupholders, a roomy space at the base of the console for a phone and a wireless-charging pad. The front seats are very comfortable, too.
The boot starts at a fairly average 375 litres - clearly sacrificed for rear-seat space - and maxes out at 1320 litres with the seats down. While you have to lift things over the loading lip and down into the boot, it's one of the more sensibly shaped load areas, with straight up and down sides. Ironically, the smaller Puma has a noticeably larger boot.
Infiniti calls the Q30 a “crossover” rather than a hatchback and this is best reflected through its pumped ride height. Rather than hugging the ground like the A-Class or 1 Series, the Q30 sits propped up, almost like a small SUV.
There’s also the QX30 which is an even more pumped version of this car complete with plastic guards in the vein of Subaru’s XV. The QX30 is also your only way to all-wheel drive now that the Q30 is front-wheel drive only.
While the extra ride height means you won’t have to worry about scraping expensive body panels on speedbumps or steep ramps you won’t be wanting to get too brave off the tarmac.
Interior space is fine for front passengers with plenty of arm and legroom, but back seat passengers are left with a small, dark space which feels especially claustrophobic. Headroom is not great no matter which seat you’re in. In the front seat I could almost rest my head on the sun-visor (I’m 182cm tall) and the back seat was not much better.
Rear passengers do score nice seat trim and two air-conditioning vents though, so they haven’t totally been forgotten.
There’s average amounts of storage up front and in the back, with small bottle holders in each of the four doors, two on the transmission tunnel and a tiny trench – useful for keys maybe – in front of the air-conditioning controls.
Even the centre console box is shallow, despite a large opening. Once I had collected enough loose objects on my trip I started to run out of room for things in the cabin.
There are nettings on the back of the front seats and an odd extra one on the passenger’s side of the transmission tunnel.
Power outlets come in the form of a single USB port in the dash and a 12-volt outlet in the centre box.
The boot is a much better story despite the swoopy roofline with 430 litres of space available. That’s bigger than the A-Class (370L), 1 Series (360L), A3 (380L) and CT200h (375L). Needless to say, it ate up two large duffle bags and some extra items we brought with us for our week-long trip.
This is due to its impressive depth, but it does come at a cost. The Q30 only has the sound system’s base and an inflator kit under the boot floor. There’s no spare for long distance trips.
One irritation I have to mention is the shift-lever, which was annoying in its tilt-shift operation. Often when trying to change to drive from reverse or vice versa it would get stuck in neutral. Sometimes I wonder what’s wrong with a shifter which locks in position…
Price and features
The Focus Active wears a $30,990 sticker but the several people I know who bought one haven't paid that much, so Ford dealers are obviously keen to do deals. Even at that price, it's got a fair bit of stuff. The Active has 17-inch wheels, a six-speaker stereo, dual-zone climate control, reversing camera, keyless entry and start, front and rear parking sensors, cruise control, auto LED headlights, LED fog lights, sat nav, auto wipers, wireless hotspot, powered and heated folding door mirrors, wireless phone charging, a big safety package and a space-saver spare.
Ford's SYNC3 comes up on the 8.0-inch screen perched on the dashboard, which weirdly feels like it's facing away from you slightly. It has wired Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, sat nav, DAB+ and also looks after various functions in the car.
The panoramic sunroof is a stiff $2000 and includes an annoying perforated cover rather than a solid one.
If you’re shopping in this segment, there’s a good chance you’re not looking for a bargain buy, but the Q30 shines in some areas its competition doesn’t.
A promising start is the complete lack of a lengthy and expensive options list with items which should be standard. In fact, apart from a reasonable set of accessories and the $1200 premium 'Majestic White' paint, the Q30 has no options in the traditional sense.
The base Q30 scores 18-inch alloy wheels, LED headlights with high-beam assist, heated leather seats, flat-bottomed leather steering wheel, leather trim on the doors and dash, Alcantara (synthetic suede) roof-lining and a 7.0-inch multimedia touchscreen supporting DAB+ digital radio and built-in navigation.
Our Sport adds a 10-speaker Bose audio system (which could have been better…) dual-zone climate control, a fixed panoramic sunroof, fully-electric front seats and Nissan’s 360-degree ‘around view monitoring’ parking suite.
