Mercedes-Benz GLA-Class VS Infiniti Q30
- Exterior styling
- Interior and cabin appeal
- Rear space, and space overall
- Lack of boot space
- Driving position not too high for some
- Engine noise slightly un-sexy
- Concept car looks
- Willing engine
- Standard safety
- Concept car practicality
- Lacking multimedia
- Priced in the big leagues
Apparently there is an ugly Kardashian, but you don’t care, or if you do, you shouldn’t, so let’s talk about the Hemsworth brothers instead.
In any other family, Luke Hemsworth would probably be called handsome, if a little short. Unfortunately for him, standing next to Liam and the God who walks amongst us that is Chris (I had to interview him once, he really is dreamy), Luke looks like he’s barely keeping his chin above the water line at the shallow end of the gene pool.
The Mercedes-Benz SUV range has quite a variation of lookers in its family tree as well, but I would argue that the new, entry-level GLA is pretty much the Chris of the range, or at least the Liam. The unfortunate, slightly large-foreheaded GLB would obviously be the Luke.
The only problem with all this, of course, is that the car that originally gave birth to the GLA - the A-Class - is more attractive than all of them, and Craig Hemsworth, sire of the family, doesn’t quite pull that off.
The point is that the new GLA is going to be even more popular than the original one, which sold a staggering one million units worldwide, because it is not only bigger and taller, but better looking, inside and out.
And let’s face it, no one is buying an urban SUV like this for the way it can climb a snow-covered alpine pass. Even all-wheel drive is optional.
But the GLA has this niche nailed, and the new one - thanks to its style, space and the effortless way it rides - is going to be an even bigger success.
|Fuel Type||Premium 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|
You can tell that this car is going to be a success just by looking at it. For a lot of people, to see one will be to want one, and when they sit in that hugely high driving position and gaze upon the future-fabulous interior they’ll be even more sold.
It’s fair to say the GLA 250 does everything well - aside from providing boot space - and with great comfort, and in terms of looks, inside and out, it reaches the level of outstanding.
Personally, I’d take the lower and sleeker A Class every time.
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.
I have to say that it’s quite an effort for a car company to get me interested in the look of an SUV, but from its tough, bold and yet stylish grille to its taut back end and BMW-aping rear light cluster, the new GLA really is a looker.
I had the good fortune to bring our GLA 250 test vehicle home and park it right next to the previous model, in the same colour, thus properly ruining the day of one of my neighbours.
The growth in size is clear - the new car is 12cm taller, 30mm wider and has a 30mm-longer wheelbase, yet overall it is 14mm shorter, which makes it look neater as well as stronger - but it’s the little tucks and tweaks of design that have really improved the look. The rear-light cluster is worth mentioning again, as it's just so much nicer.
While the original GLA was simply a case of making an A Class on stilettos, its success has encouraged Benz to really pour some effort into its successor, and the result is clear. This thing is a real looker.
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 main goal of the GLA’s new, more SUV-like shape, in practicality terms, seems to have been to lift the driver even further off the ground, because the command-seating position is obviously a big selling point for someone who finds the A Class too ground-hugging.
So, while some of that growth in height has been used to increase head room to the point where I could easily wear Abraham Lincoln’s hat while driving, much of it has gone to making the driving position a full 10cm higher than in the previous GLA (it’s also 14cm higher than in an A Class).
Personally, the height of the seat drove me slightly spare, and every time I got in I tried to lower it, only to find it doesn’t go any lower, but, tellingly, my wife - who is not far off being an elf - loved it.
What I did like was the back seat, which is truly voluminous. Through clever packaging, Benz has managed to liberate no less than 12cm of extra legroom back there, and I could properly stretch out.
With its standard double-paned panoramic roof and huge windows (part of huge doors, which do come close to scraping on any gutter higher than a match box), it’s a very glassy interior indeed, and visibility is excellent.
There are two cupholders between the front seats, and there’s storage for big bottles in each door. Oddment storage is plentiful, although they could have more if they did away with the now redundant mouse pad and the so-called “arm rest” behind that, which feels more like a gear-shift lever they forgot to remove when they put the shifting functions up on a column stalk.
There’s no need for the track pad any more because the giant and truly very lovely 10.25-inch touch screen does everything via touch, and sits next to another screen the same size that acts as your dash readout, making the whole thing look like a particularly long iPad.
While other car companies, including Audi, which has long been the winner in any interior-design conversation, are still just jamming big screens on top of dashboards, Benz has turned its entire dash into a digital display, and it looks amazing, and futuristic. Like a concept car you can actually buy.
The overall feeling of quality and tech - particularly at night when it all lights up beautifully in a colour of your choosing - in this alluring interior is one of the main reasons buyers will flock to the new GLA.
The seats are not as sporty as some, but they’re comfortable enough.
The one letdown, however, which comes as a shock with all that space in the rear, is the boot, which is just 435 litres, compared to the Audi Q3’s far more practical 530 litres. It really is a surprise when you open the back and see so little there, and that really does lower the practicality mark.
