On Autos: Infiniti, Lexus small crossovers prioritize style and performance


The 2017 Infiniti QX30 boasts distinctive styling, agile handling and tidy dimensions. (Brady Holt/The Current)

When SUVs were first becoming part of the mainstream automotive marketplace, buyers loved their tough, heavy-duty image. The first crossovers offered the same truck-like looks, but were derived from popular passenger cars to offer superior on-road drivability and comfort.

Today’s crossovers often offer no such pretense. Instead, many models — particularly in luxury market segments — are pitched as slightly more versatile alternatives to sedans. They’re styled like cars rather than trucks, and designed to be sporty on the road rather than off.

And sometimes, they focus so much on these passenger-car advantages that they don’t really provide the benefits that make crossovers appealing in the first place.

The 2017 Infiniti QX30 doesn’t have the high seating position or ample cargo space of a true crossover, because it’s basically just a compact hatchback. (Brady Holt/The Current)

One such model is the new 2017 Infiniti QX30. If you’re interested in a small, sporty premium crossover, the Infiniti’s light weight and low body lend itself to car-like handling and a respectable 25 mpg in mixed driving. Meanwhile, its tidy size — much like a compact car’s — makes for a city-friendly package.

But despite being marketed as a crossover, the QX30 really is a compact car. Infiniti created it by taking the body of the European-market Q30 hatchback and adding all-wheel-drive and slightly higher ride height. Unlike a proper crossover, this Infiniti doesn’t offer much cargo space or a high seating position. There’s also a tight rear seat, and the cabin isn’t cutting-edge by luxury standards.

That’s not to say the QX30 is without merit. Its base price of $30,945 offers an affordable way to get a pleasant car from a premium brand, though prices can increase quickly as you add options. And compared to a sedan — if not a true crossover — it packs a useful amount of cargo room into a small footprint.

Furthermore, Infiniti’s swoopy body lines also provide a stylish alternative to the Mercedes-Benz GLA that’s functionally identical to the QX30, thanks to a collaboration between Mercedes and Nissan, Infiniti’s parent company.

The Lexus NX 200t boasts edgy styling yet decent interior room. (Brady Holt/The Current)

Another top competitor to the QX30 is the Lexus NX 200t, which is priced from $36,080, albeit with more standard features than the Infiniti. It also focuses on edgy styling details and on providing agile handling for a crossover.

But the NX also delivers much more functionality than the Infiniti. Essentially a luxury version of the popular Toyota RAV4, this Lexus retains a high seating position and ample interior volume. It can’t pack in as much space as the boxier Toyota, but the NX 200t avoids the RAV4’s dull driving dynamics, thanks to a peppy turbocharged engine and sprightlier handling responses.

The Lexus NX 200t is a more luxurious but less roomy version of the Toyota RAV4. (Brady Holt/The Current)

Lexus’ infotainment system is cumbersome to use compared to most competitors — including the QX30 — and a few other details are also awkwardly executed. But overall, the NX offers an edgier and slightly more affordable alternative to the more elegant, smoother-riding Mercedes-Benz GLC or Audi Q5.

Also shop the NX and the QX30 against the BMW X1, which defies the brand’s high-cost stereotype to deliver sporty handling and a spacious interior at competitive prices.