It might have premium aspirations, but value-wise Q30 is still specified like a Nissan.
The standard safety suite is also reasonably impressive, and you can read more about it in the safety section of this review.
Our Q30 Sport comes in at a total of $46,888 (MSRP) which is still premium money. The price pits it against the BMW 120i M-Sport (eight-speed auto, $46,990), Mercedes-Benz A200 (seven-speed DCT, $47,200) and fellow Japanese premium hatch act - the Lexus CT200h F-Sport (CVT, $50,400).
Herein lies the Q30’s biggest problem. Brand recognition. Everybody knows the BMW and Benz hatches by virtue of their badges alone and the Lexus CT200h is known by those who care about it.
Even without the extensive options list, it makes the price of entry against such established competition tough. While you might see a couple of them around Sydney, the Q30 is a relatively rare sight which garnered more than a few quizzical looks in the towns of NSW’s mid-north coast.
The standard spec is also missing the all-important Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity. It rendered the 7.0-inch multimedia screen clumsy and largely useless, although the old-fashioned built-in nav gives peace-of-mind when you’re out of phone reception range.
If you have an Apple phone you can make use of the iPod music playback feature via the USB port.
Engine & trans
Ford does an excellent range of small turbo engines. The "normal" Focus range (such as it is, now the wagon has disappeared from the market) comes with a 1.5-litre turbocharged three-cylinder engine. Bucking the SUV-this-size trend (yes, I know it's not really an SUV), this punchy little unit delivers an impressive 134kW and 240Nm. They're both very decent numbers for such a small engine.
The big numbers continue with the transmission boasting eight gears, a number you don't often find in a hatchback. It's a traditional torque-converter auto, too, so those of you who have bad memories of Ford's old PowerShift twin clutches should worry no more.
Power goes to the front wheels only and you'll get from 0 to 100km/h in 8.7 seconds.
For 2019 the Q30 has had its list of engines trimmed from three to just one. The diesel and smaller 1.6-litre petrol engines have been culled, leaving a 2.0-litre petrol.
Thankfully, it’s a strong unit producing a once-V6-range 155kW/350Nm across a wide band from 1200-4000rpm.
It feels responsive and isn’t let down by a slick-shifting seven-speed dual clutch automatic transmission.
The new-generation A-Class equivalent, even in 2.0-litre A250 guise produces less torque with outputs of 165kW/250Nm, so for the money the Infiniti scores a solid serving of extra punch.
Ford's official testing for the big window sticker delivered a 6.4L/100km result on the combined cycle. In my time with the Focus, I got 7.2L/100km indicated on the dashboard, which is a pretty solid result given the Focus spent a good deal of the time on suburban or urban roads.
With its 52-litre tank, you'll cover around 800km if you manage the official figure, or just over 700km on my figures.
Over my week-long test the Q30 returned a figure of 9.0L/100km. I was a little disappointed with this figure given much of the distance covered was cruising at freeway speeds.
It’s made worse when you pitch it against the claimed/combined figure of 6.3L/100km (not sure how you could achieve that…) and the fact that I left the irritating stop-start system on for much of the time.
For a leader in the luxury hatch class consider the Lexus CT200h which makes full use of Toyota’s hybrid drive and pitches a fuel consumption figure of 4.4L/100km.
The Q30 has a 56-litre fuel tank and takes a minimum of 95 RON premium unleaded.
Despite the very mild off-road pretensions, if it's a comfortable city ride you're after, the Active is the Focus to have. While the ST-Line isn't uncomfortable - not by a long way - the Active's more compliant tyres and higher ride height (30mm at the front and 34mm at the rear) iron out the bigger bumps without sacrificing much of the sportier car's impressive dynamic prowess, even with the low-rolling-resistance tyres.
The cracking 1.5-litre turbo is responsive and well-matched to the eight-speed auto. The big torque number pushes you along the road and makes overtaking much less dramatic than a 1.5-litre three-cylinder has any right to.
