It's unusual to introduce a car from a brand that some readers might not be aware of, but a quick straw poll of friends and colleagues suggests Infiniti isn't a universally known entity. So the Q30, its compact premium hatchback, might not be at the forefront of your mind. 

Today, perhaps more than ever, most of us buy a car on the reputation or our perception of its brand. With nearly half of new car buyers not even taking a test drive that's a challenge for companies like Infiniti. You buy a BMW because of the way you believe it drives; a Mercedes because of its class and symbol of your prosperity; an Audi for its modernity, technology and the design of its interior. But why would you buy an Infiniti?

Well, Infiniti is Nissan's premium brand, in the same way Lexus is to Toyota. It's an established brand too: you might have only seen the name plastered on the side of an F1 car on telly recently, but the brand has been around in the US and Japan since the 80s. It only landed in the UK towards the end of the 2000s though.

Infiniti's European range started with the Q50 — a mid-sized executive saloon car costing over 30K, and a brave choice alternative to the default 3-series or A4 — but now the Q30 is here and is likely to open-up the brand to a much wider group of customers, given its £20K starting price.

The bad news for Infiniti is the compact premium hatchback class is awash with default choice cars. So should you try a Q30 over a Mercedes A-Class, BMW 1-Series or Audi A3? We went to its Stockport dealership to find out.

Before jumping into the car, it's worth pausing a moment to consider the context of Infiniti's dealer footprint. The company currently has just 14 dealerships or "centres" in the UK — which sounds like a petite footprint, but they're well spaced and in the big city locations (Leeds, Newcastle, Edinburgh, Bristol, Birmingham, London, Cambridge, etc). Unless you're far into the sticks, chances are there'll be one not millions of miles from your front door.

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Plus the brand plans to expand that number quite aggressively in the near future, and service centres are being assigned alongside Nissan dealers too. Although we suspect you won't need to take it back to the dealers much. This is a Japanese brand after all — backed by technology from Nissan and Mercedes (more on that shortly) — so we'd bet on an Infiniti rarely going wrong. And given Infiniti only found just over 2,000 buyers in the UK in 2015, chances are if you visit a dealership you'll have the team at your beck and call.

The Q30 itself is a small, slightly high-riding hatchback car. It's based on the same platform as the Mercedes A-Class, and what might surprise when first jumping into the cockpit is that Infiniti is using the Mercedes gauge cluster, indicator stalks, steering wheel buttons and a few other bits of switchgear wholesale. Nothing wrong with that, as the Merc kit is high quality and easy to use. With the exception of the single wand wiper/indicator stalk which is over-loaded with functions — two stalks are better than one guys, come on.

Nonetheless, the good news continues when you get out on the road because whereas the baby Merc plays a fake sporty vibe which dictates the ride be hard and crashy, the Infiniti has bespoke-tuned suspension and has been setup to be much more languid. Net result: the ride is much better and suits this type of car.

You'll not struggle for space inside either. Don't expect Nissan Qashqai levels of practicality — the Q30 isn't a crossover — and the exterior cladding belies a ride height and seat position that's just a fraction higher than a normal car. But the boot has 368-litres of space, which is more than an A-class or BMW 1-Series, plus those in the back don't get too raw of a deal.

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The Q30 is available in — take a deep breath — SE, Premium, Premium Tech, Business Exec, City Black and Sport trims. We drove what's likely to be the best-selling Premium Tech trim — LED lamps, leather seats, powered front seats, rear view camera, keyless entry, 7-inch touchscreen, but no standard nav — in the smallest 1.5 diesel engine format.

Kicking off at a £21,500 in SE trim, the Q30 sounds reasonably price. Because it is, well, until you realise you can get the Merc A-Class for £21,815. The Infiniti is better equipped and has more room inside but we can't help feel that this relative unknown is going to face an uphill struggle when punters can park a Merc on the drive for basically the same amount of cash.

Our Premium Tech, 1.5 diesel manual car gets out of the car park for £26,430 — but you'll probably want to add the InTouch Navigation system which brings DAB radio and traffic sign recognition, at a heady £1,400. Our advice? Go for Business Executive grade instead — it runs to £25,080 in 1.5 diesel format, but you get the Nav included while losing the back-up camera and keyless entry.

The 1.5 diesel engine is familiar from various Nissans, Renaults and Mercedes models. On paper it sounds a bit weedy at 109bhp, but it's got a very wide torque band, runs in a linear — rather than peaky — manner and (for a diesel) sounds sweet and quiet.

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The Q30 covers the 0-60mph run in around 12-seconds in this setup, which sounds slow in the modern lexicon, but in practice proved absolutely fine on the road — it kept up fine in the cut and thrust of Cheshire traffic, with enough oomph out on the Derbyshire hills to deal with bumbling tractors.

A brief drive in the Mercedes-sourced 2.2 diesel suggests that while it's got a good slug more power, you trade-off in terms of refinement: it's a noisy, ageing engine and unless you're desperate for more power we'd stick with the 1.5.

However, the manual gearshift is a bit long-throw. And if you want to go fully relaxed, there's a 7-speed auto available on some models which might be worth a look, as well as 1.6 and 2.0 turbo petrol options and four-wheel drive availability.

The InTouch Navigation system in the Q30 proved easy to use, with both a touchscreen and a rotary controller. Some deep menus are a bit odd and graphics aren't that modern, but it's easy to get your head around and didn't get us lost.

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We'd personally choose to avoid the "liquid copper" colour scheme of the cars in our photos, but in some ways it goes with a key vibe of this small Infiniti, which is being slightly different to the crowd.

One notable Q30 quality is how the trim level really impacts on the looks. While this model has quite a luxe feel, a Sport model in a darker colour and on big, dark alloys has a much more masculine, aggressive look.

First Impressions

While nothing stands-out as class-leading — and we're sure you'll end up having to answer the "you drive a what?" question a million times at dinner parties and in the office — it's hard not to like the Q30.

It's a relaxing, nice place to spend time. It doesn't have the classlessness of a VW Golf, the driving bite of a BMW 1-Series or the interior perceived quality of an Audi A3. But it rides better than a Mercedes A-class, so if you like to be different it proves a novel alternative which might be worth a look.