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
I find it hard to believe I’m saying this about a Benz, but at a starting price of $66,500, the GLA 250 4MATIC does seem like quite a lot of car for the money. This might be influenced by the fact that I know a couple who recently dropped more than $70K on the smaller A Class (they actually went shopping for a GLA, but then fell in love with the look of the little hatch).
There, are of course, always issues with the Germans when it comes to what you do and don’t get for your tempting entry price, and in the case of our test vehicle it would stick in my craw quite badly to pay $385 extra for its Polar White paint. Yes, white paint costs extra.
While the Titan Grey Pearl and Black Lugano Leather is nice, it’s only in the car as part of the $2838 AMG Exclusive Package. Throw in the Sports Package at $1915, which gets us the sexy 19-inch AMG alloys, and the Driving Assistance Package for $1531 worth of extra active safety, drop on a dollop of LCT at $1329 and the asking price for our urban SUV hits a less-enticing-sounding $74,498.
Your standard inclusions for the $66,500 are a very lovely panoramic electric sunroof, heated and electronically adjustable front seats, with memory function, lowered comfort suspension and sports-direct steering, plus the Off-Road Engineering Package, while the standard, non AMG wheels are also 19-inch alloys, presumably just less sexy ones.
And you don't have to pay extra for Apple CarPlay, which is nice.
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
The GLA 250 comes with 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol engine that makes a handy 165kW and 350Nm, which is sent to all four wheels using 4MATIC all-wheel drive. The claimed 0 to 100km/h time is 6.7 seconds.
Your silky smooth gearbox is an eight-speed, or 8G-DCT automatic, in Benz speak.
The engine feels powerful enough, without being exciting, and sounds pleasant enough, without sounding sporty - it's pretty much Goldilocks for an urban SUV.
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.
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.
With such a high driving position, the worry is that you’re going to feel like you’re sitting on the new GLA rather than in it.
But the fact is that, once I became accustomed to the fact that I couldn’t get the seat as low as I wanted to, it all became comfortable enough, and I could get on with fully appreciating the ride quality.
While the GLA has a good, Germanic solidity to the way the interior is bolted together - the doors are almost too heavy, I fact, and can be tough for little people to close - it’s the way it sits on the road that really impresses.
The little Benz soaks up the bumps, particularly in Comfort mode, and provides the kind of ride and handling quality that you’d expect in a six-figure German car. Or a Benz of old, you might say.
Critics of A Classes past were heard to complain that they just didn’t ride as softly or richly as a Mercedes should, but the company has put things to rights with its smaller cars in recent years and you really feel like you’re getting the badge you paid for here.
Step out of the cruisy, snoozy Comfort setting into Sport, however, and the CLA feels out of its, well, comfort zone. It’s almost too toey for its own good, wanting to lurch around, holding each gear desperately and making noises that are merely loud rather than sexy.
Engine noise is a little intrusive whenever you try and accelerate fiercely in the GLA, in fact, but there is some handy pace there if you really need it.
Fast driving does feel out of character for the GLA 250 variant, however, and those who want that kind of thing should wait for the AMG-fettled version that will arrive in the next month or so, bringing 225kW and 400Nm.
As a cornering weapon, this car is more of a butter knife, smoothing its way around bends with minimal bodyroll. It’s an urban SUV, and it drives like one, albeit a very good one.
Typically, the steering is also light and easy to use rather than heavy and talkative.
Being the 4-MATIC variant, the GLA 250 also offers an Off-Road mode, which takes full advantage of its torque-on-demand all-wheel-drive system, but sadly our slightly brief introduction to the car didn’t provide us with the chance to hurl it down a scree-covered mountain side, nor to test out its version of hill-descent control.
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 GLA has not been ANCAP or Euro NCAP crash rated yet, but the first car got five stars from the Euro test and was never ANCAP tested. It’s safe to say they design their cars around being damn sure they get five stars.
You’ll also be getting no less than nine airbags - front, pelvis side and window bags for driver and front passenger, sidebags for the rear occupants and a knee bag for the driver.
In terms of active safety, the Active Brake Assist - which works up to 60km/h - is standard, as is Blind Spot Assist, with exit-warning function, which alerts the driver to approaching cyclists or vehicles when they’re about to open their door. Active Lane Keep Assist is also standard, as are the Active Bonnet, Traffic Sign Assist and Cross Wind Assist.
But you will have to stump up for the Driving Assistance Package to get things like Active Lane Change Assist, Active Emergency Braking Assist and Evasive Steering Assist.
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.
Your GLA comes with a five-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty, which is Japanese good, if not Korean good.
In terms of servicing, you can choose to purchase a Service Plan or pay as you go with capped-price servicing.
The costs for three annual services are $2050 for the Service Plan, or $2550 with the Capped Price Servicing (first is $550, second is $750, third $1250).
Service Plans can be bought in four or five-year lots, at $2950 and $3500 respectively.
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.