Ford's trademark Euro-tuned quick steering is also along for the ride, making darting in and out of gaps a quick roll of the wrist, which has the added benefit of meaning you rarely have to take your hands off the wheel for twirling. That darting is aided and abetted by the engine and gearbox, with the turbo seemingly keeping the boost flowing with little lag. It's almost like they planned it that way.
You have good vision in all directions, which almost renders the fact that the blind-spot monitoring is optional acceptable. Almost. It's very easy to get around in, easy to park and, just as importantly, easy to get in and out of. Compared to, say, a Toyota Corolla, the rear doors are very accommodating.
Thanks to its shared underpinnings with the A-Class the Q30 Sport drives largely like you would expect a premium hatch to drive. It’s just lacking a bit of character.
The engine is responsive, the transmission is fast and the availability of peak torque from just 1200rpm will lead to spinning the front wheels if caution is not applied. Power is no real issue.
Although Infiniti says it has tuned the Q30 in Japan and Europe, the ride has an undeniably Germanic flavour. It doesn’t feel quite as tight as the A-Class or 1 Series but it doesn’t feel as soft as the CT200h, so it strikes a decent balance.
The Q30 uses MacPherson strut suspension in the front and multi-link at the rear, more suited to a premium car than the torsion bar rear on the new Benz A 200.
The wheel has a nice amount of feedback, and thankfully doesn’t use the larger Q50’s strange ‘Direct Adaptive Steering’ which has no mechanical connection between the driver and the road.
If you’ve driven a decently-specified A-Class before the drive experience will feel familiar. The added ride height seems to remove a bit of feel from the corners, however.
There’s also the inclusion of three drive modes – Economy, Sport and Manual. Economy mode seems to be the default with Sport simply holding gears for longer. Steering-wheel mounted paddle-shifters could be used to mill through the seven gears in 'Manual' mode, although this didn’t add much to the experience.
The addition of active cruise control and adaptive high beams proved to be fantastic for reducing fatigue on long highway stints during the night, but the lack of a padded surface on the inside of the transmission tunnel proved uncomfortable for the driver’s knee on longer trips.
I persisted with the stop-start system to test it, but it proved slow and irritating. Under normal circumstances it would be the first thing I’d turn off.
Visibility was also a bit limited out the rear three quarter courtesy of the low, swoopy C-pillars.
The Active has six airbags, ABS, stability and traction controls, forward AEB (low speed with pedestrian avoidance and highway speeds), forward collision warning, lane-departure warning, speed-sign recognition and active lane-keep assist.
Annoyingly - and I can't for the life of me work out why this is a thing - despite some advanced safety features in the base package, you have to pay $1250 extra for blind-spot monitoring, reverse cross traffic alert and reverse AEB, which are part of the Driver Assistance Pack. No, Ford is not the only company to do this.
The back seat has two ISOFIX points and three top-tether anchors.
The Focus scored five ANCAP stars in August 2019.
The Q30 scores some decent active safety goodies alongside the usual refinements. Active safety items include auto emergency braking (AEB) with forward collision warning, blind spot monitoring (BSM), lane departure warning (LDW) and active cruise control.
There’s also Nissan’s signature ‘Around View Monitor’ 360-degree reversing camera which sounds more useful than it is. Thankfully there is also a standard reversing camera.
The Q30 carries a maximum five-star ANCAP safety rating as of 2015 but has not been tested to the more demanding 2019 standards.
The rear seats also benefit from two sets of ISOFIX child seat mounting points.
As previously mentioned, there’s no spare wheel in the Q30 Sport, so best of luck with the inflator kit if you end up with a flat in the outback.
The first five services cost $299 each and also include a free loan car and a 12-month extension to your roadside assist membership for up to seven years.
As with all Infiniti products, the Q30 is covered by a four-year/100,000km warranty and a three-year service program can be purchased with the car. Pricing was not available for the 2019 Q30 model year at the time of writing, but its 2.0-litre turbo predecessor averaged $540 per service once a year or every 25,000km.
Credit where credit is due, the Q30 edges out the European competition by a year of warranty length and general service pricing. This market segment is still wide open for a manufacturer to take the lead offering five or more years of warranty coverage.